His lungs burned as he ran, panting, through the deciduous forest. It was the middle of November and the trees had begun to shed their leaves. The ground was littered with them and they crunched with a roar while the undergrowth was a mass of knotty roots that tripped him as he ran. He didn’t dare look behind him so he kept running; willing himself to go faster - pushing through the sting of the barren branches that whipped him. He knew he was making a lot of noise but speed was more important than silence at this point. His life depended on it.
With no memory of how he got there (all he remembered was waking up to red eyes), he shook his head trying to clear his thinking. They must have drugged him, he concluded. If they hadn’t squabbled over who would get to eat him first, he might not have gotten away. The sun was due to rise in a couple of hours but that still gave them plenty of time to catch him. He sprinted forward but his legs burned with fatigue and he could barely breathe.
The crescent moon didn’t provide enough light to judge in which direction he was headed. “God, if you get me out of this, I promise I’ll be a better person! Just please help me!” he prayed as he slowed down trying to determine which way to go. The sound of a cracking twig renewed his fear. He pushed blindly through some bushes and slipped down a ravine, flailing and grasping at whatever he could get a hold of. But he only got a hold of loose roots and earth on his way down and he landed in a heap bruised and bleeding.
He laid there trying to determine how hurt he was when a thump got his attention. His insides liquefied in fear as he looked to see who had jumped down into the ravine. A pair of boots walked towards him and stopped by his head. Trembling, he had no choice but to look up. It was dark but he could see by the contour of the legs and the flare of hips that it was a woman. He had only seen men in the cellar he had been kept in but he couldn’t be sure that she wasn’t one of them. While he laid there frozen in fear, she squatted down and assessed his injuries, determined they were minor and focused her predatory eyes on his. “You’re not seriously hurt. The road is a quarter mile from here. We need to go now, so keep up.” She grabbed his shirt and lifted him up as if he weighed nothing. “Who are you?”
“There’s no time for questions, we need to move.”
“How are we getting back up?”
“Leave that up to me.” She pulled out a gun from her side holster and he panicked thinking she was going to shoot him. But it turned out to be a grappling gun which she fired sending the hook up into the tree branches at the top of the ravine. Once it hooked, she pulled to test it and ruling it safe, she handed it to him. “Here, you have to pull yourself up the side of the ravine. Use your legs to walk up and I’ll meet you at the top.”
“How are you getting up there?”
“No more questions, they’re getting closer. Move!” She pushed him up to give him a start and watched as he slowly walked up the ravine. He looked down and caught her feral cat eyes watching him and he knew that this woman who was now helping him was very dangerous. Concentrating on climbing he tried not to wonder if he was now in more danger than he had previously been. The woman took two steps back and with a running leap jumped and cleared the ravine. “I’m dog meat” he thought “She’s definitely going to eat me. She’s probably their Queen.” She pulled him up over the edge, her grip on him like iron, and then she froze. She scanned the forest as if she could see through all the darkness, listening for any sound. Just as quickly, she began to run dragging him along. His fear compounded realizing that if she was running too, they were in serious trouble.
She never released her hold on him as she continued to push him forward; her body running slightly behind him as if to provide cover. The sound of footsteps stomping through the forest in pursuit got closer and the woman turned firing shots in the dark without slowing down. “So she does have a gun.” he managed the thought as if he wasn’t running for his life, but the loud wheezing of his breathing kept him grounded on reality. He heard a cry and the thumping sounds of a body falling on the ground, but the footsteps continued chasing. “God, how many are there?” but he couldn’t dwell on it for they had come to a dirt road where she finally slowed down still scanning everything about them.
They jogged a few paces until they came to a partially hidden motorcycle that he would never have noticed had he been alone. She let go of him then, climbed on the bike, started it and grabbed him by the front of his shirt indicating that he climb in behind her. He didn’t need to be told twice and jumped on the bike; the fierce growls of the monsters shrieking only steps away from them.
The bike roared as they sped off in the darkness, hunched low, his arms clutching her waist tightly. It was one of those racing motorcycles, built for speed not comfort. He’d never ridden a bike before and his fear of dying continued; tormenting himself that instead of being eaten he would die in a horrible motorcycle crash. After riding for a few minutes with his eyes shut and his face pressed to her back, he realized that they had entered the highway. His heart did somersaults whenever she weaved in traffic or took sharp turns leaning the bike so close to the ground he wondered how they never fell off.
It wasn’t until they were within the city limits that she stopped at a bus station and kicked the bike stand down. “Get off here.”
He had some difficulty getting off the bike; his legs felt like jelly, his stomach was queasy and the shakes had begun. Within two steps, he doubled over and vomited. She made an annoyed sound as if she had wasted her time saving his life; turned off the bike, got off and walked over to him making sure not to get too close. Wiping his mouth with his sleeve he straightened up to see her impassive face scrutinizing him again like she did at the ravine. It was difficult to look into her yellow cat eyes for long and he averted his gaze.
“You’ve only minor scrapes and bruises so you’ll recover quickly.”
“I almost got killed! What were those things?”
“There should be a bus arriving soon. Get on it.” She started to walk towards the bike. “Wait a minute! I need to know what those creatures who abducted me were! They weren’t human, were they?”
She stopped and half turned towards him, piercing him with her yellow eyes. He held his breath, forcing himself to maintain eye contact even though she scared him. Long seconds ticked by and he thought she wasn’t going to answer, when she said: “They were Ghouls.”
“Ghouls? There’s no such thing. Is there?” He asked incredulously. The vivid memory of red eyes and mouths full of sharp teeth with rancid breath, while they prodded him with their long claw-like nails, sent shivers up his spine.
“Ghouls exist. They ordinarily don’t hunt in the city and their regular diet tends to be corpses usually left behind by other creatures of the night you don’t want to know about.
“Then why did they take me?”
“From time to time, they like fresh meat. So they coordinate a hunt. They’re not very bright and don’t work well together so they end up squabbling over their food. Even so, you were lucky to escape.” She got on her bike, turned it on and kicked back the stand.
“I didn’t get a chance to thank you.” He said trying to delay her departure - fearing abandonment yet apprehensive of her company. “You’re welcome” she said revving the bike.
“You didn’t tell me your name” Slowly she turned her head towards him and he felt like he was caught in a spider web, unable to move. Those yellow eyes penetrated his very soul and he couldn’t turn away. “Mia”
“Mia” he repeated stupidly
“Mia Kiehls” and she sped away into the night.