Sunday, June 25, 2017

Survivors - Part 2

    Cisneros felt as if he was frozen in place.
    His muscles were locked and some baser part of his mind had kicked into overdrive. Despite the triple-state glass and a well manicured sense of superiority, some instinctual piece of him froze in terror.
    "What-?" was all he managed.
    In front of him, behind the seemingly too-thin safety glass, a monster lay across a massive surgical table.
    Not one surgical table.
    Several of them. All hastily thrown together to form some semblance of a flat surface where the scientists could work.
    The creature was quite large. At least a couple meters tall and several meters long not counting the muscular tail, it could easily rival some of the large African species of Earth. However, unlike those more benevolent herbivores, this ting was designed for carnage.
    Four heavy set legs with taloned feet were curled up under its dead frame. Long, sickle like blades sprouted from thin but powerful looking 'arms' from its thick torso. Its eyes were covered in heavy ridges and everything about its head seemed to slope into a gaping jaw filled with multiples rows of shark-like teeth. And the entire thing was covered in hulking plates of black, chitinous armor that looked like they could stop an rocket.
    Men and women in lab coats poked and prodded at the corpse, but despite a sneaking fear that the monster would arise and attack them all, it laid silent upon its bloody table.
    "What-" Cisneros began again as he mentally rebuilt his composure. "-is it?"
    "We don't know." Dr. Patang responded apologetically. "We've never seen anything like it."
    "What do we know about it?" he asked without looking at the good doctor.
    Cisneros studied the thing for a long moment. He couldn't seem to tear his eyes away.
    "We're still working on an official analysis."
    Cisneros glanced over and the Doctor who visibly cringed a little. He considered throwing his weight and demanding a better answer of the little asskisser, but thought better of it.
    "Humor me."
    "Apparently the team was getting odd results. I've been with you so I haven't seen the most up to date..."
    Cisneros sighed and continued to watch the men and women work.
    "Dr. Hagashi must have been out of his mind." he commented with a hint of annoyance.
    "I just can't imagine why they would have brought this thing aboard. I don't doubt it was an exciting find, but look at it."
    As if in response, Dr. Patang joined him in staring at the mound of terror.
    At the same time, the door on the far end of the room slid open and a short, lump of a woman clad in a white lab coat emerged.
    "I mean, that thing looks like it could tear a squad of marines in half without breaking a sweat. Why in the hell would they take it aboard? Why not study it on the surface? Or tag it for later examination by a more qualified team?"
    "Perhaps-" the woman interjected. "-because it wasn't that size when they acquired our little friend in there."
    Cisneros glowered at the woman's interruption but his expression quickly softened.
    "Samantha." he said with a smile.
    "I wasn't aware you were on this project." Cisneros regarded.
    "Then you probably aren't doing a good job as Assistant Director." she chided with a playful grin.
    "Dr. Connel." Patang said with respect to the woman. "With all due respect, what do you mean? Are you suggesting it grew within a matter of hours?"
    "In one sense."
    Both men continued to stare at her, expecting more.
    "Tell me, Dr. Patang, how would you classify that creature in there?" Dr. Connel asked.
    Dr. Patang considered for a moment.
    "I'm not sure. It definitely appears to be carnivorous in nature. Omnivous at the absolute least."
    "And the genus?"
    "Demented centaur?" Cisneros offered.
    Samantha giggled and Cisneros allowed himself a smile at his old friend's amusement.
    "What if I told you that it was parasitic?" she asked after a moment.
    Cisneros stared at the monster sprawled across the operating tables. Considered the sheer size of the thing.
    "You're saying that creature in there is some sort of a parasite? For what? What the hell would it feed on?"
    "That is not the primary organism. I was referring to this."
    Dr. Connel produced from her jacket pocket a small glass jar about the size of a nectarine. She held it up to the light and it was clearly filled with some sort of blood. It was a nice deep red with the exception of several dozen large, black globules that floated around in the viscous liquid.
    Cisneros stared at the goo, trying to identify the shapes in the blood. It was only after a long moment that he realized the globes were creatures.
    "So this is our culprit?" Cisneros asked with burgeoning fascination.
    Here and there, one of the globes would unfurl into a small, worm like creature. Their appearance reminded him of the beast on the table, nothing but hard bits and sharp edges, but on a notably smaller scale and resembling a half inch caterpillar.
    "Indeed. I think the team from the Icarus found these things on the surface and didn't know what they had until it was too late.
    Before his eyes, one of the worms unfolded and zipped around the blood jar at a surprising speed. It swirled about for a few seconds and, finding no exit, curled up on itself again.
    Cisneros glanced back again at the monster on the table.
    "So tell me, Dr. Connel: what do those-" he said pointing a finger at the jar. "-have to do with that?" he motioned over his shoulder.
    "I'm so glad you asked." she responded with a surprisingly threatening smile and motioned towards the door to the lab. "Let me show you."

