Great Hites # 61

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This week have stories by:
Mick Bordet
Norval Joe
Danny Machal <——— This week's WinnerWinner
Jeff Hite

Price of Friendship, Part 4
By: Norval Joe

Chad walked from the school in the direction of the Snider’s house, not quit dragging his feet. His mind was torn. He badly wanted to know, and desperately hoped, that Amy had just gone home. How would he face her parents? How would they react. What would they ask him, and expect him to know? He wished again, that this was all a dream. He knew that it wasn’t.
The sun was below the horizon, and it was darkening to full night. Amy’s parents would have to know that something was wrong when she didn’t come home from school. “She is as regular as clockwork and predictable as a calendar.” Her mother had once told Chad when he had stopped by, unexpectedly, to visit. She was smart, too, though. Her parents would have to know that she wouldn’t get herself into trouble. “It would take someone like me, to get her this messed up.” Chad said as he rounded the corner onto Amy’s street.
He expected to see police cars parked in front of the Snider’s house. There was only one car that he could see, at the end of the dark street. It was a black Lincoln Continental, big and boxy, a style popular before Chad was even born. He recognized the car as a daily feature in the school parking lot. As he walked past it, he glanced sidelong through the windows, but it was empty of occupants.
Amy’s house was set back in a large front yard that was crowded with old trees. Ancient maples, oaks and sycamores almost completely hid the house from passers by on the street. Most of the residents of the are believed that the land around the house was one of the original homesteads in the area. Most of the trees were estimated at more than 100 years old. They must have been planted in the late 1800’s around the farm house that was removed years ago. The trees formed an opaque ceiling over the walkway that lead between the massive trunks to the front door. Any light from the stars or moon was effectively shielded and Chad made his way through the darkness, guided by a single light on the Snider’s front porch.
He stood for a moment in front of the door, with his hand raised to knock, steeling his nerves for the inevitable confrontation and interrogation. However, before he could wrap his knuckles against the small leaded glass window, it swung open before him. Mr. Snider stood, silhouetted in the doorway.
“Come in, Chad.” He said matter of factly. “We’re in the living room.”
Chads hope bloomed, “Amy is here?” He asked, feeling a sudden wash of relief. As they passed through the kitchen, on the way to the living room, Mr. Snider stopped at the refrigerator and poured Chad a glass of ice water. “No, Chad. She is not.” Amy’s father said grimly, and continued on to the sitting room. Chad saw his reflection in an antique mirror on the kitchen wall. He was a filthy sweaty mess, and understood why Mr. Snider assumed he would want a glass of water. His stomach felt as cold and liquid as the water in his hand.
He followed the man into the living room. As he had guessed, sitting with Mrs. Snider, was the owner of the Continental out front, Mrs. Walker. But what she was doing here, he had no idea. Not once in the two years that he had been walking Amy home, had his English teacher come to the Snider’s house. Amy had never mentioned that her parents knew the teacher in any significant way.
“Thank you for coming, Chad. Please, have a seat.” Mr. Snider said, concern evident on his face. Chad sat on the edge of the couch and sipped from his glass. He looked at Mrs. Snider. Her eyes were red rimmed and puffy, as if she had been crying very recently. Mrs. Walker sat next to her, patting the younger woman’s hand, her face the epitome of compassion and understanding. Mrs. Walker looked so sincere that Chad wondered if this was, perhaps, a twin sister of his English teacher. He was confident that his teacher didn’t have a compassionate cell in her body.
“Uhh, hmmm.” Chad cleared his throat, when none of the adults initiated conversation. “Ummm. Did you know that I was coming here?” He asked, feeling the depths of his confusion.
“I’m sorry, Chad. You must know that Amy didn’t return home from school today. Typically, you would have been with her, and hours ago. When we saw you approaching the door,” he said, indicating about the mantel of the fire place, “we assumed that you knew something about her absence.”
Chad looked above the fireplace. He had sat in this living room countless times and had appreciated and discussed the large print by the Japanese artist, Hiroshige, that hung on the wall, above the mantel. The picture was gone, and in its place was, instead, a large monitor divided into several camera view around the house and yard. The bottom left view was from the front porch and showed the entire yard from the porch to the street. They must have know he was on his way to the door from the time he reached Mrs. Walkers car.
“She went with Derrick,” Chad launched into his story without preamble, “She didn’t have to go. It was my problem, but she acted like she had to go with him and when I tried to stop him he hit me.” He stopped, thinking about the oak trees crowding over the small, slow, creek. He was looking at the floor rubbing his bruised jaw. He wanted to look Amy’s parents in the face, to see the looks in their eyes. So that he could see if they understood, but he felt so terribly ashamed. “When I woke up, they were gone. The game was there, but when I went back for it later, I couldn’t find it. I looked for Amy and Derrick. They went onto the nature trail, but I couldn’t find them, either. They were just, gone.”
He was on his feet with his hands held out, like he was pleading with the three adults. Finally, he turned to Amy’s mother. “I’m sorry. It’s all my fault. Derrick took her somewhere.”
