She was near the split in the trail when they surrounded her–three leering men, their stinking, unwashed bodies, their stringy, ragged hair and tattered clothing reeking of wood smoke, body grease, urine, and feces.
Slowly, she backed into the woods, using the only still open avenue of escape. Then she ran.
They laughed as they followed, chasing her as she dodged through the trees, leapt downed logs, ducked under widow makers and low hanging branches.
She heard two of them split off, one to the east, the other west of her. Ahead was a towering cliff of rocks, giant boulders and shards of basalt littering the forest floor. She saw a cleft, aimed for it, got there, and climbed, her hands and feet desperate. She got to a ledge, but saw no way to climb further.
Below her, the men, huffing and breathless, bent over, hands on their knees. “Hey, little sissy. Come on down,” one of them yelled. “We ain’t goin’ nowhere.”
She got her backpack off, turned around, her hands clutching the rock face. Each tiny movement brought rills of fear flooding up from her stomach with the threat of overbalancing, falling. She managed to sit, detritus crumbling over the ledge.
The men had settled themselves, arms crossed, their backs to boulders and trees. They looked up at her. “We’re not goin’ anywhere, little sissy,” one called, again.
Her hands shook. Her brain was buzzing. Unzipping the backpack took intense concentration and will.
She got it open. Got out the small vial. Felt immediately better.
She looked down at the men. “I’ve got his ashes in my back pack,” she called, her voice stalling, faltering.
She heard them laugh. One of them said, “Wha-at?”
She uncapped the vial and flung the dust outward and up…saw the shadow begin to form, then cowered, covering her eyes.
Their screams rung through the forest, terrible, tormented, terrified. Then stopped.
She felt a breeze on her face, sobbed, heard the rustle of wings, felt a brush on her cheek.
Eyes clamped so tight that it hurt, she held out a hand, cupping it…felt the heavy silt settle. When she was sure, she opened her eyes and carefully tipped his dust back into the vial. “Thank you,” she whispered.
Originally created in response to Amy Knepper’s story prompt dated October 26th, 2014 in the G+ community Writer’s Discussion Group. It was ranked best by vote.