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Her head was pounding. Why was her head pounding so bad? That was not the pressures the rippers caused. Page opened her eyes confused. It was dark out. Why was it so dark? They always kept a fire going through the night in case of attack. Even the lantern on the wagon was dark. She saw a shadow and wondered why Kidd was out of bed. She looked to his sleeping bag and could just make out the outline of the sleeping boy. If Kidd was sleeping still, who was that moving over him? The shadow raised a hand aimed at her son and she saw the claws.

‘Ripper!’ She called out in warning grabbing the raised arm pulling it away from her son. Its claws tore into her leg before she threw it from the wagon. Her son’s scream of pain had her on her feet fast and she grabbed the bat she kept next to her. Swinging by star light alone, Page hit the ripper on the other side of her boy in the head sending it falling from the wagon. Light flooded the area and she made out several back shapes running from the wagons. Ty fired and one rolled before getting up and running.

‘What the fuck was that?’ Ty snapped. ‘I got him.’ He looked to Page. ‘You saw that right?’ She nodded frowning. She knew she had gotten the one in the wagon as well. It was nowhere to be seen. She also took notice that Dogg and the horses were missing. There was no time to figure out where they went at the moment.

Page grabbed the wagon lantern and found it was still on, but coated in mud. Wiping the thick mud away, she went to Kidd. The boy was curled into a ball clutching his arm.

‘Let me see baby.’ She said worried kneeling beside him.

‘It burns.’ He cried as she pried his bloody hand from his other arm. There were three shallow gashes on his forearm.

‘Theo,’ Page said worried. ‘One got Kidd.’ She moved as Theo got into the wagon to check over Kidd.

‘It’s not deep.’ Theo assured the boy. ‘That burn your feeling is the ripper taint.’

‘It hurts like hell.’ Page told Kidd brushing his bangs from his eyes ‘That wash we have will help. Then it won’t hurt anymore.’ Kidd nodded and Theo poured the antiseptic wash onto the gashes. The boy winced but started to relax a moment later. ‘Better?’ He nodded sighing. ‘Good.’ She kissed his forehead. ‘I am going to go talk to Ty. I’ll be right back.’

‘Okay mom.’ He sighed closing his eyes. Page looked to Theo.

‘Please stay with him until we can figure out what’s going on.’ She asked and Theo nodded. Page got out of the wagon and went to where Ty was walking the perimeter. ‘They are still out there.’ She told him. ‘A dozen or so I think.’

‘I can see them.’ Ty said ‘they are staying at the edge of the light.’ He motioned to the extinguished fire. ‘It was doused with mud. ‘Whatever these things are, they aren’t rippers or halflings. I hit that thing dead on Page and I saw you nail the one by Kidd with your bat. That was a head shot. It should have killed it.’

‘I know.’ She said ‘Come with me, I want to try something.’ They turned to go to the wagon.

‘Behind you!’ Theo roared. Both turned fast to see three of the things running back to the shadows.

‘The fuck?’ Ty asked outraged.

‘They must be ambush predators.’ Theo said worried. ‘Don’t turn your back on them.’ Page shook her head wondering again, what these things were.

When the two got to the wagon, Page dug into her pack. She pulled out her Maglite and looked back to the woods where the things had been. As soon as she saw movement, she turned on the light and lit up the tree where they were hiding. All but one fled from the light. The one that stayed had no fear in its all black eyes at all and it looked directly at Page scowling. She could see dark red blood running from a cut on its forehead and she knew that was the one that hurt Kidd.

‘It can see us.’ Page said. ‘It’s not like the rippers at all.’ She jumped when a gun fired and the things head jerked back. It went limp and fell to the ground twitching wildly.

Page felt the others flee deeper into the woods. She suspected that the dead one was the leader and without it, they lost their courage.

‘Watch my back.’ Page said and moved forward keeping a look out. The other things were still running from the area and the farther they got, the less her head hurt. Page grabbed the dead thing and dragged it back to the light of the lanterns. It was much heavier than a ripper and far more solid built. It was also not black like the reports said. Its skin was a mixture of dark and light green. That was why Page could not see the one stalking her in the woods. They were camouflaged and would not be easy to spot.

