The howling of the pursuing dogs filled his ears as he stumbled on a branch. He sprinted through the foliage, willing himself to keep his nerve. Ahead, the ocean stretched its endless arms in welcome.
The dead black eyes of Zaroff entered his mind and he plunged into the waves.
Rainsford awoke with a start, his eyes flying open. His heart pounded against his ribs and he blinked furiously, willing the grogginess he felt to disappear. He jolted upright as realization hit him. His glance fell upon the limp form of Zaroff, his arms and legs bound tightly. Satisfaction surged through him and he laughed aloud.
“You are not so mighty now, General,” he leered, pushing himself to his feet and walking to Zaroff’s side. Slowly, Zaroff’s eyes fluttered open, confusion etched across his features.
“The most brilliant idea came to me while I slept,” Rainsford said, the fire of vengeance building in his chest. “You will join me on a hunt; only this time, it will be me doing the hunting,” Rainsford continued, a villainous smile creeping across his face.
“You are a challenging opponent, Rainsford,” Zaroff admitted, though an evil glint lit up his dark eyes, “But I still have a few tricks up my sleeve.”
“We shall see,” Rainsford smirked. He snatched up a knife from the table beside the bed and sliced the General’s bonds. Then he surrendered the knife to the madman. “The clock is ticking, General.”
* * * *
Reclining in an unbelievably comfortable armchair, Rainsford sighed, his boredom growing with every second gone by. Zaroff still had one hour head start. Not that it would matter, Rainsford thought with a smirk. He fingered the pistol at his hip, relishing the thought of killing the lunatic.
Suddenly, a loud knock broke the silence. He slid from his seat and quickly pulled the pistol from its holster. Walking to the door, he swung it open. “Did you give up already, General?” he leered, before his mouth fell open in shock.
He was standing face to face with Whitney. Concern soon gave way to relief on her face as she threw her arms around Rainsford’s neck.
“Rainsford! I’ve been looking for you for days! Do you know how worried I’ve been?” she exclaimed. Pulling back, tears glistened in her eyes.
“It’s all right, Whitney,” he assured, wiping a tear from her face. He ushered her inside and they sat together on the couch.
“What happened, Rainsford?” she questioned.
“I fell overboard and swam to this island, only to be welcomed by a madman, General Zaroff, who hunts humans for sport. Before long, I too became one of his victims,” Rainsford explained. “And now I must punish him for what he has done. I want him to feel the terror I felt, the cold dread of an animal being hunted.” As Rainsford spoke, his voice became cold and a gleam of insanity entered his eyes.
Rainsford stood to depart and Whitney grabbed his arm. “Don’t do anything you’ll regret. Please,” she pleaded anxiously.
Rainsford blinked and the gleam vanished. “Stay here, where you’ll be safe,” he replied as he squeezed her hand and walked away.
An uneasiness settled in Whitney’s mind.
* * * *
Rainsford remained alert as he started off into the jungle. To his amazement, he soon discovered a trail of abnormally large footprints that could only belong to the madman’s. The trail led him across the jungle, nearer and nearer to Death Swamp. As Rainsford reached the swamp, he spotted something moving. Adrenaline pumped through his veins as he slipped behind a tree, quietly drawing his pistol. When he spun around again, the thing had disappeared. Confused, he crept forward. Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, he saw the glint of sun on metal. He spun, but it was too late. Zaroff, knife in hand, jumped from a high branch and knocked Rainsford to the ground. Vengeance sprang up in Rainsford like a sudden fire, its flames driving him to madness. He rolled to the right and scrambled to his feet. Then he spun and struck Zaroff in the jaw, sending him to the ground, his knife flying into the swamp. Rainsford pressed his boot to the madman’s chest and Zaroff began to gasp.
“Now you know what it feels like, to be the animal. You will suffer like all those you have killed, you wretched creature,” Rainsford said, aiming the gun at Zaroff’s head.
“No, Rainsford! Stop!” a voice yelled from behind him. “Don’t do this, Rainsford. You’re not sane. Don’t you see? If you pull that trigger, you’re not any better than him,” Whitney pleaded in desperation, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Please…”
Rainsford slowly lowered the gun and turned to look at Whitney. In her peripheral vision, Whitney saw Zaroff raise a tiny pistol at Rainsford.
“Watch out!” she screamed, throwing herself at Rainsford. The gun fired and Whitney collapsed to the ground. Without thinking, Rainsford raised his gun and fired at Zaroff; then he dropped to his knees beside Whitney.
“Rainsford,” she whispered. He watched helplessly as the life drained from her beautiful eyes….
“Rainsford,” a voice called. Slowly, Rainsford opened his eyes to Whitney gently shaking his shoulders. His breath was labored and his face damp, as if he had been crying. “I thought you were too old for nightmares.”
Rainsford jolted upright. As his eyes became adjusted to the dimness, he realized where he was; he was in his room on the yacht.
Then it hit him; it had all been a dream.