The mutilated limbs creak and moan above you under the piling snow. They're barely audible over the sound of your frayed breaths. No matter how deep you breathe, it isn't enough to satisfy your body's hunger, yet your chest bursts with each inhale. Your heart is beating frantically against your chest and seems to echo off the hills around you. Howling your presence in the dark.
Dragging each frozen limb through the unyielding snow drift is like moving through molasses. Muscles are searing at the unrelenting pace, but you show no mercy. You can't stop. Not here. A fleeting blur out of the corner of your eye makes you falter. Flinching, you search for it again, but fail to discern anything amongst the twisted birches. The dirty greys of bark, snow and shadow keep their secrets to themselves. You wrap your scant covering tighter, for warmth but also to staunch the steady flow of ruby droplets between the flayed material. Trying to dampen the scent. A hopeless task. The thought you may be the only survivor threatens to engulf you, panic pounding your ears. Burning sinew keeps moving beyond the restraints of pain. You owe it to the others to survive. To try. Watching eyes lash your back, more goading than any whip. They've been trailing you since you escaped. If this could be called escape. Their presence is everywhere. You can sense them scrutinizing you. The image rises unbidden in your mind, of the farm cat. How often you had watched her stalking mice, digging in claws before letting them loose. A few steps of freedom before pouncing again. A game repeated until, bored, she delivers solace in the shape of a lethal bite. A muffled thrum emerges on your right. The light drumming of feet flitting over the snow. A grunt. A broken snarl. The beats become less, the numbers diminishing. Pain sears your side. The oppressing wall of cold is thickening in front of you. Your breath freezes and falls at your feet. There is a slight incline before you and you falter, crumpling to your knees. Feet skid beneath you as you struggle to regain them, trying desperately to escape the pounce that doesn't come. A gap in front of you reveals a hut in the distance. A dim light glowing in the window, just visible in this endless dusk. If you can make it you may have a chance. Cramping, rigid limbs find a new aim. One foot in front of the other. Your pace quickens. On your left faint crashes are heard. Multiple bodies moving through undergrowth. Gliding over the snow. Mirroring the lolloping on your right. Corralling you. You cough, faint crimson spray on the ivory snow.
If you make it.
Shapes gather behind you. A laugh stalks the breeze.
Iona Rule is a vet living in the Scottish Highlands, who enjoys writing flash fiction and poetry. When she isn't writing she is cooking, reading, or exploring. You can see her extremely photogenic cat, Louis, on her Instagram @i.m.rule.