a tale of hayward’s reach
“I went yesterday.”
“I went out the day before.”
“I don’t care who went out, when. Put your guns on and get out there and bring back something to eat. I don’t care what it is.”
“See what you did, now she’s mad at us.”
“I didn’t make her mad, you did.”
“Anyway, food won’t hop into the house by itself. You two get a move on. Get back before dark.”
“Yes, Auntie.” Ma’s sister was almost as mean as she was.
We left the habitat by the back door, and after looking both ways we started down the vine and headed out of the park, into the city. It used to be called Philadelphia; back when stuff like that mattered.
“Did you pack everything?”
“Why do you always ask me if I packed everything, its not like you weren’t standing right there, supervising.”
“Last time we were out, you forgot the wipes.”
“So, you were forced to use your hand or some leaves, why should I care, how you handle your business?”
“You ought to know.”
“Be quiet. I hear something.”
Whenever we go out, we are always very careful. There used to be lots of humies once upon a time, but after They came, there were a lot less. We can see the one closest to the main city. It sits outside of the city proper and sends its parts looking for food.
Humies learned not to live in the cities if they wanted to avoid being food. Mama said once, cities used to be filled with humies but now, nobody with any sense goes there. That’s why there is so much stuff still there. We don’t tell Ma, but sometimes we go there and look for stuff. We learned how to avoid the plants and their critters.
“There it is. It’s a cabbage-head.”
“I don’t like cabbage-heads. We just ate one a few weeks ago. I’d rather eat my boot first ‘fore I eat another.”
“We ate our boots last week, so we probably shouldn’t get a cabbage-head anyway, they be the makings of poor boots.”
We let the cabbage-head wander off. They weren’t too dangerous or too bright and noisy as all get out, so you didn’t have to worry ’bout them sneakin’ up or anything. They looked like a horse with the head of a cabbage. And they were about as bright.
Then we saw them. And we nodded. That was the target. Razorbacks. That’s what mama called them when she taught us to hunt. Razorbacks were part of the Creature, a fast and dangerous part. They hated humies, too.
We waited cause there were too many to try and get one. They had six long legs and were really fast even though they were twice as big as a humie.
“Why don’t you watch ’em, while I catch some shut eye.”
“kay, its gonna be a while.” I liked it better when he slept anyway, its the only relief I get from his godforsaken mouth. We had taken a position near the edge of the city where a lot of the Creature’s parts wandered looking for scavenging humies. There was a mild quakin’ and I could see the Creature moving closer to the city. It must be real upset or real hungry, it moved a whole dozen feet today.
There were still humies living in the city, we knew that cause we could see their lights at night, but the Creature did not have many ‘spring that moved around after dark. There were a few, but not many. Humies tried to do their scavenging after dark, cause it was a bit safer than when there were hawkwings about.
After a couple of hours, the Creature settled down, mostly cause the sky was ‘cast and it did not have any shine on it. The razorbacks started moving back toward the Creature. It was taller than all of the buildings near us. Mama said it was nearly five thousand feet tall and when they landed they changed the weather, killing humie by the dozens every second for years. She said something about spores, but I was never good with that science type stuff. My brother was much better.
One of the razorbacks turns and holds still. It starts makin’ its supper sound and turning around. We duck behind the heavy rock wall and wait. It turns toward a building near the clearing next to it. A humie runs out and tries to scurry to the next building. The razorback supper sound grows louder as it turns to the humie, locks its legs and charges fast, faster than any humie could hope to be.
The humie turns around and points a tiny gun at the razorback. Its pop does not even make the razorback blink. The razorback runs past the humie and its skin bursts with blood. It staggers and tries to keep running. The razorback circles and passes again. The touch of its skin rips the flesh off the humie, and after the second pass the humie falls down.
A second humie runs out, he is a bit bigger and is carrying a shotgun. But shoots too soon and the razorback does him in quick.
“Get up. We got one on the hook.”
“I was just startin’ to have my favor dream and you ruined it.”
“You wants some boots or not. You can walk barefoot for all I care, but I wants some boots. There ain’t no better hide than razorback and ain’t no better eatin’ either. So shut up and get up.”
We check our guns and make sure our chems was dry. No sense shooting if nothing happens. I don’t want to tangle with a razorback with just my knife if I can avoid it. My brother is good in a fight but it just the two of us these days, so we can’t afford to get hurt.