“Chad,” Mr. Snider said. He was standing beside him, his hand on the boys shoulder. “It’ really not your fault. You don’t know everything that is going on. You’re Amy’s friend, and that is important. But, we are missing parts of your story. Could you go to the beginning and slowly tell us all that happened, so that we can figure out how to get her back?”
Chad looked up at the man. His own father had disappeared shortly after his birth. With no grand fathers or uncles in his life, Chad’s closest adult male role model was his brother, who was currently away in the military. He wasn’t sure how he should feel about this man asking for his confidence. Amy’s father spoke with such understanding and tenderness that he felt safe in his friends home, and that he could trust her parents. But then he thought of Mrs. Walker. He looked at her closely for the first time, since entering the room. There, cradled on her lap was Derricks game device. He looked from the black cube to the English teachers eyes. She returned his gaze and nodded. “Yes, Chad. Please, sit back down and tell us everything that you know. Anything that you remember.”
Chad was amazed how the sarcasm and condescension were absent from her voice and demeanor.
Chad looked from person to person, then sat back down and launched into the story again.
He spoke about Derrick and how he seemed to arrive from nowhere. As he described the game player Mrs Walker examined it, turning it over in her hands several times. He spoke of the events, and even the emotions that he felt, in great depth and detail. At times details came to him as he spoke. And to his chagrin, he spoke of his feelings for and about Amy, to a degree he hadn’t intended. “I saw her walking away, behind Derrick, like she was trapped, or defeated,” Chad said, “and I knew that I had done something terrible, and something terrible was going to happen to Amy. My heart was breaking. I couldn’t stand it, I couldn’t let her go. But then he hit me and I was out like a light. What a wimp.” He stood again, and paced around in circles. “I don’t know what I’m saying. Does any of this make any sense?” He looked around hopelessly, and sat back down with his head in his hands.
Mrs. Walker spoke. “This boy, Derrick. Do you know his last name?”
“No, I’m sorry, I just never…” he trailed off.
“Don’t worry, Chad.” She said, “You’re not on trial here. You have done nothing wrong. We just need to gather all the information that we can, so that we can get Amy back. Now, can you think of a time in the last week when you were talking with Derrick, in the hallways, the library or the cafeteria?”
Chad thought. “Yeah. The day after he gave me the game player, before school started we talked to me in the library.”
The teachers eyes lit up. “Good. Good.” She said and looked back and forth between Amy’s parents, as if for confirmation. “I should be able to find him on video from the library. Chad, will you please meet me at the school around noon, tomorrow, after I have had a chance to review the video?”
“Sure, I guess so. I don’t usually do much on Saturdays.” He said.
Music suddenly began to play from his backpack. “Oh, shoot. My Mom.” He rummaged through the back pack to get the phone before it went to voice mail. It was his brothers phone. His mother couldn’t afford one for him. When his brothers national guard unit was deployed to Iraq he figured he wouldn’t get much use out of it over there, so he left if for Chad to use. Chad didn’t use it much, only to communicate with his mother; which he had completely forgotten to do this day.
He answered the phone, “Mom, I’m sorry, I’m at Amy’s house, we got busy and I forgot to call.” There was a pause. “Yes, Her parents are here, do you want to talk to them?” Another pause. “OK. I’ll be home in a few minutes.”
Mr. Snider stood as Chad did. “Chad, before you leave.” He stopped the boy on the way to the door. “Two things that you need to work out with your mother; What you will tell her about Amy’s absence; and what you will tell her about yours.” He saw the shock on Chads face and continued, “Let me give you a ride home. We can talk a bit more in the car.”
After the series of weird events that he had experienced this day, nothing should have surprised him, but he thought his involvement going forward should have been very limited.
As soon as they were driving away from the house, Mr. Snyder started right in.
“The short version is this. Amy is not an ordinary girl. She is not even from here, from this world. We have been hiding her here. You might say we have been trying to hide her in plain sight. Things were going too smoothly, we should have known better.
“From your own words, it is clear that you have developed an emotional bond with Amy. A stronger bond than we could have expected. Had we known of the connection, we would have brought you in to the confidence, to help protect the both of you.” Chad was getting lost in Mr. Snider’s dialogue.
“Emotional connection? It’s not like we’re in love or anything.” Chad said defensively.
“Well, actually Chad. Boys your age get infatuated easily. It’s called puppy love, and that is usually the extent of it and it passes. You must have passed that and moved on to a more real or permanent attachment or you wouldn’t have been able to give her away to Derrick and transfer that connection to him. Amy could only be betrayed by someone who loved her.”
“Betrayed,” Chad said aghast. “I’m so sorry.”
They reached Chads house, and Mr. Snider stopped the car and turned out the lights.
“No Chad. There is no time for sorry, and it wouldn’t do any good anyway. It was your love for Amy that made it possible for Derrick to take her away. But since it was you that released her to Derrick, it is only you that can go and bring her back.”

