Herd: A Short Story (Part 2)

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


Read Part I Here

Boss?”

Harlan started and looked up from the fire. The man that had found the body was sitting across from him stirring a steaming pot of something brown and viscous.

Harlan met the man’s curious eyes and tried not to look scared. “Yeah?”

“Well, I was thinking, and…” his voice trailed off.

“Go on. You got my attention.”

“You think the natives we saw had anything to do with those three dead Epsilons?” The man’s voice betrayed uncertainty. He was worried Harlan would think him afraid.

Harlan glanced over at Clive while he composed his answer. He was sitting crossed-legged with a long rifle laid across his lap. His eyes never left the fire as Harlan began to speak.

“No. I don’t. But I think it would serve our best interests and the interests of the remaining Epsilons, if we went ahead and made our pledges now.”

Clive and the other man didn’t move at first. A bit of sap ignited and popped, sending red embers spiraling into the night sky on a column of hot air.

Harlan reached inside his shirt and paused while each man opened shirts to reveal stony amulets hung from heavy chains.

Clutching the amulet, Harlan closed his eyes and began to recite the ancient pledge litany. Waited for the other two men to affirm it.

When Harlan opened his eyes, Clive and the other man were staring at him in anticipation of an answer.

Harlan cleared his throat. “I didn’t see natives through the long glass that first day we entered the valley, or on any of the other days when we spotted movement in the distance. I don’t know what I saw…” He let that last sentence hang on the air.

The man that had found the body of Zega coughed and shifted his weight nervously from one bended knee to the other.

“We’ll enter the woods tomorrow morning, and by His good grace, we’ll march the remaining Epsilons through the Western Gate to the Wheel in San Francisco and pick up our next billet. Single watches in two hour shifts. Clive, you’re up first.” Harlan rolled over on his bedroll, closed his eyes, and waited for sleep to take him. Or death. One seemed just as likely as the other.

The sun fell down in a cloudy western bed, and the fluttering embers from the campfire caught the sky on fire. Harlan thought he could pick out a pattern in the flickering dot-matrix of stars. But even as the thought fired in the neural pathways of his mind, the connecting lines coalesced and a shape sprang out of the night. Harlan looked on with a passive kind of this-type-of-thing-happens-everyday expression, and seemed not to be concerned at all when the hand-shaped constellation reached down from the wheeling sky to scoop him up.

Harlan sat propped up against a log, yawning, and watching as the two other men slept. He’d woken from the dream, a silent, strangled cry of terror escaping as a flattened out squeak. Clive had done a poor job of pretending not to notice, the rising doubt now like a leviathan in the blue, deep of his eyes.

Harlan had been watching the sky for nearly an hour before he realized the light from the moon had gone. He looked up, half expecting to see a hand reaching down from the sky. But there was no hand. There wasn’t anything at all in that patch of sky. No stars, no moon. It was as though a black blanket had been thrown across that one piece of sky, smothering the pulsing, living celestial bodies that had been there only moments before. Harlan strained his eyes without any idea what he was straining them to see, but the dark was a drain, drawing his limited sight further and further into the void. A whirlpool of un-light.

“You see it too, huh?” Clive’s open eyes twinkled beneath the tilted brim of his hat. The leviathan had fully risen, doubt replaced with the certainty every man faces at the end of his life.

Harlan considered the implications of the question, and in a breathless voice that seemed to come from somewhere else, answered “Yeah.”

Clive’s gaze drifted out to the prairie and off towards the woods. Harlan watched the man’s face, and Clive gave a nod in the direction he was looking.

“Look. Out there. Something’s moving.”

Harlan looked out upon the open plain, dark trees like columns of marching soldiers above them on the hill. The grass rippled with the breeze, and flowed like the swell of a tide. And there, just beyond the glow of the dying campfire, Harlan saw them as they danced in the shadows of the undulating blades. A troop of metal madness, their dull, red lights blinking and pulsing at intervals almost beyond human perception.

“Nothing we can do, is there?” Clive clutched the stone amulet through his rough linen shirt.

Harlan looked at Clive, but seemed to look through him as he considered the question. Then, very slowly, before the light irised open in the black void of the sky and took him far away, he shook his head.

No.

 


Thanks a lot for reading!

Author: Billy Dhalgren

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