*Son of a bitch almost had me.*
The idea of an attack coming from below, from lower ground, had seemed so ludicrous that Saint hadn’t been on guard against it. Hadn’t considered it, even.
*If it had’n screamed, given itself away.*
Saint had leapt out of the way just in time to avoid being crushed by the rock.
“Look out!” he’d shouted to Arly. Then the beast had been on him.
*Damn thing is fast.*
He’d managed to get off a shot; he’d rolled over on the ledge, brought the rifle into position and fired in the instant that Maka’kahu had loomed over him. The rifle, a Winston Magnum 300, had a hell of a punch to it, and the round had struck the monster in its left shoulder, catching it in mid leap.
When it fell on him with its full weight, only the rifle, Saint holding it across his chest with both hands, had been between the monster and himself. Saint had stared down its throat into blackness, its breath like steam in his face, stinking like an open sewer; its tongue wiggling, fat and pulpy, like a warted purple toad in its mouth, a mouth filled with yellow misshapen teeth, all different sizes, all sharp, pointed. Another inch and those teeth would have snapped closed on Saint’s face.
But Saint had gotten the .357 out of its holster and fired several rounds into the creature’s belly. With a shriek that was a cross between the sound of a whale in distress (he’d heard that sound on some nature documentary he’d watched on the little TV he’d kept in his cell at Abbeville), a bat (a different nature show), and a spewing teakettle, Maka’kahu had leapt off him and disappeared over the edge.
“When you done got an animal wounded,” Saint’s grandfather had instructed him, all those years ago, “ya’ foller it an’ ya’ finish it.”
Saint had followed. He’d left Garrett Roth hanging off the edge of the cliff and followed. He couldn’t climb the cliff wall like Maka’kahu, so he’d been forced to make his way down the ledge, going the same direction he’d seen Arly and Pete Corelli flee when the beast attacked. Saint figured, long before he picked up the monster’s trail, he’d catch up to Corelli and Arly.
He found one of them.
Saint’s grandfather, who’d taught him to track, had himself been taught by a full-blood Caddo Indian. Saint could read sign better than most, thus when he came to the site at the base of the ridge he knew what had happened, like it had all been written down for him. He just didn’t want to believe it.
Corelli was still breathing but unconscious, lying in a tangle of dead vegetation. Saint kicked him awake.
“Where is she?” Saint demanded.
Corelli shook off a dazed expression, blinked his eyes. “She’s gone? Oh, no!” He struggled to his feet. “The monster!”
“It took her,” Saint said.
“It came out of nowhere!” Corelli had dried blood on his face, caked in his beard. “I remember Arly screaming, then it hit me, knocked me aside!”
“Might be I ought’a put you down,” Saint said, “but you could be of use, so I’m gon’ grant you a reprieve.”
“What?” The words didn’t register.
“Jus’ follow me, homme, an’ keep up.”
“We’re going after Arly?” Corelli said.
“‘Course we are.” Saint started off. “Ol’ boy’s done gone an’ made this personal. ‘Fore it was jus’ business. Now he’s got me good an’ riled.”