THE RED RIDER by
Randall Allen Dunn
Copyright 2013 by Randall Allen Dunn
EXCERPT: MY DISCOVERY
I flicked out one of Pierre’s blades and sliced into the side of a pig standing in front of me. It squealed in pain and ran to the other side of the pen.
The wolves jerked their heads toward the commotion as the pigs started to rush back and forth, thumping and sliding against one another. I cut into another one, encouraging their panic. Two wolves sniffed the air, perhaps smelling the flow of animal blood.
I rose, my cloak billowing up from my shoulders as I raised the crossbow. The wolves gaped along with Favreau and his daughter, as I rushed between the pigs to the gate. I kicked up at the top bar, flinging rainwater from it as it flipped open. The pigs spilled out of the pen and darted back and forth across the clearing, slipping and stumbling in terror and confusion.
The wolves continued to stare as I marched out of the pen and fired my crossbow at the nearest brown beast. It fell to the ground hard.
The others snarled and charged, struggling for traction.
“Get inside,” I ordered Favreau.
“Who are you?”
“Get inside!” I stepped sideways, angling to face the next approaching wolf. The others closed in, eyeing me warily. I pulled back twice on the crossbow’s lever, firing one bolt into the first animal’s gut, the other into its paw. My racing pulse had thrown off my aim, but at least I wounded it.
I moved in a curving path between the pigs as they skidded through the muddy grass. The other wolves circled around me, arching their necks to peer over the pigs as they tried to get at me. Between the misty haze and the wild flurry of pigs, I couldn’t tell whether there were three wolves or two. My heart was racing too fast and the pigs were rushing too quickly for me to tell. The wolves ignored Favreau and his daughter, focusing on me as he scuttled her into the house and shut the door. That was all that mattered.
The wolves bared their teeth, dripping with saliva. I registered three of them surrounding me, a gray one to my left, brown to my right, and black behind me. The rain had played tricks on my eyes. What seemed like a perfect hit on the second wolf must have only grazed him.
Two of them charged from either side. I whirled to fire a bolt into the gray one’s stomach as it leaped at me. It spun and rolled aside, howling, while I dropped backward to the ground and planted my elbows in the mud. Then I kicked at a squealing pig as it scurried in front of me and thrust it at the attacking brown wolf.
The startled pig knocked it a short distance away, stopping him for a second. Long enough for me to roll to one side and fire a bolt behind me, into his companion. Then to fire two more into the brown wolf as it bore down on me, dropping it to the puddle-soaked field. I scrambled to my feet. Three bolts left.
The gray wolf struggled to its feet and turned to lunge. I fired once, keeping my final bolts in reserve. It spun to the ground as the black wolf struggled to rise and sprang at me. Another bolt finished it as the gray wolf reared back to lunge again. I tugged back on the lever, sinking my last bolt into its heart.
It fell in a heap and lay still.
I stood in the quiet. Chest heaving in the drizzling rain. Waiting for my pulse and heartbeat to slow, while the remaining pigs squealed and ran in circles through the clearing. My hands shook. I took deep breaths, ordering my arms and shoulders to relax. I reached into my pouch for another round of bolts and started loading them into the top slot, one by one, in case there were more of them.
More of them …
I turned back to the clearing, where the first gray wolf had fallen. The grass there was matted down a little, where the wolf had lain. But it was now gone.
The rain wasn’t playing tricks on my eyes. Four wolves came from the forest, but after I struck down the first one, four wolves remained. Only one of the wolves was gray. The first wolf, the one Favreau shot with his musket. It had risen to join the others and attack me again.
The wolf nearest to me – the one I shot four times – groaned and rolled to its side. Then it rose and shook its head to recover. I watched, crossbow ready, as it studied its wounded paw, from which a bolt still protruded. Two similar bolts remained embedded in its stomach. It lifted the paw to its teeth, bit hard on the bolt, and tugged, nearly dislodging it.
Then the creature set its paw down and reached for the bolt with its other paw. I gaped as it wrapped its claws around the bolt to seize a firm hold, the way a human would – and pulled it out.
It dropped the bloody bolt to the ground and turned to me as I tried to comprehend its impossible feat.
Crimson whinnied from his hiding place in the stable behind me and burst into the clearing. He pounded toward me at full gallop. I grabbed onto his saddle as the wolf’s jaws opened to chomp at my legs. Crimson whisked me away and raced into the woods, as I hung on with one foot in the stirrup. Behind me, three other wolves rose in similar fashion, grinning and showing little signs of the battle.
Crimson knew when to run.
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