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By Patricia Foster
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2013 Patricia Foster
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Daniel stood in the doorway, rifle at the ready. The big mastiff at his side silently waiting for his command.
He spared a quick glance across the street at Gabe and Amos, nodding as his eyes met Gabe's. They were ready.
It was just a waiting game now. Time seemed to crawl by and he began to worry that their luck had run out. Perhaps Reggie hadn't been fast enough this time. He felt a tremendous amount of guilt over sending her out like they did, but she insisted.
The mastiff tensed suddenly. And there she was, still a good distance away, but closing fast.
The big dog moved quickly out and down the street and disappeared between two buildings. This was a clear signal to Gabe and Amos that she was coming.
He felt the sweat roll down his face. His palms also began to become wet with it. From the adrenalin no doubt. There was no time to wipe it away. A few more minutes and they would be in range.
He watched as her legs and arms pumped furiously as she ran. They were close on her heels. Six of them snapping and growling as they tried desperately to overtake her.
He marveled at her speed, as he always did in these moments. Beautiful Regina, college track and field star, training for the Olympics. What a cruel twist of her talents fate had dealt her.
He fired off a round, bits of skull and flesh exploding as he caught one of them with a bullet between the eyes.
This was a cruel fucking twist of fate for all of them.
He heard the reports from Gabe and Amos as she lithely slipped into the doorway beside him and bent to catch her breath. She was safe once more.
As he cycled the bolt, chambering the next round, the mastiff stealthily snuck up behind one of the dog-like creatures and brought it to the ground. Jaws clamping tightly around its throat and shaking its head back and forth furiously until its neck snapped.
He sighted on one of the remaining two that were left and managed to catch it in the side of the head. Gabe or Amos, he wasn't sure which, got off a good shot on the last one.
He left the doorway and went out to check the remains in the street. He found one still alive, but barely. A yellow substance, he assumed to be blood, running freely from a large chest wound and pooling on the ground beneath it. As he knelt down and pulled a long, bladed knife from a sheath hooked to his belt, its green eyes locked with his. Full of fury and defiance even now, as the once bright color was starting to dim. In an attempt to intimidate him, it gave a low series of growls. Still quite menacing in sound, though far too weak to have any real effect.
Daniel placed one hand just below the mouth, on the chin and shoved the head up and back to expose the neck. Although he kept the knife blade expertly sharpened, he was unable to simply slit the throat. The dense, course fur and the tough, leather like skin beneath prevented this. After pushing its hair out of the way as best as he could with his knuckles, he began a slow and deliberate series of saw like movements with the blade. It took about ten good times of back and forth motion before he felt the flesh give and saw the golden liquid stream out and over the knife.
Letting go of the beast's muzzle he brought his hand up near his face. Dirt, grass, asphalt ... Just outdoors. The smell was always the same. They were obviously alive. They had bone, blood, and tissue. Not machines. How is it that they appeared to have no real odor of their own? A defense perhaps? Hunters to blend in and go undetected? Did they change scents to match their surroundings? Was this a natural ability?
Sighing, he knew he would probably never know the answers. It didn't stop him from asking himself though. It was fascinating stuff really when one thought about it.
He caught sight of the rainbow hue out of the corner of his eye. Just a slight shimmer in the distance. He swiveled his head bringing it into clear view. It would not advance on them. They never did ... Though he had not figured out why. As far as he knew they had no way to defend themselves against the damn things. They had wasted countless rounds in the beginning taking pot shots at these beings and it didn't seem to have any effect on them. It was almost as if they were able to absorb the damn things.
He stared at the swirling prisms of light and gave a half assed salute. "We win again, you bastard."
Funny, it seemed almost a hollow victory, as it chose to leave him there among the corpses and retreat.
He pulled a rag from his pocket and began to wipe the knife blade. Almost compulsively he touched his tongue to the tip. Much like his own blood in taste and texture. But not quite. There was a sweet under the familiar saltiness.
The metal in his hand flashed in the light of the sun. Wiping the rag over it, he took a deep breath. What the hell was he doing?
Daniel ... Class Clown, Juvenile Delinquent and general fuck-up a sniffer hunter. Who could have ever foreseen it?
He felt her soft hand come to rest on his shoulder.
"Danny? Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm alright. Just finishing up here."CHAPTER 2
They sat around the campfire that night laughing and joking. Still high off the day's victory.
Daniel wished he could fully share in their jovial mood. Something about the shimmering shape today left him uneasy.
He reached down and stroked the fur of the mastiff at his side.
"Good thing you found that dog, Danny. He's definitely been a big help the last few weeks." Gabe remarked.