The Cave (pt1)
By: Mick Bordet

“Have you tried contacting them lately,” Edric asked.

“Yes, I’ve been signalling both of them every four hours for the last three days. Not a whisper from either of them, neither hide nor hair,” Elina answered, the concern clear on her face.

“They’ll turn up, don’t worry. It will be something minor, a magnetic disturbance or unusual atmospherics interfering with their equipment, most likely. Erik is not one to disappear without good reason.”

“I know that,” she said, “but I worry about these trips. I don’t trust them; they’re so… so scary!”

“They are not to be feared, lass. Pity their weak minds and the constant battling with each other, but don’t fear them. It is up to us to work with the outsiders and educate them in our ways without forcing them. It will take time, but it will be worth it. Erik knows this and will take care in his meetings with them.”

“Edric, I don’t mean the outsiders. They are brutal and not to be fully trusted, but we all know that, we expect it. I meant the bears.”

“Now that’s just silly! They’ve never shown signs of aggression towards us. We both mutually benefit; they are guaranteed food and somewhere to live and bring up their cubs in safety, protected from the hunters. We enjoy their services as scouts, guides and bodyguards. I grant you, they can be quite imposing, but there has never been violence. The genetic re-sequencing we carried out years ago has removed the urge to attack humans for food, whilst the translators we embed in their collars allow them to communicate with us and discuss problems, not rely on claws, teeth and brute strength.”

Elina nodded and carried on her duties, logging reports from the World outside, “Yes, I’m sure you’re right. They just make me uncomfortable.”

He knew that was as much as she would admit, as her feelings for Erik went deeper than for anyone else and it was quite natural that she would worry for his safety. The man did keep returning home with an ever-growing collection of dangerous tales and risky endeavours, so Edric sympathised with her, but couldn’t help thinking that she was being over-sensitive about the bears.

The scientists who were the next people to see Erik, some four thousand years later, knew no more about what happened in that cave than Elina and Edric did at the time.

Children of the Garden Wars
by:<a href="http://dannymachal.com.
“> Danny Machal

Dusk

“Hoppers of the Outlands, come forth.” Lord Cottontail and his
guards stood in the middle of the Thicket.

The bushes rustled with movement. Camouflage piles of wood and
sticks stirred with golden eyes agape. The Outland Hoppers, around
thirty in number, covered ground sheepishly and slowly. They kept
their black and brown faces pointed down as they neared the flawless
white fur of Lord Cottontail.

“Who is in charge here? Why have you not rallied your fighters to
take part in tonight’s raid?”

Lord Cottontail beckoned for none other than the old greying Hopper
chief, Long Ear. A path formed among the bowed noses and lowered
ears, out emerged the large Long Ear towering over Cottontail.