The razorback is so busy eatin’ it doesn’t even hear us getting close. We hid in the shadows of the building. It don’t see too good and we know that having hunted them for years. It was slow going. Ma says no sense rushing if you get et by what you be chasing. By the time we are close enough to shoot, it was getting dark. We would have to gut, skin and carve before the biguns came out. And then run for home.
As we approached, my brother covered the right and I covered the left, making sure there were no razorbacks hiding that we might have missed. They were group kin, so where there was one, there may be more. The long shadow of the Creature fell over us and we used the cover of its darkness and the setting shine, to sneak up just a few dozen feet from the creature. We aimed, making sure we hit it below the sack in its belly. That was the only part we could eat and we wanted to be sure we didn’t just come home with boots. Mama would tan our hide.
We each had three in our shooters. They were hand-made from parts in the city. Three barrels, three chems. I shot first, making sure to hit it in the head. My brother shot second, hitting it in its hind brain. If you didn’t get both, it could still trample you with its head shot clean off. We ducked back into the darkness to wait. We couldn’t wait long with dark coming but it was always best after bustin’ a chem or two. After ten minutes, we went to work.
“Hurry up, you got that sack yet?”
“Don’t worry about me, you just get the hide for our boots.”
“I am. I am going to get enough for mama to get a coat too. This razorback’s skin is good.”
The skin was covered with a fine grade of spines, but they only cut you if you rubbed the wrong way or if the razorback was alive and pushing them up. Even though it was really big, it was delicate and slashed it food, bleeding it before eatin’. The spines and its leathery hide gave it a toughness that made for fine boots.
We loaded the sack and the hide into our ruck, and started making our way home. We had to pass by the river on our way back to wash off the blood before going home. No need to make it too easy to find us. The river was not too far off and we made good time.
We waded in quick-like and cleaned ourselves up. We could hear the wind shifting near the Creature and once the shine was completely gone, we knew the Bigguns was on the prowl. Picking up our guns at the shore, we started running back toward our tree.
We were in too much of a hurry, when we heard a booming sound from the underbrush ahead of us. We had our guns ready, when two of the bigguns burst out, mouths wide open, spit flying everywhere. Each of us took one, I took the right, he took the left. We shot them straight in their mouths. Its the only spot on their bodies not covered in heavy armor. Each chem went straight into their brains and blew up from the inside.
We jumped over their bodies and kept running. Others would hear the chem and rush toward food. We moved through the outskirts of what mama called a suburb. She learned all of this from reading. She said she taught herself when she was young and there were other humies to live with. It had been a long time since other humies lived with us, nearly thirty summers, give or take.
We could hear them coming.
Sounded like three, maybe four. All of the Creature’s parts were fast and hungry. If mama were here, we would just turn around and fight, mama was hell on wheels in a fight, but since she hurt her leg a few summers ago when we were surrounded by razorback and hawkwings, she don’t hunt with us anymore.
“What ya wanna do?”
“I hear, three, maybe four.”
“We only got, a two chem between us.”
“we could drop the food and get away, its slowing us down.”
“If we come home without food, mama’s going to eat us. I would rather be out here with them.”
“Just keep running.”
When we came to the park, we could see all of the Creature trees that had landed here. Mama said humies learned to kill the trees brains when they was little and we could live in them while they grew. The trees never got their own creatures when they did not have brains and humies learned to live in them and make homes out of them. We could see our tree in the center of the park but it was just too far, we wasn’t gonna make it.
“We gonna have to fight, you know that, right.”
“Have I ever?”
They jumped out of the brush and the earth shook with their landing. We dropped our ruck and had our guns out. One chem each. Four Bigguns. They looked so much bigger up close. When we stopped, they stopped. They had got have seen the two others we killed, and no one was volunteering to go first. We used that to get a few dozen more yards, by pointing at whichever moved toward us first. That wasn’t gonna work too much longer.
“Biggest one first, on the right.
“Then the one next to it.”
“Got your knife?”
“Yep. Aim for the eyes.”
We stopped moving, each of the bigguns with an armored head and a spike collar stood still. They seemed to know we were going to fight. We roared at them at the top of our lungs, and bared our teeth. The largest two responded in kind. And then they were dead. We dropped out guns.
