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The horses were not happy about moving toward the stalkers. Even Charger who was the most relaxed and playful horse Page had ever met, was nervous and nickered trying to turn back to camp. Page could not blame the horse. Unlike the rippers, the stalkers were not afraid of the animals.

As soon as the sun rose, they found the horses had broken through the rope coral to escape the stalkers. Dogg had run off with them and protected them from attack. One of the little bastards had gotten a piece of Buck’s right shoulder and Dogg had a nasty gash on his muzzle and hind leg. She had left Theo and Kidd to fix up the animals so she and Ty could investigate where the stalkers had gone off too.

The little monsters were still amassed in the same spot as last night, and had not moved. Page was convinced that was their nest. She needed to know if they were territorial like the behemoths, or nomads like the rippers and halflings. Rain fought Ty and tried to go back.

‘Let’s leave them here.’ She advised. ‘We are close enough and I don’t want to risk them if the stalkers attack.’ Ty nodded his agreement. They both dismounted and tired the horse’s rains to the tree. Page took lead and Ty watched her back as they moved through the thickening woods. They made it to a clearer part of the woods to a massive old tree with huge branches spread out shading the ground underneath.

Page frowned seeing what looked like broken bones littering the space beneath the tree. Keeping an eye on the upper branches where she felt the stalkers, she moved forward and checked the bones. She recognized the human skull she spotted, but what really shocked her were the dozens of ripper skulls. She was sure the tiny one with the square teeth was a halfling skull. These things did not just stalk humans. She grabbed up three of the skulls and backed away from the tree. They did not know they were there yet and Page did not intend to poke this nest. There were more in there then the two could handle alone. Ty backed up with her keeping his gun trained on the tree.

As soon as they made it back to where the horses were tired they mounted up and moved as fast as they could out of the area.

‘Was it worth it?’ Ty asked and Page nodded.

‘We can call Mouth now.’ She told him. ‘I think we have gathered enough information to give him.’

‘I’m with Kidd.’ Ty said looking back the way they came. ‘Those things give me a major case of the creeps.’ Page nodded her agreement. The rippers scared her, but these things where far worse and dangerous. ‘Are they following us?’

‘No,’ she assured him. ‘I don’t even think they knew we were there.’ She glanced back again seeing no movement.

Back at the camp, Dogg limped up to them whimpering and waging his tail. Page got down and knelt rubbing the dog’s ears. ‘Hey buddy.’ She cooed. ‘You look better than when I left.’ He whimpered again. ‘Who’s a good dog?’ She cooed and he flopped on his side so she could rub his belly.

‘If I roll on my side,’ Ty asked ‘will you rub my belly too?’ He wiggled his eyebrows at her making her laugh.

‘Save it for later.’ Theo chuckled joining them. ‘What did you two find?’

‘These.’ Page stood and pulled the three skulls off the saddle. She watched the color drain from his face when he saw what she had given him. ‘There were hundreds more. Rippers mostly.’

‘Okay.’ Theo sighed. ‘Let’s call Mouth.’ Page nodded

‘Go.’ Ty said ‘I have the horses.’ She kissed him.

‘Thanks Ty.’ She said and followed Theo to the wagon. Kidd was making something that smelled good.

‘I found a pack of something marked chili no beans. There is corn and macaroni in it.’ The boy said peering at the pot. ‘It smells good, but I don’t know.’ Page peeked in seeing what looked like goulash, but with corn.

‘We will see.’ She said ‘it looks almost done.’ He nodded and she followed Theo to where he had the stalker bodies laid out. Page saw the first big one she had killed was off to the side. Theo had been working on it while they were gone. Page unhooked her cell and put it on speaker.

‘Yes, may I be of assistance?’ Page’s eyes widened and the oddly polite greeting. ‘Ha!’ Mouth chuckled ‘Just messing with you Page. What’s up?’ she shook her head.

‘Are your spies in the eyes looking in our direction?’  She asked.

‘One sec, whoa!’ he called shocked. ‘Did that horse just dive into the pond?’

‘Focus Mouth.’ Theo chuckled. ‘Pan in on us.’ It was quiet a moment.

‘What the hell are those?’ Mouth asked shocked.

‘Those are stalkers.’ Page sighed looking to the bodies. ‘This is what the halflings were trying to warn us about. They are territorial like the behemoths. Ty and I found their nest and it was surrounded by thousands of bones. Rippers, halflings, and human. These things do not discriminate about what they kill.’

‘Stalkers?’ Mouth asked and Theo told him about the events that took place the day before. ‘Shit.’ He hissed. ‘I am so sorry guys. I never would have sent you there if I knew it was dangerous. Any idea their territory range?’

‘I think they are sticking to the area around the interstate.’ Theo said ‘Judging from what I found in the stomach of the two I dissected, I would say their range ends at the river to the west and south. I am not sure about east. I just know I found a lot of fish and cattails in their stomachs. I don’t think they would wonder far from the nest.’ Page sighed not wanting to tell him this next part. If she did not, it could cost people their lives.

