He stopped for a second, doubled over. His breathes were shallow and acidic; burning as he took them into his failing chest.
"Are you ok, dad?" Clive asked, worried at the sight of his father.
"I'm fine... Just... need... a... min-" he choked out words interrupted by a rustling coming from behind.
"Dad..." Clive asked, seeing a crooked shadow lurk through the woods just behind them. A dull groaning could be heard, occasionally breaking into light, measured yips.
Still bent over, his father raised his hand to quiet his son. He struggled for breathes, weakly raising his armed hand, weapon trained on the wood. The rustling stopped, a slow breeze passing through halting the creature as crisp spring air rushed past everything. For a moment the white noise of sparsely leaved branches scratching against each other filled the air, masking the dull croak of the ominous figure lurking in the dark shadows of the wood. Slowly, the pair inched back along their course; eyes trained on the shadowy form set still in the wood.
"When we get to the woodline," Henry started, still weezing in useless gulps of air.
"I want you to break off running. Run to the cabin and lock the door behind."
"I'll slow you down. You go, get the rifles. The bullets are in the bag. Here, take this-" he pressed, weakly digging his free hand into his pocket to retrieve his phone.
"But you won't make it..." His son replied, voice choked at the sound of his father's orders.
"I'll be fine, son. Better if we split up, as is. You get the rifle and position by the window. But keep a good cover. If you get a shot, take it... No matter what."
Clive inched along silent, taking in his father's words. He understood his meaning.
"Say it, boy."
"I'll take the shot."
"Damn right you will. If anything happens, the truck keys are in the bag. Grab them and get to where you can make a call and call Uncle Jack. We need him."
Henry glanced down, seeing the ground slowly start to change back to forest from field. It would be any moment now before his son broke away to take that long run through the thin wood to granddad's shack. He knew the creature would hear the commotion and see the boy racing his way along the long rough path to the shack, leaving Henry standing airless and prone. He took in a deep breathe, chest slowly loosening as he readied himself. Once that creature caught sight of him, he would have one shot, maybe two before the beast was on him. It looked big but clumsy, with a crooked awkward form. It moved stiffly from what he could see, his position obscured by a few feet of wood and river bank. That would help buy Clive some time.... He thought, readying to lift his pistol.
"Ready yourself, boy..." He said, his voice scratchy and dry. A bitter metallic taste washed down the back of his throat, gagging him a little as he awaited his son's reply.
"Clive?" He asked again, still inching along; his son's still soft, boyish hands wrapped around his chest helping him stand up.
"You sure this is the best way?" He heard his son say, his voice small and scared; the fingers on his right hand turning white as he gripped the phone.
"It's the only way, son. Now when I count three, you break for Granddad's, got me?"
"I love you, Clive."
"Love you too..."
Henry never heard himself say three, the next moments playing out silent. He felt his son's hands let go, his body collapsing under his own weight; falling hard on the forest floor. He lifted his head in time to see the shadow take notice of the commotion; the great black beast bursting out of the woods in a fury. It growled ferociously, standing still as it surveyed the field around it; poor eyes finding it difficult to focus in the bright high sun. It didn't take long though for the beast to train itself at Henry, laying on the floor useless. His eyes caught sight of the beast starting its charge as he laid there. He struggled to raise himself up, his body weak and useless as he forced with all he had left. He stared back at the beast, gaining ground quickly. It was faster than Henry had anticipated, moving along skillfully as it used its arms for support.
Henry finally willed himself to his knees, the beast gaining ground quickly as he stood prone. He weakly tossed his arm up; his fingers firing before he had his mark properly squared. The bullet whizzed by the charging creature harmlessly. He fired a second time, more care given to his aim before spitting molten lead at the unrelenting creature. The bullet caught it in the left shoulder. Jerking its massive body slightly as it crashed into the thick, leathery hid. The creature moaned loudly, his pace only slowing slightly as it moved closer still.
Henry fired a third, his arm growing limp as his head dizzied. His breathes were tight again as the recoil of the final shot jerked him off balance, serving him up as easy prey for the beast as it vaulted itself upon him.
It was only seconds more Henry suffered, an agonized cry echoing off the ancient wood as the creature's heavy claws ripped open his guts. Bright crimson splashed the budding foliage as Henry's innards festooned the surrounding woods. The beast paused only slightly before racing further down the path, the scent of prey still strong in the air.