Friday, June 23, 2017

All my Love to Sandra

Hello Lovelies,

I wanted to take a moment and acknowledge a very pleasant surprise today. In checking in to get started on Part 2 for 'Survivors', I noticed two oddities in the comments section. The first was from the beautiful Sandra Cox inviting me over to her blog. Another was from another reader that said they just came from there.

Well, being the curious muppet (read: procrastinator) that I am, I couldn't help but take a look before I dug in

To my utter surprise, I was the subject of Sandra's 'Wink and a Nod Thursday'.

First and foremost, I want to officially say 'Thank you' to Sandra. It was a completely unexpected honor and single handedly made my day. If you haven't checked out Sandra's blog, I would highly encourage you to check it out! On top of being an amazingly talented writer with a taste for Romance, she's a fellow member of the blogspot writing community and her blog is light hearted and enjoyable, serving as one of the glues that has helped bind us together with things like Wacky Wednesday and the aforementioned 'Wink and a Nod'.

So, when all is said and done, thank you again Sandra.

Now, for those that were sent here by Sandra, I just wanted to give you a quick little gift. The story that you came in on, Survivors, is part of a group of short stories that are set together to form a single cohesive narrative. While you can technically pick up the tale without issue from 'Survivors', the previous stories 'Lost' and 'Heat' will provide you more insight into what is going on. They are designed to be small and hard hitting, so take a moment to enjoy them.

Lost - 1
Lost - 2
Lost - 3
Lost - 4

Heat - 1
Heat - 2
Heat - 3
Heat - 4
Heat - 5

Thank you again Sandra and thank you everyone who took time out of the day to check us out. I hope you will all join us again.