‘Tell your trackers, they feel different than the halflings, behemoths, and rippers.’ She said already knowing his eyes were lighting up. ‘It’s pressure like the rippers, but burns at the same time.’ There was no response for a long time.

‘No one can know you’re a tracker Page.’ Mouth said and it nearly floored her. She looked to Theo who looked as shocked as she felt.

‘Wow.’ Page said ‘That was not what I would have expected from you.’

‘You may think your nothing but a story for me.’ He said sounding a little hurt. ‘I think of you as family. There are still far too many people out there that see trackers as bad as rippers. If I let it out you were a tracker, the trouble you have seen so far, would be nothing to what you would run into.’

‘That’s why I only tell people I trust.’ Page told him. ‘Including you. Of course I planned to threaten you with a slow painful death if you let it out to anyone.’ Mouth chuckled at that. ‘You need to get the word out about these things. I think the reason you haven’t gotten a lot of reports about them is because they have killed most of those who spotted them.’

‘You’re probably right.’ Mouth sighed. ‘You all should get out of there before night fall. You were lucky last night. I don’t want to see what they will resort to tonight.’

‘We cannot leave yet.’ Theo sighed. ‘One of the wagon horses were wounded in the attack. I don’t want to make him pull the wagon until he has had some time to heal.’

‘We can hook up charger.’ Page suggested. ‘He is a little high strung, but Elly is a good lead horse. I agree with Mouth. I do not want to risk another night in this area. That thing came too close to getting Kidd last night.’ Theo nodded.

‘After we eat.’ Kidd said handing each a bowl.

‘Thanks little man.’ Page said smelling the dish. ‘This smells great.’ She tried it. ‘Yeap. It’s goulash with corn and chili seasoning, but very tasty.’

‘Sounds good.’ Mouth said with a sigh. ‘Corndogs for me tonight.’

‘What’s a corndog?’ Kidd asked frowning.

‘A hot dog on a stick coated with cornbread.’ Page explained.

‘How can he not know what a corndog is?’ Mouth asked surprised.

‘He was young when the fall happened.’ Page said ‘He remembers very little from before.’

‘Wow that sucks.’ Mouth said outraged. ‘When you get to Wisconsin, I expect you to make a little detour to come visit me. I will make sure you get to try a corndog.’

‘Wisconsin eh?’ Theo said. ‘We were wondering where your people were.’

‘I can’t tell you where yet.’ Mouth said ‘When you get close, I will make sure you know where to go.’

‘We were planning to winter in Wisconsin.’ Page said ‘Well, barring any shenanigans and the normal madness that keeps holding us up.’

‘So what are we doing?’ Ty asked joining them with his own bowl of food. Page told him her plan and he nodded.

‘Charger was a carriage horse for the castle.’ Ty said. ‘That’s why I let Theo take him over Rain. I thought he would be able to handle him better. Who knew that smart ass horse would be such a joker?’

‘Joker.’ Theo chuckled ‘That’s a mild way to put it.’ Page stopped listening to the conversation and looked to the east. The stalkers were moving again heading this way.

‘Page?’ Ty asked worried.

‘They are coming.’ She warned. ‘We need to go now. Mouth, we will call you back as soon as we get at a safe distance.’ She set her bowl aside and whistled for Elly. Buck came with her and pushed his nose into Page’s hand. ‘Not you big guy.’ Page soothed scratching his head. ‘Not until you’re healed up a little.’ She led Elly to the head of the wagon and worked at putting her harness on. The entire time she worked, she fought against laughter as Ty and Theo chased Charger trying to pin him down to put his harness on. She shook her head and looked to the giggling Kidd. ‘Save them buddy.’ Kidd whistled and the horse made a b turn for him nickering as he came to a stop before him.

‘Good boy.’ Kidd praised and then looked to Theo and Ty. ‘He was a carnage horse. They are trained to come to a certain whistle.’

‘Would have been nice of Stan to tell us that.’ Ty panted shaking his head. He went to work putting the wagon harness on him. Page looked back to the woods south of their camp. ‘What are they doing?’

‘Watching I think.’ Page said worried. ‘I hope they don’t follow us all day.’ Once she had Buck’s lead tied to the back of the wagon, they moved on. Page kept track of where the stalkers were all morning. As soon as they reached the next bridge to cross the river, the stalkers stopped following.

‘I think we just found the end of their territory.’ Page said to Theo. ‘They backed off fast as soon as we hit the bridge.’ He nodded and pulled out a leather bound journal he had to keep notes of his discoveries. Page called Mouth and gave him the news.

The next days were a little tense. Every person they passed on the road they warned about the stalkers near the airport. Mouth was doing his part as well. By the time they reached Missoula, the whole world knew about the new threat.

Submitted: August 04, 2016

© Copyright 2021 CJones. All rights reserved.


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