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They came for us at night.

Me and my friends watched from our rooftops as they snaked through the back alleys. That bookish one with the moustache behind them fiddling with a tiny pencil and paper trying to write in some kind of journal.

They crept quickly and quietly to the centre of town. The town was so quiet you could hear the sand moving in their boots. A ghost town silently watching as they worked their way closer to the saloon they hoped Gage was sleeping in.

I could see on the hill where they set up camp, those weird pods were still there closed up and not moving, just sitting there like warts on a frogs ass.

They had strange weaponry and stalked the alleys ways watching every corner as they went. Feeling the eyes on them, slits of boarded windows following them as they passed holding their breath.

They must have felt us watching, the big one with the beard looked up at us but we ducked too quickly for him to see. They hurried along passing us off as curious birds.

He was waiting for them.

Just standing so tall, alone in the centre of main street, a cold wind blowing. His shotgun hanging loose at his side.

The men fanned out in formation and surrounded Gage in a semi circle in front of the saloon.

The man with the moustache shouted and tried to push past the men.

“Ryan, we have to take him alive.” He shouted as he approached the man with the white hair.

The man at the front said nothing, he just spun around and hit the pudgy moustache guy in the guts dropping him flat to his knees. Then he turned back to Gage and shrugged his shoulders.

The man on his knees tried to get up as the other men attempted to keep him down.

“If you kill him and others hear about it, he’ll become a martyr”

The man with the white hair, he must have been the leader turned to each of his men and he pointed, first at the woman. He said “Are you gonna tell anyone about this?”

She shook her head.

Then to the large man with the beard “You?”

“Not a soul.”

Then to the mexican.

“De nada”

“You?” He said to the younger man.

“No sir” he grinned.

“Well that’s everyone.” He said looking at the man with the mustache and quickly shooting him in the head with his strange alien weapon. There was just a quick flash of light and a strange noise and the man’s head was gone and his body became dead weight in the arms of the men carrying. Stained as they were with a light dusting of pink mist.

Disgusted, they threw his body down like a sack of potatoes in the dry loose top soil.

Gage watched the dust settle around it as it stopped being a person and just became scenery.

Ryan stopped and looked Gage up and down and scoffed. “We travelled all this way for this” He sniffed and spat on the dirt next to the mustache man’s body and said “I can’t tell you how long I’ve been waiting to do that.” He smirked and put his e-cigar in his mouth and sucked on it looking at Gage. “I know you” He said.

Gage tossed his gun out in front of him on the ground. It landed with a heavy thudding noise.

Ryan let out a laugh and said “Well that was easy.”

Gage didn’t move or say a word, his one eye burning staring through Ryan who tried too hard to hide a boiling fear in his gut. Destiny staring him right in the face, looking at the bare pit where his soul was supposed to reside.

Gage took his duster off of his shoulders revealing a mountain of man in a stained grey longsleeved under shirt that was once white. Ripped and torn and bitten and stretched with the sinewy muscles underneath forged through nothing but hard work and sweat and toil. The work horse bitten and turned sour and vicious and lame biting back at the hand of his master and running madly and wild and free to it’s own doom.

He took his suspenders off his shoulders and clenched his fists.

Ryan scoffed again “Oh so you wanna do it the old fashioned way.” He took another suck on his e-cigar and put it back in his pocket. He took his gun out of it’s holster and lifted it over his shoulder at which point the younger guy with the shaved head took it off of him.

He was wearing some kind of weird skeleton suit over his body that went over his arms and legs and connected at the hips. Under it he was just wearing a fitted shirt and a pair of pants.

Ryan didn’t take a stance he just smiled with his cocky smile and said “Well what are you waiting for?”

He let out a mocking breathy laughter and said “Ok, I guess I’ll be the one to lead”

He moved so fast I thought I was dreaming at first. I’d never seen a human move like that, it was like he was there one minute and then there was just dust and dirt and he was barrelling at Gage. He didn’t throw a punch he just launched himself right into him like a cannonball and swept him off his feet with enough force to kill a horse.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. He couldn’t have been more than six foot nothing this guy but one minute he was standing there the next he was on top of Gage. He toppled the gigantic man in two seconds flat, felled him like a great oak tree in a single strike.