“I am my Lord, my name is Long Ear. We coexist in peace with the
Crawlers here. This is your conflict, not ours.” The most massive of
Cottontail’s guards stepped forward; Cottontail ordered the guard
back into line with a flick of his ear.

“Not yours? My brother we are all in this fight together. Why a
crawler last night just took one of our young from Hoppiton. How can
you sit there and say such things? A poor mother’s child lays
digesting in the belly of one of those slithering vermin,” Cottontail
said.

“The child’s loss is regrettable, but you and I both know a Crawler
would not attack unless provoked. They much prefer the taste of more
challenging sport.”

“If you refuse to help the cause Long Ear, than consider yourself a
permanent Outland Hopper. The same goes for all of you Heads of
House.”

Cottontail threatened the community as a whole but he knew what Long
Ear said was law. It was the Hopper way. Long Ear and other
community leaders spoke for their communes, and Heads of House spoke
for their own families. It was Long Ear’s choice to make, a choice he
had earned the right to make long ago. Long Ear turned his back to
Cottontail and stood upon his massive hind legs to address the Outland
Hoppers.

“You are all free to make your own choices here. I would never stop
any of you from doing what you felt was right for your families. We
have prospered many ages here in the Thicket and have done so all by
ourselves. Join Lord Cottontail now if you wish to pursue the assault
on the Crawlers. You will be welcomed back should you return.”

Not one head raised, not one foot moved from where it stood, silently
they all pledged their allegiance to Long Ear. Lord Cottontail stood
stewing in his fast raising temperament. Long ear turned to the young
hopper ruler and bowed his head.

Lord Cottontail narrowed his eyes and wriggled his nose in disgust.
“Come fellow white fur Hoppers, these brown Outlanders wish to be
isolated, so be it. No Hopper is to come to their aid, no matter what
circumstance has befallen them. Let them be fed to the Crawlers and
torn apart by the Longsnouts for their treachery.”

Cottontail’s small executive force bounded quickly north disappearing
in the dense underbrush around the Thicket. Long Ear sighed and
raised his head. The women and the young ones joined their Heads of
House in the open. They all sat in silence with their eyes fixed upon
Long Ear. He turned and hopped to his den to rest without saying a
word.

That night the Thicket echoed with the faint screams of dying Hoppers
and the hisses of fallen Crawlers. Long Ear laid in the dark saddened
at how quickly the peace he had created was being dismantled by
Cottontail.

Night

From the inside of a sheltered above ground burrow, two young Hoppers
contemplated defiance of their Heads of House, loyal to Long Ear.

“Why shouldn’t we go? I refuse to sit and let Hoppers fight and die
for the Thicket, we should be out there helping.”

“How do you plan on us doing that? You’re not a fighter, I’m not a
fighter, we have no fighters. Long Ear has worked hard for peace with
the Crawlers and Cottontail is destroying that this night. The
Thicket won’t be safe ever again after this. How could the Crawlers
ever trust us now? Cottontail is lucky Long Ear didn’t challenge
him.”

“Old Long Ear? What could he possibly do to Lord Cottontail?”

“My father says Long Ear was a Captain in the Garden Wars. Says he
went on some secret assassination missions and defeated a platoon of
Longsnouts, by himself. He also said that Long Ear lost an entire
squad once, said he was the only Hopper to come back out of twenty.
Guess he went crazy after that, didn’t care if he lived or died.”

The young Hopper stared blankly at the sleeping Long Ear on the far
end of the Thicket. The old grey mound heaved up and down with every
deep breath, creating a faint grumble of a snore.

“Nah, I can’t see it. Long Ear is no warrior. If what you say is
true, how could he possibly have turned out like this? I mean he
speaks out against the War all the time. Something must have happen
to him to turn him into the Long Ear we know. What does your Dad say
about that?”

Before the answer could come the two were interrupted by another
young male Hopper.

“Hey, we got a group of three going out to help Cottontail you guys coming?”

The Story Teller’s eyes become wide with excitement. He looked to
his comrade for confirmation. Friendship ran deep as a family blood
bond among Hoppers. He waited for the decision hoping the stories of
Long Ear had inspired his comrade.

“We’ll help.” The two smiled at each other and joined the other three.

The five young Hoppers stealthily left the sleeping Thicket and
trotted toward the faint sounds of battle in the distance. Full of
young excitement and vitality they looked back at the moonlit Thicket,
not thinking for one moment they might never see it again.

