James approached the crumbling, stone wall of the vast country estate. He’d have to move quickly, to avoid detection from the other men moving through the dense woods nearby. His short, stocky figure was capable of small bursts of speed, but his legs were more used to the deck of a ship, than tearing among the thorny shrubs and tangled tree roots of the forest floor. Timing his move, he vaulted the wall and sprinted across the open ground and into the waiting cover of the trees. He sank down behind a hawthorn bush that provided some concealment, while he caught his heaving breath and listened intently. There was almost no sound at all. Strange, this area should be teaming with quail and other animals. Why were there so many men in the forest? Ah, they must be beaters for a hunting party nearby. The beaters were likely in search of the fat, speckled quail that would be hiding among the dense undergrowth and in the surrounding fields.
James was hunting for a very different form of prey. He checked the five-shot, Webley revolver in his coat, making sure it was fully loaded. It was an inexpensive sidearm, but it had served him well over the years. The last time he had faced his quarry, it had escaped unscathed. That was a mistake he would correct today—or die trying.
The men had moved off towards the fields, so James quietly advanced to the edge of the trees to get a closer look at the light-brown country house. The architecture was in the Palladian style, with symmetrical pillars in the front and circular arches over the large windows. There were multiple wings attached to the central house, and they too were adorned with pediments and porticos.
He was about ten meters away, but with the low fog on the ground, it was difficult to see clearly. As he stood behind a thick oak tree, he leaned outward and peered into the windows of the building. The first and second proved empty and he quickly moved on. The third seemed to contain a large gathering of some sort, with all sorts of people moving about inside, but his target could not be seen there. At the last window on the side of the house, he was shocked to see the very face he had been searching for—looking right back and directly at him. He leaped backwards and turned sideways to conceal his broad shoulders. He desperately hoped that he hadn’t been seen. Maybe the eyes were simply looking out at the trees. No, that was foolish, he had been spotted. But perhaps he could draw his prey to him instead. Risking another glance around the tree, he saw that the face had disappeared from the window. If he was discovered, he would do whatever was required to find a way to spring his trap, even if it cost him everything. Failing that, he would wait for another opportunity to take his revenge.
He had been away at a distant port when the letter came, bearing news that would change his life forever. From that moment, James had vowed vengeance and had thought of little else. He had been hunting for years now, with only one encounter with his prey before. That time he had lost his nerve. But now he would finally finish it. A little patience would cost him nothing and would be well worth the wait, to end that particular life.
After several minutes with no alarm being sounded, he retreated gradually and moved deeper into the forest to wait. Nearly a quarter-hour of time passed. Then, he snapped his head up abruptly, as a faint scraping sound announced the approach of someone else nearby. James cocked the hammer of his revolver and pointed it in the direction he had taken back from house. Minutes passed in deafening silence as his heart thudded rapidly in his chest. There was no one there.
The attack came from his side instead of the front. James was completely unprepared by the sheer force of whatever hit him and knocked him sideways and onto the ground. He only had a sense of a large dark shape as it continued the attack, falling upon him. Desperately, James brought his revolver to bear and fired a shot in the center of the enormous shape. A sound of pure fury exploded from the thing, as a massive, clawed hand raked a fire of agony and blood across his outstretched arm and sent the revolver smashing through the dense brush. James tried to rise to his feet, but more burning pain blossomed in his chest and stomach and the terrible strength of the creature forced him down, crushing the breath from his lungs. He saw sharp canines and the hairy muzzle of a wolf as it slammed into his face and neck. He could only scream in surprise and disbelief as the foul-smelling animal ripped into his body and the life leaked out from him. His last fading thoughts were of his terrible failure and the unjustness of the world. This impossible creature had inexplicably killed him and prevented him from taking his revenge. He would never have the satisfaction, of ending the life of the man whose face he had seen, staring back at him through the country house window.