July 30, 2012
Hank’s rifle barked out rounds as quickly as the rancher could pull the trigger. Plumbs of blood, dust, and hair rose from the beast, but it showed no signs of slowing. Already it was almost upon them.
Jack felt mildly ridiculous drawing the brace of throwing knives he kept in his jacket, so instead he left them there and got ready with his axe. They were on an incline and it slowed the Grizzly enough that Jack was able to stand before Hank once his bullets were spent.
“Jack! Get back that thing…” but then it was on the Stalwart.
Jack swung the axe and there was a meaty thunk before the beast crashed into him. The bear bowled him off his feet and Jack went sprawling into the snow. Before he could think about recovering, the grizzly loomed over him.
With a growl that could have made a child deaf, the bear started to rip into Jack with its terrible claws. Jack stayed defensive bringing his leather covered arms up to protect his face and neck. He was clawed so many times he couldn’t even be sure where he’d been hit.
Then he screamed.
The grizzly’s jaws had clamped down on his left forearm and it started to drag Jack through the deep snow. Jack fought against the pain as the snow flew everywhere half-blinding him. He yanked his war dagger, which always rode on his hip, free.
The beast growled in a fury when his blade bit home. Jack didn’t stop there. He stabbed into the thing again and again, working his right arm like a manic piston. He might have heard shots firing, but he didn’t have time to pay attention.
He cried out and poured this blessing from Yig into his arm for it felt like the bear was about to bite it off. Even with him burning through his Ki, like a fire in a dry hay field, he still screamed out when his left arm broke. Somehow, he heard the sound of the snap over the gunshots and the growling.
It took a massive effort to allow the bear to pull him up by his damaged arm. With a yell, Jack drove his war dagger deep into the thing’s eye. It thrashed and howled, but did release his arm.
Its body was now in danger of crushing Jack as it flailed over him. He struggled through the red waves of pain to clear himself from the dying beast, but it didn’t look like he would make it, until something grabbed him by the back of his jacket and pulled him free.
Jack looked up to see Hank hovered over him. “You going to be alright?”
“I’ve felt better.”
“How can you even be alive?”
“Practice.” As Jack struggled to a seated position, he clasped his wounded arm against his body. Before them, the grizzly slowed as death finally claimed it.
“I must have feed forty bullets into that thing.” Hank said. “I’ve never seen the…”
His voice trailed off as the man’s face twisted and distorted. Hank fell to his knees as a drawn out moan escaped from his lips. “Hank what’s happening?” The flesh on his face became flaccid, like all his thoughts and emotions had seeped away. He almost looked dead, but Jack could see the mist of Hank’s breathing still visible in the air.
“Worm of Yig,” a corrupted version of Hank’s voice echoed. “You killed a very strong body of mine, but no worry, there is always another.” Then with a jerking movement, the rifle raised up toward the center of Jack’s chest.
July 23, 2012
Jack snatched up the large axe that leaned on the wall near the wood stove, while Hawk checked the rifle. “What are you going to be doing with that?” the rancher asked.
“Whatever I feel like. This creep Ed is most likely a murderer, he probably stole from your sister’s family, and I know for sure he tossed a knife at my face and frankly just the latter would be enough for me to give him a serious clocking.” He drew up to his full height as he threw his leather over his shoulders. “Besides there’s something I haven’t told you.”
Hank tensed. “I’m not sure I can handle more bad news right now.”
“Hopefully, I can take care of my own mess, but on the way out Ed grabbed up my weapon bag.”
“You have a weapon bag?”
“Yeah, no guns or anything like that, but there’s a load of hunting knives and a few other things he now has his hands on.”
“Great,” the older man said and then moved closer to the front door. “We might as well get this over with, and if we move fast, we might be still able to locate his tracks.”
Hawk led the way, but Jack lingered near the door. Four deep marks had been cut into it. The Stalwart scanned the horizon, but the snow made spying anything on the plains nearly impossible. He exhaled a deep breath and then followed Hank through the deep snow.
“Hot damn, I think I found his tracks.” Hawk allowed himself his first smile as the grey mists of his breath added to the building fog that clung to the top of the snow.
“Then let’s get that sucker.” Jack said, as he rested the axe over his right shoulder.
“Yeah, and maybe you can chop us some wood on the way back, Paul Bunion.”
An honest laugh escaped from his lips, but only reminded him of all the laughs he had shared with Hannah and Ethan, before his friend was killed and Hannah had been forced into the grips of darkness. Hank had already started moving again and Jack hurried to catch up.
The snow dragged at them as they trudged through the first mile. Everything became soaked and heavy, making him wish that, for once, he could just be a normal guy eating a big meal in front of the wood stove, watching television, instead of being the out in the middle of a storm everyone in their right mind was hiding from.
Then he froze in mid-stride as a loud growl split the cloaked quiet. “Holy crap,” Hank said. “Ed wasn’t lying about the bear. Look out, Jack, here it comes!”
