Hunted (a short story)
She ran, ignoring the pain in her leg the best she could. She could hear them crashing through the trees behind her, in pursuit. They were shouting, laughing. Blood poured freely from her wound. Pain radiated through her body with every stride. She knew she couldn't outrun them in her condition, she had to hide. Still running at full speed, she hurled herself into a thick patch of bushes. Heedless of the sticks and brambles tearing at her, she pulled herself deeper into the scrub. Finally, laying flat on the ground under the foliage, she tried to quiet her breathing.
In moments, they ran past her hiding place. There were two of them. She watched their boots as they ran past, giant, terrifying. As the noise of her pursuers receded into the trees behind her, she assessed her injuries. Now that she wasn't running, the bleeding from her leg had slowed to a trickle. The bullet had passed all the way through without breaking the bone. The entry wound on the inside of her leg was a small hole; it had hardly bled at all. The exit wound was a gaping pucker, bleeding persistently. Even keeping totally still, the pain was unbearable. She wasn't even aware of the myriad scratches she'd received during her dive through the bushes. She lifted up her head to see if it was safe to leave and swooned. She was faint from loss of blood. As quietly as she could, she rolled over and pressed the exit wound into the loose dirt and leaves beneath her. The pain was excruciating, but hopefully the dirt would help stop the bleeding. She couldn't risk losing any more blood.
For several minutes, she laid under the bushes, face pressed into the dirt. Slowly, her breathing and heart rate returned to normal. Just as she was about to risk moving from her refuge, she heard a sound from close behind her. Her pursuers were coming back. Not crashing noisily through the woods this time, but stalking, silent. She looked through the trees towards the sound and saw them. In their stealth, they had almost made it back to her hiding place. They took turns walking towards her, one creeping forward, silently, while the other scanned the underbrush for any sign of movement. She was paralyzed with fear. She was torn between the instinct to flee mindlessly and the instinct to hide, to close her eyes, press her face into the dirt and try to disappear. She lay perfectly still, transfixed with terror, and watched her pursuers glide silently closer. One of them walked right up to the bushes where she hid and stopped. She lay perfectly still, hardly daring to breathe. His boots were inches from her face. She could smell him. Smoke, body odor, and alcohol. Any second, he was going to hear her hammering heart, smell her fear, and then she would die. Instead, he walked past, slowly. His partner joined him. Together they searched the ground, looking for her tracks, trying to pick up her scent. One found spots of blood from her leg nearby and they began searching with renewed vigor. Both of them walked directly towards where she was hiding. One suddenly stopped, staring at something. Slowly he reached out to the bushes where she was hiding and pulled off a tuft of red hair. It had been torn from her head during her mad dive into the underbrush. She watched in horror as he and his companion bent down and peered into the bushes. For several seconds, they scanned the foliage for signs of her. She was covered with dirt, leaves stuck in her hair, camouflaged. Both of them were too large to comfortably get into the bushes and search for her, but they were persistent. One picked up a long stick and started to poke it into the center of the bushes. While he probed, the other remained perfectly still, watching for her movement. She did not move her head to follow the movement of the prodder around the bushes, but instead watched the face of the other. As he looked back and forth, he paused and leaned forward. He made eye contact with her. She had been found. The man shouted and recoiled. Simultaneously, she sprang into movement, her refuge now a prison hindering her escape. As she scrambled backwards through the branches, there were several huge percussions. She was deafened by the first one, but could feel each "Boom!" all through her body. Bullets smashed into the ground front of her face and blasted branches to pieces over her head. A stone or piece of debris lacerated her face across the eye. As she ripped herself free from the bushes, the other man smashed her across the back with his stick, a brutal, overhand blow. Although knocked to the ground, senseless, she instinctively rolled to her feet and ran, using the man with the stick as a shield from more gunfire. The stick wielder tried another clumsy, Herculean swing, but missed. She was too fast for him, already dashing behind the next clump of trees.
Her flight was hopeless. She was nearly spent, blood flowing anew from her ruined leg. Her newest injuries weren't trivial either. The blow to her back was serious. Her limbs now felt uncoordinated and moved jerkily. Without checking, she knew her eye and face were wrecked. She was totally blind on her injured side. It made maneuvering through the dense foliage difficult. What was more, her pursuers were now right behind her. Even injured, she was able to keep ahead of them, her smaller size allowed her to go under and around trees and branches that they had to smash through and push aside. There was no way that she could keep up her pace indefinitely. Eventually, she'd lose so much blood that she couldn't run any more. Without warning, she ran out into a clearing in the woods. She poured on the speed to get back under cover before her pursuers could see her. Just before she reached the tree line, she felt an impact in the center of her back that trivialized the blow shed felt when hit by the stick. She went limp, her momentum causing her to cartwheel to a stop. She was paralyzed below the bullet wound, her spine severed. Still, in a futile effort, she tried to drag herself to the trees, blood and foam at the corners of her mouth. She could hear them walking up behind her, in no hurry now. With a brutal kick, one of them knocked her onto her back. She could see his face, showing his teeth in a rictus grin. He held a knife in one hand. He stomped a booted foot into her chest, pinning her to the ground. In a last, desperate act she gnashed her teeth at him, snarling, trying to do some small injury to him in her last moments. Unhesitatingly, remorselessly, he slashed her throat almost to the spine. Still trying to bite, she started to wind down like a clockwork toy, her life ebbing. She could still feel the knife in her; he was starting to skin her before she was even dead. She was being skinned alive.
Kevin put down his knife, wiping his bloody hand on the ground. "Bitch almost got away."
"I know," Mark replied, "I can't believe she could run that fast after I shot her straight through the leg."
"Yeah," Kevin agreed, "she was a tough one." He picked up his knife and continued skinning.
Mark lit a cigarette, "How are you doing over there?"
"Almost done, I hate doing the part around the legs, I'm always afraid I'm going to mess it up. This one's got the holes there too." Finished, he considered his work. Not bad if he said so himself. They should get some good money for this one. He picked the bloody pelt up by its red and white tail, "What do you think?"
Mark smiled and nodded. "Looks good to me, we should get $75 for this one."
"Yeah, easily. There's not much fox left around here any more. Price keeps going up."
Together, Kevin and Mark turned and started to walk back to their house, leaving the skinless corpse behind.