Later that Night

The Five covered a great distance away from the Thicket into the
forest before they found any new signs of life. Small mounds of
upturned earth became concentrated among the underbrush the further
they penetrated into the thick woodland.

“Crawler dens those are,” the largest of the Five said.

“Split up and start checking them, we won’t catch up to Cottontail’s
front line tonight anyway. At least we can be sure their path home is
clear. Stay within earshot, we’ll need at least two Hoppers to a
Crawler to take them down.”

Hole after hole was inspected. They expanded their coverage area
checking the mounds that were further out and farther apart.

“Found a nest,” the Story Teller called out.

The Five converged on the discovery.

“Look in there, two eggs, maybe three. Let us wait for the female.”

They waited silently in the shadows ten bounds away, a distance
easily covered by a young Hopper in three seconds. After a short
while the small female Crawler emerged, her dark green scales
glimmered in the moonlight. The Five sprinted toward her the moment
the slender tube-like body was fully visible. Her head snapped up as
she sensed the advancing movement. The tail end of her body whipped
the leading Hopper mid bound causing him to tumble. She was frantic
in her defense to protect the unborn. A Mother’s guard is a force
never to be meddled with, no matter the creature.

The other four began nipping with their teeth at any piece of flesh
they could get at. With her calculating targeting system the Crawler
struck the Story Teller, capturing his head between her jaws. She
began to squeeze with skull crushing force. The young Hopper let out
a scream.

“Get her head off,” the large Hopper shouted.

The four began to take large bits of flesh from the same area in
rapid succession until the spine was served and she relaxed her grip.
The limp Crawler body collapsed on top of the Story Teller. The
comrade pulled as the Story Teller wriggled to free himself from under
the smothering girth of the body.

Filled with the fury of battle the others dashed into the den one
after the other. Smashing the eggs with their powerful hind legs, the
embryonic Crawler-slime splashed their brown noses and quickly crusted
on their fur. Shortly after, they made their way outside, to the
field of victory.

None of them could speak. Thousands of new emotions rippled through
every fiber of muscle in their small young bodies. Their daze was
short lived.

A large Crawler quickly emerged from the nearby underbrush. It was
a male twice as large as the female. He paused for a split second
surveying the devastation the Five had created. The fight was on and
the Largest Hopper would be the first to die.

Morning

Worry and desperation ran an infectious course amongst the
inhabitants of the Thicket. Long Ear went from burrow to burrow
informing the Outland Hoppers of the runaways, and consoling the
families of the Five. A rustling from the south brought two exhausted
blood stained Hoppers out of the underbrush. The Thicket converged
upon them with inquiry. Two relieved Heads of House and three now
more sullen than before huddled close around the two survivors.

“There are only two of you. You were five in number, where are the
others?” the group demanded.

“We got attacked by two Crawlers, a male and a female. Our number
enabled us to kill the female but the male out skilled us. The other
three were crushed, we ran while he was distracted with the last of
the others,” the Story Teller said this as he stood next to his
gullible red streaked comrade.

Long Ear forced himself into the small circle.

“Where is the Crawler now? Were you followed? Stupid young ones, you
killed his mate. His blood lust will blind him to fight to the death
until she is avenged.”

As Long Ear uttered the words a thundering crash came through the
canopy above the Thicket. A Crawler now lay coiled up in a fighting
stance eyeing the bloodied pair of young Hoppers. Long Ear placed
himself between the cluster of Hoppers and the Crawler.

“Get to the shelter of your burrows my Outland Hoppers. Protect the
young ones.”

At his order the Thicket was cleared as Hoppers dashed in all
directions seeking the protection of their fortified burrows. They
all looked on as Long Ear spoke to the Crawler who sat jittering in
rage.

“Crawler you have taken three of our young. Surely this is adequate
for your loss. Leave the Thicket in peace, brother of the Garden.”

The Crawler uncoiled like a welled up spring and with jaws wide
lunged at Long Ear. The large greying rabbit’s torso turned to earth
as the Crawler’s nose slammed into the ground. His target moved, and
moved quickly.

“Please, let you and I talk this out. There need not be any more
bloodshed,” Long Ear pleaded with the Crawler from his new position
behind.

