© Charles Vess 2019
With a hard, satisfied smile, The Huntsman clutched Mairi’s arm as she screamed and screamed again, her worst nightmare come true. With his other hand, he cast a hunting-net over the heads of both Janet and Thomas. Lunging forward, Tom pulled it away before it had settled on the mortal girl but was himself immediately caught in the fine mesh of its weaving. Struggling, he cried out, “Janet. Run!”
She hesitated, though. “Mother! Tom! I can’t leave you both!”
The Huntsman laughed, “No, stay with us, I will have all those that I seek this time.” At his command, the foul beasts stalked toward Janet. Desperately, Thomas tipped his tightly-bound body in front of the creatures, tangling himself and the net in their legs, slowing their charge. He shouted once more, “If he binds us all, we are truly lost!”
“I’m not going to bloody run away, again!”
But four, red-eyed beasts, mouths full of enormous, razor-sharp teeth continued to move toward her, offering no alternative. Jumping back into the hall, she slammed the door and wedged a nearby chair under its handle. Adding her weight against it, she screamed, “Security! Help!”
Returning with Mairi Ravenscroft’s medications, the nurse was shocked at the sharp howls that vibrated through the door and echoed down the hall. Terrified, she still grabbed at the chair trying to pull it away. She cried at Janet, “I have to get to my patient.” Then the door shuddered from the impact of more than one heavy body. Followed almost immediately by the awful sound of something sharp and very determined tearing at its hard surface.
“What in God’s name is in there?”
Janet hissed back, “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you! But we need help! Now!”
Abruptly, the door buckled out toward them as the hinges gave way. They both heard a terrified shriek behind them, and looking over her shoulder Janet saw another patient standing by his open doorway, screaming. Scattered down the hall were more patients, all staring at the sound of the yowling beasts, their eyes wide with terror.
Janet pleaded with the attendant, “Get them back in their rooms and lock down this damned hall!” With a quick determined nod, the nurse turned to grab the elderly man and push him as gently as she could back into his room. Slamming that door, she ran back toward the others, frantically waving them inside their rooms. Then with one quick backward glance, she took off running for the front office. Moments later, Janet heard the alarm sound, followed by the decisive click of all the doors in the facility being securely locked.
The frenzied shrieks from the beasts on the other side of the door snapped Janet’s attention back to the widening gap between it and the wall beside it. Through that gap, blood and wood and metal splinters showered Janet’s body, making her absolutely certain that they would stop at nothing to rip through the heavy metal enforced door.
Another violent impact knocked the door completely free, and Janet turned to desperately run down the now-deserted hall.
Just behind her, the lunging beasts slid helplessly across the slick linoleum floor before regaining their footing once more. Invisible to anyone except Janet, they bounded down the hall pursuing their prey, throwing deserted carts to the floor and tearing through anything else left behind that got in their way. Over the pounding of her shoes on the tiled floor, Janet heard the shrieks of the pursuing beasts and pushed herself to run even faster.
Through a glass door just ahead, she saw Dr. Lindeman with her hands gripping the terrified attendant who was trying to explain what had panicking her. The doctor watched Janet run down the brightly-lit hall, pursued by something that was obviously causing a wake of destruction behind her but there was nothing that she could see. Whatever this invisible something was, Lindeman heard it, howling horribly, even over the wailing of the alarm.
As Janet sprinted past the doctor’s office, she screamed, “Get down and stay there!”
Running as fast as her legs would carry her, Janet was twenty feet closer to safety when she slammed into the now securely locked front doors. Desperately, she turned to look back. Snarling, the beasts bounded up the hall toward her. At that moment, she saw the good doctor slap her hand down on an emergency switch of some sort. Immediately, behind her there was a sudden audible click as those doors unlocked. Janet jumped through, pushed them shut and immediately heard the satisfying click of their locks sliding into place once more.
The beasts, unable to stop their headlong pursuit, crashed into the heavy plate-glass doors and bounced away. Spinning to a stop, they roared out their frustrated blood lust.
Janet turned and leaped down the short flight of steps, sprinting toward Tom’s Vincent as fast as she could.
That glass won’t hold them for long…
Swinging her leg up over the Vincent, she clutched the gas throttle, but it took two fumbling tries before the engine roared into life. Lurching away from the curb, the bike flew through the parking lot and out onto the deserted highway. A moment later, Janet sensed that the creatures were no longer pursuing her, and she eased off the gas. Slowing down, she looked back toward the clinic, concern for Tom and her mother sharp in her eyes.
The shrill alarm still shattered the still air.
Then over the hedgerow that lined the road she heard her mother scream. Through a gap, Janet saw down to the long beach. The Huntsman had his two captives bound securely and hanging over each shoulder. Followed closely by the four beasts, he moved quickly, straight toward the distant dolman that stood towering over the wind-beaten grass just above the beach.
“You’re not getting away that easy!”
She turned the bike off the road and jolted wildly down a long flight of cement steps before finally reaching the sand. “Bloody wanker! You’ll have me to deal with me if you hurt either one of them.” Keeping the Huntsman in view, she awkwardly guided the Vincent across the loose pebbles of the beach. But she was dumbfounded when she observed her quarry, without a pause, run headlong into the tall standing stone and simply vanish.
Without any hesitation, Janet topped the shallow rise and gunned the cycle’s motor, heading straight for the hard, seemingly unyielding surface of the same stone.
Where you can bloody go, I can follow.