"Yeah. He's a good dog."
A snort from Amos. "Damn thing still won't let me near it."
"Guess it's not too fond of Crackers."
"Screw you, Gabe! I ain't no Cracker."
"Uh huh." Gabe nodded his head in mock agreement.
Amos ignored him. "You ever going to give that dog a name, Danny?"
"According to the tag on his collar he already has one. Rufus."
"Strange name for a dog. I'd have named him Killer or Chopper or something."
"Yep. Definitely Cracker."
Daniel couldn't help but laugh.
Amos scowled and then started on his favorite subject. "How come we had to find a dog? Why couldn't it have been a woman?"
"Here we go again." Gabe muttered shaking his head.
"What? It's been a long damn time. Nothing wrong with me wanting a woman. I get awful tired of running off into the woods to spank my monkey in private."
"Oh Lord, Amos. That is a visual I did not need."
"Yeah, Reggie? Well if you weren't gay I might not need to be playing with it."
"I'm not gay, you dolt. Bi-sexual. There is a difference."
"Well okay then, you like guys and ... I'm a guy. So, there you go." Amos stood there looking for all the world like he'd just solved the problem.
Reggie laughed and then stuck her tongue out at him. "In your dreams, Amos. In your dreams."
"Shoot, Reggie ... Between you and the dog I am beginin' to feel pretty low."
"Nice try." Reggie smiled at him. "You know I love you. I am just not going to ride you like some champion bull."
"Damnit, Reggie! Stop teasing me! I already had to make one trip to the trees tonight. My shit's getting sore."
Howls of laughter followed this confession. They were a good group of people overall. Daniel knew he had been lucky to run across each of them. He patted the dog absently as he became lost in his thoughts.CHAPTER 3
"What were you thinking, son?"
He shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "I don't know."
"I don't know is not going to cut it in this case. I want an explanation."
He knew his dad meant business. He was angry, which was something Daniel rarely ever witnessed. His dad was a funny guy, always there with a hug or to help with a problem.
"I am waiting, son."
"I don't know, dad. We were just messing around and the house looked empty. We just decided to go in."
"Go in? I see. So you knocked on the door and politely waited to see if someone would answer and invite you inside?"
Daniel's cheeks flamed. "No."
"What did you do exactly?"
"We broke the window on the kitchen door and went inside."
"So you 'broke in'?"
"And in the process you woke an elderly lady from her sleep and scared her half to death?"
"I swear, dad ... We didn't know she was there."
"Daniel, whether she was there or not is not really the point. You had no business in that house in the first place. What did you plan to do inside of it anyway?"
More squirming. "I don't know."
"Do you realize how lucky you are that your mother was able to convince her not to press charges against any of you?"
"Don't look so hopeful, son. You are not completely off the hook. For the next two months you aren't allowed out of this house except for school. There will be no phone, Internet, or friends."
"But the guys and I ..."
"No. I mean this, son. Two months."
Daniel slumped in his chair. It hardly seemed fair. Wasn't like she had a heart attack or anything.
That was the beginning. He had only been thirteen then. What followed were years of petty larcenies and misdemeanors that his parents paid his way out of. He began goofing off in school and his grades reflected that. He passed, just barely. He could have gone to an Ivy League School after graduation if he had applied himself to his studies in High School. Instead, Community College, where he did pretty well when he bothered to show up. He was going nowhere fast and it had become painfully obvious to both he and his parents.
The party at Todd's. The first of the summer. Time to let off some steam, have a few drinks and forget what a loser he had become.
Sarah Clark in that short, tight, black skirt ... He had lusted after her all through their High School years to no avail.
In the early morning hours he was still reeling from the alcohol, the taste of the berry wine cooler on her lips and the memory of the feel of her soft, warm thighs around him, as he walked home. Suddenly there it was. A 1969 Corvette Stingray. Gold paint glittering under the street lights. He stopped to admire it. She was a beauty and looked to be in mint condition. He wondered what it would be like to drive it. One thing led to another and he was behind the wheel speeding away. It didn't take long before a police car was behind him with its lights flashing.
Looking back now, he surmised the cop was stopping him for speeding and not for stealing the car as he had believed at the time.
He had panicked flooring the gas pedal. After several hours of high speed antics up and down the highways the corvette ran out of gas. He'd tried to ditch it and run, only to be brought up short by the barrel of a police revolver pointed directly at him and a no nonsense officer holding it.
The grim face of his father and the tears of his mother as they had paid the bail money and he was released to them. A hefty amount that they had no choice but to mortgage their home to get.
