It smelled dark.
The air was sweet and cold, moonlight-sharp. The flowers had closed their blooms, their scent gone pale without sunlight.
The hunter slid through the shadows, head tilted, her tongue flickering in and out of her mouth. Great battles had robbed her of both eyes and riddled her fur with scars, but she – the last of her kind – remained the greatest killer of man.
The leaves beneath her paws were damp with decay, their cloying scent all-but masking the sweet earthiness of the insects wriggling in their midst.
She had bigger prey to catch.
There! A gust of stale breath on the air, the sour stench of sweat.
She stopped, lifted her head into the breeze to triangulate her quarry. The trail was faint but as she crept forwards it grew stronger.
Soon she was close. All but masked beneath the richness of deer excrement was the scent of man.
“How much longer do we have to wait?” a boy whispered in the darkness.
She couldn’t hear him, but his stale breath was enough.
“Patience,” a woman replied. Her breath was fainter, laced with mint.
The hunter breathed slowly, mapping the clearing.
“I’m scared, momma,” the boy whispered. “I want to go home.”
“The beast has found our home before. Do you want that to happen again?”
A pause. “No.” The boy barely exhaled as he spoke, and the hunter didn’t smell it.
“We’ll get it, son. We’ll make it pay for what it did.”
“It wouldn’t have done it if we hadn’t–”
The woman raised an arm, sending a wave of deer scent through the air, tinged with fear. The hunter froze.
“It’s coming,” the woman breathed.
The hunter padded through the trees, circling her prey, using the earthiness of tree moss to guide her.
Then, when the scents were right, she stopped. She gathered her legs beneath her, took one last deep sniff, and leaped.
Her jaws collided with a bundle of straw and cloth that smelled human but had none of the salty richness of blood beneath.
The sweet pile of damp leaves that should have softened her fall crumbled beneath her. She fell deep into the earth, past the sweet worms and the musty soil. Upon impact, the scent of blood and fear overtook everything else.
Far above, tainting the fresh air, was the woman. She stood at the edge of the pit, reeking with satisfaction.
“I told you she’d come back for her eyes.”
* * *
To celebrate National Short Story Month, I’m running the Senseless Challenge throughout May. Each Friday is dedicated to a different sense – the challenge is to write a piece of flash fiction inspired by that sense. The third week was dedicated to smell.