“You sure?” asked the Read Claw Gang’s leader, looking his newest recruit quizzically in the eye, to achieve which he had to stoop considerably.
“’Course I’m sure!” erupted Shrimp, “I’m a scout. I scout. It’s pretty much in my job description. Now, I Can understand how that doesn’t mean much to you given as how I’m the only one who ever does any work around he…”
“Alright, alright!” interrupted the Leader, holding up both his hands in mock surrender, “I get it!”
He swung open the wooden door of the make-shift shack and strode out into the midday sun, to the sounds of crickets chirruping and crows cawing, Shrimp sullenly following, with a scowl on her face.
He surveyed the ruins in front of him…an overgrown mess of caravans and shacks…hard to tell if these were from the initial efforts of survivors to form a settlement or the remnants of some kind of pre-war impoverished camp…either way, there were roofs, and even a few tins to be found, plus a bunch of AA batteries which always came in handy.
His eyes settled on a blackened, smoking caravan…
From within the caravan emanated the sound of objects falling, crashing and smashing…momentarily after which the caravan’s door swung open, and a screwed-up, Mohicaned face appeared:
“Whut?” is demanded.
“Pyro, I need you t…”
“BUSY!” insisted the face.
“Experiments!” proclaimed Pyro, his face breaking into a wide grin.
The Leader sighed an exasperated sigh:
“Would this be your ongoing research to prove your hypothesis that everything burns if you try to burn it hard enough?”
“NO!” snapped Pyro, before softening as he warmed to his subject: “I have established that. This is to see what COLOUR everything burns at…”
“Everything?” interjected Shrimp, “Won’t that take rather a long time?”
Pyro puffed his chest out and pulled himself up straight.
“You cannot rush science.”
“Pyro…Shrimp says there’s a bunch of those freaks over by the woods. If you catch them, you can burn them. Now go get your brother and check it out.”
With that the Leader turned on his heel and headed back to the caravan he had set up his bunk in, knowing that Pyro’s curiosity and pyromaniac tendencies would get the better of him. As he walked, he heard a throat being cleared behind him. He turned to face Shrimp, who had silently followed.
“Do I get to go too?” she asked.
“Sure, it’s that or join me in my negotiations with a shrunken head to try and find out what Shay has poisoned himself with most recently, he’s passed out in my caravan and smells like a dead dog.”
“Oh…kay…” replied Shrimp, swinging her axe from her shoulder into her hands, and running to catch up with Pyro, who was now banging on one of the other caravans and threatening to burn it down.
“What a choice,” she sighed.
“There’s nothing here,” grunted Fatboy twenty minutes later, as he, Pyro, Topper and Shrimp surveyed the edge of the woods from the ridge of a hill.
“They were there,” replied Shrimp, testily.
“Listen Squirt…” began Fatboy.
“It’s Shrimp!” spat Shrimp.
Fatboy sighed, and removed the cigar from his mouth, appeared to meditate on its glowing tip for some time, and then spoke lowly:
“I do not know why you think that’s an improvement. Whatever, you’re wasting my time, so unless you’re about to pour a drink, deal some cards, or take your clothes off, I’m outta here. I don’t know why we came out here looking for freaks anyway when we’ve got the Feckless Family here all along.”
He indicated Topper and Pyro with the end of his cigar. They were fighting over a telescope.
“I told you, that’s MY end,” seethed Topper, attempting to wrestle the device from Pyro’s grasp.
“WAIT!” hissed Pyro, suddenly, waving his free hand at the group to be silent, “I SEE them.”
Fatboy, ignoring Shrimp’s smug smile in his direction, pushed Topper aside and wrenched the telescope from Pyro’s hand. He brought it up quickly to his eyes, and issued a low chuckle.
“Well I never. Prawn did good.”
Along the edges of the woods he could just pick out movement in the dying light. Figures darting swiftly through the undergrowth. They appeared to be dressed entirely in black.
“Can we burn them?” asked an optimistic voice behind him.
“Uh-uh, not this time. They’re quick, we got to be subtle.”
“HUZZAH!” cried Topper enthusiastically, cocking his four-barrelled shotgun and grinning inanely.
“You and I really have to talk about ‘subtle’ again, Topcat,” said Fatboy shaking his head slightly, as the grin faded from Topper’s face.
“We need something to draw them out,” piped up Shrimp, “Get their attention!”
“Good plan!” agreed Fatboy. Shrimp had little time to enjoy the praise though, as no sooner has Fatboy said this, than he was shoving a bottle of spirits in her hand, and shoving her down the steep slope towards the hill.
