Thursday, August 14, 2014
The Bigger They Are ...
With the earth still far too far below, Cochrane felt gravity reassert itself. This was it. Even if the trees broke his fall, the ground was still going to break the rest of him. No way was he getting out of this, unless the Great Hunter in the Sky sent him a miracle.
And then the Great Hunter spoke: “Holy shit!”
His miracle arrived in a sweep of crimson wings. Syprelli maneuvered herself beneath him. He landed hard on the flying filly’s back. Both she and Cochrane grunted and swore, though hers was more of a neigh.
Deuce steadied him. “Thanks for coming out to meet us. I take it the fight’s not going well?”
“Understatement.” His gun was gone. They were up the creek for sure now, unless … “Did you get it?”
“Right here.” Deuce did a little drumroll on the lid of the plastic tub under his arm. “Nice and fresh and chocked with chunky bits. Now we just have to shove it down his throat.”
“You leave that to me. Can you get me up close?”
Syprelli shook her mane. She didn’t want to get any closer to the Hellephant than she was right now. Sensible, but not helpful. “Just set me down, then,” Cochrane said. “I shouldn’t have any trouble getting that asshat to attack me.”
The shifter fooled him. She changed course, aimed for the mammoth. Cochrane was impressed in spite of himself. He’d long believed shifters were monsters that skulked in the dark and menaced honest humans. This last week had made a dent in a lot of his preconceptions. Maybe some shifters could be spared. You just had to pluck the good apples out of the rotten barrel.
First things first. He had a mutant mammoth monster to kill.
Syprelli carried Cochrane and Deuce back to the heart of the battle. Cochrane leaned past her neck to peer at the ground. It looked like a tribe of Scotsmen—and one Scotswoman in a Xenaesque corset—was attacking the mammoth’s legs. Cochrane shook his head. This town just got weirder the longer he stuck around.
The winged filly flapped higher. “Watch out for the trunk,” Deuce said. Syprelli muttered something that Cochrane guessed was No shit in horse talk, and dove.
No good. The mammoth saw them. Syprelli swerved beyond reach of that snaking deadly trunk. She swept past the monster and climbed for another attempt. Its bellow followed her into the sky.
Deuce passed the tub of peanut butter to Cochrane. “Any idea what you’re going to do?”
Deuce shrugged. “Okay.”
The red horse dove again. This time they got help from the ground crew. The Scotsmen were watching Syprelli. When she started her dive they charged in and laid axes and knives to the Hellephant’s hind legs. The beast half-turned to deal with this more immediate assault. Its mouth gaped in an irritated roar.
“There!” Cochrane pointed. “Get me right up to his mouth.”
Syprelli whinnied. Are you out of your mind? But she bravely veered in as close as she dared. With Deuce’s help Cochrane got up on his knees on her back, with his feet under him. “Hey! Atcheson! Open wide, you son of a bitch!”
The mammoth swung its head toward them. It lifted its trunk and gaped its mouth to roar at them.
He landed right where he needed to, just inside its mouth. God above, it stank in here! And it was slimy, and hot as hell to boot. Bits of tree branches and mashed leaves and grass were stuck in its mammoth teeth. Cochrane anchored himself around a molar and throttled his instinct to gag. A mass of black flesh quested around for the annoyance worrying at it: the mammoth’s tongue.
Just the thing. Cochrane pried the lid off the tub and lobbed handfuls of peanut butter at that writhing slab of meat. He smeared gobs of the deadly-to-Hellephants foodstuff onto its teeth and the floor of its mouth for good measure. Finally he just tossed the whole tub down its throat. That ought to give it some problems in several hours’ time. “Bottoms up,” he said.
Now to get out of here.
Already the part of the monster that was still Atcheson was realizing something was wrong. Those hot blasts of breath came more quickly. The humongous tongue appeared to swell even as he stared at it. Short gaggy sounds rumbled up out of its throat.
It was going to vomit.
“No,” Cochrane groaned. “No no no no.” He scrambled past the Hellephant’s lips and teetered on the edge of its gaping mouth. A tusk curved just within reach. He leaped.
Once again Syprelli appeared in the nick of time. Deuce caught Cochrane by the arm and hauled him aboard. “We figured you wouldn’t have an exit strategy,” he explained.
The airborne shifters streaked for the sky. Those on the ground scattered. The mammoth halted. It shuddered all over. It tried to scream, but couldn’t force more than a squeak through its rapidly-closing throat. Its eyes bulged. Its legs buckled. One of the Scotsmen yelled, “Timberrrr!”
The Hellephant collapsed just short of the bridge over Schitt Creek. It rolled over onto its side and wheezed desperately for breath. Red splotches—monstrous hives—appeared on its trunk.
Cautiously Syprelli came to earth a prudent distance away. Dante, the Scotsmen, Rafe the eagle shifter, and a naked Turkle, even scrawnier and uglier without his clothing, crept up on the mammoth. When nothing happened to them, Cochrane joined them. “Is he … ?”
“Not yet,” Dante said, with a jerk of his chin at the Hellephant’s heaving side. “Its mutant genes are trying to fight the allergy, and its human genes are resisting. It might survive. It might even recover, given sufficient time. We have to act fast.”
“No problem,” Cochrane said. He glared into the former Atcheson’s glassy blue eye. “Just hand me a gun. I’ll make it quick.”
The hunter stared at Dante. “No?”
“I need to put in a call to the local witches. If they can’t restore him to human form, they’ll move him somewhere else—another dimension, another planet. Some place where he can’t hurt anyone.”
“Works for me,” Turkle said. “Someplace where he can smash stuff and be the biggest bastard around. I suspect he’d like that. Got a radio in m’truck.”
“You can’t do that!” Cochrane yelled at Dante’s retreating back. “We have to—”
One of the Scotsmen stopped his tirade with a meaty hand on his arm. “Leave it, laddie,” he advised. “Yon beastie’s threat is done. ‘Tis up to us to help him now, as well as we’re able. That’s our way.”
Your way sucks, Cochrane wanted to say. However, he saw that he was outnumbered and prudently kept his mouth shut. His opinion of shapeshifters rearranged itself yet again. He stood off to one side and glowered at his fellow defenders, and concluded his original hunt might not be finished after all.
# # #
Sometime later a weary, poo-streaked Ewan and Maureen trudged up the highway and joined those still on the battlefield. They made a wide detour around the laboriously-wheezing Hellephant and reported in to Dante. “I see you saved the day,” Ewan said. “Sorry I missed it. Anybody get a video?”
“We were busy,” Dante said dryly. “Duff and his buddies will be happy to fill you in, but you’ll have to buy the drinks. By the way, where’s my car?”
“Back there.” Ewan jerked his thumb to indicate the highway behind him. “It’s a little … well, try not to be too upset. It was all for a good cause.” He shrugged one shoulder. “Shit happens.”