He inhaled, taking in deep the lovely smells of the night. The earthy impending rain, the sweet blooming honeysuckle, the acrid smoke of the campfire, the sharp musk of her sweat. They all lolled around in his nose and mingled with the taste of rotted meat from his last meal , and the fresh bloody gore of this man’s flesh in his teeth. He breathed it all in as he slowly chewed his the meat of his kill. He blinked as he stared up at the moon with large, half blind eyes. He ran his talon across what remained of the throat of the man, brought it up to his wide mouth and licked at it thoughtfully. The flesh will taste better in a day or two. Best to let it cure.
She hadn’t gotten far. He could hear her feet plodding the soft damp ground, she was trying to skirt the edge of the water. She’d make better time if she swam. There were alligators to be sure, but eaten was eaten. The reptiles would at least give her a fairer chance. He rose up from his haunches, scraping a stubborn piece of meat from under a claw.
She was young, but they all were to him. She was afraid, he could only guess how terrifying he appeared to her. His heart began to pound, they always ran from him. The anticipation of the chase excited him. He heard her trip, likely on a cypress knee, letting out a short scream as her hair was pulled by a low hanging branch. She splashed in the shallow brackish swamp, trying to get her feet.
He preferred the women, they were smarter, they ran. The men were dumb, they tried to put a fight too early. He had nearly been killed only three times in his life, each time by a woman. Always after the chase. After their blood had flowed, after the fear and exhaustion had done their work. Long after reason and sanity had left. That is when the fight mattered, when it was all they had left. That is why the women always tasted so much better when they were fresh.
He pushed off from a nearby tree and began his silent loping run. He always loved the chase. She would take the high path back to the car.
He cut into the thickets of reeds, ran across the fallen tree spanning the narrow end of the swamp. He leapt up onto the high embankment, and reached the bend in the trail. He crouched and waited.
She came, breathing hard, scrabbling for a hold on the step-like roots of the eroded path. Closer, she couldn’t even tell that she was crying. Tears of panic leaving streaks down her muddy face.
Closer, his heart beat louder, blood pounding in his ears. His excitement mounted.
Too soon he reached out for her arm as she climbed the path. She screamed, and slid back down. Landed on her back. He jumped down to where she lay, landing astride her. He bent forward, jagged claws reaching for her throat.
There was a hot pressure, cold pain, warm blood.
A stone perhaps a log. Something heavy had been in her hand when she swung. He was off-balance. She manged to kick him off her. On her feet quickly, running leaps up the trail. He slowly pushed himself back up. He stretch his jaw feeling it fall back in place with a click that echoed in his skull. He spit a broken tooth, tasting his own blood.
She was running again, harder now. She was hurt, bleeding now. Her hand, where she struck him.
Shaking himself back to sense he set off again. Ducking under branches, pushing aside tall grasses, and thorned vines he cut a way towards the lot. She would still try to reach the car, that was escape in her mind. She was deep in the fear now, past the panic. She had shown that now, razor focus only on escape, safety. One thing mattered, life.
This was life for him. This is all that was, just the chase.
He reached the clearing where visitors to this preserve leave their vehicles while the walked the trails. She was just coming off the trail, running full speed towards the large truck parked there. He ambled in to the moonlight. She didn’t look, but she saw him. Her chest heaved with every step. He could almost hear the excitement of hope in her breathing. He began to run. The closer she got to the vehicle, the faster he chased. He could hear both their hearts beating, reaching the same tempo of excitement.
She reached out for the door.
He reached out for her.
She stepped sideways and threw the door open. It struck his arm as he tried to grab her. He spun around fully and reached again. She dove into the cab of the truck. His claws sank into her leg. Her heartbeat was deafening as he pulled her out and turned her to face him. This was life. This was how the chase ended.
A click, and a thunderous bang.
Another shot rang from the revolver. His breath left him. He lost his grip. Again she fired the gun.
The door slammed, tires skidded in the packed dirt of the lot.
Rain began to fall on his body. He coughed blood onto the ground.
This was how the chase ended.
It had been ages since one had escaped. Others would come, to search the swamp, for the dead man, for him. It didn’t matter.
He would hide in the swamp. The man would provide meat for a time. Then he would sleep, he didn’t know for how long. In the time they would stop believing. Soon enough no one would remember the exact name of the woman who got away from him, or when it happened. Her story and her description of him would blend with the other tales through time. People would forget again.
He would slip back to being just the stuff of legend.