Page 27 of Starlit Skies

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Had he seen the knife?

They both crouched in a boxer’s stance, facing off. Skylar could hardly believe she was capable of this. Of fronting up to some mad hunter, as if she’d actually be able to match off against him in a real fist fight. She knew she’d never win. Surely, he knew it as well.

Nash lay on the ground some way down the slope. She’d heard him scream in pain. Then he’d told her to run. But run where? She wasn’t about to leave him here. The only other option was to get her hands on that gun. But she’d failed miserably at that attempt.

Should she go for the gun again? She could see it clearly, as if it was beckoning to her, the barrel glinting in the sunlight shimmering through the trees above. The gunman had his eye on the rifle, as well.

Or should she try for the knife? It was closer.

In the split second she wavered between the two weapons, the gunman sprang sideways, going for the gun.

In her peripheral vision, she could see Nash getting to his feet. It was as if things were happening in slow motion. The gunman was running, his back to her, intent on getting to that gun. Nash was yelling something at her, but she couldn’t decipher his words.

The gun was right on the edge of the steep-sided gully. That’s when she made her decision.

She charged after the gunman, her legs pumping as she sprinted through the woodland.

He bent down to retrieve the gun.

Just as he straightened, she cannoned into his back, using her hands as a battering ram to push him over the edge.

The man threw his hands forward, trying to save himself, sending the rifle tumbling through the air. There was a small cliff face, of around two or three meters, directly below them, the sides of the gully rising to meet the sheer drop. The gunman plummeted through the air, somehow managing to twist in the air like a cat and land heavily on his feet, but then the slippery slope gave way beneath him, and he was somersaulting down the steep, rocky gulch, tumbling over and over, yelling in fear and pain, until he finally came to rest with a thump against a large boulder near the bottom.

Oh, shit. Had she killed him? She hadn’t meant to kill him.

Nash arrived at her side, breathless and grimacing in pain, and they both stared down into the dry creek bed. The man groaned and moved slightly. An absurd relief flooded through Skylar’s veins. She shouldn’t care if the man was dead, he’d been trying to kill them after all. But still, to have taken a life…Skylar wasn’t sure she could live with that.

“Where’s the rifle?” Nash barked.

“It went over there.” Skylar pointed toward a rocky outcrop a few feet to the left, near the brink of the small cliff face.

“I got the knife,” he said, holding it up for Skylar to see. “But we need that gun.” He limped carefully along the edge of the cliff, not wanting to suffer the same fate as their hunter and tumble over the edge, while Skylar remained where she was, watching the other man. She couldn’t believe what she’d just done. Couldn’t believe she was capable of such violence.

“Shit.” Nash was leaning over the edge of a jumble of rocks, looking into a small cleft in the limestone. “I can see it. But I can’t reach it. The gun is jammed about five feet down in a crack.”

Nash made his way back around to where Skylar was standing. “We might be able to rig up a stick or something to hook it out, but it looks like it’s jammed in there pretty tight.”

“Maybe we don’t even need the gun,” she said, turning to look at the spot where the man had landed. “If we can get down there and tie him up, then…” But the man was on his feet, dark eyes boring into them, filled with hatred.

His voice floated up to them from below. “No one gets the drop on me. You’ve made me mad. Really mad.” The man turned his head to study his wounded shoulder, tearing at the ripped fabric in disgust. “I don’t need that gun, I’ll tear you fuckers limb from limb.” He removed the backpack that’d miraculously stayed on his back during his fall and pulled out a small black box.

“You’d better watch out, you little fuckers, because I’m calling in my big brother. And no one gets away from Stan the Man. He was a sniper in the army. You guys are fucked, now.” He held up a cell phone so they could clearly see him dialling.

“Is that guy for real?” Skylar could hardly believe her ears. “Surely, he’s not going to keep coming after us?”

Nash glanced between the knife in his hand and the man at the bottom of the gully. Perhaps weighing up the chances of using it on the crazy guy below. Weighing up the chances of winning against that beast of a man. He reminded her of Rambo, or some equally muscle-bound bad actor out of a thriller movie.

“I wounded him,” Nash finally said. “And he’d be lucky if he doesn’t come out of that fall without at least being badly bruised all over. But that won’t stop a man like him. And if it’s true that he’s calling in reinforcements, well…”

“What are you saying?”

“We need to keep running. It’ll take him at least ten minutes to climb out of there. He might even need to walk farther down the ravine to get out. And he will try and retrieve the gun, he won’t just leave it there unless he’s sure it can’t be rescued. We need to use that time to get ahead of him.”

“You’ve got to be joking,” she answered weakly. But even as she said the words, she knew Nash was determined. She just wanted this whole interminable disaster to be over. Wanted to be home, safe in her kitchen, dreaming up her next meal to astound her guests.

“Let’s go back to our original plan. Head westward and see if we can find that road you mentioned, or that waterfall. I don’t know if he’s going to call in support, and God knows where they think they’re going to land, with all the rescue aircraft up there, but we have to keep going.”

Skylar merely nodded. It must only be around eight o’clock in the morning, and already she was exhausted. How was she ever going to make it through the day?

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