Prose Header


by Danielle L. Parker

part 9 of 11

Dawn arrived silent and cool. Jim Blunt, yawning on the porch, greeted the sun in his sweat-stained singlet and rumpled boxers. He squinted up the street. But nothing hinted at the upheaval and terror of the previous night save a large blackish stain in the dust before the shuttered Blue Ruin.

Washed, shaved, and as presentable as possible in his single spare jeans and battered leather jacket, Blunt returned from watering and feeding the horses to find Groban stirring a huge pot of breakfast porridge over his stove.

“You’re a big man, Captain,” Groban greeted him. His deep laugh rumbled in his chest. “But I think maybe I’m bigger. We make four of your little professor, eh?”

”We’re all pipsqueaks next to that monster we saw last night.” Blunt accepted a generous slap of porridge. He hooked a chair with his boot and sat down. “I didn’t realize they came that large.”

“Larger and meaner all the time,” Groban replied. “Nash Armitradge has the biggest gun in town. It took his and everyone else’s to kill the last one. Now, maybe no guns can kill this one. Better take your pelts and get out of town, Captain! A lot of folks are talking about doing the same.”

“I didn’t come for pelts.”

Groban’s velvety eyes met his without surprise. “So I heard. But maybe this is too big a job even for a big man, eh, Captain?”

Someone cleared a rusty throat. Milton Rutgers, unshaven and tousle-headed, stood in the doorway. His plump face looked pale and sleepless, but grim and determined. “If you didn’t come for pelts, Captain,” he said, “what did you come for?”

“Answers, Professor. That’s what I came for.” Blunt pushed back the empty chair beside his with a booted foot. “Have a seat.”

“Good morning, Professor,” Groban rumbled.

Rutgers came forward slowly and held the back of the wooden chair tightly. “I must say never quite saw you as a trader somehow, Captain. The thought has occurred to me that—”

“I’m not here to exterminate crab monsters, Professor. Or zooks, for that matter. Events have already gone far beyond those simple solutions.” Blunt nodded. “Sit down. We need to talk.”

Groban slapped porridge in a second bowl. He placed it in front of Rutgers. “Eat,” he said. “Big day ahead, eh?”

Rutgers sat down and picked up a spoon. “Very well, Captain. I’m listening.”

“I’m going to tell you some old pioneer history. Being British, you may not know it.” Blunt tipped back his chair. “My mother’s family was from the prairies. Hardscrabble grass farmers, back when the sod was plowed for the first time. Great-grannie told me stories about their locust swarms.”

“I don’t follow, sir. How is this relevant?”

Blunt let his chair down with a thump. “Locusts are mostly extinct now, of course. Plowing broke up the egg rafts. But they were terrifying, I guess, when the early settlers saw them. Grannie told me the locusts even attacked the dog and cattle in the field when there was no more grass.”

Rutgers snorted derisively. “A grasshopper, sir?”

“No,” Blunt said. “They weren’t grasshoppers. When locusts swarm — which they do, when they reach a certain population density — they’re an entirely different thing. Bigger. Harder. Meaner. Hungrier.”

Rutgers laid down his spoon and pursed his lips. For a moment he was silent. “You suspect the — crab monsters, as Bremner calls them — come from similar, previously undisturbed, dormant egg masses, responding to the environmental pressure of human settlers?”

“Not quite,” Blunt said. “Close, though. But to prove my theory, we’ll need some cell samples. DNA, I suppose. That’s where you come in, Professor. I need you to look at the samples for us.”

Groban folded his arms across his massive chest. “Not going to be easy to get samples of crab monster, Captain.”

“Sure it is.” Blunt rose to his feet. “I just need to dig up a dead horse head. Or find the last one you shot.”

Rutgers’ brown eyes gleamed. His interest was caught. “I’m not equipped for lab quality testing, Captain. I have a few portable pieces with me that might do, and of course your sample will be contaminated with equine factors, not to mention dirt and bacteria...”

Blunt picked up his hat. “We don’t need lab-quality testing, Professor. Just an approximation.” He paused. “Let’s take a second sample from another native source. Let’s make that one... zook. You may find the results interesting.”

Proceed to part 10...

Copyright © 2010 by Danielle L. Parker

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