The Rookie

“They’re on the move again.” She said.

            “So.” I replied.

            “That usually means they’re up to something, and that usually means we have to get involved.” She said.

            “Usually?” I asked. She turned toward me with a sarcastic expression spreading across her face.

            “Usually.” She said with sarcasm to match the face. “Grab your gun and lets get moving.” She stood and began to walk out of the office. I jumped up and grabbed my belt and gun holster and hastened after her. The MailMan stood outside. He was tall and old. Definitely seen some action. His uniform was a faded dusty grey with blue patches sewn through it. Even his shoulder shield, the true sign of a real MailMan and normally the most polished and gleaming surface of any uniform, was dusty.

            “What exactly did you see?” She asked him.

He answered in an old voice. Each word sounded as if it rang true, and it didn’t matter if it did or not, because he was old and you just don’t contradict what an old man says. Especially since old men made it to the age they are, and if they made it that far they had to be doing something right.

            “They were moving south, down from the mountains it seemed. About five to ten I would say. Not well fed. Scraggily. Probably a poor winter. They’re either looking for food or recruits, but the good money is on food. Ya’ll are the first town in the way, and if they don’t change direction, which they probably won’t, you’ll be their fruit basket.”

            “Any advice?” She asked.

            “You got two options basically.” He said. “If you want everyone to live that is, or at least most of everyone.” He smiled at that, and the smile slowly sank away from his face as he continued. “You can either kill em, or feed em.”

            “Uh huh.” She said and gestured for him to continue.

            “If you decide to kill em. Get a group of your best fighters and your best trackers and head on out, find them and ambush them while they’re asleep. You’ll probably get away without a single casualty, if you do it right and nothing goes too terribly wrong. But if you do that, do it now, don’t wait cause the closer they get the more of a problem it’ll be. Or you could feed em. Every family picks some food, and good food not spoiled food. Then you collect the food and go out to the Ferals yourself, with only one other person, like your deputy here, and you offer it to them. If you’re lucky they’ll eat and then head back. If your not they may either decide that it wasn’t enough and still come for more or decide to live off you and then you have a pack of Ferals to take care of.”

            “What would you suggest?” She asked.

            “Kill em and be done with it.” He answered flatly.

            “Thank you for your help sir.” She said and saluted. The MailMan saluted and hefted his pack back onto his shoulders.

            “I’m heading to ClayTown tonight, do you have anything to send there?” He asked while walking over to his horse, which was tied up to the fence next to the watering trough. The horse was happily drinking when he untied it and pulled it along, it resisted for a moment but gave in.

            “No, no official business or other mail, thank you for asking. When will you be back next?” She asked as he mounted the horse and reined it in.

            “No telling exactly, but I figure a month if everything stays smooth. I hope you’re all still here when I get back.” He said as he started the horse to a slow trot.

            “I do too.” She said, not loud enough for him to hear, but loud enough for me to hear. 

*                      *                      *

            Two days to assemble the group. Seven in all. Me, her, three of the stronger farmers, and our two best hunters. She was the only woman. There was another group of people we had left back in town to make sure that if the worst occurred there would still be someone left to defend them.

            Three days to find their trail, and another two to track them to where they were. It was good that everything was moving along so quickly, we had only brought provisions enough for two weeks worth of travel, and that was relying on our hunters to do some of the work in gathering some food. But like the MailMan had said, it had been a bad winter, a lot colder than usual, a lot of the animals had moved and some of the plant life had died off. No wonder the Ferals were on the move. Scavenging had its downsides.

            There were camped out now, quiet, still, calm. The sun was rising on their tents, their night fires dying out. It was so quiet. It belied their true nature, like watching a serial killer asleep. No matter how evil and ruthless someone was, they all looked peaceful in their sleep, at least all the ones he’d known. They might have been faking the sleep though. They were known to do crazy things like that. Trick people who they knew were following them. It was always trouble. The Ferals were just too damn cunning was the problem. Living in the wild for so long had made them all sharper than knives, and they sure as hell had nothing against killing people and taking what they wanted.

            We set up on a ridge overlooking their camp. It wasn’t much of a ridge, but it was higher than the area they had camped on, and it would take them a good while to get here. The plan as it stood was to wait for noon and have the hunters open fire with their rifles. The Ferals would rouse and come at us. If we were lucky the hunters would kill them all before they reached us. If not, well, the Sheriff and me weren’t too bad shots, and the farmers had enough muscle to back us up if we had problems. It was a fairly good plan. Until the Ferals weren’t where we thought they were.

            It was a new trick, or at least one I hadn’t seen before. They hid in the sand. Buried themselves somehow. Popped up right out of the sand. Hit the farmers from behind first. There were eight of them. Eight on three is bad odds and the farmers showed it. Two of them went down within the first minute, before the rest of us could react and get to them. They didn’t go down alone though, took at least one of those Feral bastards down with them. The hunters opened fire, at least once they got a clear shot, me and the Sheriff rushed in, six guns a blazing. The Ferals were good, but tired. They were out of sorts in the sunlight and I think that may have been enough of an edge for us to come out on top.

            I got into it with one of them, shot him twice, once in the shoulder and another in the leg, but he kept right on coming. Missed my shoulder by an inch with a wicked looking blade. I was able to smack his head with my elbow and he went down. The Sheriff was beating up on two of them at once. She was something else, flowing through their attacks like water through sieve. The third farmer was putting up a decent fight, he was a lot better fed than the Ferals and they were having trouble dealing enough damage to him to take him down. One of the hunters had been caught by a thrown knife and was out of the battle effectively, clutching his shoulder in pain. The other hunter was still blasting away. I was able to get behind one of the Ferals attacking the Sheriff and smashed the back of his head with the butt of my gun. He went down like a sack of bricks. The other Ferals were all going down fast under the constant rain of bullets from the hunter and the blows being dealt by the one remaining farmer.

            The battle was over shortly. It only lasted a couple minutes. The bodies of the fallen slowly ashing over and wasting away. We got as much as of their gear off of them before The Change began. Once it had taken hold it was too late. Everything else became as just as much soot in our hands. He collected the ash remains of the two fallen farmers and bandaged the hunter up. It had been a nasty wound. The knife had been serrated and unclean in the extreme, but hey you never know he might pull through. We raided the Feral camp and took what we could use and what we could carry. It wasn’t much but it was something I suppose. Hey, at least the town was safe…right.

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