Long Ear was visibly out of breath, the onlooking Hoppers were not
sure if he would be able to dodge another attack. The great muscular
ribs of the Crawler dug into the moist dirt as he drew upon newly
created momentum. Long Ear was already in the air by the time the
Crawler had made the second strike. The great girth of the large
Hopper on his neck made the Crawler summon all his strength just to
stay balanced. Long Ear sank his long dagger teeth into the flesh
behind the Crawler’s head.

Blood sprayed in all directions as the Crawler erratically tossed his
head back and forth. Hissing in pain and writhing in desperate agony
to shake Long Ear off, the Crawler turned over to slam his back
against the ground. It proved to be ineffective and the old Long Ear
stayed firmly affixed until the Crawler moved no more and lay dead in
the middle of the once peaceful Thicket. Long Ear spoke to the
Thicket in a commanding rasping breath.

“Heads of house prepare your families, we must leave the Thicket.”

Long Ear placed his fangs in the familiar holes on the Crawler and
dragged it out of sight.

To act like a man.
By: Norval Joe

The arroyo spread out before him. He shaded his eyes against the mid day sun and scanned the draw below him. Nothing moved in the sage brush.
He was ten years old now, and was acting like a baby. “I’m old enough to ride a horse. I’m old enough to herd the sheep.” He told himself. Since his father died, he was old enough to be the man of the homestead, but still he had cried his eyes out from fear and frustration. He wiped away the salt of the dried tears from his face. There would be no more tears.
He had cried when his father died from the consumption. He had wasted away for a year, getting weaker by the day. They put him in the back of the wagon and took him to the doctor in the county seat but he could do nothing for the emaciated man. The doctor suggested sending Calvin’s father to Denver by train. His dad would have none of it, and insisted that they take him home, and let him die in peace.
He did. Three weeks later, Calvin’s father died in the house that he had built with his own hands.
Calvin was angry now. Someone had taken his sheep, and he was going to get them back. He had to. With out the sheep, they probably wouldn’t last the winter.
He took off his hat and wiped his forehead with his kerchief. He returned his hat and walked back to his horse. He stroked the horses neck and patted her shoulder, but didn’t climb into the saddle.
He walked a few paces down the trail to where the tracks of the sheep crossed it, then followed the tracks to the edge of the arroyo, where they ended abruptly.
The prints of their hooves had dug deeply into the sandy soil, indicating that the small flock was running at high speed. “Well, high speed for sheep,” he thought. The hoof prints didn’t indicate that the sheep had slowed in the least as they reached the edge of the narrow valley, as if their intention was to leap clear across, to the other side.
Calvin pondered that perhaps, they had done just that. He expected that a heard of sheep, even a small one, as it dropped fifty feet to the dry riverbed below, would leave some evidence of their sudden stop at the bottom.
Though it was a good distance to the bottom, Calvin’s eye sight was good enough to see that the sand below him was clearly undisturbed. How could bandits or rustlers, or the Apache, have spirited away his sheep, from the edge of the arroyo? Maybe it was the Apache. They had begun stirring up trouble for the settlers again. Cunning as they were, the Apache still weren’t magic, and couldn’t make the sheep disappear into thin air.
He walked back to his horse and mounted. They followed the trail that he sheep had made, back to where they had begun their flight. They had indeed fled. Normally the sheep would travel from place to place in a single slow moving line. The mass of tracks indicated that they had run head long, side by side, in a mass.
He found the place where the sheep had spent the night. There was a grassy area around a spring near a small grove of cottonwood trees. Here there was evidence of the normal relaxed behaviour of the sheep. Patches of the coarse desert grass were cropped close to the soil, areas of sand were smoothed out where the sheep had slept, and hoof prints remained where the sheep had drunk from the small stream.
Water from the spring overflowed its banks and formed a small stream that ran through the grassy area. The stream ended where the water formed a small pool near a large, flat, slab of sandstone.
Calvin sat on his horse and watched the water as a leaf traveled the short distance from the spring to the pool.
His horses ears shot up. She nickered and stomped nervously. “What’s the matter, girl?” Calvin said out loud as he rubbed her neck to calm her.
The horse screamed, went up on her hind legs and spun, all at once. Calvin clung to her neck to keep from being thrown to the ground. She leapt away from the pond as the sandstone slab suddenly lifted from the ground. Calvin looked over his shoulder as the horse bolted away in the same direction that the sheep had run. Horror filled him and he spurred the horse forward.
A creature sprang from an opening under the sandstone slab. Its snakelike head, the size of a buffalo, shot like an arrow across the sagebrush, after Calvin and his mount.
Hot putrid breath blew past the boy and horse aiding them in their flight toward the cliff.
Calvin suddenly understood the sheep’s mysterious disappearance, as a second creature rose up from the arroyo. Its slavering maw gaped open like a tent at a rival meeting torn from top to bottom and blown apart by a giant wind. The creature was beyond the boy imagination and ability to comprehend. Hundreds of rows of hooked teeth undulated toward the center of the mouth, large enough to consume a small herd of buffalo at once.
Calvin knew that, in seconds, he and his horse would be plunging over the edge of the arroyo and into the creatures mouth.
He threw himself from the horse to roll in the sand at the valleys edge. He scrambled to his feet in time to see the creatures jaws snap shut around his horse, and drop below the edge of the cliff. The first creature, that had chased them from the spring was no where to be seen.
Not taking the time to dust himself off, he began the long walk back to the homestead. He gave the meadow of grass, the spring and small pool, a wide birth.

