A moment’s respite

a short story

It felt like he had been running for days. Deep in the forest, Mas sought refuge against the black night. Dressed in the tattered waste of his working apparel, the biting wind of the night cut through him. Finally he stopped. He had escaped. He could rest now. Sitting down, leaning his back against a great oak, Mas let both hands lie in the cool soil as he caught his breath.

He had been through hell. He felt weak, afraid. He tried to remember. Returning from the night, there had been an incident. Gaunt figures had accosted him in the dark. They had tried to kill him. Outnumbered and weary, Mas had been overwhelmed by the fury of their sudden assault. They fired their projectiles, metal tipped misery that pierced skin and broke bone. The injuries sustained weren’t enough to stop him from moving, and he had been able to escape and lose them in the forest. His special familiarity with these woods and the many pathways through the trees had likely saved his life. But the pain and blood loss required a moment’s respite now.

Mas gazed up into the sky, through the winding branches of the tree above. The wind howled and the moon was shadowed by clouds. He waited for some time. Eyes closed, breathing in the night, teeth chattering.

Mas heard a sound to the east of him. He smelled death. Turning his head to look, a lone shade appeared just ahead, atop a small hill. Silhouetted in the darkness, one of them had returned. Perhaps to finish the job he and the others had started. Mas rose from the base of the oak and prepared. The blood in the leaves beneath the tree pooled and formed a flowing path among the foliage, eventually soaking into the soil itself. Mas knew much of this flooding was lifeblood, the essence of being. But not all of it was his. The clouds above parted.

Baring fangs, it ran towards the Man.