- RB

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Survivors - Part 1

    Blip. Blip. Blip.
    Assistant Director Cisneros stared absent-minded at the acrid liquid as it dripped, drop by drop, down into his mug. The local crony here, Dr. Patang, had tried to convince him that this was this was the best cup of joe on the Daedalus.
    While Cisneros didn’t doubt the good doctor’s honesty; the little brown-nosing tool was too self-interested to not give full disclosure. However he did doubt that the liquid shit dripping out of the archaic machine counted as coffee.
    And he damn sure knew it didn’t smell like it.
    Cisneros glanced around the room as he waited for the stinking drink to finish brewing.
    All around him, cheap furniture, bad walling, dirty carpet, or gunmetal plating. Here and there an uncomfortable chair sat or a half-assed painting hung on the wall; really retracting from the environment more than they gave. It gave him the feeling of being in a lower-end office that had been shoved into a metal box.
    And really, it wasn’t far from the truth.
    Built cheap and built big, the Daedalus was one of two floating laboratories utilized by the corporation’s Xenobiology department. It housed just over two thousand biologists, botanists, chemists, computer experts, robotics technicians, and god knows what else plus the staff and crew that kept the entire dump heap in the air. It wasn’t the fastest or nicest ship in the galaxy, but with her sister, the Icarus, the pair of ships were some of the biggest and probably some of the only used as mobile laboratories and processing cities.
    At least until a month ago.
    Now the Daedalus flew alone in its lazy orbit around the Kaprelli system’s deep violet sun surrounded by the silence of space.
    Cisneros reached down and plucked up the now full mug. He took a swig only to grimace at the sour flavor. It tasted just about as good as it had smelt and, based on the look of shock and horror on Dr. Patang's face, he was glad his distaste with the drink was not lost on the good doctor.
    "I'm so sorry, sir." he quickly shot out. "I swear, it really is the best on the ship. The company doesn't really consider fresh cups to be pri-"
    "Enough, Doctor." Cisneros said flatly. "You'll forgive me if I tell you that I'm not in the mood right now."
    "Yes, sir. Of course, sir." Dr. Patang said as he adorned that same, placid, stupid smile he'd worn since Cisneros arrived eight hours ago.
    "I don't have a great deal of time." Cisneros continued in the same, no-bullshit tone. "So why don't we get this little tour started so I can get on with a very long list of other things that need to get done."
    "Of course, sir." Dr. Patang repeated again and motioned towards the door of the grimy little kitchen.
    The pair made their way through the halls of the Daedalus at a leisurely pace as Dr. Patang prattled on about meaningless inanities. Cisneros could not care less. His visit here was far from routine and he had no interest in listening to small talk.
    He wanted to hear about their findings.
    Of course, it was probably sheer confidentiality that was keeping Dr. Patang from prattling on about that. Still, Cisneros had a lean in his step and they made their way towards the C-Deck labs with more speed than any other visit would have been afforded.
    The mystery of Icarus's destruction the prior month had nagged at him since it happened. And now he might get some answers.
    Originally, it came as a complete shock. The ship had just performed a relatively routine stop to a newly discovered world known as 'Bruni'. The planet was mildly interesting for the fact it was, by all intents and purposes, considered a jungle planet despite its severe climate; prone both to blistering heat and destructive electrical storms.
    Within a matter of hours from the stop, an SOS had been issued from the Icarus.
    An hour after that, the ship was flown directly into a sun with a very small contingent of its population escaping in lifeboats.
    The incident had bothered Cisneros for the month since it had occurred. Now, with several of the life boats captured and brought aboard the Daedalus, his curiosity was peaked as to what the scientists had discovered.
    Most notably because there hadn't been any reported survivors so far.
    So whatever they had found clearly wasn't human. Or, at least, not living ones.
    Dr. Patang offered a single open eye to the scanner next to the C-Deck air locks while simultaneously holding a thumb to a reader and a badge to a scanner. C-Deck, like a number of the locations on the Daedalus, was high security and set up with multiple security points. Additionally, the labs were completely sealed off from the rest of the ship in what was, for lack of a better analogy, a steel box with a single airlock that led into the ship primary.
    This fact only added to Cisneros' surprise when the heavy lead and steel door slid aside to reveal four hardskinned marines standing at attention, rifles ready, standing in the four corners of the inner airlock.
    He glanced at Dr. Patang with an obvious look of surprise.
    "We have...concerns." the doctor said flatly, dropping the cheerful, tour-guide tone he'd been using since Cisneros arrived.
    Cisneros' eyes narrowed but he said nothing. As much of a brown-nosing little shit as Dr. Patang had been, the presence of marines suggested they had found something much more exciting than a few corpses in a lifeboat.
    The two men submitted to a thorough search and ID by one of the marines; a man who identified himself as Sergeant Holmes. They were then led to the next room: a hastily thrown together decontamination room that the inner airlock would have normally been used for had it not been filled with combat armor and firearms.
    Once deloused, they both made their way down a long hallway lined by observation chambers.
    "Now that we're out of ear shot, would you care to share what exactly your team found on the life boats, Doctor?"
    "We're not sure." he said, once again adopting that slight lit to his voice again, but not nearly to the degree he had been earlier.
    "You're not sure?" Cisneros echoed after rolling the possibilities about in his mind.
    "Whatever they are is biologic. But after that, it's unlike anything we've found before."
    Cisneros said nothing as he was led through a maze of corridors. He could see scientists working in labs on any number of different experiments; however Dr. Patang shot right by them.
    At the far end of one hall, the Doctor approached a heavy door labeled 'XL-322". Directly below it. "Restricted Personnel Only." and a keypad. The Doctor entered in an unseen code, scanned his badge again, and motioned for Cisneros to enter.
    They were standing in the viewing area of an operating theater with a door on the far end of the room. The glass was artificially dimmed and Cisneros suddenly had a fleeting sense of claustrophobia in the dark room.
    "This is all well and interesting, Doctor. But can we can on with the theatrics?"
    "Sorry, sir. As I said, sir. We're not sure what we found." Dr. Patang continued as he raised the lights and revealed the laboratory behind the triple-state glass and the monster within.
    Cisneros took an unconscious step back from the now clear glass.  
    What the hell WAS that?
    He felt his heart jump into his throat and, for the first in a very long time, he felt a sudden wash of fear fall over him.
    "But if you've got any ideas..." Dr. Patang said with the first snark the Assistant Director had heard from him, "We're all ears."

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

What's to Come?

Hello Lovelies,

First and foremost, let me throw out a belated 'Happy Father's Day'. I realized that I totally forgot to account for it this last Sunday and didn't schedule properly. Instead, I posted the final entry for 'Heat'. So, with that said, I hope everyone enjoyed their day with their dads or in memory thereof and sorry for my absent-mindedness.

Now, speaking of 'Heat'...

