Troy Knightly

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7

The truck’s engine hummed gently along. Grandpa George fidgeted his thumb against the side of the steering wheel, a habit he’d picked up driving hours to sell produce.

Suddenly Grandpa George slammed the brakes.

Troy awoke with a cry of surprise. Something was in the road!

“Holy smokes!” Grandpa George whispered, the piece of grass slipping from between his teeth. The blue veins in his hands stood out against his thin skin as he kept a firm grip on the truck’s wheel.

The smell of the burned rubber tires hit Troy full in the face. He stared without blinking.

The biggest black bull he had ever seen stood directly in their path. The bull’s cruel eyes burned and it stamped the ground threateningly with its hoof.

“How’d it get out of the pastures?” Troy asked.

But Grandpa George seemed to have momentarily forgotten him. A terrified look was in his eyes. Then he spoke.

“Don’t move a muscle, Troy, you hear? That’s danger right there. Big danger.”

Troy tensed, watching the bull. Something was wrong with the bull’s eyes. It was hard to see with all the sun.

Troy squinted. Then he saw it. The bull’s eyes looked bright red. In fact, the bull had the same bright, red eyes as the dark bird that had attacked him in the New York subway.

Troy was taken aback for several seconds. He knew bulls didn’t have red eyes. Bulls had black or brown eyes.

He shook himself as he inhaled his breath, watching the bull. The large animal dropped its head so that its horns were in line with the front of the truck. It stamped its hoof more roughly into the ground.

Troy stared open-mouthed, his mind racing. Was it going to charge? Could the bull’s sharp horns break through the truck’s windshield? What if he got hurt? Could he get his grandfather out?

Then, BANG! The sound of a gun went off. The bull turned and fled to the side of the road, disappearing with an angry wail over a hill.

Troy let out a long sigh of relief. He hadn’t realized he’d been holding his breath.

A tan Buick rolled up beside his grandpa’s truck. Its large driver leaned out of the open window. He wore a ranger’s hat and under a big, black handle mustache was a mouth full of square teeth. He hid his eyes behind mirror-like shades. Troy could see the man clutched the long snout of a rifle.

“Afternoon to ya George,” the man bellowed with arrogant authority and a southern accent. With a wave to Troy, “The name’s Miles Jenners. I’m chief ranger in this town.”

Troy gave a polite nod.

“I’m Troy. I just moved here from New York.”

Troy realized his voice was shaking. He clasped his hands tightly in front of him. He could still see the bull’s red eyes burning in his mind.

Jenners’ smile widened.

“Big city boy,” Jenners laughed. “Don’t you worry, son. There’s plenty of nonsense here to keep a young man like you occupied. Just ask your old grandpa.”

Jenners stuck a sunburned hand out to Grandpa George. “How ya been, Georgie?”

Grandpa George seemed to struggle for words.

“Same old, same old,” his grandpa replied shaking the sheriff’s hand awkwardly.

“Looks like you almost got yourself a bulldozer. Good thing I dropped by when I did,” Jenners chuckled, swinging his rifle from his lap to the passenger seat.

“What’s a bull like that doing running around here?” Troy asked. He scanned the hills as if he expected to see the bull waiting to charge.

“We try our best to keep ’em locked up, but you see those cow pies tend to sneak out now and then.” Jenners launched into a big throaty laugh followed by coughing gasps.

A voice thick with static erupted over Jenners’s radio. He ran his fingers through his mustache and clamped his large hands around the steering wheel.

“I gotta run, boys. There’s a roadside collision a couple miles up.” He grinned at Troy.

“Welcome to Camberland, son. Old Georgie, here, will make sure you keep well outta trouble.” With a wave he drove on, leaving a cloud of dust in his path.

Troy stared in shock after the ranger’s car.

“Seriously? Jenners just left that bull to run loose? No one’s going to try and catch it?”

His grandpa started the truck and drove off without replying.

“You all right, Grandpa G.?” Troy looked at him but his face was unreadable. He got the sense his grandfather was deeply troubled by the bull.

Grandpa George finally nodded.

“Yes, it was just a bull. I’m sorry, Troy. I didn’t mean to react the way I did. I got surprised, that’s all.” He patted Troy’s arm.

Troy straightened up in his seat.

“It’s ok, Grandpa G. That bull didn’t scare me one bit,” Troy lied, crossing his arms in front of his chest. He gave his grandfather a brave smile.

Grandpa George shot a glance at him.

“Well now, you watch yourself, Troy; animals can be tricky. One minute they’re ok with you giving them a scratch. And the next thing you know, you’re screaming and yanking their teeth outta your arm.”

Troy let out a long breath, unclenching his fists.

As the truck drove on, unbeknownst to Troy, Helgrith watched him from the shadows. With an angry snort, Helgrith transformed from the bull back into his eight-year-old human body.

“Just wait,” Helgrith snarled. “I’ll get you soon.”

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