Trace turned just in time to see something move away. Vines swayed along the brush in the wake of the unseen thing. He could smell it. It smelled like animal carcasses on a warm day and burning leather, overpowering the familiar scents of dry air and falling leaves. There was a howl, and Trace tightened his grip on his rifle.
“C’mon out you stinking bastard,” he said through clenched teeth.
Something stirred further in the brush. Leaves and pine needles rustled.
Trace pulled the rifle up and set his sights down the barrel. The full moon overhead glinted off the steel of his gun. He cocked with his thumb. He pressed against the trigger, ready to squeeze at the slightest provocation.
He looked up and down the trail. He found it empty. It was just him and Buttercup, an aged mare grown fat in pasture. Buttercup’s eyes were wide. Hot breath steamed out her nostrils as she shuffled her aged legs.
“Still, Buttercup. Still.” Trevor patted her greying coat. He walked down the trail and looked off into the brush.
Buttercup looked from side to side. She turned her head to regard the brush and screeched a pained neigh. Something large was atop her when Trevor turned around.
Trevor aimed his rifle and fired.
Trevor ran forward.
When the smoke cleared, Buttercup lay on the ground, a gaping hole bleeding from her side. Her hide was peeled back in three parallel shreds.
The leaves along the brush rustled and swayed, but the trail and clearing were empty.
“Damn!” Trevor reloaded his rifle. He stood over his horse and looked Buttercup in the eye. She stared back, her eyes moist and wide. She shuddered. He lifted the rifle to her head and fired. “Damn.” He didn’t look down at her again. There was no need.
“Come back here! Face me!” Trevor roared at the surrounding forest.
Somewhere in the distance there was a sound. Almost like a laugh, more like a bark.
Trevor looked up and down the trail. It remained empty. The dark mound that was once Buttercup lay lifeless and still. “That was my favorite horse, you monster. Now you’ve done it. It’s one thing to eat a man’s goats, but another thing altogether to eat his horse. I’d had her since I was just a boy. She was like a sister. Get out here!”
He stood silent and listened. There was no movement, no sound, just the wind.
Trevor turned around.
Something blocked the trail. As a shadow, it looked like a man – a very large man, but a man nonetheless – but Trevor knew it was something else, something equally as bad if not worse. And that was saying something considering Trevor’s opinion of humanity in general.
It stood still, blocking the trail ahead. The moon stood high above the form, making it a mere silhouette. Trevor pulled up his gun and fired.
Smoke rose into the sky. The bullet pinged as it ricocheted off a boulder somewhere in the distance. The thing was gone. It dissipated and came back together.
It laughed. The laugh turned into a howl.
Trevor quickly reloaded and fired. He reloaded and fired. He reloaded and fired. And then there were no bullets left.
“Die! C’mon. Die!” Trevor cocked his empty gun and fired off a click. He looked at his rifle. "Shit."
He looked ahead. There was a glint of sharp teeth raised into the facsimile of a smile inside a cloud of dark smoke.
Trevor took in a deep breath of air and raised his shoulders back. He tightened his grip on his rifle and prepared to swing.
The thing solidified and ran at him. The ground shook beneath Trevor’s feet.
Trevor reared back the rifle in his hands. As the form of the creature approached, he swung through the air, connecting with nothing.
There was a sharp pain in Trevor’s side. He dropped the gun, reached down with his hand, and pulled it away wet with blood. “That just ain’t fair!”
“Whoever the hell said life’s fair?”
Trevor fell to his knees.
There was a laugh that turned into a roar and then the thing was upon him.
Trevor’s scream echoed along the lonesome trail.