I'm glad that you all seemed to enjoy it. I believe that some of you already were told/realized this, but 'Heat' is actually intended to be part of a larger universe. More specifically, the same universe that my previous story 'Lost' was set in. I decided to explore just what the beasts were that Cecilia faced in her horrible exploration of that doomed ship. I fleshed them out in my mind and thought of a new scenario to introduce them outside of the writing-experiment that was 'Lost'.

The fun part? There's more to come.

It's no surprise to anyone that knows me that I'm a big fan of short stories. I like trying to make my stories punch hard and grab you by the shirt. Often, this is done in the vein of creature features, horror, or drama, and it lends itself to being problematic in making a single, arching story that people can hold on to. With that said, simply selling short stories or a compilation of short stories is always kind of so-so. Loosely knit together concepts aren't super interesting as a whole and short stories aren't economically worthwhile to readers.

So, I wanted to play with that idea.

Books like 'World War Z' and 'Bug Hunt' are actually tied together through short stories DESPITE being considered whole books. I might give this a swing with the 'Lost' universe. While I'll definitely need to think of a better name for the overarching tale, I feel like this is an interesting way to take a punch of different viewpoints and different short stories with different themes and tones and put it together into an interesting and comprehensive story.

Will it work? Who knows. Will it be fun to explore whatever these 'things' are? Definitely.

Thanks for joining us, Lovelies. We'll see you again soon.

- RB

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Heat - Final

    Stalks of corn seemed to reach out to grab for George as he ran with all the strength in his body. Dry edges and broad leaves clawed at his arms and legs and threatened to trip him up and leave him in the monster's grasp.
    The sound of a runaway train galloped behind him as the thing pursued. His head start had only given him an extra matter of seconds. Now the beast closed in with terrifying speed.
    And the ground shook as it got closer.
    George's legs pumped furiously, but he knew it was worthless. The thing was too fast, but that was part of his very mediocre plan.
    Let it chase him.
    He reached out and grabbed a handful of stalks with his left hand. He could feel the corn tearing from the ground, but it gave him some of the leverage he needed. Pivoting and pulling, he yanked his entire body hard and spun. He hit the ground hard and rolled out of the beast's path as it barreled by far too fast to grab him.
    Its scythe claws swung worthlessly over his head.
    Cradling his broken right hand, he pushed himself out of the debris and took off running again. This time at a 90 degree angle away from the thing's path as it slid and skidded through the corn field, trying ineffectively to slow down.
    Another extra few seconds.
    Another sprint as hard as he could.
    His lungs burned. His body ached. He was bleeding from at least a couple of scrapes and cuts on his arms and face. But it didn't matter.
    He had to keep it distracted.
    And maybe, just maybe, get away.
    The sound came up from behind and to his right.
    George dove forward, landing belly up on the stalks that scratched his skin, jabbed him in more places than he could count, and knocked the wind out of him.
    And once again, the beast flew past him, a force of destruction fueled by tremendous weight and speed; taking an entire swath out of the field as it did.
    It slowed, faster this time, but still not fast enough.
    Barely able to breathe, and his limbs violently shaking, he took off running again at another sharp, contradictory angle.
    In the haze of exhaustion and panic, he heard something. A wooshing sound of some kind from the sky. It didn't mean anything to his numbed mind, but it registered for some reason.
    It was something important.
    But not important enough.
    His breath was ragged now. He was coughing and gagging more than he was breathing now. He was strong and had endurance, but he wasn't a track star and the sheer terror and effort was having an effect on his untrained body.
    George's feet stumbled and gave out beneath him.
    He could hear it coming.
    Hell, he could feel it coming.
    Reaching down with his uninjured hand, he pushed off on the dry dirt hard and rolled to the side.
    A massive foot slammed down an inch away from his head as the thing failed to catch him yet again and went crashing by.
    George went to pull himself up again and found himself barely able to do so.
    The thing was already turning by the time he was able to stand.
    Still, he tried to run. And quickly realized he could barely walk.
    Another wooshing sound; this one louder with a loud hiss. It came from the field behind him where the ship had been found. Another monster perhaps? What the hell was that sound?
    It didn't matter.
    He kept going. Half jogging, half stumbling, towards the edge of his field. He couldn't keep going and some part of him told him to get to the edge of the field.
    He just had to get to the edge of the field.
    "Lel-!" he tried to yell for his wife, only to his voice disappear; hitching in his chest and cut off by a coughing fit.
    She had to get away, wherever she was.
    Only then, George realized he could see her.
    Lelena was there, just outside of the field. She was dirty but otherwise unharmed. And she looked like she was yelling at someone and pointing at the field with the barrel of her revolver.
    Who was she yelling at? he absently wondered.
    Unconsciously, George dove forward. He hit the ground hard and, for the second time, felt his breath escape him.
    Only too late, in the haze, he forgot to roll out of the way.
    He tried to push himself to the side, but too slowly this time.
    His right arm was destroyed under the weight of one of the beast's clawed feet and thrown into the air as the thing galloped past once again and back out into the open.
    Back where Lelena was.
    But George couldn't think. He couldn't feel. His mind was alight in the fire of agony from having his arm torn off and he was screaming.
    He couldn't hear his wife yelling at the marshals and their marine contingent. He couldn't hear the thunderous echo of pulse and gauss rifles that punched through the monster's hard carpace. He didn't feel the thing's spray of vile blood or the thud as the beast fell to the ground; poisoning the very dirt it lay upon.
    He didn't even remember the face of Lelena and the marine medic by her side hovering over him or his trip to medical facility nearby.
    All he remembered was the pain.
    And, lingering up from the depths of his belly, an odd sensation that his body felt entirely too hot.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Heat - Part 4

