Jeremy Kyle was hurting. He’d got a whipping from his uncle on top of the one from Billie Lee Osborne and a lecture about how the only way to deal with a bully was to stand your ground and fight them even if you got whipped. It rankled him that his uncle felt it his place to act like his daddy even if he was living under the man’s roof.
He was still heart broke that his daddy died going on a year ago now and instead of sympathy uncle Earl seemed to think everything gave him cause to ‘toughen’ the boy up. It was irritating as hell that his old uncle could still whoop his ass one handed when he was fourteen. With Billie Lee he stood a chance. That boy was just mean and didn’t have his full growth much more than Jeremy. Uncle Earl was a full head high over him and twice as wide. Years of felling trees and cutting lumber gave him a grip like a vise and massive shoulders and arms.
It didn’t seem like he’d ever grow out of his skinny long arms and legs. He had delicate long fingers his grandma said were meant to play piano, but with his ma and pa dead and living off the charity of relatives that was a joke. He didn’t know anybody that could afford a piano. He didn’t even know anybody who had a house big enough to fit one in.
Uncle Earl was agreeable that Jeremy might not win a fight. He admitted up front he’s got the bad end of a few over the years. He pointed out some fathers would give a boy a whipping for losing. But he was absolutely firm that you had to give it a go. He wasn’t mad Jeremy lost. He was mad he tried to run.
“You watch all those nature shows on the TV,” he reminded him. “There two kinds of critters in this world. There’s the ones that get up in the morning and go looking for breakfast, and there’s the ones that wake up and are looking over their shoulder scared before they ever take a morning piss, because they know they are breakfast. What do you call them?”
“Prey,” Jeremy supplied.
“Well if you want to be like that, looking over your shoulder and jumping at every little noise afraid all your life then keep running. Once you make a habit of that Billie Lee and all his kind will never give you any peace. They’ll go after anything running like a mean dog.”
“My teacher is just as likely to punish me as the guy making me fight,” Jeremy pointed out. “She and the district head don’t believe in self defense for anything. I’m going to have detentions or even get suspended if I leave a mark on Billie Lees face.”
“Miss Blanchard is paid by the government to come up here in the hills of Appalachia,” he said with a sarcastic twist. He never did like that word. “She’s set to teach us poor hillbillies about civilization like we was a bunch of heathen savages. That’s fine, you need all your letters and such you can get to live today. But this isn’t Cleveland and things don’t work in the hills like they do there and maybe never will. You do what’s by God right and I’ll stand by you with Miss Blanchard. If you get a suspension, well they got to let you come back. I spent a few days in jail when I was younger. If you aim to never upset nobody you’re gotta be a damn little mouse of a man.”
That was yesterday and it was good it was Friday. He had the weekend to get over being sore and he didn’t have to see Billie Lee again for a couple days. Billie was always all agitated about something. By Monday chances were he’d be on somebody else’s case. Miss Blanchard ground her teeth a lot dealing with Billie and said he was borderline something or the other that didn’t sound good. But she’d never lift a hand to him no matter how much trouble he stirred up.
He didn’t want to see uncle today either. He got a hunk of cornbread left over from yesterday and a candy bar he had saved in his dresser. He put a length of fishing line wound on a stick and a snuff tin of hooks and bobbers in his jeans. If he decided to fish he’d cut a pole wherever he happened to be.
His daddy had given him an old nine-shot .22 revolver before he died. Uncle had not taken that away. He actually felt better about Jeremy roaming around out in the woods if he took it. They just had another big talk like he’d had with his dad about responsibility and never, never, ever, taking it to school. That got tucked in his waist and some loose cartridges in his jeans pocket with the pocket knife and the few coins he had right now.
He had on his sneakers that were too ratty for school, with holes worn in the sides where they bend, his Tractor Supply Company t-shirt and a baseball hat that said DRB across the front. He had no idea what that stood for. It had been in the lost and found box at the diner forever so he’s rescued it. That’s where he’d got his sunglasses too.
* * *
Diroc worried the last little bit of flesh off the bone and tossed it in the bushes. He had gobbled it down so fast he let out a mighty belch. Yorpac hadn’t been as thrilled with the deer as his partner. It had given them a good chase, and the pheromones it threw off in terror had been just lovely. He just didn’t care for the flavor. The People had excellent taste and sense of smell. He could taste too much of the bitter plants the deer had been eating in its flesh.
Still, this world might be worth claiming as a private hunting preserve. The People did not trade nor did they form alliances. They claimed worlds as private preserves and occasionally they found those who objected. About two thousand years ago they had found a race who objected so strenuously that six worlds of the People had been rendered uninhabitable. They now refrained from any expansion in that direction.
This world had a very heavy population of bipeds that looked like they really needed to be managed back to a more sustainable level. The People always saw to it that a race they owned was taken care of and properly managed and responsibly harvested. They probably would not be as fast as the deer they’d just run down, but maybe they’d taste better too.
