Friday is Flash Fiction day on my blog. I usually get prompts from a great guy called Chuck Wendig, who has his own style, with a lot of rude words, but he’s inspirational despite that. For today he offered us a list of ten single words from which to choose one as our prompt for a 1000 words fiction piece. None of them began with F. I checked on synonyms for them: Holiday could be Festival and Bushcraft could be Fieldcraft – especially in the UK. So I give you…
She raised her head, listening intently, nostrils flared. The leaves hardly moved in the lightest of breezes that curled their way through the rocks and scrub. It was slight, but it was there. An alien scent. Where was the owner?
The wind was not moving fast, so the lightness of the smell was not a sure sign of distance. The breeze shifted and danced, never enough to give certainty of the direction.
Enough. It was out there; it was time to take cover. She picked her way through the rocks back along the faint trail to her hideout.
At the gully she paused, sniffing the water. She touched her fingers to the surface and pulled them away again. Lifting the tips to her nose she breathed the scent that remained.
Blood. Grease. Burnt wood. Burnt flesh. Peppermint.
She sat on her haunches, considering. These signs suggested their camp. If so, they were now downwind of her; the glimpses of scent she grabbed were simply accidents of topology. They were doing their best to creep up on her, there was little doubt of that. Nobody else travelled this part of the fell country.
She weighed the directions she could take and set off, taking even more care to leave no print, break no grass or twig, raise no dust, kick no stone. Once more it would seem she had flown away.
“I say, Carruthers,” whispered the purple-skinned reptoid commonly classed as a Zulaikan. “What do you say to taking a short break and a little snifter, eh?”
“You are most welcome, grand sire, but you will lose your quarry.”
“She’s the devil of a hard one to catch, what. Thought we had her yesterday, but then, that fellow sneezed and the game was up, wasn’t it, Darcy.”
“It was indeed grand sire.” Darcy poured a pint of whisky for his client, who raised it to his snout, rolled a sip round his mouth, and swallowed with a smack of his lips. Darcy winced as the action displayed the overlapping double-edged equivalent of molars. He would not forget the way his client had despatched the unfortunate porter who had sneezed at just the wrong moment. The client emptied the mug with his second sip and handed the leather-covered glass back to Darcy.
The Zulaikan stretched, seated himself against a lump of rock and scraped some of it off with his claws to make a more comfortable resting place. “Good planet, though. Fair terrain, decent temperature, enough interesting species to make a real vacation of it. Not like some places, where all you have are some lumbering plains animals. No challenge in that, is there.”
“No, grand sire.”
“Tell me, have you ever been to Baralinka A?”
“I don’t think I have, grand sire.” Carruthers knew when to feign ignorance to keep the client happy. This one enjoyed a boast. Carruthers felt wrong-footed at every turn. He wished he’d never taken this assignment. He half-listened to the Zulaikan expounding his powers of stalking the ferocious sabre-tooth wombat of Baralinka, wondering just why the reptoid wanted this particular quarry. She was simply a human renegade. There wasn’t even a bounty for her. He’d checked.
The Zulaikan fell quiet, only for the sound akin to snoring to escape his second air-slits. Carruthers hadn’t decided whether they were nostrils or gills. As with previous occasions, the sound lasted twenty seconds, then the alien stood up, stretched, and appeared entirely refreshed. Darcy had privately given it the term ‘twenty winks’. It worked like a powernap on the Zulaikan.
“Right ho, chaps, let’s get back on her trail, what.”
“This way, grand sire. Step in my tracks, if you please.” Carruthers led on, while Darcy cleared any sign of their rest, save for the crumbled rockface. He could hardly put it back.
The ophidian resting on a boulder further up the hill continued to follow. He had made short work of the remains of the porter and needed no further sustenance for another week. Curiosity made him slither over the sandstone cliffs and keep sight of their trail. Flicking his tongue he smelled where they’d gone and assessed the seconds since they’d passed this position. From the vibrations in the ground, he sensed the human female was circling round behind them. It might help if they made a mutual attack on the alien. Was an attack necessary though?
Carruthers reached the gully where the watercourse crossed the trail. He cast about for a few minutes, searching for her tracks, and could find none. He shook his head.
“She’s done it again. I don’t know how she does it, or how she knows, but always, when we get close, she senses us and … disappears.”
“Nobody disappears.” The slits of the Zulaikan’s eyes appeared to whirl. His whole attitude changed from the relaxed, eager, boastful hunter, to something more sinister.
Carruthers remembered the porter, and picked his way over some broken ground in search of traces, keeping one eye on his client.
Darcy climbed up the hill at the side of the gully, shading his eyes to look over the terrain ahead. “There’s a whiff of dust along the ridge there,” he called, pointing.
Carruthers leapt up to join him. “Just a whiffle, I think. Keep your voice down, there’s a good chap. He’s got touchy all of a sudden.”
“I noticed. He switched like that when the porter… you know.”
Carruthers nodded, and climbed back down. “This way, grand sire.” He led on.
The ophidian let Carruthers pass the tree he had coiled himself in.
As the Zulaikan passed, four needle fangs struck the back of the alien’s neck. The purple skin was tough, but the poison squirted directly into his bloodstream. After three steps he fell forward, smashing his face into the ground.
He never knew what hit him. Carruthers looked at Darcy, then the tree. They spotted the deadly snake, and ran.
© J M Pett 2017