Too Late to Run: Horror Flash Fiction by cam
Too Late to Run
A wintery blanket covered the trees and ground of the woods, a result of the quirky weather of late November. The light from Jack’s headlamp penetrated the darkness and sent shadows fleeing to swallow up the path behind him and the imprints left by his running shoes.
He passed beneath the leafless canopy for the second time that morning. The tracks from his previous lap ran ahead and around a bend. He entered the turn and the beam from his headlamp swept the scene, revealing an unexpected set of tracks which led out of the woods and merged with his own.
Jack stopped and knelt down to examine one of the new footprints. Its maker had been traveling on two bare feet. He placed his shoe beside it. The barefoot print was slightly larger than his size 10 1/2 trail runners.
The prints seemed to be human except for some kind of extension off the end of each toe. Claws? He ran forward a few yards. Yes, the barefoot, claw footed visitor had been behind him. Relax, he told himself. The fact that it was behind me doesn’t mean it’s following me. He proceeded on in the direction he had been running.
Bare hardwoods gave way to tall evergreens, changing the forest from moderately dark to what seemed like the blackness of a cave. Jack's light bored its way into the night until he was forced to stop short. Across the seven foot wide trail lay the trunk of a fallen tree that had not been there on his first lap.
The strange tracks he was following were scattered around the obstacle. A snorting sound, such as a deer would make when alarmed, came from behind him on the trail. Jack darted into the woods on the right to go around the dead tree. More snorting sounds came from the direction he was headed. Either his pursuer had gotten there before him, or there was another, or others.
Jack moved farther into the trees. Dawn had not yet begun and he hid among the shadows. He knew this woods very well and it was too small to get lost in. He had to get back to his car.
He heard sniffing, like a dog that has found a new scent. He was being hunted, but by what? Tingling fear crawled down his neck and back.
Jack resisted the temptation to run. He needed to know more about his pursuers. Who were they? What were they? He could climb a tree, but the idea of being caught with no way of escape chased the thought away. He retreated even farther into the trees. Would dawn ever come? He looked up. Clouds. Only clouds. Then he remembered the snow that had fallen. It would be a gloomy sunrise at best.
He moved toward where his car was parked. The snorting was more distant and hope welled up inside him. He pulled the car keys from his pocket. If he got close enough, he might be able to outrun whoever was chasing him.
The sound of footsteps pounded in his ears. At least one of his stalkers was onto him, but still Jack did not run. He had been trained as a marine and knew how to fight. He would stay and learn something about these hunters. He grabbed the only weapon at hand, a sturdy oak branch.
The first sight of the enemy struck Jack with a paralysis that would not be shaken off easily. It was too late to run. The creature was upon him. The fur covered beast leapt into the air like a cliff diver. Jack recovered from his immobility and swung his club at the canine face, its fangs bared, snarling, clawed hands reaching for his throat.
Jack was running before the unconscious devil hit the ground. He ran with the speed and stamina he had been developing for years. This time it wasn’t to win a medal or recognition, but to save his life. The howling began while he was running through the trees toward the trailhead. They were on both sides and behind him.
The car was a hundred yards away. Jack and the creatures emerged from the woods at different points. He could see them in the darkness, because their eyes glowed green. He fumbled with the key fob, thumbing buttons at random. The trunk flew open. The alarm wailed.
The howling became snorting as the beasts closed in. Jack grabbed the door handle and pulled. It was still locked. He squeezed the fob. The lock clicked. He jerked the door open and slid in toward the seat. Fabric and flesh tore as claws ripped across his back.
He was in the car with the door pulled closed as far as the fur covered arm and clawed hand would allow. He grabbed his wife’s metal fingernail file from the drink holder and stabbed it into the back of the monster’s hand. Screams from the creature and gravel from the car’s tires filled the gloomy dawn air.
Jack skidded into the driveway, nearly ramming the back of his wife’s car. Inside, she held him as he shook them both with adrenalin and terror. He tried to explain, but the words were nonsense. Blood dripped from his saturated shirt, pooling on the hardwood floor.
That night, after returning from the hospital emergency room, his wife slept beside him. Howls drifted across the landscape from the woods as if calling to him. Jack lay with his eyes open, and a green glow filled the room.