by Michael Cuddy
Ted Bronski’s footfalls echoed through thickly vegetated valleys and over enormous cliffs as he ran at a breakneck pace over a
treacherous ground. The moon was the only hint of light that kept the man from falling face-first to the forest floor, perhaps to his
death. He was deep in the woods now and snow swirled about his head in subtle gusts of wind. Ted slowed only slightly to put his hand
to his gun holster; his .357 magnum had one shot left. One shot would have to be enough, he hoped.
As he ran, Ted could distinctly hear the crunching of undergrowth behind him as something chased him in hot pursuit. Recently, Ted
had begun to think that this something had multiplied into some things. Shallow, panting breaths were inhaled and exhaled rhythmically
by huge beasts somewhere in the deep dark woods behind him. What they were, Ted did not even wish to fathom. He had not taken a
second to look behind him as the darkness of the forests had descended.
Merely three hours earlier, Ted Bronski had held up and robbed a bank in a small rural community high in Colorado ’s Rocky
Mountains. He had shot and killed four people: two women and two men.
Ted never really considered himself a hostile man, surely he was no killer. However, Ted was an alcoholic. He turned to alcohol after
his wife left him five years earlier and taken with her their only son, Max. Maria just up and left one day, and Ted, for the life of him
couldn’t figure out why. He never once stopped to think about the bruises on Max’s arms or the welts on Maria’s back. He was an
abusive man, but Ted didn’t realize this. In truth, he was slightly insane; not purely psychotic, but he just had trouble distinguishing
reality sometimes in his everyday life. When he lost his job and ran out of money to feed his alcohol addiction, robbing a bank seemed
like the perfect solution to his problems.
Ted had an old friend down the street, a retired police officer. On the afternoon of February 12, Ted broke into Jim Olivera’s house
and stolen his prized police gun, a .357 magnum. Unfortunately for Jim, he was returning home from the market just as Ted was
leaving. The latter shot the former in the head without missing a stride. Ted then drove the ten miles into town in his rusted-out pickup.
The local People’s Bank was situated directly across from a five and dime store and next to the fire department. The sun was shining
brightly on the packed, glistening snow as Ted Bronski drove his rusty blue pickup into town around five o’clock that Friday evening. A
line of people were still waiting patiently at the bank to deposit their weekly checks or make some last minute transaction before the
weekend. Among them was Rita Hawkins, a frail old woman who was in town this fateful day to pick up her week’s worth of groceries:
a dozen eggs and some fruit. She had to go to the bank to withdraw a few dollars before she stopped by the general store on her way
back home. At 4:55 p.m., as Rita waited patiently in line, leaning heavily on her hand-carved wooden cane, Ted Bronski stepped into
line behind her.
Rita listened to the man behind her breathing heavily, as if he’d just finished a sprint to the bank from the edge of town. Suddenly, he
shoved past her and stepped up to the teller at the desk.
“Give me all your money. Right now,” the tall, balding man demanded.
He sounded demented. The way he staggered toward the desk was daunting. It wasn’t the stagger of a drunkard, nay, but rather the gait
of a psychopath. He produced a gun from a holster on his hip and pointed it at the woman. The young lady at the front desk screamed.
Ted Bronski promptly pulled his trigger and the woman fell backwards, her screams forever silenced.
A middle-aged man suddenly rushed up behind the crazy thief, but Ted turned around at just the last instant and the would-be hero was
shot in the heart. Ted’s aim was true today.
The robber pulled a cloth satchel from a backpack he carried and jumped behind the desk, collecting money from the open cash
register. The other customers and workers shuddered, hiding and crouching in the corners of the lobby as Ted went calmly about his
business. But not Rita Hawkins. She stood steadfast at her place in line, never having moved an inch since Ted’s rampage began.
When the madman finally acquired his cache, he stepped toward the doors to leave again. An old, gray-haired, intensely wrinkled
woman stood in his way.
“Out of the way, you old hag,” Ted grunted at her and tried to forcibly shove her away.
Instead, the old woman caught hold of his arm. She had an icy grip that momentarily froze Ted in his tracks. He looked up at her,
startled and dumbfounded.
“May the hounds of hell feast on your wretched soul,” the woman rasped in a guttural, ancient voice.
Ted shuddered and regained his wits. He spat at the woman, pulled out his gun and shot her once in the stomach. The old lady
groaned, crumpled over and fell down, but did not scream. Ted opened the doors and stepped out into the dying sunlight.
The robbery had been too easy; no police… none whatsoever. As Ted drove home, he detoured to go to the next town over the
mountains. He’d buy some whiskey to celebrate his newfound wealth tonight. As he climbed the lonely road through the mountain, his
car stalled and died, out of gas. Ted cursed under his breath and got out of the vehicle. By now, the sun was almost down below the
horizon and storm clouds were building. The temperature was also falling rapidly. Soon, it would begin to snow.
Huge trees towered over him on both sides of the road. The forest was eerily dark this night. Ted decided to walk back the way he had
come, back down the mountain. He could go home and bring a can of gas back in the morning when he could see. A shame, he’d have
to be sober tonight.
A low, sepulchral growl stopped Ted dead in his tracks. He spun on his heels to look around but saw nothing. He hoped there were no
wolves roaming the forest. He checked his gun and saw, to his dismay, that he had only one shot left.
The man picked up his pace as he walked back down the mountainside. Eventually, he began to dismiss the notion of the sound he’d
heard as a mere figment of his imagination. Simply nerves, that was all. In the meantime, it started to snow, just lightly and it was
completely dark now.
Unexpectedly, Ted heard the growl again, this time in front of him. It sounded like the reverberation of some huge beast lurking in the
path before him. And it was so close. Ted turned and ran. To his utter horror, he heard the pounding of footsteps chasing after him.
Ted ducked into the woods, running madly from the creature behind him. Maybe he could shake it; he only had one bullet left and this
thing sounded big.
Now Ted was nearly running out of breath. The monsters behind him were catching up. Without warning, Ted emerged from the
woods and into a clearing. He ran straight across the snow-covered ground. The subtle gusts of wind had become a gale and the snow
threatened to blind him. At last, Ted reached the brink of his doom: a precipice dropped out below him at the end of the clearing,
giving way to a thousand feet of air. Ted pulled up short just before he went over.
He turned and finally pulled the magnum from its holster. Materializing out of the darkness and swirling snow, six pairs of blood-red
eyes appeared. Ted heard the voracious growling encircling him now and he wept, shaking uncontrollably. A palpable evil resonated
from the figures before him. Ted fired a shot point blank at the pair of eyes directly in front of him and, to his horror, the thing
shrieked an unearthly sound so purely evil that Ted lost whatever hold he had still retained on his sanity. The bullet fell dead to the
ground far out in the middle of the clearing.
Ted Bronski flung himself over the cliff behind him and plummeted to his death. As he fell, one thought raced through his mind over
and over as if on eternal playback: may the hounds of hell feast on your wretched soul. A devilish howl again sounded as Ted fell,
something that sounded like a carnivorous, ravenous beast celebrating its kill. Ted welcomed the blackness that finally consumed