The orangey red leaves glistened and sparkled as the sun broke through the canopy of the trees, perhaps for the last time. It was getting late in the day and the birds sang happy songs before they retired to the safety of the trees.
“What a beautiful autumn day it’s been,” said Maisie.
She turned towards me and we Eskimo kissed. It had been a hot and humid summer but today the temperature had dropped dramatically. The weather had finally started to turn.
We walked awhile along the beaten path enjoying the tranquility of the forest, both of us chatting with excitement about the forthcoming date in three weeks, which would mark the start of our family. We’d been trying to get pregnant for the last two years but our efforts had been fruitless up until a short while ago. I was overjoyed when she told me the news on our last trip here. This place was always close to my heart but that day had made it really special to me.
We entered a clearing. I stopped and sat down on the lush green grass.
“Here we are. The perfect place,” I said to my wife. “Let’s eat here.” She snuggled up next to me.
“I love it here,” she said. “Just me and you. No one around for miles.”
“Me too. There’s nowhere I’d rather be right now,” I replied.
The woodland was so calm and peaceful, save for the birds incessant chirping carried on the gentle breeze. We sat listening to the songs they sang, wondering what they meant.
There was a sudden crescendo of frenzied whistles and chirps, then they stopped. A deafening and eerie hush consumed the forest.
The crack of something stepping on a fallen branch broke the silence and scattered the birds. We looked at each other, then turned to the direction whence it came from.
A lone figure stood facing our direction – neither of us had heard him following us, he brought his arms up.
I realised what he held, I was paralysed with fear.
He discharged two booming shots from his shotgun. The loud cracks reverberated around the forest and the acrid smell of gunpowder filled the air.
The shots missed, and we instinctively darted across the clearing and into the bushes the other side.
We paused and lay still, trying not to make a sound to give up our position. I could see the terror in Maisie’s eyes. She was hyperventilating. I tried to calm her. She started shaking uncontrollably. Her eyes welled up with tears then they streamed down her cheeks. She pushed her head into my chest to try to muffle the sobs which she now projected.
“Just keep quiet. Don’t make a squeak,” I whispered.
She nodded and looked at me with her beautiful doey eyes. I could see her fighting to keep her fear under control.
Through a break in the leaves I could see the man cautiously walking our way. No, not walking, more like stalking; trying not to rustle the leaves too much under his feet, or to tread on and crunch other branches. My gaze remained fixed on the man. He stopped. Then I saw the flame of his lighter as he lit a cigarette. The repulsive smell carried in the wind inhabiting our nostrils.
“No. Maisie. No!” I cried, as Maisie, foolishly made a break from our cover of dense foliage, giving us away in the process.
“Run, Jeremiah! Run!” shrieked my wife.
“Keep running Maisie. Don’t stop and don’t look back,” I screamed. “Let’s split up and I’ll try to draw him to me so you can make your escape.”
Two more shots erupted from the firearm and the pellets scattered into the bushes around us. We ducked and jumped as we ran for our lives. We weaved in and out of the trees, trying to evade the man.
My number one priority was her and my unborn children’s safety. We’d only been together a few years, but I’d already nearly lost her twice. The first time, a few months back, she narrowly escaped being hit by a car when we were crossing the road. The second time, which was only a few weeks ago was when she fell into the river. She managed to keep afloat by using some driftwood until a couple of friends and I hauled her out. I was praying this wasn’t going to be third time unlucky.
Maisie took a left onto another path and disappeared out of sight, while I waited for the man to catch a glimpse of me, so I could lead him away from my sweetheart. I waited and could see him excitedly reloading the weapon, a maniacal grimace etched on his face.
He spotted me and gave chase. Being a big burly man, he was slow and clumsy but I thought with me being small and agile, I could hopefully maintain a safe distance. I had one thought on my mind. He was gonna pay for taking shots at us. I’d make sure of it.
I continued through the woods, knowing that when I reached the other side of the stream, I would be with the others. My heart was pounding so hard in my chest, it was pumping my blood around my body so fast, making my temples bulge and throb.
I could hear the man crashing through the undergrowth as he followed the track I’d carved in it. Good, I could gauge his speed and distance.
Maisie startled me as she sprung out of a patch of brambles – she had done a loop of the tracks. I fell backwards in my surprise, my heart skipped several beats and felt like it was up in my throat and about to jump out.
“Jeremiah, I’m sorry, I couldn’t leave you. He’s getting closer – we have to cross the water,” she panted.
“Let’s hop to it then,” I replied as we scampered through the foliage, jumping occasionally to avoid trunks of fallen trees.
We ran single file down a dirt track as the light rapidly started to fade from the day and down to the stream. Children had been playing around here over the previous months and dammed the stream with rocks, making a perfect bridge for us to cross. We skipped across the jagged rocks and the sky darkened as storm clouds came rolling in. We raced amongst the ferns as huge drops of rain fell. They bounced and splattered off the huge leaves and gradually became heavier. Eventually we arrived at another clearing. We stopped, both of us so out of breath we probably couldn’t run any further if we wanted to. The thing was, we didn’t have to run anymore. Maisie let out a succession of high-pitched squeals.
The man was cursing and sweating profusely when he appeared at the outer edge of the clearing, silhouetted against the moonlight. He bent over, catching his breath. We could hear him wheezing as he desperately sucked at the air trying to fill his lungs. He spotted us crouched at the centre and, walking towards us, he proceeded to load the shells in the shotgun. Under his breath we could hear him continue with his curses. So maddened by the chase was he, that he never noticed a tree stump. He tripped on it, landing face first. There was a crunch and a groan as his skull cracked off another stump a few feet away. He momentarily rendered himself unconscious and the shotgun flung out of his reach.
The wind picked up and the black clouds drifted across the illuminating moon, temporarily blocking its yellowing glow.
A few seconds passed, then he groggily opened his eyes. The first thing that hit him was the overwhelming stench of rotting meat followed by the sight of piles of bones. Flesh and skin clung on to the human and animal carcasses scattered around the clearing.
His horrified expression said it all. He struggled to haul himself up off the damp forest floor. Confused and scared he staggered around searching for his weapon. The blow to his head when he fell had disorientated him. He grasped at what he thought was the shotgun but found it to be the severed arm of some poor soul. Maggots crawled over the remains and swarms of flies patrolled the area like they were on guard. He gaped in disbelief at the horrors before him. A rustling in the surrounding bushes took his attention from them.
A sea of blood red eyes stared at him from the perimeter of the clearing, he did a three sixty degree turn, and realised he was encircled.
The hunter’s gaze rested on us, his intended targets at the epicentre of the clearing. We wriggled our fluffy white tails knowing what was coming.
I said I’d make him pay.
The hunter’s shrieks matched ours as our hideously deformed rabbit family descended on him, baring huge fangs and claws like eagles’ talons.
Within seconds, his terrified screams were stifled to gurgles, as we ripped his throat open and drank from him, to satisfy our insatiable lust for blood. Moments later, the full moon had appeared from the cover of cloud, and we had devoured him like piranhas.