Herd: A Short Story (Part 1)

Fall is here. Even in my neck of the woods – where October is usually just another Summer month – temperatures have dropped into the comfortably cool range. It may not seem like much, but I’ll take any positive news I can get in 2020.

To get in the spirit, we treat October as one long Halloween, throwing as much horror-themed content at you that we can muster. In addition to our editorials, reviews, Power Rankings, and Monsoon Vision watch parties, we’ve decided to add a bit of original fiction into the mix this year.

This is an experiment. Something new for us. And we’re working on some other new ideas we hope to share soon. So let us know what you think down in the comments. And, as always, we appreciate your support and your participation in this community. We hope you have an amazing October and Halloween!

-SAW Staff


“We lost another one in the night.”

Harlan looked up at the man on the horse and sighed.

“Take me to him. Clive, you better come with us. This isn’t gonna be pretty.”

“You’re the boss,” Clive winked at Harlan as he swung up on to his mount.

The three men followed a track of bent grass across the prairie and up a gentle rise to where the tall blades gave way to a dark stand of pine and aspen. 

The men got within thirty feet of the thicket and the horses would go no further.

Harlan was the first to dismount. He drew the Single Action Colt from the worn leather holster on his leg, thumbed the gate, and spun the cylinder. He drew a long, deliberate breath, let it out and said, “Let’s go.”

The man called Zega lay still on the ground. A light breeze blew strands of thin, blue-black hair across his face, and an unbuttoned pocket flapped open and closed on his breast. The blue Epsilon tattoo on his right forearm was spattered with dark, dried blood, and it looked like something had gnawed at the fingers of his right hand in the night.

“Goddamn.” Clive’s voice was like a rock thrown into a still pond. “It looks like someone ran him through a saw mill.”

Zega’s lower extremities had been removed with surgical precision and were neatly laid out a foot or so away from the torso. It reminded Harlan of the way his wife laid out his clothes in the morning. He shivered at the thought.

“Mind your tongue, Clive. Even you’ll stand and be judged on the final day.” Harlan looked up ominously, away from the two halves of body, shielded his eyes from the sun with a tanned, manicured hand.

Clive spit a long string of brown chew and squinted at Harlan through one eye.

“I’ll take that into consideration, Captain.”

Harlan crouched down beside the torso and looked it over a while before unbuttoning the dead man’s shirt. A neat incision began just above the navel and ran for about six inches, terminating just below the sternum.

Harlan looked over his shoulder at Clive.

“Help me roll him over.”

The two men turned the upper half of Zega over onto his stomach, and Clive looked on as Harlan pulled up the shirt. Two more incisions branded the skin in the area above where the man’s kidneys might have been, and a neatly shaved patch of scalp revealed a perfectly rounded hole in the base of the skull.

“Was this all you found?” Harlan asked the third man.

The third man scoffed, saw the business look on Harlan’s face and said, “You mean besides those unusual tracks? No, sir.” The man glanced nervously at the set of tracks that led away from the torso and disappeared beneath the eaves of the forest.

“Alright, then. Let’s head back.”

The men rode back to camp as the sun climbed higher up the eastern sky in front of them. Harlan thought about Zega and the three other dead. He’d found similar cuts on all three corpses but no evidence as to how and why they’d gotten there.

The hole in the skull was an altogether new development.

The men had checked the prisoners over thoroughly when they’d picked them up in Tulsa, but no wounds of any kind had been noted in the log. They’d marched the Epsilons cross country for nearly a month before they entered the valley without incident. But when they began the descent into the cleft between the two mountain ridges, strange things began to happen.


Check out Part 2 here! And thanks for reading!

Author: Billy Dhalgren

“A man writes because he is tormented, because he doubts.” -Andrei Tarkovsky