Cargo

Haven’t done a flash fiction challenge in a while. Chuck Wendig gave us eight words. I chose four:  hamburger, gloves, motel, and funeral.

Warning: contains self-editing

—–

Bindo licks her face with his long gray herbivore tongue.

“Ugh! You smell like vickenberries and shit!” she says, pushing his muzzle away playfully. Being kissed by a plainsteer is like getting a bath from a wet sausage. She wipes her tunic in disgust. “If you’re hungry you can have some grass, but that’s it until the next town.”

He looks at her with plaintive, bovine eyes.

“I know,” says Beth. “It’s not far, I promise.”

She can see the village up ahead. Its clusters of buildings and motels rest at the bottom of enormous spires. They stretch for hundreds of feet into the sky, calcified and sharp, the horns of the world. At the top, rest smoldering funeral pyres.

Beth drains the rest of her water skin into her mouth. She squeezes the last bit for Bindo who laps at it, spilling most on the ground. Opening the leather satchel along the flank of her companion, Beth pauses a moment. Inside rests her egg, a large two-foot-wide green ball, coated with a crackling patina of flakes. Beth is amazed to see it intact as she places her empty water skin between it and a pair of workman’s gloves.

“I think we can make it by sundown,” she says, her voice hopeful.

Bindo isn’t the brightest, but he can pick up on tension. Beth doesn’t want to make him more nervous than he is. He slow-blinks with those giant brown eyes then plods along beside her.

Her biggest concern isn’t the desert. If things get too bad she could always crack open a plant and suck some moisture out of it. What Beth is worried most about are poachers. Just the thought alone makes her glance back to the satchel nervously.

The purple sky is dusted with diamond stars. She finds herself on auto-pilot, just walking with her ox-sized beast, her face to the universe. A breeze musses her hair and Beth wonders for a brief moment if she will ever find a place to rest for good. Home is just a word–

Bindo stops without warning, growls. A cold spike runs through her chest. She feels in her pocket for the gun there, fully aware that she has a scant three bullets remaining.

“It’s okay babe,” she says to him.

But Bindo isn’t having any of it. He begins to snort. Hooves paw the ground and Beth feels the vibration in her legs. He snorts again and this time she hears it—stalkers.

They move in from the scrub bushes, lanky canines in the dusk light. They move on four paws, but Beth knows all too well that they don’t have to. This is just a scouting posture. They are sniffing her and Bindo out, moving low to the ground. When they attack, leaping with claws out, they stand upright, their tiny chest hooks exposed. But for now, they are keeping their distance. Good.

The village spires suddenly seen painfully far away and Beth finds herself wishing that these were poachers. Poachers can be fooled or reasoned with. Stalkers kill for fun.

A rustling of bushes and the first one leaps from the ground, its torso splitting wide to reveal the killing mouth there, its dark black eyes rolled back into its head in a parody of ecstasy.

Bindo rears up and catches it in the side with a sharp hoof. It squeals and tumbles into the dust as Beth pulls the gun from her pocket. She sees two more moving in from the bushes. She fires. The bullet only nicks the closest one, passing through the skin and leaving a puff of dust in the ground. It skips to the side and then flies at her. She can actually see the red gullet between those long vertical jaws. She fires again. Black liquid sprays out the stalker’s back. It pinwheels in the air before flopping to the ground.

A blur to her left. Bindo spins and almost knocks her to the ground with his massive clumsy flank. She jumps but the distraction keeps her from seeing what he is reacting to. Another stalker is already in the air. It lands on Bindo, latching onto his shoulder like a giant leech. He bellows. Saliva flings from his mouth in strands as he tries to shake off the attacker.

Beth can’t get to it. The stalker is on the other side of her massive friend. Movement again and something rushes her—the stalker Bindo had just kicked. It’s limping but alive and very angry. Without thinking, Beth fires. A cloud of black ichor sprays her and Bindo’s flank.

The last stalker is still attached to the beast, hooked in, unable to flee. Stalkers play to win every time. Bindo screams again and a large liquid eye turns to her pleadingly.

No bullets. She leaps onto Bindo and takes the gun barrel in her hand. The metal burns and Beth smells something like meat cooking. Should have worn the gloves.

She screams as she hammers the top of the stalker, its body flat as it wriggles to tear off a chunk of meat. Each blow sounds like she is smashing apples. The stalker’s screams are muted. Its rolled-back eyes blink and twitch. Beth continues to strike the creature even though her palm blisters and Bindo bucks.

You aren’t helping, she thinks.

At last she strikes an eye. The stalker shrieks with a sound that makes her teeth hurt. It falls away and begins to limp across the ground. But Bindo turns. Sharp hooves dance along the creature, pummeling it into the dirt until it isn’t much more than hamburger.

As she calms the beast, Beth feels wetness on her leg. She turns, pulls the satchel open. A small cry escapes her throat. The egg lies in two pieces, a fractured, leaking globe.

They limp to town. She has a hard time seeing the spires anymore, though she knows they are there through her tears.

(c) 2012 Martin Kee (marlanesque)

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5 responses to “Cargo

  1. Nice work!

    The “motels” seemed shoehorned in a bit, but other than that this was a seamless read. I loved the worldbuilding – the plainsteer clearly set us somewhere else early on (btw: cows growl? I did not know that.), the stalkers’ physiology was frighteningly weird, and there were great little bits of writing throughout that had me saying “yup, this guy’s good.” (e.g., a bath from a wet sausage, ‘stalkers play to win every time’)

    Thanks for the read!

    • Hey thanks!

      Yeah, you caught me with the motels. If I decide to expand the story I may try to make those look a little less conspicuous. It may turn into a thing. We’ll have to see.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. Good story, like the description of her Bindo – and the horror of the stalkers. And the final triumph, but the egg is broken. Would love to see this expanded, both up to this point in her life and after.
    Yeah – motel. Maybe slip in joke somewhere?

    • It has been expanded already, actually, as well as a second chapter added. So maybe it will turn into a thing after all.

      Pretty sure the motels will be removed in the expanded version. 🙂

      Thanks for reading!

  3. Pingback: Spin | marlanesque

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