The Traveler
By Jeff HIte

My name is Churchill Westlake III. I have spend my entire life looking for one thing, and one thing only, and now I have heard that there is a man who has found that thing. Now for the first time in my life, I am not looking for it any more, instead I am looking for him. I have been careful over my life to spend the fortune that I inherited when my parents were killed, carefully. But, since I heard of his existence, and I know that my search is coming to an end, I have spend nearly three quarters of what I have left in this final pursuit. I have jumped across the inner solar system, three times in the last month following a path nearly a decade gone cold, only to find that the people had died, or were no longer there. Now in a despreate attempt I am on my way to the inner moons of Jupiter, where I have been told that he was seen a number of years ago. If this fails I may not have the money to get home, and my search may be a complete and total loss.
With that as a backdrop, this trip to the outer planets that would otherwise be very exciting, has had the gauze of worry and weariness wrapped around it. I have spend the last three days with nothing more than a data pad and my small bunk as a companion going over every detail of the last months. The leads that were nothing more than dead ends, the people who had not seen hide nor hair of my quarry since before I was born. The utter disappointment as his trail went completely cold on Earth station four.
I spent three months there waiting on the arrival of someone who had died to years before. When his sister arrived on the station with his ashes, she must have thought I was was a complete loon.
“Ma’am I have come to speak with your brother.” I said standing in the door way of her cabin on the station.
“Who are you?”
“I need to talk to him.”
“My brother is,”
“Ma’am I will not take much of your time, but I really need to talk to him.”
“You mean you don’t know?”
“I know he does not grant interviews, I am not a reporter, biographer, or anyone else that wants to pester your brother about his life, I have a question about someone he may have meet a few years ago. I just want to know if he knows where he might have gone.”
“You don’t understand he can’t talk to anyone.”
“Please ma’am I have to talk to him, I have spent my whole life looking.”
“I don’t care who you are or what you want you can’t talk to him any more.”
“Please.”
“I wish I could, but.”
“You wish I could, then please grant this to me.”
“He is dead,” she said as she burst into tears right there in the hallway. “He is dead, now please, please just leave me alone.” she stepped back toward the door and I could see the anguish in her face so I did the only thing that I could think of. I reached for her and held her while she cried. It was the first time in years that I had done something for someone else that was not self serving.
When she was done crying we when to the dinning hall and had lunch. I told her what I was looking for, and she let me read from her brother’s journal. He had met the traveler, as I had come to call him, ten years before. At that point the traveler had been planning to go to the Jovian system. And so I was on my way. It is a long shot, details nearly a decade old, but it was the best lead I had found in years.
Marie said that she wanted to come with me, saying that her brother had always wanted to travel the solar system, but had never been able to make it past the moon in life. She has been my companion for the last two months, as we burn our way, scratching and clawing out way out of the Sun’s gravity well toward it’s only rival in the system. I don’t know if she knows or if she does if she understands what it is that I am looking for but I am glad to have her with me. My life has been a lonely one since my parents died, and I have never had any close friends.

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