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PREVIEW: Jack in the Box

September 13, 2018

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Six-Legged Winter

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Jim tromped through the snow, the ankle deep fluff packed deep into the permafrost of the Denali National Park’s expansive forest. Spruce trees dotted the landscape with blueberry bushes swallowing up the remaining land, bushes which Jim pushed through with wild abandon as he followed the prints in the snow.

 

They were some of the biggest he’d ever seen, dwarfing even a Grizzly’s titanic paw. He’d found them around six miles back, on the outskirts of the park, and decided a creature this size had to be worth the hunt that would risk the fines accompanied with hunting on Federal Land. With his .44 perched on his chest in a thick leather holster and his Sharps Rifle in his left hand, Jim was ready to find whatever was leaving the marks in the snow every seven, maybe eight, feet.

 

“Whatever you are, you move in a strange pattern. Like you got more than four legs…” Jim muttered as he pushed a blueberry bush aside, sheets of ice breaking as falling into the snow surrounding it.

 

Stopping at a print that sank deep into the snow, he reached into the imprint and plucked out something curved, and black.

 

The end of a claw, hard as the beak of a hawk. It wasn’t sharp, which meant that whatever this creature was didn’t need razor blades its toes to handle the wilds of Alaska. Maybe it was a bear, just a large one?

 

No…

 

“Bears claws aren’t this curved, and they’re sharp!” Jim grumbled.

A sudden snap of a branch in the distance carried over the woods, a flurry of snow kicking up a small storm of snowflakes that momentarily blinded Jim, forcing him to bring his hand up to his face, his beard fluttering in the wind.

 

He heard something he’d never heard in the wilderness.

 

Crack-thump!

 

Crack-thump!

 

Crack-thump!

 

Blinking through the stinging snow blowing over him, he didn’t recognize what he was looking at. The light was dimmed by something taller than the trees, it’s body breaking the canopy, causing snow to rain down on Jim. It took Jim a moment to realize that what he was looking at was what he’d been stalking all these miles.

 

A trailing body with six limbs bereft of hair, it was as pale as the snow swirling around it. As it walked forward it pushed trees aside, stepped over bushes, and crushed the icy ground beneath its immense bulk. The body was strange, with a humanoid torso rising up from the bizarre muscled frame. It had a head with tusks jutting from it’s thick, chapped lips. Four black eyes dominated its head, with no visible ears. In the monster’s heavily muscled right hand, which bore three thick fingers and a thumb, was a titanic spear made from a shaved down spruce tree and topped with a stone head, an alien lettering carved into the flat side of the stone which was easily two feet in length.

 

Jim squatted down immediately, staring up at the beast in wonder. The blueberry bush in front of him shook as the giant took another step, cracking the icy tundra beneath it’s immense clawed feet. The head didn’t swivel or bow, and the creature had slung over its back, tied together with leather thongs, several headless caribou, as well as two wolf carcasses. The string of bodies ran down its humanoid back until they rested on the equine-like body. The creature didn’t seem hindered by the weight of the animals, nor did it seem bothered by the cold. In its void-like eyes, it just seemed… bored.

 

It continued tromping through the snow, bending trees to the side and carefully stepping over bushes so as not to disturb nature. Jim watched as one of the feet, three claws in the front and two in the back, stomped next to him by the bush he was using for cover. The creature, now that it was close, smelled like the higher peaks of the Denali mountains, fresh air seemingly exuding from its pores. It lifted the leg from its place in the snow and continued on the path it had settled for itself. Jim looked up as it walked over him, wincing as the creature proved to be male and proved to be, ahem, “gifted” so to speak.

 

Jim had never ducked so fast before in his life!

 

Turning slowly in the snow, Jim watched as the behemoth continued on its desired path, the flurries of snow still flowing from the mammoth frame. Jim looked at the back of the head of the neckless beast and decided he had to try.

 

“Now or never,” Jim muttered, lining up his Sharps after settling the gun into his shoulder. He had never been able to find anyone who sold the bullets, so he’d taken to making them himself, over packing the shells to allow for more of a punch from the small cannon that was his Buffalo gun. The bullets themselves were solid lead and the size of a grown man’s thumb; something he’d watched pierce the hides of hundreds, if not thousands, of animals up in the rough terrain that Alaska seemed to boast.

 

Slipping the bolt into place, Jim sucked in a breath of frigid air and aimed, looking through the scope to where he could see the crease of bone beneath the pallid flesh of the beast’s skull. Exhaling slowly, he squeezed the trigger, wincing as the rifle bucked into his shoulder. The bullet flew true, slamming into the back of the monster’s skull, a fountain of black erupting from the skull where it’d been pierced. The creature stumbled, one hand reaching out to brace itself against a tree. It dropped the spear with a solid thud that could be heard for miles and groaned, a sound that was reminiscent of a bear yawning in a cave.

 

Jim, having a bad feeling about the fact the creature hadn’t fallen down, cocked back the bolt-action rifle and allowed another shell to slide into the chamber before taking aim at the hole in its skull. He fire the shot just as the monster seemed to get its bearings; the second shot tore into the head with a wet splat of muscle and bone fragments flaying out of the hole, a torrential stream of bubbling black fluid running down its back and over the dead caribou. Jim could see through the scope a trickle of red coming from something contained within all the black goo and behind three to four inches of bone.

 

The monster reared back, moving deftly for something its size, four eyes looking for the source of its wound. Jim lined up another shot, this one aiming at the opened mouth of the creature, where he could see the upper palate behind rows of sharp teeth. Exhaling once more, he fired a shot that broke through three teeth and burst the upper palate of the creature with a mighty gush of black blood. The festering ooze seeped through the opened mouth and onto its expansive chest, bubbles rising out of the stream as the beast struggled, perhaps to say something? Jim would never know.

 

The creature’s legs buckled before letting out from under it, the titanic frame crashing down into the snow with a thunderous noise that shook the very ground Jim stood on. Looping the rifle over his shoulder, Jim pulled his .44 and walked slowly up to the humanoid torso, the chest rising slowly up and down as the monster struggled to breathe through its own blood. Even as it lay in its own fluids, bucking winds whipped off of the body, forcing Jim to squint as he walked around ten feet from the upper body, until he could see the beast’s head.

 

It was looking at him through slit irises of purple cutting through the void of its eyes. Coughing, it struggled to push itself up, but its arms shook from the stress. Jim lined up a shot with his pistol, cocking back the hammer.

 

“Sorry about this,” he said to the beast, “but you’re a hunter. You understand.”

 

Before Jim fired his shot, he heard, in the distance, what sounded like three echoing roars akin to a bear yawning in a wide cave. The monster, prostate before Jim, smiled over its tusks and hacked up some of its blood, victory in its eyes.

 

Jim held the gun in his hand, still outstretched and aimed between the eyes of the monster. He pulled the trigger not once, but twice. The heavy slugs pierced the ocular cavities of the titan, an eruption of black with a mixture of gelled red chunks floating down the steaming stream of blood. Jim, who would normally take something worth taking from a kill like this, instead began to move away from the beast.

 

He didn’t want to be here when the monster’s friends found it dead on the forest floor.

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