CLUTCH – CHAPTER TWO
The warmth of the dream fades and I wake shivering as the sweat drips off my body. A movement catches my eye across the expanse of wild grass and I sit upright in an instant, ignoring the fire in my shoulder. I have the shotgun out, propped in the dent where my hip meets my stomach, and I brace my arm on my thigh as I level the barrel on the shadow in the distance as best I can. My finger slips onto the trigger and squeezes lightly as I prepare for the shot.
It’s not a prairie lion because I can see the outstretched wings back-lit by starlight as it skulks across the field. And it’s obviously not an owl because it’s walking on two legs.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” it says.
I squeeze the trigger and the recoil slams me into the ground, screaming in pain.
I’m back in the blur of agony once again and fuck is coming out of my mouth at regular intervals. The black shadow stands over me now, the dark wings fully outstretched and imposing.
“I told ya not to do that.”
It’s a male voice.
I pull away wincing, trying to sink down into the ground to avoid him as he leans into my personal space.
“That’s really going to hurt now. You humans. It’s always shoot first, ask questions later.”
I find my voice and snort at him. “At least a human would know better than to sneak up on a girl stranded in the middle of nowhere with a shotgun.”
The avian’s hypnotic green eyes brighten as he smiles at me. “Ya have a point there, darlin’.”
We have a semi-serious staring contest for a few seconds and then he reaches out to me. “Ya need a hand?”
I look him up and down from my unfortunate submissive situation. His wings are a lot more imposing than I figure they should be. I’ve seen images of avians here and there over the years, but not enough to be any kind of expert on them.
Sighing, I consider my options as he waits. I can either roll around on my knees and try to get up – or I can get up with some dignity left intact. I shrug and extend my good arm up to him. “Sure.”
He takes it and I brace for the explosion of agony that will surely come from my shoulder, but he pulls me to my feet in a smooth, gentle manner. I manage to end upright with only a few squeaks of pain escaping my lips.
“That was unlucky, eh?”
“Unlucky? I almost shot you. I figure that’s pretty fucking lucky myself.”
“The accident, friend. An unlucky thing to hit that animal.”
I grab my gun and ignore him as I hitch my pack up on my hip and shuffle through to check my ammo supply.
I give him a long once-over and he waits patiently for me to finish. “You do realize you’re trespassing, right? Aliens are not permitted in the RR under any circumstances.”
“You’d be surprised,” he says.
I swing the shotgun on the strap so it’s out in front of me, brace it on my thigh to compensate for my injured shoulder, cycle the next round into the chamber, and then point it straight at his chest. I strain to prevent the wince that really wants to spread across my face. “Look, I don’t know who you are, or why you’re here, but as a Farm Family Representative of Council 3, I’m asking you to leave under Regulation V.1.b – Aliens are not permitted in the Rural Republic under any circumstances. I have the authority to shoot and if you doubt me, I apologize ahead of time for taking your life. You are hereby legally warned.”
I squeeze back and the round blasts out of the chamber but he’s high above me in the air as the shot passes into the trees. The leaves rustle and the birds are wild once again. The recoil pain isn’t as bad from the standing position, but I feel the blood leaking out under the skin on my hip, creating a bruise. I push the pain down. “I’ve been shooting since I could walk, sweetheart, and I’ve had a really shitty day. Do not fuck with me.”
He flies off over the trees about a dozen yards away and I can just barely make him out as he lands in the cover of the brush.
“Is that how ya treat someone who saves yer life? Shoot them?”
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