‘Ty,’ Theo said. ‘trade with me.’ Ty got into the wagon to watch over Kidd as Theo got down. Theo moved the thing onto its back and studied it. Page made a few observations of her own. Its claws were smaller than a rippers. That would explain why the cuts on Kidd were so shallow. Unlike rippers, it also had claws on its feet. ‘My god.’ Theo said using a stick to open its mouth. Inside, were rows upon rows of shark like teeth.

‘We need to call Mouth.’ Page said ‘He needs to warn people about these things.’ She glared at it. ‘Stalkers. I think that’s a good name for them.’

‘Seeing as one followed you to find our camp,’ Theo said ‘and then they ambushed us while we slept. It is a fitting name.’ Page nodded.

‘Are they rippers, or fucked up halflings?’ Ty asked

‘Neither.’ Theo said ‘These are something new. Their skin is armored like nothing I have seen before.’ He tried to cut into the stalkers belly and it took a great deal of effort. The smell that came from the thing’s insides staggered Page and she gasp taking a step back.

‘That is foul.’ She choked. ‘What is that?’

‘I am not sure.’ Theo said covering his mouth and nose ‘It cannot be good however.’ He stood and moved it farther from the camp. Page followed with the light.

‘Work fast Theo.’ Page warned. ‘They are coming back.’ She looked to the dark woods watching for movement. ‘There is something else with them. It feels different.’

‘I have what I need for now.’ Theo said. ‘Let’s rebuild the fire. It will help keep them back.’

‘Both sides of the wagon.’ Page said. ‘I don’t want them sneaking into it again.’ Theo nodded and they fell back to the wagon. She went to work building the fire back up as Theo went to the other side to build another. Ty shooting told her more than the pressure that the stalkers were back.

‘Aim for the eyes.’ Theo advised. ‘It is their only vulnerable spot.’ Ty fired again and they heard a squeal of agony. Page got her fire going and checked in on Kidd. He was sitting against the side holding his arm to his chest. The sight of the bandaged arm sent rage flooding through her. She grabbed her bow and quiver before walking to the edge of the light. With the fire to her back she could see clearer.

There was something bigger than the smaller ones moving around in the trees. It was intelligent enough to keep behind the trees to avoid being shot.

‘Listen up!’ Page snapped. ‘If you can understand me, your little friend hurt my son. He is dead now. You keep messing with us, you will join his corpse.’ One of the little monsters got brave and charged her. Page fired and her arrow slammed into its eye. The stalker let out a squeak before falling to the ground thrashing. Once it was still, she fired at a second one who had peeked out from behind a tree. It joined its dead friend on the forest floor. ‘Come on you son of a bitches!’ Page challenged.

‘She has lost her mind.’ She heard Theo sigh.

‘Nope,’ Ty growled. ‘she is a momma bear who’s cub was hurt. Dumbest mistake anyone can make.’ He fired again and she heard a squeal to her left. Page fired again aiming for the big one. If she could get it, she knew the others would back off. Her aim was true, but the thing was fast enough to dodge it.

‘Show me that ugly mug of yours.’ Page growled tracking it through the woods. Moving to the right to keep up with it, she had to be careful where she put her feet. ‘Come on you bitch pick a spot to peek out.’ It moved higher into the trees getting lost in the foliage. Page did not need to see it to know where it was however. She could feel it like it was a burning coal planted in her brain. It was trying to get behind her, but Page kept moving to keep herself between it and the campfire.

A scream of rage tore through the woods and the thing dropped from the trees and tried a direct charge. Page fired and it dodged her arrow diving for her face. The Spartan collided with the massive stalker’s head sending it rolling stunned into the grass. Page ran forward kicking it in the face before it could recover. It slashed out with its claws and she dodged barely moving out of the path of its strike. The thing was on its feet fast and retreated into the woods.

She could hear it hissing and spitting in the trees surrounded by the smaller stalkers.

‘Come on!’ Page challenged. All she needed was a good clear shot at its eye. It glared at her with such rage a cold chill went up Page’s spine. This thing was as pissed at her, as she was pissed at it. Page fired and again it dodged.

The big stalker screamed again and charged followed by the smaller ones. Page’s next arrow flew true and slammed into the stalkers right eye. It fell back and dropped to the ground screaming digging at its eye to get the arrow out. A moment later, it was still and unmoving. The other stalkers had stopped their charge and milled around looking scared. There was a call in the distance and they all turned from the camp and fled.