“Eurgh!” she shouted back at him, as she slid and slipped down the grassy hillside towards the treeline. She just about managed to keep upright as she reached the bottom, and caught her breath.
In front of her, the trees were silent. No crickets, no crows, no freaks.
“Wave the booze at them!” called Fatboy, in what Shrimp imagined he thought was his quiet voice, which boomed and echoed in the valley basin where she now stood.
Feeling somewhat ridiculous, Shrimp began to wave the bottle of spirits slowly in the direction of the trees.
“Fancy a drink?” she found herself saying. There was silence. With her back to her comrades, she necked a mouthful of Fatboy’s booze, which was never normally offered around and then turned back towards the ridge, where she could see two pairs of eyes and a tophat peeking at her.
“I don’t think it’s working,” she hissed.
“Try taking your top off…” came Fatboy’s booming response.
Shrimp mentally admonished herself for allowing herself to get mixed up with anyone like Fatboy, and instinctively reached for the pistol at her side. She drew it quickly and raised it towards the oaf…
“Interesting. We thought you had joined their little posse,” came a voice from behind her. She turned very slowly, keeping the gun at eye level. Two figures were emerging from the darkness…silently. She couldn’t be sure, but she felt like there were more behind them. There was something moving back there.
“Hi!” She said, as cheerily as she could manage, whilst training her pistol directly at the head of her nearest visitor, “I’m Sh..”
“Shrimp.” The nearest of the figures finished. The voice was female, but the figure was still shrouded in darkness…she must have been dressed entirely in black, but there was the hint of moonlight off a blade…
“You know me?” Shrimp managed to ask. The other figure replied.
“Ditch these losers Shrimp,” the other figure was also female, but her voice was harder, more forceful, “You wouldn’t believe what we could give you if you join us….”
Shrimp was about to respond when suddenly both figures leapt to their respective sides, the further firing a shotgun blast to Shrimp’s rear as she went. This was almost instantaneously responded to with the thundering blast of Topper’s scattergun.
“Noooo!” screamed Topper.
“Our Shrimp!” echoed Pyro, sending a blast of flames into the sky and briefly illuminating the scene.
The two women dressed in black were slowly withdrawing into the woods, as three further figures – all swathed in black advanced from the shadows to join them. Shrimp could make out a number of swords and piercing blue eyes. She turned on her heel and made to run towards Topper and Pyro, who were sliding down the hill towards her, when Fatboy’s voice – his deliberately loud voice this time – boomed out from the ridge above.
“Get your own damn Sushi!”
The exclamation was followed by a hiss and then a blinding explosion, as Fatboy’s RPG landed and exploded somewhere amongst the trees. Somewhere too close for Shrimp’s comfort. She was simultaneously blinded and deafened by a high pitched squeal, which rose in frequency painfully in her skull, and sent stumbling in the smoke. She felt a sudden pain in the side of her head, but was so disorientated she couldn’t tell if she had been hit or had run into something. She fell to the ground and rolled, sprawled on her back. She tasted her own blood from the wound to her head.
Suddenly, a figure appeared above her out of the smoke. One of the women, dressed in black. The one who had asked her to join them. The woman reached her hand out to Skylar, who took it gladly, and felt herself be pulled upwards easily. She caught a glimpse of bright blue eyes, but then the woman. A drop of Skylar’s blood fell onto the woman’s wrist as she pulled Skylar up, and suddenly, she let go, and Skylar went tumbling to the ground. The woman initially recoiled, as if in terror, but then seemed to draw herself up to her full height above Skylar, and issued a terrifying and inhuman sounding shriek, and opened her mouth wide to reveal her white teeth…
“MAGPIE!” came a voice from outside of Shrimp’s vision in the smoke. The woman froze.
“STAND DOWN NOW! THERE ARE OTHERS!” Came the voice again.
The woman, Magpie stared at Shrimp for an instant, then hissed, and was gone suddenly, disappearing into the smoke and the darkness of the falling night.
Shrimp struggled to her feet and felt the wound on her head. Just a scratch, really, although a bloody one.
“You need me to carry you back to the campsite?” asked Fatboy, as he and the others appeared out of the darkness.
“If you mean do I want you to feel my butt all the way back, then no, I’m fine,” she replied, testily.
“Suit yourself,” replied Fatboy, and returned his cigar to his mouth, before turning his back on the others and striding away casually.
“You owe me a bottle of spirits though, Seaweed.”