    The thing chittered excitedly as it moved with heavy thuds away from George and over towards where he believed his wife was hidden. He felt his gut twist and he wanted desperately to do something to keep it away from her.
    She'd already shot it and it didn't seem to do more than piss it off. What was she thinking?
    That she wanted it to get away from you. Just like you want it to get away from her.
    He mentally cursed himself. He cursed his wife. He cursed whatever the fuck that thing was.
    George heard something. It reminded him immediately of a hoe being dragged through dirt and leaves. He listened for a few moments, trying to understand what it was before he decided to risk it.
    As carefully as possible, he tried to move some of the stalks so he could look in the direction of the sound and his wife. Every creak and crack of the fallen corn made his heart jump into his throat but the monster never seemed to notice.
    He managed to clear a tiny seam to look through.
    The beast, with its large, scythe-tipped limbs, was clawing through the corn. The 'hoe' thought seemed appropriate as it was punching the blades into the ground and dragging them backwards through the debris as it searched.
    Luckily, it didn't seem to have found Lelena yet.
    Instead it was aimlessly clawing at several large piles of corn. It hissed under its breath, sounding almost annoyed as it did. Any number of the piles could contain his wife and any second he could hear her scream out in pain and...
    He shook his head.
    He had to do something.
    But what?
    Lelena had said that the marshals were coming, but god knows when they would actually show up.
    Would they think this was a priority?
    It didn't matter. He had to help her before it found her.
    A thousand scenarios ran through his mind and none of them really ended well. This thing was huge, fast, and could probably tear him in two without a second thought.
    But Lelena was in trouble.
    Through the crack in the corn, he glanced back towards the house and up towards where the ship had crashed.
    The inferno had cleared and there were still the massive clouds of smoke. Maybe he could try to lose it in the smoke? It hadn't really shown any indication of being bothered by it, but he wasn't paying attention either.
    Still, the only thing over there other then the crashed ship was open fields. This thing moved like a freight train and hit like one too. Caught out in the open, he'd be dead in an instant.
    The beast chortled angrily and stabbed its claws into another downed pile of corn. George winced at the sight but nothing came of it.
    The house?
    He could make out the great wooden building just over the edge of the corn. It was sturdy and well built to survive the planet's severe winter storms. Everything on Shone III was. If he could make it to the house, maybe it would be enough to barricade inside. Maybe it wasn't strong enough to get in.
    His kids were likely in there. Did he risk their lives on this hunch? And that would leave Lelena locked outside with that thing. Trapped in the field and...
    The field.
    He watched the monster as it clawed angrily through yet another lump of corn. There wasn't much left to search, which meant it would find his wife soon.
    But it hadn't found her.
    Whatever senses this beast had, at the very least, it seemed to hunt primarily by sight. It was big and strong and mean, but it hadn't tried to sniff her out or anything of the sort. Maybe it was just taking its time. Or maybe the insane plan he had just thought of would work.
    God, if you're listening, don't let Lelena follow me. Let her and the kids get out of here and let the marshals smoke this thing. And, if you got the time, keep this thing off my ass while you do. Nothing personal, just don't care to join you yet.
    George glanced up at the thing.
    There was only a single pile of fallen debris left.
    Lelena would be in it.
    Fuck it. Amen.
    Exploding from his hiding place, he crossed the couple of yards in an instant and did the first thing that came to mind to get its attention.
    He socked the thing in the back of the head.
    It screeched in anger and surprise while, simultaneously, he felt the bones in his hand splinter into a hundred pieces. Its screams were joined by his own as he howled in pain from the sound breaking of every bone in fist.
    But, rather than be paralyzed by the agony of having just punched what felt like a plastisteel door, his howls turned from ones of pain to ones of fury and George took off running. Not towards the house or towards the smoldering ship, but deeper into the field. Where everything was thick and mazelike and he might lose the beast in the endless rows.
    He ran as fast as he ever had in his life.
    And the thing followed.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Heat - Part 3