The alien chemistry of the deer didn’t bother them at all. They had a digestive system that processed anything remotely organic with an efficiency that made a Death Angel mushroom a spicy garnish. Diroc had eaten a discarded plastic water bottle a few miles back and thought it had a pleasant texture even if it had little flavor. In fact the People sorted others into two groups, fun to eat, and impossible to digest due to owning Nova bombs.
Just another half hour and they’d come to a cluster of the bipeds and get a decent sample.
* * *
Jeremy was deep in thought climbing the long familiar trail. He’d cut himself a good hiking staff from a downed maple tree. He’d eaten the cornbread and was saving the candy bar for later. He didn’t think he was done with Billie Lee and he was working himself up to a good snit. If he couldn’t punch his face in without getting blamed for defending himself then he needed to use his head. How could he give him a really memorable thumping and not leave a mark above the neck? Didn’t somebody tell him a piece of hose left no marks?
He looked up and there were two very strange creatures walking down the trail toward him side by side. They were sort of dog like, but big for a dog. The head and shoulders were kind of exaggerated like a male lion. They wore stuff, not clothing exactly, but a collar and a sort of harness around the shoulders and crazy as it seemed, what looked like safety glasses.
When they got real close they had a pink triangle of a nose like a cat, and they were both actively twitching. You didn’t have to be real smart to see they were not animals.
As they came down the trail well, here came a native, climbing to meet them. He should have been able to see them from far away but he didn’t slink away into the brush.
“Is he blind?” Diroc asked. “Why didn’t he take off when he saw us?”
“He’d have to be deaf too, not to hear you bellowing to me.”
“Maybe we look like some local animal. When he gets closer and realizes we’re different he’ll soil himself. Be ready for him to give us a good chase.”
“He’s awfully little,” Yorpac remarked critically. “The ones we saw from the ship were easily twice his size.”
When they got close they all stopped. Jeremy could not have reached out and touched them, but he could with the hiking staff. He was well inside their jumping distance, but he had no reference for comparison.
Now that he was close they looked very much like the paper mache lions on each side of the entryway at the Thai restaurant in town. Sort of cartoonish. He wasn’t sure what business these weird creatures had in mind, but he could sure tell they were not from around here.
This was his country, his horizons kept him from thinking his planet, and his mountain, and sure as hell his trail. He had pretty well had all the back down and run knocked out of him yesterday so that option just never occurred to him.
“He doesn’t smell afraid,” Diroc said disappointed.
“No, no I think that’s anger, Yorpac agreed. It was actually more entertaining because Diroc was so out of his element with anything that didn’t flee.
“A little noise and a display of teeth will fix that,” Diroc assured him. He didn’t step closer but he leaned forward and opened his mouth wide and gave a mighty roar.
Jeremy smacked him right on that pink nose with the maple shaft so hard the last six inches busted off. He was – quick.
“Oh, oh, oh, I think he busted it.” He said holding his nose in both hands.
“Oh come on you big sissy. It isn’t even bleeding.”
Then the native did the damnest thing. He clearly motioned with his free hand for them to get out of his way.
“Of all the impudent…I’m going to just shoot this crazy biped. He’s obviously deranged. Probably driven out by his own kind to wonder the hills until he dies.” He drew his weapon and pointing at the sky he thumbed the charging bar with a chuh-chunk.
Jeremy had been taught responsibility for owning a pistol, but when somebody pulled a gun out and waved it around that was a direct threat. He pulled the .22 out of his waist and held it the same as the critter, and rolled the hammer back. The click, click, click was loud in the silent woods.
“I do believe that is a projectile weapon,” Yorpac cautioned his friend.
“It doesn’t look like much of one,” Diroc said. But he kept his gun pointed at the sky.
“I’ll have that engraved on your memorial plaque in your clan hall if you are wrong.”
“He smells really pissed off now,” Diroc noted.
“Uh-huh. Why don’t we just back up a bit?” he suggested sensibly.
After they had a little distance opened up Yorpac suggested, “How about if you turn around and holster your weapon? I’ll keep an eye on him.” When Dirac had done so Jeremy stuck his pistol back in his waist band.
Yorpac considered the conciliatory nature of that matching gesture and the distance they had opened up and turned away like his friend. Not without a certain itchy feeling at having his back to the native, even at a good long range for a hand weapon.
“I’m pretty sure that was an immature specimen of the locals,” Yorpac decided. Unsaid was if the kids were so hard case nasty and run around the woods armed what were the adults like?
“Yeah, they looked so promising from afar.”
“My vote is we write this one off,” Yorpac suggested. “It looks to be more trouble than it is worth.”
“Oh yeah, Diroc agreed. “The locals are just no damn fun at all!”