2

I spent a half hour hiding in the woods at the edge of the clearing, opposite of the side with the trail that we had hiked to get there. The tractor must have been louder than I imagined, considering how long it took to finally get here, and even then I didn't see it, it rumbled to a thunderous stop somewhere on the other side of a thick of trees.

The farmers were evidently confident in their solitude. They were just as loud as their machine, tromping through the forest, their position evident to me the entire time, minutes before they emerged on the other side of the clearing.

I had never actually met the farmers, but I wasn't surprised to see that the four men were lumbering bulks that would've given Slab a run for his money. The shortest was at least six feet, the tallest capping out at nearly seven. Line them up and they would have looked like one of those charts showing quarterly growth in sales. They each carried a large duffle bag and were all decked out for work, wearing boots, yellow water-proof coveralls, with thick rubber gloves hanging out of their pockets.

Guess they didn't want to catch anything from the bodies.

As they stepped up to the corpses, the shortest halted, a ponderous expression spreading across his face.

"What's wrong, pa?" asked one of the men.

"Suppose to be three," said Pa, looking about the clearing.

It wasn't dark out yet, but the woods were thick enough with shadows of the encroaching night that I was confident in my hiding spot. I was a good ten yards into the trees, with just a sliver of clear space to see the farmers, and it was actually a surprise to me that I could hear them so well.

"Not like Tommy to make a mistake," offered one of the others.

"Tommy don't make mistakes," said pa, reaching into his coveralls to pull out a cell phone.

My mind raced. I couldn't let him call Tommy. He had already confirmed that I was supposed to be dead, and there was no way in hell that I wanted that bastard to know that I wasn't.

Not yet, anyways.

I darted from my hiding spot, slipping between the trees faster than I would have ever thought I could move, my hand already reaching for my Glock. I was at the edge of the clearing before I knew it, and I froze as I my fingers found only empty space in my shoulder holster.

Fuck me.

True, I had still been reeling from the pounding in my head, the insistent tingling irritating as hell, and focusing on listening for their arrival, but I should have checked to see if I still had my gun. A damned noob mistake, and I was about to pay for it in spades.

We all stood their for a moment, staring at each other, and I did the only thing I could think of.

"Tommy said you guys would be here ten minutes ago," I said, looking at my watch for good measure.

A pair of duffle bags hit the ground as two of the guys let them drop after slipping shotguns out of them. The shotguns, both Break Action Mavericks, were serious weapons, and they were pointed at my mid-section.

"Tommy didn't say anything about no meeting," said pa, leaning a bit and spitting a wad of chew. "Reckon you're supposed to be number three."

"Plans got changed at the last minute," I said, maintaining my sense of bravado. "Tommy tried to call you, but he couldn't through."

The group chuckled at that, all of them trading looks of amusement, except for pa. Pa, just smiled and kept his eyes on me. He knew his shit, even if his boys didn't.

"Something funny?" I asked.

"Considering the grand a month we get for the cell tower they put on my land, reception isn't something that we have a problem with," answered pa. "Want to try again?"

Fuck me twice.

"Waste this shit," snarled pa.

I leapt to the right as both the shotguns boomed through the clearing, and I don't know who was more amazed that I hadn't been hit. I landed and rolled into a crouching position a good dozen feet from where I had been, and was leaping again as the two men pivoted, trying to track me for another shot. The shotguns boomed again, obliterating the sides of a few trees but once more failing to hit me.

The men were yelling now, the third one pulling his own shotgun out of his duffle as the other two spun around, trying to get a baring on me. Pa was back peddling from the trio, fishing for his own weapon, tucked somewhere within the confines of his rubber coveralls.

I was moving without thought, some dark instinct driving me like never before, and I was suddenly in the middle of the group, facing one of them, the other two still with their backs to me. It was exhilarating, the way I was aware of everything around me, the way my senses seemed to have kicked into overdrive, and I briefly thought that it was an adrenalin rush.

The guy in front of me hesitated, a look of terror in his eyes that was unlike anything I had ever seen on anyone's face, and before I knew it, I had taken his head in both hands and twisted sharply. A resounding crack let me know that I had snapped his neck with what had felt like no effort at all.

Tweetle Dee and Tweetle Dumb had spun around, bringing their shotguns to bare on me, but another burst of impossible speed had me facing them. They pulled the triggers again, but my hands were blurs that slapped both barrels away from me and towards each other. Both men were blasted off their feet, shot by each other, to drop to the ground in bloody heaps.

I spun around to face pa, and for the second time that day someone was pressing a gun against my head. Pa's weapon of choice, a .357 Magnum, was pressed firmly against the center of my forehead, and I watched as his finger tightened on the trigger, the hammer drawing back as the cylinder turned about.

The boom from the Magnum was nearly as loud as the shotguns had been, the slug whizzing by my head as I had slapped it away faster than was humanly possible. I ripped the gun from pa's hand, and I mean that literally. He screamed and staggered back, cradling his ruined hand as blood spilled out of where his trigger finger should be.

I looked down at the gun in my hand and laughed as I saw that his finger was still firmly in the trigger guard, droplets of blood falling to the dirt. Pa's screaming faded away as the dripping blood became my total focus. The blood was glowing and singing and calling to me like a siren. In that moment I could see nothing but the blood, but in the blood I saw everything.

There was a secret in the blood.

There was life in the blood.

There was eternity in the blood.

"What the hell are you," screamed pa, finally drawing my attention.

Blood was still spilling from his hand, leaking between the fingers that he tried vainly to staunch the flow with, and it glowed brighter than the fraction that had spilt from the ruined finger. The blood was being wasted, spilling from the warm housing that was pa, and without a conscious thought on my part, I knew what needed to be done.

Pa managed to get out one scream as I leapt on him, the air expelled from his lungs as we hit the ground, my full weight on him. Snarling like some wild, enraged animal, I buried my teeth into his throat and savaged it, rendering his flesh far too easily. I bit and tore and released the blood that he had within, slurping down more than one would have thought possible.

I drank until his heart quit beating, and when his heart no longer pumped the blood out to me, I tried to suck it up like some obscene human leech. I got every ounce that I could from his dead body, then rolled off him and lay flat on my back, my head spinning as if I were on some incredible high.