by Adam Casalino
Robert Asher was sitting up in a tree. It wasn’t his idea. Nor was it his idea to handle the awkwardly designed crossbow that was nestled against his shoulder. He wasn’t a very good shot with the bow; after all, he had only practiced using it for a few hours before he got into the tree. When he had to use a weapon, he preferred a gun. Given the circumstances, however, that wouldn’t have worked; bullets don’t come in silver.
Asher shifted his weight in the blind. The whole tree shook. For a moment he questioned the wisdom of putting a man of his size twenty feet up an oak. The hunter who had hastily instructed him on the matter assured Asher it was fine. At that moment the detective wasn’t so convinced.
He had no way of consulting the old hunter, though: he had been eaten a day ago.
Pulling back his glove, Asher checked his watch. In the thin gleam of the moonlight he saw that it was two o’clock. His breath curled away like smoke, fogging up the watch face. He let the glove fall back over it and looked out at the woods around him.
He was somewhere in the Appalachian Mountains. Asher wasn’t certain where exactly; he had been moving for days and was sure he crossed state lines more than once. All he was confident of was that it was night and there was a rancid smell in the air.
It reminded him of blood and feces. The stench had been growing for the last hour. Asher was no outdoorsman; he wasn’t familiar with the scents of nature. But this was not a natural smell. It was ripe and thick. He could taste it on his tongue. It was a smell he knew all too well.
The creature appeared, slowly moving down the slope. Asher narrowed his eyes as he watched it move. The creature clung to the ground like a spider. Its arms and legs were splayed out, making it almost flat. Asher didn’t believe something that was once a man could bend like that.
Head forward, it slunk from tree to tree. Asher held his breath and listened. He heard a low, snuffling sound. It was searching for his scent. Asher wondered how the monster could smell anything over its own stench. But he knew that its sense of smell was preternaturally keen. It could have picked Asher out from a mile away.
The thing paused by a tree only yards away. The detective watched as the creature studied the trunk. The large arms reached out, clamping onto the tree with both hands. Its breathing grew louder as the creature exerted its strength. With a crack, the tree broke in half. Asher watched chunks of truck slide down the mountainside. The thing hunkered down beside the shattered stump, almost gloating.
Asher laughed to himself. “Showing off, you son of a bitch?”
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