He sat on him smiling this sick smug smile as he pounded on him like a gorilla and I could barely see any of it because of all the dirt it was kicking off. I could just see those shiney metal parts of his suit as they came up and punched down. My heart stopped beating and the hair raised on my head as I thought about if any man could take that sort of punishment. I swallowed thinking about what these freaks could do to the town.

Me and my friends just watched in awe, unblinking, frozen fear, waiting for the dust to settle and see Gage’s body lying there.

An age past before the dirt around them finally settled and Gage was lying on his back in the dirt with that psychopath on top of him and it looked bad. I felt a sinking feeling in my gut and I couldn’t bear to look any closer.

I just sunk against the wall and tried to breathe.

But then a buddy of mine, I think his name was ‘Smitty’ or something, I can’t remember, it was a long time ago.

Anyway Smitty starts tugging on my arm and he says something like “He’s got’em!”

I got up fast as a shot and perched on the roof trying to get a better look and it didn’t seem like they’d moved and I thought Smitty was lying.

“No lookit, he’s got’em!”

I tried to get a better angle and see for myself and I could see it now. The dust had cleared and I could make out the army guy Ryan was still on top and Gage was under him pinned. But there was Gage, one of his huge hands wrapped around his throat, and he was squeezing hard. I could see even from up where I was, that man Ryan’s face was turning all sorts of colours. All the veins popping out of his face and his eyes bulging something awful.

Ryan was still trying to beat on him flailing, losing strength, but he managed another wind up but Gage caught it with his other hand and gripped his fist. His grip snapping like a dog’s jaw shut on Ryan’s hand. Squeezing tight and wrending his arm out of his socket, twisted the metal joints on his suit, snapping them like twigs.

I kept watching, waiting for Ryan to die and I wanted to see it, I don’t know why I did, I mean I know now but at the time it shouldn’t have meant anything to me.

But just when his eyes rolled back into his head and he stopped fighting, Gage let him loose.

Gage bucked him and let him sag heavy into the dirt. He got up and dusted himself off as Ryan sputtered on his knees. Ryan reached for something in a pack on his lower back, some kinda injector, he stabbed it into his arm and gritted his teeth.

He coughed and sputtered as he tried to speak, his throat raw and ragged, words tumbling out like rusty razor blades.

“Kill this ugly motherfucker!” He croaked.

Ryan’s men smiled and readied their weapons like a firing squad.

And then I knew it was over but even so something swelled within me and I knew even when they finally killed this man. Nothing could extinguish the fire he started.

There was another long silence and then a shot rang out.

I closed my eyes and then I realised it wasn’t like before, it was a regular gunshot.

I opened my eyes and saw Gage standing tall over Ryan as he fought to get as much air in his lungs as possible.

The younger one with the shaved head got queer for a moment and he touched his neck. Blood was coming out of it, a small trickle at first and then a whole lot and he fell right over. Ryan cradled him and tried to keep him conscious. Although I couldn’t hear what they were saying or see much, I surmised the boy was dead by the fact he didn’t get up or say anything from then on out.

Ryan just stood and swallowed and glared.

And that’s when the other’s started to come out.

That shot I heard later was one of his, Clarke.

The townsfolk waited in their homes watching, some on their roofs, waiting with the guns Gage brought back from that trading post he told us about.

He’d gone back a few weeks back and took whatever was going, mostly ramshackle repeaters and rusty six shooters, a scattergun or two. Even a bb gun for the kids, I really liked that.

Ryan panted in the dirt looking up at all the barrels and all the eyes and all the teeth in the dark and he felt a shiver down his spine. But then he spat and smiled a wicked smile and looked directly at Gage.

“You’ve done it now!” He said in a forboding quiet tone.

He put his fingers in his mouth and made a sharp whistling noise. And then the others did the same and there was this strange noise resonating and I could still see over the hill.

Those strange pods were open but they looked empty, one of them looked broken and gnawed and bloodied.

And then there were the screams, distant horrible screams of pain and fear getting closer. Building to a cacophony and then they started firing.

I couldn’t see much because I was trying not to get my head blown off but I could see those soldiers duck scatter amid the confusion. That mexican fella caught one in the leg and was carried by the large hairy fella.

Before long the only people that were still standing in the courtyard were Ryan with the dead boy at his feet and Gage with his gun at his feet.

Ryan popped his arm back in it’s socket grunting.

He pulled a his knife out of it’s sheathe. “Again.”

Gage went for his gun but Ryan was too fast with the knife cutting Gage’s hand.

