I recently discovered a weekly photo prompt competition run by Sue Vincent. She provides excellent “Thursday” challenges for writers to have a go at. This week, I was keen to give the prompt my best attempt, as the photo (depicted below) deeply inspired me. There was no word-limit to this piece, so I just wrote to my heart’s content and ended up at a word count of 781. I hope you enjoy my short story!
I sit in silence. All it will take is the slightest spasm of an aching limb, or an untimely itch that I simply must scratch. I breathe deeply, slowing down my heart rate as I try to make as little noise as possible.
He’s still there, watching me. I can’t see him, but that doesn’t really mean anything. I know he’s there, because he’s always there. He’s always waiting for that one fatal mistake that I know one day will be my undoing. He doesn’t know where I am and I don’t know where he is; that’s the game. Because it is a game: it’s an endless game of dice rolling, where neither party has any control of the outcomes. The only issue is, if I lose, I don’t just lose a day’s pay or my dignity. The price is my life, and his reward is his.
I can feel that itch now. It’s in my right leg. I want to look down and check that there’s not some horrible insect sucking at my blood, but I can’t. Even when I’m being eaten alive, I can’t move, and I can’t make a noise. All I wish for, is to hear the tell-tale rustle of leaves and snapping of leaves that tell me he’s leaving. He won’t go far, but he will move far enough that my window of escape will open, and I will run, and, as the dice are flung into the air, I will race for my life.
The itch is getting worse. How I want to scratch it, but there can’t be long to wait now; he’ll be tiring, too. He’ll feel an itch, and his muscles will buckle under the pressure. Soon. I try to calm myself down. I’m breathing too rapidly. I can’t let my own fear be the ruin of me, not when so many are depending on me. I soothe myself, closing my eyes and letting out a long breath.
It happens in an instant. Just as a sharp, jarring pain cuts across my leg from the itch, I hear the sudden rustling to my left that tells me my hunter is giving up. Too late. I gasp out in horror from the pain in my leg, and then it is too late and I am running.
I dart out from my hiding place, a clump of densely-growing leaves, and flee into the open meadows beyond. He’s still right behind me, rampaging through the undergrowth as he reaches for me. He is close: too close. There isn’t going to be enough time. He is meant to be further behind. I speed up, putting all my remaining energy into my legs. My right one is still stinging painfully, and I can feel a suspiciously warm substance trickling down it that I have a horrible feeling might be blood. I don’t have time for this, not for injury. The smell of blood will only drive my hunter on faster.
I duck back under the cover of trees: a detour. It’s risky, and it might cost me, but it’s also my only option, to confuse my companion into letting me keep my life. I dart around tree trunks and leap over uneven ground, always rushing and never slowing. This is it, a little voice whispers from the back of my head. You’re going to die today. You’re going to lose the game. I can almost feel his hot breath on the back of my neck, and almost sense his harsh, sharp teeth snapping at my injured leg. You’re too late, the voice whispers.
I stop running. I stand stock still, but in this single instant, time seems to slow right down. I don’t think of my hunter, storming towards me, desperate to sink his teeth into me. I think of my tiny, little home, tucked away under the trees barely two metres from where I stand now. I could make it, of course I could. But I can’t. Under those trees, four little babies lie all snuggled together, their eyes bright and innocent, and their mouths hungry, desperate for the food that only I can bring them.
They will have to go hungry tonight, but they are old enough by now. It isn’t fair and it isn’t right, but they are going to have to feed themselves from now on. It’s better to risk that, whispers the voice, rather than to lead this monster right to them. Right to your babies. You can’t do that. You can’t kill them.
So, I listen to the voice. I don’t move, because I can’t move. I don’t feel angry. Everyone loses sometimes; everyone must lose. I don’t mind. I’m ready.