‘Well,’ Ty chuckled ‘that was fun. Any more Page?’

‘Yes, but they are fleeing.’ She said moving back to the wagon. ‘I got the big one and they all took off.’

‘Think it’s safe to retrieve it?’ Theo asked peering at the woods. ‘I would like to examine it and a couple of the smaller ones.’ Page nodded

‘It’s safe for now.’ She told him ‘just hurry.’ Theo came around the wagon and accepted her Maglite. Page watched over him as he went into the woods. He dragged three of the small ones back followed by the large one.

‘I will check them in the morning when we have more light.’ He started, and then stopped. ‘Is that your blood?’ Page followed his gaze and saw a slash in the cloth of her pants over her left calf.

‘Yeah,’ she sighed aware of the burning in her leg. ‘the first one that almost got Kidd, got me.’ Theo had her sit on the edge of the wagon and tore open her pant leg. The gash was identical to the one on Kidd’s leg however not as deep.

‘It’s not that bad.’ Theo assured her. ‘We need to get the ripper taint out of it before it gets infected.’ She nodded gearing herself for the upcoming burn. Page was not disappointed. The green liquid that was poured on her leg felt like acid burning into her flesh.

‘Oh that never gets better.’ She hissed.

‘Sorry about that.’ Theo said sympathetically ‘I know it sucks, but it is better than losing your leg.’ Page nodded and a small hand took hers. She smiled to Kidd giving his hand a squeeze.

‘How are you feeling little man?’ She asked worried.

‘I’m okay.’ He assured her ‘It doesn’t even hurt anymore.’

‘Good.’ She said ‘if it bothers you tell me. I still have some Advil left.’ He nodded and frowned to the woods.

‘These things are worse than the rippers.’ he said and Page agreed with the boy. At least rippers were predictable and easy to avoid. These things were not playing by any rules she knew. If they spread out as the rippers did, it would be a game changer in the favor of the monsters.

‘We will figure it out in the morning.’ Theo said ‘We have few more hours until dawn. You two are wounded so Ty and I can keep the fires going.’ Ty nodded his agreement. Page scanned the area. The stalkers were all to the east staying put.

‘Darkness bad.’ Page sighed understanding now. ‘That’s what the halflings were trying to tell us. They were warning us about the stalkers.’ She looked to Kidd. ‘Get some sleep buddy.’ She advised. ‘I am too wired up to sleep right now, but I will be right here so nothing bothers you.’ He nodded yawning and Page watched him crawl back into his sleeping bag. She saw the tear in his bag and reached over to her own. She covered him with her sleeping bag and tucked it in a little.

‘Thanks mom.’ He sighed closing his eyes.

She looked back to the woods as Theo bandaged her leg. The stalkers were still gathered to the east and she had a feeling that’s where their nest was. She looked to Ty.

‘How much ammo do you have left?’ She asked.

‘Enough to level the nearest city three times over.’ He said with an insanely happy grin. Page shook her head chuckling

‘You scare the hell out of me sometimes buddy.’ She told him ‘I am happy you’re on our side. When the sun comes up, we need to find the horses and take a ride tomorrow. I want to go check something out.’ Ty nodded. As soon as Theo finished, Page got off the wagon and retrieved as many arrows as she could find.

‘Get them all?’ Ty asked.

‘No,’ Page sighed. ‘I lost two. I will look again in the morning when the light is better.’ Ty grinned at her.

‘Remember that little button on the top of your bow you asked me about?’ He said and she nodded. It was out of place and she had wanted to know what it did before she pressed it. Ty had just smiled and told her he would tell her later. ‘Go on and hit it.’ She frowned but did as told. The ends of her arrows all light up bright and she could see two spots lit up in the woods.

‘Oh that is just way too cool.’ She said excited and headed into the woods. One arrow was buried in the tree. She lost the head getting it out, but the shaft and feathers were undamaged. The second was stuck in a tree stump undamaged. Pressing the button again, the lights went off and she returned to the camp thinking of how much fun it was going to be to thank Ty for such an amazing weapon.

Submitted: February 08, 2016

© Copyright 2021 CJones. All rights reserved.


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