She ran through the forest, plants slapping at her legs and branches whipping her face. I didn’t listen, she thought. My inside voice said don’t go in there.
A rock loomed up in the moonlight and she leapt over it. Janet landed on soft ground and her ankle snapped. She fell and tumbled, then slid down the slope on her back.
She came to rest under the ferns, moonlight peeking through the fronds. And we had to go in after dark. Dummy. That was when Parker was at her most powerful.
She heard footsteps and held her breath. They hunt by sound.
She listened. She heard leaves rustle as Parker shifted her weight from foot to foot. The footsteps walked farther away. Janet took a few silent breaths. The footsteps disappeared down the slope. Parker had missed her.
She couldn’t know where Parker had gone. Parker could still be close enough to hear. Janet watched the moon through the fronds. When the moon set and deep darkness became only darkness, Janet knew dawn was on the way. She slept.
A nose nuzzled her and she woke up swinging. She toppled over when she connected with nothing. Hair askew and filled with leaves, she was looking at a black-and-tan. Coonhound, not beer. Though a beer did sound good, even if it was only dawn.
A man’s voice behind her said, “He was only saying hi.”
Janet turned. There were two men. They wore hiking boots that were crisp and clean and laces that hadn’t seen more than a few uses. Their outdoor pants were fresh from Amazon and their hunting vests were straight from Bass Pro. They held different versions of Sakos, easily identified by the weird stock. It was the only firearm she could identify by brand on sight.
“You from around here?” Bass Pro 1 asked.
“No. Does it show?”
Bass Pro 2 smiled. “I’m Bob and this is Pete. Did you sleep in the leaves on purpose?”
Pete offered a hand and helped her up.
“Not exactly. Got kinda turned around. You from around here?” She tested her ankle and it could take her weight.
“No, does it show?” Bob said.
“Buddy of ours recommended hunting here,” Pete said. “Maybe you’d like a lift back to civilization?”
Janet smiled with relief. “Sure would be appreciated.”
As they walked back to the road, the men chatted about their guns, and casually let slip how expensive they were. Janet wondered if they’d ever killed any deer.
Janet got in their truck, Pete driving, Bob in the passenger seat, and her squished between. The black-and-tan went in the back seat. The doors locked reassuringly at about 15mph. She recognized this part of the road. Her car was just up around the bend.
How did they know to drive in this direction? Her inside voice was whispering again.
“Who’d you say your buddy was?” she asked.
“Didn’t,” Pete said.
“Since your asking,” Bob said, “Her name is Parker.”
Janet lunged for the door handle. Bob grabbed her and held her fast. She could throw a punch, but she didn’t know how to fight.
She looked at the truck ceiling. Shit! was all she could think.
“Don’t you want to know why?”
“I know Parker. She’s giving you something you want.”
“And here I had this speech all prepared about how Parker doesn’t play with her food, we do.”
They pulled into the drive of the neat little cottage and turned off the engine. The doors unlocked and Janet hoped for a chance when they dragged her out. “Don’t try–“
Janet saw the car doors fly open and a man in black appear in front of the car, aiming a large weapon right at her head. Bob and Pete were pulled out, and she ducked.
A deep voice said, “You can come out ma’am. It’s safe now.”
Janet looked out the driver’s door and a tall man with dark hair wearing an FBI jacket was squatting at eye level.
“It’s safe now,” he repeated.
Her legs quivered as she got out of the truck.
“I can’t believe you rescued me.” She touched his sleeve. “You’re real!” She was cold and started shaking.
He patted her hand. “You’ve been through quite a trauma.”
The scene lifted, a garage door opening and going above her head where she couldn’t see it.
Parker’s bloody face smiled at her. “Ah, you’re with me. I suppose I don’t need the veil anymore.”
Janet could only feel her head. She was floating in space with Parker.
“You got me that night under the moon.”
“Of course. I hunt by smell, dear.”
“Why can’t I feel what you’re doing to me.”
“There’s no need to be cruel to food. I use the veil so prey doesn’t panic. Ruins the taste.”
“To live? A long time. I’m going to make you my slave and eat you slowly.”
Janet didn’t mind the eating. The slave thing bothered her. She looked up, wondering how to bring that door back down.
“You’re done running dear,” Parker said, nodding at something Janet couldn’t see.
“Not quite,” Janet said, pulling the string that brought the garage door down. The veil, the steel, the armored plate, between her and Parker.
“You’ve been through quite a trauma,” he said, patting her hand. He took off his coat and wrapped it around her. He tucked her under his arm where it was warm and safe, and she was happy to stay.
F = fern, fear