Episode 3 - Fixie

Page 2

Ruby slams the door

"Wolfboar" was the name Zeke had given the creatures after the first attack on the colonel's party. Their bodies were compact and bristly like the wild boar's Ruby had seen on Animal Planet, but their faces had a canine quality with pointed ears and large eyes. Their feet had claws rather than hooves, and they growled and barked when they attacked. A wolfboar had knocked down one of Ruby's neighbors and chewed into his leg the day before, leaving him bedridden and probably crippled. They'd had a handful of encounters with these predators. They usually hunted in packs.

Claws clicked on the concrete behind Ruby as she raced towards the front door. The wolfboar gave a porcine snarl right behind her. Ruby threw the heavy metallic front door open and slammed it behind her. The door hit the creature, a bellow of pain erupted from behind. Ruby spun in time to see the creature withdraw from the opening, perhaps to lick its wounds. Whatever the reason, she had a chance to slow it down. She turned back and lunged towards the door. It slammed closed under her weight. A split second later, something crashed against it from within. Another painful growl came muffled through the door, followed by more claws clicking on concrete. It was returning to the hole on the far end of the shop. It would not give up its pursuit.

Ruby raced through the woods, hurdling fallen trunks, pushing through vines, dodging trees. Her flight instinct had full control now. There was no thought but to flee, fear giving way to the instinctive, adrenaline fueled race with her pursuer. In less than ten seconds, a rustle of undergrowth signaled the predator's approach.

She'd run for thirty seconds before she realized she was heading away from camp. Or was she? It was hard to tell in this unfamiliar landscape. A crash sounded behind her. The wolfboar had torn through a bush. It grunted with frustration and continued after her.

Ruby spotted a path through the woods, no doubt a trail forged by deer and other creatures that passed this way. Ruby veered onto the trail and found new speed.

The creature gave a predatory snarl. It was only a few feet behind her now, practically biting her calves. The trail bent ahead and as Ruby leaned into it, she nearly slammed into a fallen sycamore log, jumping at the last second. The wolfboar gave a squeal of frustration. Ruby almost laughed. The wolfboar couldn't jump the obstacle. It had to go around.

That gave her an idea. If she climbed a tree, the wolfboar wouldn't be able to follow. She cast her eyes up into the branches above. It shouldn't be too long before she found one easy enough for her to climb. She'd be off the ground and—

Slam! The collision knocked the wind out of her. Ruby hit full body into someone else on the trail. Her victim fell back, Ruby on top of her. There was a scream of surprise, limbs tangled, a hand in Ruby's face—general chaos. At last Ruby extracted herself from the other girl.

Ruby and Mai

"What the hell is wrong with you?" Mai shouted as she pushed herself up on her knees and brushed off her sleeves. "I didn't come out here only to be body slammed by—"

Ruby leapt to her feet. "Run!" she shouted.

Mai continued to brush herself off. "Why should I—"

Ruby grabbed Mai under one arm and yanked her. "Move it! Now!"

The wolfboar squeal-barked as it closed in on the two girls. The sound was all it took to get Mai moving. She brushed past Ruby in her haste to get away. In seconds, Mai was well ahead of Ruby. A thick branch lay in the path, hanging off of a tree at waist height. Mai hurdled over it without breaking stride. Ruby nearly tripped as she launched herself over.

She nearly collided with Mai again around the next corner. The other girl stood still. It took a second for Ruby to understand why. Beyond Mai was open sky. The path bent sharply at the top of a high cliff face. A waterfall a few dozen feet to their left emptied into a vast pool sixty feet below them. The path was precarious, leading to the top of the falls. It didn't appear to go anywhere from there.

Over the Cliff

A snarl from behind sent a fresh flash of panic through Ruby's chest. There were no options. "Jump," Ruby cried.

"What? I'm not going to—"

Ruby leapt, uncertain if the pool beneath was deep enough to keep her from breaking a leg. She felt every millisecond of terrified thrill as she plummeted. The icy water below swallowed her. Her foot touched down in a silty floor. There was a moment of breathless confusion before she swam back up to the surface.

Ruby gasped for air. A moment later, Mai sputtered to the surface beside her. She groaned, pulled her hair out of her face, and turned to Ruby. "God, what is wrong with you?"

Ruby stared at her for a moment, treading water. She turned and swam for the nearest bank.

"Could you be a bigger disaster?" Mai asked as she followed. "Pissing off one of those pig dogs. Then you have to go and make it chase me. What the hell is your problem?"

Ruby didn't answer. She crawled onto the moist clay bank and rolled onto her back. The treetops and sky spun above her. She'd survived.

Mai climbed out beside her. She took off her sweatshirt and wrung it out. "This thing is ruined. My favorite sweatshirt, and now it's useless."

Ruby sighed. "It was bound to get wet eventually."

Mai glared at her. "What did you say to me?"

"If it can't take a little water," Ruby said, climbing to her feet, "it isn't very good for life in the wilderness." She glared into Mai's incredulous gaze.

"I don't want to live in the wilderness," Mai growled, turning away. "As soon as we find a decent town, I'm totally..."

Her voice trailed off as she faced the trees. Ruby turned to follow her gaze.

The Stranger

In the shadow of the woods, a figure stood looking down at them. He wore a broad-brimmed leather hat that cast deeper shadows on his face. Dark sunglasses hid his eyes, and his mouth was a grim line beneath them. He held a crossbow aimed at the girls. A bloody bandage wrapped his right hand, but the index finger protruded from the bandages, poised on the trigger.

"Hello," Ruby said, raising her hands. "Is there something you want?"

With barely a twitch, the stranger released his arrow. It made no sound at all. Ruby closed her eyes, her breath catching in her throat.

A sharp squeal of pain sounded behind her. At first, she thought it was Mai. She spun around and found the wolfboar in the shallows behind her. It had caught up to them. Both of the girls had been oblivious to its approach. Now it thrashed and groaned in the water, the arrow sunk deep in its flank.

The creature gave one last futile bellow. It stumbled forward and landed snout down into the water. It twitched once and was still.

Ruby stared, dumbstruck. Shock eventually gave way to indignation.

"It was a mother," Ruby said. "You didn't have to kill it. If you'd just..."

She turned back to face the one who had saved her. The mysterious man with the crossbow had disappeared.

page published Oct 20 2016