CARRRRLEEEE - NAOMI JOHNSON
She hunkered down in the snow, digging the deep white away from the base of the tree with her bare hands. The snow was falling almost as fast as she could scoop it away and the wind was an icy scissor flaying her exposed arms and face.
She thanked God for that wind.
And for the hole she could just make out at the base of the hollow oak. And for being skinny enough to slide through the hole and inside the tree.
Cold here, too, and dark, but at least she was out of the wind. She curled into a tight fetal ball, thinking what must she do next.
That wind, if it would last for even one more hour, might save her. Just one hour and the wind would destroy her tracks. And when darkness fell – surely not long now – she would make her way up the hill to where old Fader had a meth lab in a cave. Mal didn't know about the cave. Fader would have killed him just for knowing. But Mal wasn’t much of a woodsman and he didn’t brave the wild places without a reason. He’d do it to find her though; he wasn’t going to just let her go.
So she’d hole up in Fader’s cave until daylight, if she made it that far, then push on toward the railroad station at Claustrum. She could hop the freight and beg for a meal wherever she got off. Hitch a ride from there. And that was as far as she needed to plan, because if Mal caught up with her at any point short of that freight, the only train she’d be seeing would be bound for glory.
A snapping sound rose above the howl of the wind and at first she thought it was branches being snapped by the gale. Then she heard the laugh and her breath was caught in a solid frozen lump in her chest. Mal’s voice came to her. Close. Close enough to lick her with the fetid air skimming over his rotting teeth. Make a sound and he’ll have you.
“Carrrrleeee! I’m gonna fiiiinnnnd yuuuuuuu!” A rabid hyena’s laugh. “Carrrrleeee, where arrrrr yuuuuu?”
She buried her face in the crook of her arm as her stomach dry-heaved, empty but for water for the last two days.
“Hey, Carrrrleeee girrrrl, I can smellllll yuuuu! Ooooh, you smell taaaasteeee! Here I come, ready or no-otttt!”
The hollow oak juddered from a sudden blow to the trunk and Carly stuffed cold fingers into her mouth to keep from shrieking. Mal had brought his pickaxe.
Mal’s wild cackle tickled her ears and she felt warm liquid ooze down her throat, and she realized she’d bit her fingers to the bone. Mal always claimed he could smell blood and she’d more than half-believed it. But now she totally believed it.
“I smelllll yuuurrrr bloooood, Carrrrleeee. Oooheeee, you smellll goooood! Gonna get me some of you, girl, gonna get me –”
His words were obliterated by a blast and there was only the sound of the wind, rising and falling, rising and falling, keening its solitude.
Carly snaked her head and shoulders out into the snow, peered through the mountain gloom. Saw Fader with her deer rifle, standing by the fallen Mal.
Fader caught her movement and gestured with the rifle.
“Come on out, girl. I reckon he’ll live but he won’t be chasing you no more for a while.”
Carly scrambled away from the oak and stood up.
“It’s what I said. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if you’d gone deef from all his bellerin’ and carryin’ on. Knew it would come to this one of these days.”
Mal roused, turned his head to Carly. “Hey, Carly, I found you. We gonna have us some fun now, girl.”
Carly saw the pickaxe at her feet. Bent and picked it up, felt the heft of it. Felt the power.
“Oh, yeah, Mal,” she agreed. “We gonna have us a big time now!”
BIO: Naomi Johnson is still in shock over being able to write to such a limited word count, and thanks Christopher Grant for the opportunity. Her longer stories have appeared here at A Twist of Noir, as well as at CrimeFactory, Southern Cross Review and Encounters magazine.