It wasn't disappointment he saw in their eyes when they looked at him, but merely a failure to understand. It was something he himself felt. He didn't understand why he did these things. He just did them. He had no broken home or dysfunctional family to blame. He had only himself. Maybe he was just bored with his ordinary life.
He was going to jail this time. They were all pretty much resigned to that fact. The lawyer they hired would do what he could to lessen the sentence, but he was going to do time.
His court date had been set. His freedom would come to an end on November 14th.CHAPTER 4
"Hey, Danny. Come in Danny"
He blinked several times and Amos came into focus.
"Sorry, I must have zoned out."
"What's the plan for tomorrow?"
"Same as always. We travel. Should be fairly close to Oklahoma City, but I'd like to hold off a day before drawing those things out, if we reach there tomorrow."
"Sounds good to me."
"What is puzzling me is, don't they communicate with each other? I would think that after we had successfully pulled this off on the first few Cities, they would have notified each other about what we were doing."
"Yeah." Gabe was right and that too was part of what had been bothering him.
"Just strikes me as odd is all."
"Maybe we are just a tiny problem in their overall plan to take over, Gabe."
"How many of these beasts have we killed, Reggie? Eighty? A hundred? It doesn't sound very tiny to me, unless they have an endless supply of the things."
"They could just be independent."
Gabe looked at Amos in surprise. "Tell me you don't really believe that? New York, Maryland, Virginia, Philadelphia ... The whole Atlantic Seaboard are no longer cities or even states. They are all one continuous flowing sea of black monoliths. That was what?" Gabe looked at him for conformation. "Three years ago?" Daniel nodded. "You cannot seriously be this dumb, Cracker."
"I've about had it with the Cracker bullshit, Rich boy."
Sensing things were about to get out of control Daniel jumped in. "Whoa. Both of you take a deep breath and let it go. Gabe? You are not really being fair. Amos hasn't been east. He hasn't seen it."
"Well, okay. We know they are not isolated from one another and that they are creating one massive colony. I suggest we leave these bigger questions until we are all less tired." Reggie stood up and stretched "And on that note, I am going to get some sleep."
"Sounds like a good idea to me. Gabe, Amos?"
"Yeah. We can leave it until later." Gabe agreed.
"Can I keep you warm tonight? I promise I won't try nothing. I'll just hold you all snug in your sleeping bag."
"Aww c'mon, have some mercy."
"Nice try, Amos."
Daniel felt the mood lighten again and chuckled. She was right. He thought. They were all just tired. He rolled over, turning his back to the fire and fell into a dreamless sleep.CHAPTER 5
As Amos settled in for the night he was feeling somewhat better. His exchange with Reggie had helped. He enjoyed the easy back and forth between them. He really did like her. Of course he wouldn't turn her down if she offered. She was a beautiful woman inside and out. He'd be honored to have her by his side permanently in truth. Shoot, maybe he was even a little in love with her. But he wasn't as desperate as he made out. They had already decided once their trap for these sniffers no longer worked, they would head to Yellowstone. So, there would be other women eventually.
Gabe was another matter entirely. Eventually he was going to put a fist in that fancy mouth of his. He had become sick and tired of him thinking he was superior because he came from money and went to MIT.
It wasn't like he himself hadn't been in college. He'd been in his third year at the University of Texas. So what if it wasn't his grades that got him there? He had still been there and was passing all his courses. He wasn't just some dumb, hick, farm boy.
* * *
The farm ... It is the first thing he can remember from his earliest days. Running through the fields, the smell of the fresh turned soil, feeding the horses and hogs, chasing the chickens. It was his first real love. He had been born with it in his blood.
When the big, yellow bus began to come and take him away each morning, he hated it. He did not want to go to school. He didn't care about learning his ABC's. All he knew then was it took him away from the place where he was happiest and wanted to be. It wasn't until Junior High that his resentment gradually began to abate.
He had always been a large boy. Not overweight by any means. He'd have happily worked from dawn to dusk on the farm if they had let him. He was tall, with a wide chest and already well-muscled for a twelve year old. It was his third day in Seventh grade when the coach pulled him aside after PE. Would he like to play some football? Now he knew about football of course. This was Texas after all. Once the fall harvest was in, he and his Dad were free to watch the rest of the season's games every Sunday on TV. They had even tossed the ball around themselves over the years.
He handed the paperwork to his parents that night. His mom wasn't so sure he should play and his dad signed off on it all immediately. It would be good for him. End of discussion. Amos would play football.
Excerpted from SNIFFERS by Patricia Foster. Copyright © 2013 Patricia Foster. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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