Updated: Sep 1
The boy watched us. Watched by us.
He saw only myself and Hayseed. We held our breath at first, but the child made no noise. He was young, perhaps 3, perhaps 4. Too young to be trampling around the woodline unsupervised. We waited for his chaperone to show themselves.
We were left waiting. Until we were summoned by a small group of our own, who arrived to scoop up the child and take him further back into the trees. When we walked back to where Bowie and Blacklung had holed up we realized why. We realized why our chaperon hadn’t shown, and would never show again.
Bowie’s look was easy to decipher. He would have wanted another day to observe the Westie settlement, but our hand was now forced. If the sun began to set and a father did not return with his child before the evening dinner questions would be raised. They would go looking for us, the answers.
No one moved in haste. No alert had been raised, and the plan had been forming itself for the past 36 hours. Most of the men were glad for the acceleration of events. To emulate a statue in the bush was a talent some of us had, but love for the task was slim.
Garmin and Camel would decoy. Through the mush and brambles, tracking would be easy but pacing would be hard. They would not attempt to cover their tracks. Simply, they would move faster than their tracks could betray them. Eventually, the search party would declare the chase unworthy and return home. With hope, it would be too late to do anything.
The rest of the Slothlords would harass and pick the party off slowly as they returned to their settlement. Likewise adept in moving through the Mississippi flood basin muck, it was doubtful any could be caught or captured. Hayseed showed me how to create improvised traps that we would lay on their return route. They were nasty tricks.
Blacklung’s crew would descend upon the unguarded and sparsely populated settlement during which. They’d kill the undoubtedly old and scant guard left and set fire to what structures they had. I had not asked about plans for the return caravan of women and children. But I assumed that the promise of safety and refuge in Bargetown would be controversial, yet inevitable. If we don’t kill them, they will continue to not want to die.
We hoped to create a distraction that would give us the dusk to count on. Growing darkness would be our advantage. The wandering pair were small gifts in this way. The search party would come sluggish with full bellies and careless with booze. Garmin made heavy tracks at the wood’s edge where he left the body of the unsuspecting Westie man from before. Alongside he left the long shirt worn by his boy, torn to shreds to imply a struggle that never truly happened.
I held my shotgun in one hand and a digging spade in another. All others were likewise ready to fulfill their roles in the night’s deeds. Many often smiled in situations that I could never.
Of the dozen Westie men that came looking, only one stayed with the body. He was the eldest of them. His remorse and hurt seemed primal compared to the others. I assumed him a brother by blood. The spray of his throat coated his dead brethren as an arrow sliced clean through. The clogged gurgle that betrayed his attempt at a scream urged the contents of my stomach to the back of my teeth, but I held.
Two men swiftly gathered the corpses and drug them into a hole dug a few feet deep. We shoved in cuts of logs and a downed tree for loose cover and began to track the trackers.
It was slower going in the dark, but we knew the path. We exercised care to not run too loudly, we knew we could likely overtake them in our haste and knowledge. They would yet be pausing to find wet footmarks in the torchlight.
I dug a fresh pit every few feet, spaced randomly. Hayseed and Patches filled them hastily with sturdy, sharpened poles and slopped loose dirt back upon them. The holes did not need to be deep, just enough to cover the spike. The dirt did not need to be packed, just loose enough to let a foot fall into it.
Ahead, the remaining three of the Slothlords laid several other traps. A strong wire was tied across the trail tightly around eye level. More pits were dug and left empty. Small trees and brush were bent down to discourage the party from avoiding the trail upon which they were to tread back.
We’d only just finished our work when the sounds of gunfire and shrieks emanated from the Westie settlement. A grand affair was not the plan for the Daggers, but it would ensure carelessness and hurry among the returning party. We did not have to wait long.
The first to trample back at a near sprint was not tall enough to catch the wire, but the next two were, and did near simultaneously. Their heads jerked back, both foreheads gaining deep lacerations that coated their eyes and face with copious oozed blood. The man in front did not notice, nor did he happen upon any of our spikes. He caught two arrows in the back.
Those behind him did not see this. They jogged confused and blinded. Their circumstances were so painful and sudden they had not yet the time to gain a full appraisal of them. Patches stepped out and caught one just under the chin with a machete. The other caught a spike in the foot, rolled, and received two blows of the digging spade to the neck from Foot-Fetish.
The remaining eight came into view as a massed pack I fully emptied the contents of my shotgun into the crowd. I did not know what I had hit and who was simply diving to safety. 7 shells in total were flung into the throng. One scrambled after falling, but would never gain his feet as he caught two arrows from different men. Patches and Foot-Fetish split to one side of the trail, the rest to the other. What guns we had left came alive as we had cleared the brush around the ambush area.
The sounds of quick gunfire did not fit with the ease of the struggle. Most of those who were left for the Westie party did not need to be found, but simply finished off. Camel and Garmin seemed to have got their licks in somehow as well. Four dropped where they were hit by the buckshot loads. The rest were arrayed in whichever way their panic and new disabilities allowed them.
The ringing in my ears overtook the silence. We took what time was needed to catch our breath. Fetish walked around with the shovel, checking the dead.
When we arrived back at the trailhead we found all of Blacklung’s crew gathered, intact, and drinking. The buildings cast their shadows at us dimly. The burning structures backlit his crew. We could see most clearly their teeth and eye-whites.
“Where are the kids and the women?” Bowie asked.
“What women and children?” Blacklung burped, beard wet with bathtub wine.