Extract from a short story i’m writing
The wolf’s breathing seemed to echo from every direction, as if the forest itself were taking great, rattling breaths. But the girl didn’t hear it, couldn’t hear it, for her heart thundered so loud in her ears as she ran, that it drowned out all other sound. Glacial air forced its way down her throat, like a fist, pushing back the sour bile that terror and exertion formed in her stomach. Freezing motes of snow bit her cheeks and blurred her eyes, all but blinding her and casting the twilit forest around her into hazy silhouette. The basket hooked in the crook of her arm beat hard and fast against her hip. She steeled her hold on it: she couldn’t drop it. With her free hand she rubbed her streaming eyes clear; vaulting a fallen tree she would have been blind to only a moment ago.
Now she could hear the wolf: its guttural snarls punctuating the silence, its great paws thudding against the earth. The girl knew it was closing in, and though her legs screamed in protest and her throat stung with every intake of breath, she quickened her pace. She had to clear the forest- she didn’t stand a chance if she didn’t get out of the trees. Her rolling, wide green eyes caught fleeting sight of the ravens, dozens of them, perched in the twisted limbs of the towering trees overhead. The inky birds took up a cawing chorus, looking down at the girl, with black, indifferent eyes.
The lower branches of the trees snatched at the girl’s face, seeming to reach across her path like the clawing arms of a jostling crowd. And for all her ducking and weaving it was only moments before her pale face and arms were patterned with cuts. The whole forest seemed to be trying to stop her. Logs she had not seen, emerging to trip her; pools of mud as thick as tar swallowing her leg up to the knee; scree covered inclines that broke away beneath her scrambling feet. And all the while she fought on, lungs burning, head spinning, the wolf grew closer. So close now she could hear its gnashing jaws.
But just as despair and sheer exhaustion threatened to claim her entirely, the girl saw light up ahead. Great shafts of scarlet sunlight reached towards her, like beckoning fingers, through the dark trees. She put on another burst of speed as the trunks thinned and she hurtled out into the open. At that instant, when hope flooded terror, something heavy hit her in the back. Pain: sharp and searing, struck out across her back and before she could throw her arms up to stop herself, the girl landed hard to the scrubby earth. The wolf’s jaws snapped so close to her ear that she felt its fetid breath on her cheek.
Fury rose within her and the girl rolled away, screaming as the claws pinioning her, ripped free. Leaping to her feet she thrust her hand into the basket. Her fingers closed around the hilt of what she sought and she pulled the sword free from the basket’s enchanted depths.
“Stay back, wolf,” Red spat. “Or you’ll feel the temper of my blade.”
What could have been a smile curled the wolf’s pointed, fang lined maw. It padded slowly forward: twice the size of Red, the muscles of its back legs tightening like cords as it prepared to pounce.
Red stared into its yellow, lamp like eyes, as she tossed aside the basket and brandished her sword. The beast growled: a deep resonant sound that rumbled up from its throat. Its raggedy, pointed ears twitched and each strand of its thick coat of black, blood streaked fur, seemed to stand on end. Then, in a movement so lightning fast it rendered the wolf a blur, the beast bounded forwards. Yelling her fury, Red curled her fingers tight around the sword’s hilt and thrust the blade forth, driving it up and into the exposed belly of the wolf. There was strangled yelp, a sickening crunch of bone and a wet splashing sound as Red tore the sword free, releasing the wolf’s innards.
Heart thumping, entire body trembling, Red stared down at the great wolf, dead at her feet. Then, she turned her back on the beast and set off for the village silhouetted in the distance. A wind picked up, Red’s scarlet cloak rippled about her. In her hand, the bloodied sword glistened in the last traces of twilight.