    The thing, shoved carefully into the back of the spacecraft, began to chitter softly as it pulled itself forward from the back of the cabin.
    "George?" Lelena called again before coughing against the smoke and heat.
    She was far enough away that she could barely make him out through the billowing smoke. With the flames extinguished, the clouds dominated the area, choking and blinding them both.
    But George didn't notice. His attention was in front of him.
    Sharp, sickle-like blades, tipping the edges of long, gangly limbs hooked themselves around the exterior door. They dug into the metal with ease. The beast pulled itself forward with a sticky, sliding sound and a soft, chittering hiss.
    "There you are!" Lelena shouted, squinting through the smoke. "I've called the marshals and told them what happened. They're on their way here!"
    George glanced at his wife for just the briefest of seconds and then back at the horror unfolding from the ship's entrance. He didn't dare tear his eyes away from the monstrosity for a moment more.
    And Lelena noticed it.
    "Honey?" she asked.
    Aside from the scythe-like arms, it walked on four legs; giving George the impression of a twisted centaur. Powerful jaws opened and closed behind slime covered teeth that were hidden under deadly, fanged mandibles. A long, lashing tail smashed against the inside of the craft and further mutilated the soldiers' bodies inside.
    And those eyes.
    Deep and cavernous, like staring into pits. They glew softly in the black smoke, only drawing more attention to their soulless gaze. A foreign, terrible intelligence glinted at the edges of their ebony pools.
    The creature seemed almost to laugh as it unfolded itself just outside of the craft's door. It was as tall as the ship, a good ten feet. George couldn't help but wonder how the beast had fit into the cramped space, much less with a half dozen armored soldiers.
    The gunshot ricocheted off the thing's carpaced head and it let out a deafening screech. George jumped in surprise as the creature shook itself and clawed at its face where it had been hit. While there was no blood, there was a streak across its hard shell.
    He glanced back to see Lelena, sidearm in hand, with a look of terror and determination on her face.
    "RUN, STUPID!" she yelled.
    And so George ran.
    Lelena took two more shots before they both took off towards the fields. The shots were drastically less effective than before and it didn't even seem to notice the third bullet. They bounced off like the thing was made of solid plastisteel. It locked eyes on its attacker and pursued.
    They were just climbing the wooden fence when it began to barrel after them.
    The ground shook and shuddered with each step. It made George think of a runaway train and, not a moment later, it proved just how true that analogy was.
    Lelena and George had just entered the endless rows of corn a mere seconds after passing the fence, when the beast caught up and went through the barrier. The ironwood splintered like it were made out of loosely-held together toothpicks and George felt more than a couple embed themselves in his neck, back, and arms as shrapnel was sent flying.
    The beast barely slowed down.
    It slammed by them, throwing them to either side. George hit the ground with a soft crack. He grimaced and yelped, wondering if had broken something, only to be buried a moment later by a rain of corn stalks as the creature's tail cut away entire swaths of crop.
     He was about to push himself back up when he heard it slide to a stop. The loud crashing suggesting that it took half the field with it.
    For a breath, all was silent. Then, slowly, it begin to tromp its way back in his direction.
    George elected not to unbury himself.
    There was, of course, the chance that the thing knew exactly where he was. Or Lelena. But, covered in corn and hidden under the hot, scratchy stalks, hiding seemed a better idea.
    He could hear it moving around. It was so heavy, but moved with surprisingly grace. A constant, low hiss seemed to be interjected only by a trilling purr that punctuated a soft clawing at the felled corn.
    It sounded like it was hunting for them. And if it was hunting, it didn't know where they were. At least to a degree.
    As the thing moved closer, he thought about his wife; hidden somewhere unseen nearby, and muttered a silent prayer to no one in particular. He held his breath as the beast stepped directly over him.
    That was when he heard the click of his wife's gun cock.
    And so did the creature.