Before Jack was half-way to me, a large, pale face appeared right next to mine. It wasn’t Timmy. I knew that at once. The Rattler was way to huge to be Timmy. I think it was the same one Timmy attacked the day before. It opened its way-too-wide mouth, displayed it’s (at least) two rows of sharp- teeth, and hissed at Jack, who froze right where he was.
“Gus,” Jack said, not daring to take his eyes of the beast. Gus didn’t answer at first, so Jack said it louder. “Gus!” Gus hopped up from where he was sitting by the pit, started towards Jack.
“Whatcha need, Boss…?” It was then Gus’s turn to freeze. The smaller man actually started shaking in his boots. I’d heard of this but had never seen it until that day.
“Well,” Jack said, still making eyes with the monster, which was now beside me, crouching down, about to pounce. “Don’t just stand there, you idiot! Get the freakin torch!” Gus snapped out of whatever horrified trance he’d been caught in and ran off to the other end of the camp, returning seconds later with a torch.
“Are you freakin joking?” Jack said.
“What?” Gus said.
“Light it, you moron!”
“Oh!” Gus said. “Oh yeah.” He took it to the pit, stuck the tip into the flames, then brought the lit torch back, handed it to Jack. Once Jack had the torch, he sheathed his knife and started waving the flames at the large Rattler.
“Woah!” he yelled at it. “Get away, you freak!” The Rattler howled at him, hissed a few times, then backed away, deep into the forest behind me. Just then, a few more Rattlers came to the edge of the clearing. Jack walked around the perimeter, waving the torch at their faces. “Get back!” He screamed at them. “Get the hell away, you dirty, diseased vermin!” They too, eventually retreated back into the woods. When they were all gone (for the moment, at least), Jack went back to the pit, sat down in the dirt, handed the torch back to Gus.
“What about the piglet,” Gus asked, taking the torch with one hand, and pointing at me with the other. Jack looked at me, closed his eyes, rubbed his temples. “Want me to handle it,” Gus asked. Gus seemed a little too eager to eat me – in my humble opinion.
“He’ll keep til tomorrow,” Jack replied. “Break out what’s left of Jake.”
They ate, drank, and eventually, fell asleep. Far away from the heat of the fire, I began to hear the noises start up again. Nothing too loud. A far-off rattling growl here; twigs snapping under clawed feet there. In a way, I was more offended by how the three men left me tied to the tree than I was about their plans to eat me. I couldn’t fathom how little they cared – not only whether I lived or died, but if they’d get to eat me or not. I had half a mind to call out to them, tell them about themselves. But I figured that living another night was more important than pride.
It didn’t take long before I saw the big Rattler again. It was hunched behind a tree just across the clearing. There were at least three smaller ones gathered around it. The fire in the pit was still high. They weren’t about to come closer than that. I looked around for Timmy but couldn’t see him. He was about half the size of the smaller Rattlers, so I’m sure I could pick him out of that crowd, even in the dark. I figured it’d only take the monsters a few more seconds to realize I was left unguarded. They’d come for me, then. A free meal and all. The men would most likely wake up while I screamed bloody-murder, but they’d be little help. If they didn’t outright laugh while I was being torn apart, they’d probably tell the Rattlers to save a piece for them. I looked at the men again, sleeping by the roaring fire, without a care in the world. What the hell is wrong with people? I thought. Then two things happened almost simultaneously. First, I heard a clicking-growl behind me – then, my hands were free.
I jumped away as fast I could – turning around when I did. Timmy stared at me from behind the tree. He was holding one, sharp claw out towards me. Then, he pointed that claw at the fire, then back at me again. Then he disappeared into the dark like all the others. I turned, looked at the three sleeping bozos around the fire, then I went right for the torch. I picked it up, dipped the tip into the fire, admired for a few seconds just how much better it was than the piece of junk I had. Then, I turned, and began walking to where the path started up again.
Timmy growled, louder than before. I turned, frozen in place. If he woke these guys, I’d be dead meat. He was staring at me, the ball in his throat vibrating. Then he pointed at the fire again.
Crap, I thought. Then, Okay. They were going to eat me anyway. I went to the pit and, standing between where Gus and the one they called Carl was passed out (I didn’t want to be anywhere near Jack), I kicked loose dirt onto the fire. It didn’t exactly go out, but it dimed the flames enough to make the rattlers happy. When they leapt forward like a pack of wolves, I ran off, heading the rest of the way down the hill. I remember hearing them in the night, those idiots, screaming. I didn’t have to imagine what the Rattlers were doing to them. I’d seen such things with my own eyes. I heard them scream. I heard them cry. I didn’t care.
By mid-day, I was already over the next big. By my best calculations, I’d be at Lincoln City before nightfall the following day. Just one more night in the woods. Then I’d be home free. I figured the Rattlers were way behind me then – busy feasting on not just one, but three men. That should keep them busy for a while, I thought. Just as the afternoon sun began to slump towards the horizon, I began looking for a new spot to camp out, which I found with little trouble.
The clearing I found didn’t have a pit. I had to make one. Which was simple enough. I found enough stones to make a circle, then dug down – just a little, and added the materials I collected. Within minutes, a fire was going. Next, I had to find larger pieces of wood. And I was going to do just that, but then Timmy jumped into the clearing and growled at me.
At least my torch was still lit.
To be continued…
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