Pulling our knives, we rushed the next of the creatures while they absorbed the shock of what happened. While they had good vision facing forward they had to turn their whole bodies to see if something moved to the side of them too quickly. With six legs they could do that fast, but only if another one wasn’t in the way. While they were trying to negotiate, we slipped to the side of the Biggun and stabbed into its eye sockets with our knives. We were covered in its warm eye jelly and blood and it reared backward knocking us aside with its huge head.
We landed on the ground, hard and our knives were still in the head of the Biggun that was running off into the overgrowth of the suburbs.
The last Biggun, turned toward us and seemed to sense our vulnerability. It stamped the ground and huffed. The tree was right behind us but it might as well have been miles away. With those six legs, he would be on us faster than ugly on my brother.
We stood up, determined to go down fightin’, though without weapons, we did not have much of a chance.
I looked up at the Creature in the distance. It glowed with a green light once the ‘shine was gone. It made it easier for its kin to find it. I could see three others in the distance, each standing still over a different part of the city. My brother and I had managed to live in the shadow of the things for thirty years before dying.
“I don’t want to die.”
“Who said anything about dying?”
“Between the two of us, all we got left is some harsh language.”
We started laughing as the creature closed with us. We would do our best.
We heard a swooshing sound, like nothing we had ever heard before. We thought it might be a creature we had not seen yet, so we crouched low, so we could try to get up on the Biggun’s back, over its snapping jaws.
And then there was the loudest boom I ever heard. Sharp shards of metal ripped though our skin and we were thrown from our feet. Chunks of Biggun landed on us. There was a crater where the Biggun was. It looked just like the ‘rite craters from when the creatures landed all them years ago, only a sight smaller.
My ears were ringing and I was a bit dizzy for a second. I saw my brother was okay with little more than a cut on his forehead and some minor wounds on his chest.
“What were the two of you laughing about down there. Did you see something funny I didn’t?”
“Where are you manners at boys?” The voice was Auntie’s.
“Thank you, ma.”
“Now get up here and bring me whatever you managed to find out there. You did find something. If not, you bring up that blowed up Biggun meat. Its foul, but you can eat it in a pinch.”
“We found something, ma.”
“Razorback, your favorite.”
“Did you bring me any hide? You know I need a new coat this winter.”
“Yes, Ma, we got you and Auntie fixin’s for a new coat.”
When the smoke cleared we could see Ma looking down on us with some strange contraption on her shoulder. It was a tube with a handle on the bottom and had a orange tip facing down toward us. Her sister was looking out toward the horizon while she stared down at us as we climbed the rope toward the house. The tiny scratches we suffered wouldn’t keep us from getting home.
When we got to the house, Ma kissed us while her sister watched the horizon. Then we all turned into the house and slid the ironwood door closed. My brother’s arm had a nasty cut and Ma tended it while her sister looked me over and cleaned my arm and chest wounds.
Both of them fixed our injuries with their medical kit placed between us, with the same speed and the same way at which we butchered that razorback, they were able to tend our wounds, one handed.
It had become second nature because we were injured almost ever time we left the house. We sat facing each other with our arms at our sides. Our huge broad chest was covered with scars from earlier surgeries after being in the field. A quick inventory and they were satisfied we were okay. Our four heads and two bodies silhouetted in the internal green light of the Creature tree.
“You boys look a right mess, don’t they sis.”
“They sure do. A right mess. Nothing a meal and a good night sleep won’t fix. Go lay down while we make supper.”
They kissed each of us and we walked into the back of the house, which was carved out of the flesh of the Creature-tree and saw our bed carved into the wall of the tree. They had already turned it out and fluffed our pillows.
“Face down or face up?”
“Face up. These cuts on my chest hurt.”
As we lay down and covered up with the blanket, he was out in seconds. We almost didn’t make it today. But there is no place I would rather be than right here with my brother, big head and all. I could hear mom and sis walking in the kitchen doing their dinner-making dance, one hand stirring and the other keeping the pot steady, singing some old duet.
I pulled his arm under the blanket and lay back on my own pillow making sure I faced right. He always starts out turned left but ends up turned right in the night.
He sleeps with his mouth open. I hate that.
Brotherhood © Thaddeus Howze 2011. All Rights Reserved