He stopped, drawing in a breath of night air, and savored its crispness. No choking humidity this time of year. Muscles quivered with unspent energy, and he fought the urge to crack his knuckles—channeling his impatience into physical activity. He might have given into such urges when he was younger, more cocksure, but experience was life’s best teacher and making untoward noise could give away his position. Lord knew it had happened before… more than once. Not tonight. Cocking his head, he listened, carefully containing the exhilaration that—still, even after all these years—threatened to overwhelm him. As he held stock-still, the forest moved around him.
Minute snaps and crackles. Twigs, dead leaves, pattering footfalls of all manner of creatures. Skittering insects, four-legged mammals; some hooved, others with delicate paws. Nothing substantial like the clomping of his fleeing prey—gusty exhalations, thin whistles from narrowed, abused airways. Wings fluttered, snug within nests. Something crunched through a carpet of foliage—too far away to be of any interest to him.
He knew they weren’t her. Brow furrowed—where was she? Moving eyes only, he scanned his surroundings. Perhaps behind that that moss-covered boulder, cowering in fear? Or had she pressed her battered body against the forest floor—ignoring the crawling legs of rogue spiders whispering against her soft cheeks—hoping she’d be overlooked, and he’d give up the chase? Not a chance, he’d search until light bled through the horizon. Nothing stirred in his field of view, but he didn’t rely wholly on sight and sound—like any adept predator, he had other tools in his arsenal. Nostrils flared and a damp soil aroma rushed in, reminding him of earthworms wriggling in the dirt after a fresh rain but on the heels of that? A sharp tang on his tastebuds that also tickled his tender nasal mucosa, something one might mistakenly attribute to the surrounding trees and foliage if they didn’t know better.
The man knew better.
Fear. It was the scent of pure, unadulterated fear. It rolled off the women in waves, lingering in the air and like a prized hound’s nose or a flickering snake’s tongue—he easily detected it. She was close.
Lips twitched and curled, exposing his pointed incisors. Muscles coiled. Tensed. He waited.
Head whipped towards the disturbance and body followed. Silence was no longer a virtue and he crashed through branches and bushes, eyes firmly on her retreating back. Tattered fabric from her shirt snagged on passing branches fluttered here and there, acting like Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs in case he lost sight of her—unlikely. She’d taken a nasty tumble earlier, right after she broke free from him. With every stride, he drew closer, enjoying the lurch of her shoulders with every agonized step, clearly favoring the right leg. She shot a furtive look behind her, eyes rolling in their sockets giving her the appearance of a terrified bovine, and saw him, inching ever closer. A sob spilled out, followed by a plea that traveled to his ears by the headwind they both ran against.
“Please! Stop. Just… just… let me go.” She sniveled back a glob of snot, a nasty, sucking sound. “I won’t tell anyone. I promise.” Legs slowed yet, she still ran, or at least, loped along as well as someone could with a bum leg. But the begging? The bargaining? That signaled one thing.
Lost hope. Fleeing her predator wasn’t going to happen and she’d come to the horrifying realization all the women inevitably did:
She was about to be caught—all because he had to scratch an insatiable itch.
His knife glinted in the moonlight and flashed, its point unzipping her skin, releasing a litany of sweet screams, along with blood, so warm cascading over him.
Such beautiful pleasure contained in suffering.