A quick sniff told me that the people rounding the bend were related: mom, dad, and son. Kid was seven or eight, running ahead of his parents, but he skidded to a stop when he saw me.
I held my breath.
“Holy cow,” he whispered. Then, in a shrill voice that I fought hard to not wince at: “Look at this thing! Lookit! Hey Mom and Dad! Lookit!”
Dad: “Wow, that’s way scarier than anything we’ve seen so far.”
Mom: “What is it?”
Son: “A werewolf, duh.”
Mom: “I meant, is that someone in a suit? Or like a statue or something?”
The dad whacked me on my rump. “Hey, are you in there?” He laughed. “I don’t think it’s a costume. It’s one of those animatronic things.”
Mom circled me. She looked unsure. She also smelled scared. “It’s not moving. I thought animatronic stuff moved.”
Son: “Maybe it’s not plugged in.”
I swear to God, if they search me for a plug-in . . .
The son stroked my back. “It feels real.”
Dad added his hand. “Yeah, it does. Wonder how many dogs they had to skin to make this.”
Mom: “Let’s go. It’s creepy.”
Dad moved in front of me. I had a direct sight line at his crotch. “I think it’s facing the wrong way. I mean, it’d be scarier if it was like facing you when you come around the curve. I wonder if someone jacked with it.”
The mom told him to leave me alone. “It’s probably supposed to be that way,” she added.
“Da-aa-aa-ad,” the kid whined, “let’s go, you said after this we could go to Dairy Queen. You promised.”
The dipshit dad poked me in the nose. “Wow, the nose is even warm.”
Leave, moron! I need to breathe. Fucking. Leave.
“Bill,” the mom said. “Come on.” She and the kid started up the trail. Dad sighed and joined them.
I finally got to breathe. Damn, it felt good. I jumped into the woods. A few moments later, I heard the dad say, “Hey, where’d it go?”
Ah, crap. I ducked behind a tangle of blackberry bushes.
“Bill! Let’s go!”
“I wanted to get a picture of it, but it’s . . . babe, listen, it’s gone, how is it gone?”
“It was some guy in a suit, Dad! Come on! There’s a lady in a dress here!”
I saw the dad kneel at the spot where I’d been standing. He touched the ground. Touched my footprints. Then he looked into the woods, almost right at me. “No way,” he whispered.
He shot to his feet and backed up, eyes darting from tree to tree. It took a tremendous amount of self-control for me to not rattle the bushes. Finally, he spun around and ran back to his family.
I rubbed my forehead. This kind of shit did not happen to the Wolfman.
I wound my way through the trees and bushes until I reached the trail’s entrance. I passed groups, but they were doing a great job of sticking together. No female stragglers to tempt the rapist. Not that I’d smelled him.
The guy wasn’t here. He might never be here.
He might be at another haunted forest, grabbing another woman, right now.
The only reason I thought he might be here, the only thing I had to go on, was that this place was advertised at the scene of his last attack.
It wasn’t enough. He wasn’t here.
I snarled in frustration. I had to stay here until they closed. If I left, and he showed up and it happened tonight, I’d never forgive myself.
And what if it was happening somewhere else?
What if what if what if what if
It was enough to drive anyone nuts. I got to all fours and tracked through the woods again, to the parking lot.
This time, though. This time, I heard a car door slam shut. This time a breeze started up and blew his scent to me.
I think my jaw dropped open. I know I looked skyward for a moment. Might have to reconsider the whole higher power thing.
My prey paused at the trail exit. Then he darted into the woods. Not on my side, that’d be too perfect, but across from me.
I briefly considered leaping after him, doing him quick and bloody.
Then I decided to wait a bit. Savor things.