by E Bewail Nerd

Peter ducked under a low-hanging branch and tried to run faster. Behind him were the shouts of the mob, flashlights waving desperately and dogs barking. He ran through an especially large puddle of mud, hoping to cover his scent.

"You can't hold out much longer!" Cliche as it may have been, the shout from one of the troops was dead on. Peter was hungry, and the sandals that he had thrown on during the rapid departue from his house weren't very good for forest chases. He felt ashamed at having almost been caught so unprepared, but they had arrived for him a full ten minutes earlier than he was expecting. Still, it was sloppy of him.

He was running alongside a row of oaks, and through the faint gleams of moonlight that snaked down through the clouds and canopy he could see a deep slope behind them. Realizing that they would catch him within five minutes unless he tried something new, he gritted his teeth as resolved to go for it. He suddenly stopped and doubled back along his own tracks for several seconds, hoping to throw off the Deliverers' hounds, and then dove through a gap between the trees.

He intended to run down the tor, but his very first steps slid along the mud and wet grass. Pretty soon he was somersaulting down the face of the ravine, trying to tuck himself into a ball to avoid additional injuries. It didn't work too well--at one point he bounced and hit a rock with his arm, with answered with a painful snap. Peter swore as he slipped down the rest of the way, eventually stopping in a ditch that was filled with an inch of what he could only pray was mud.

He lay there for several long breaths, cradling his arm and wondering if he had put enough distance between himself and his nemeses. He had taken off his watch back at his house, and didn't really have the time to retrieve it from his bedroom when the ominous knock arrived at the front door. It would cost him too much if they were to have caught him there. Thinking it unwise to try and fight in a place where they could easily surround him, he had bolted.

A bright light fell on him from far above. "Got 'im!" one of them shouted. Several more flashlights were aimed in his direction, but by that time he was already up and moving. He kept on making quick ninety degree turns. That, combined with the fact that his pursuers were not anxious to injure themselves in a mad dash down the hill, allowed him to duck back into the cover of trees.

He wasn't moving fast enough, however. His broken arm and the loss of a sandal sometime during the excursion down the hill were slowing him considerably. A dance of light at the perimeter of the woods made him realize that the red-and-blue-garbed crew had entered this part of the forest as well. Severely outnumbered, they would quickly surround him.

"You're only making it harder on yourself!" A female voice this time. "We're going to catch you within our deadline!"

Perhaps, he realized. But you're going to have to really earn your pay this time. He found a large-sized rock. With a mighty underhanded heave from his right arm, it landed in the bough of a nearby tree.

Climbing with one arm and two legs is an ardous task, but Peter eventually got up onto a comfortable branch, cradling his rock. Not a moment too late, either, as the grounds beneath him were quickly covered by several of the Deliverers. More than one of them was carrying a flat white box, and Peter mentally winced. Normally they only brought one of them on a hunt; any one of those boxes could end this entire chase in their favor.

He had brought this on himself, he realized. Every other time that he had tried the summoning, they had never arrived with enough speed and enough manpower to extract the price. The penalty for my hubris, Peter thought as he quietly massaged his arm.

One of them had stopped right beneath him. If he were to happen to look up, he would've had Peter dead to rights. Just in case, Peter carefully lifted the rock over his head with his good arm. The limb he was straddling creaked at the shift in weight, and the man suddenly looked up at the noise, aiming his flashlight. It fell right upon the rock Peter was holding, and he knew that he had to try and knock out the man, possibly even kill him, if he wanted to escape.

"Time!" shouted the same female voice from before. The shoulders of the crew slumped visibly as the adrenalin pumped out of their muscles. The man whose skull Peter was about to crush lowered his flashlight until the beam enveloped Peter.

"You're good," the man said through a slight smile.

"Only because I'm short on cash," Peter responded. He lowered the rock to his waist then released it. The crude bludgeon sank a few inches into the earth at its impact, and Peter slowly eased his way down the tree.

Another Deliverer, this one looking like he was in charge, approached and handed one of the white boxes to Peter. "I believe this is yours." The Deliverer held a stopwatch. "Thirty minutes, forty seconds. Nuts. If we had had an extra two minutes, I do believe that you would've had to pay."

"Maybe," Peter curtly responded. He was going to disagree, but he was exhausted, and he really did want to eat. The lid of the box had a grotesquely over-sized white-and-red domino on it, and as Peter lifted it the smell of tomato sauce wafted to his nose. Damn it, he realized. They forgot the onions. As he took the first bite of the pizza, he wondered if he should have crushed the man's skull when he had the chance.