The colossal beast tore through the snow at them, running all out. Another roar echoed as Jack moved to take the creature it. It looked normal enough other than its size. Jack hadn’t thought grizzlies could get that big. It must have been close to his height even when it was on all fours. Fangs the size of his fingers spread from a jaw that he could fit his head into. The things claws looked longer than Jack’s hands.
“Brace yourself,” Hank said, as he brought up his rifle. “This isn’t going to be pretty.”
July 9, 2012
The steak knife shot point first toward his face, even as Ed readied his second blade. Without really thinking, Jack punched forward and hit the side of the knife. It went spinning away until it clattered on the floor.
The unexpected move seemed to give Ed pause. Jack’s speech sounded like a growl as it passed through his clutched teeth. “Make one more move against us and the only place that knife will be going is up your-”
A loud thump sounded against the house. Hank and his sister jumped, but Jack never took his eyes off Ed. Despite this, the man made a break for it and ran back toward the bunk house room.
Jack had just begun to race after him when a cry came from the top of the stairs. Carrie’s husband, John, stood there. His attempt to balance on one leg failed and he stumbled nearly falling down the flight of stairs.
“John,” Carrie screamed and then ran toward her husband. Hank moved to the base of the stairs, but seemed torn whether he should aid his sister of help Jack. All of this slowed Jack enough that Ed made it to the bunk room and had the door slammed before Jack could reach him.
Not bothering to see if it was locked, Jack kicked the door open. The far door that led outside was open and the flying snow had already begun to drift into the room. Jack cursed when he saw that Ed had grabbed his bag of weapons on the way out. He tried to spy Ed through the door, but the thief had already been swallowed by the white out.
Hank came running up, just as Jack was forcing the door closed. “John didn’t fall, but we might have another problem.”
“How many does that make now?”
Hank gave him a look, but ignored the question. “John looks like he has a fever. Carrie thinks he should be in a hospital, but he’s refusing to go. He says he wants to talk to you.”
Jack gave the sparse room another glance and then headed toward the others. The young children were standing on both side of where their father sat in an old chair besides the wood stove.
The man looked a good deal older than Carrie. His balding head was covered with a thin layer of sweat.
“Have a seat,” the man said. “First off, thanks for helping me and my family through this hard spot. I’m not used to hitting up strangers for help, but I don’t see how I have much choice.”
John sighed. “But there’s something you don’t know. While you were gone and Carrie was downstairs, Ed must have snuck into my room and made off with our savings.”
Carrie gasped and held her hands over her mouth. “Not the money for the spring season?”
“Yes,” he shook his head while avoided his wife’s eyes. Then looking up, he said, “So you can see what I need, what I’m asking. I need you two to head out there and get that man, but more importantly, get my money back!”
July 2, 2012
They used a break in the storm to hurry back to the ranch. The soft snow clung like dry powder. Arcs of blowing white danced over the drifts as a deeper cold set in. Looking up, Jack saw this window of calm would be short lived, for a wall of white was descending from the west.
“I think we’d be needing to head back even if we hadn’t found the bodies,” Jack said.
“You might be right, but it still isn’t going to be making my sister happy.”
The men pushed their horses as far as they dared, but when the storm plowed into them like a drunken giant’s fist, they were forced to dismount and walk the steeds the rest of the way in.
Once their horses were stabled, they rushed inside. Both men stopped in shock when they saw a male figure sitting at the dinner table clutching a steaming cup of coffee in his trembling hands.
“Ed!” Hank nearly yelled. “How the hell did you make it back here? What the hell happened out there?”
“After the bear attack, I got lost in the storm.”
“So it was a bear then?”
“Yes, sir,” the man said, without meeting Hank’s eyes.
Jack spoke up. “Was it a normal bear? I mean was there anything strange about it? Those claw marks looked pretty intense to be from just a bear.”
The man grew red in the face and glared at Jack. “Just a bear? Who is this guy? Have you ever even seen a grizzly, boy? They’d just assume eat you are to look at you.”
“Actually, I do know a bit about bears, including that they should still be hibernating in weather like this.”
“Well maybe this one screwed up and is starving because of it. I just lost two friends, you would think you could show some respect.” Turned toward Hawk, he said. “You have never seen one as big as this. I swear he was a dozen feet tall, if a foot.”
“So it’s still out there?” Hank asked.
“We might have gotten a few shots off, but not enough to stop that thing.”
Carrie walked in with her youngest cradled in her arms. “Why that’s just perfect,” she said. “I tried the land line and its down and my cell isn’t working either.”
“Looks like I might need to take a drive into town,” Hawk said, while casting a glance at the storm through the window.
Jack spoke again. “So why the hell were you three way out there, without any horses?”
“Your horses were stabled. Why were you walking out there together so far away?”
Carrie and Hawk looked like they weren’t sure what Jack was getting at, but were more than interested in hearing the answer.
“They must have made it back through the storm.”
“I’m not an expert on horses, but I’m pretty sure horses can’t take off their own saddles.”
Carrie must have been getting ready for dinner, for the table was already set. Ed leapt up, moving almost faster than the eye could follow and grabbed up two steak knives. Before anyone could even question what was going on, Ed lunched one at Jack’s head!