I don’t remember much after that, I just remember being really scared listening to the screams. The howls and the inhuman jabbering of those things tearing through town. Being too scared to look but after it was all done Smitty heard talking of what was happening.

Now this stuff has been passed around a lot so the details get kind of fuzzy and I’ve tried for a while to patch these different accounts together into my head. To try and make a consistent story and make sure you get the jist of it but forgive me if I tend to jump around a little bit.

So the three remaining of Ryan’s squad split off from him. In hindsight what they were doing was getting cover and letting their big nasties divide and cause terror and chaos in the town. Which is exactly what was happening, the fear was as thick as cowshit. These people had until recently only seen guns in picture books now they were fighting off clawed monsters in the dead of night.

The first one, the woman, I never did get her name. She was unlucky enough to find herself in the saloon trying to lie low. Bow I don’t know the science but according to O’Shaunessy she was in some kind of mystical trance or something like that. Whispering and mumbling to herself perched at the corner of the bar with her eyes rolled in the back of her head.

We reckon now she was giving commands to that beast she was connected to.

Now I say she was unlucky because the saloon was where O’Shaugnesy had planned to wait out the long gun fighting. As he had no talent for shooting and thought best of it stay somewhere where he can readily get himself a drink. And if need be he could pitch in when the cross fire died down.

But seeing her there he decided there wasn’t much to her but a nice head of hair. So he sat right there next to her in the darkened bar and tried to strike up a conversation.

“Well hello there my pretty little thing” He said jovially.

The dark skinned woman said nothing to him and didn’t even look at him.

“Would you like a drink at all?” He asked smiling.

She ignored him again.

“Do I know you from somewhere?”

She didn’t move, he got a little closer edging himself along the bar to meet her at the corner.

“That’s a fancy get up ya got there” He said as prodded the struts of her suit.

She snapped out of it quick and grabbed his fingers tight and twisted them until she heard a click.

“Oww” He cried out.

She was quick but she wasn’t paying attention, if she was she would have noticed the switchblade in his other hand before it was four inches into her eye. The suit didn’t really matter after that.

Turns out it was because some lucky townsfolk had cornered her mutt and it was McClusky himself with a big scattergun that put the thing out of it’s misery. It took a hell of a beating before that, must have been shot about fifty times before the hammer came down. It was a vicious thing, big and mean and shrewd of eye. Like a fairytale monster come to life.

She went down easy according to O’Shaungnesy but when we saw him after the battle was done he looked a lot more beaten up than his story suggested. In fact he looked half dead. The girl was almost untouched but for the knife stuck in her eye. But I have no reason to doubt him.

Clarke at the time had picked the highest spot he could find within the town which was the water tower. I pitched up their and was trying to get a clean shot at Ryan. As he was lining it up he could hear a scratching noise over all the screaming. Then a thud on the base of the water tower and then another getting gradually louder and stronger. This shook him obviously and if he were a bird he would have flown away to find another perch. But all he could do was look down at the large dark hunched figure bashing into the base of the tower over and over like a mad dog.

It was huge, one of the monsters for sure but it was glistening, covered in blood and deep cuts and seemed crazed and forlorn. It didn’t have the vicious directed precision of the others. It was just acting like a vicious wild animal picking through trash to find something live to eat whole.

The thing bumped and rubbed up on the tower, it could smell something it liked. Clarke tried to get a shot off with the rifle but he couldn’t get a sturdy enough footing.

He reached for his side arm and shot at the thing but it just seemed to make it mad and it started bashing at the base even harder. The sound of wood creaking and cracking and buckling sent little beads of sweat down his back. The creature continued pounding it’s head against the wood ceaselessly.

Clarke emptied his pistol into it but it the bullets just seemed to fade into the darkness. He slung his rifle over his shoulder as he could feel the tower shifting under him and he looked for somewhere soft to land. Reasoning that even if he didn’t break both his legs from the fall this thing wasn’t looking to make friends.

He reeled back aiming for one of the adjacent rooves and made a run and a jump of it.

Cross town the last of Ryan’s men, bare in mind I don’t actually know what order these events transpired but in the long run it doesn’t rightly matter.

I didn’t get their names either, big fella, real hairy and the mexican. They got themselves pinned down by two of Gage’s boys, the big scot, McDonald and Jameson and they were shooting it out in the bank. The two boys with their lead spitters and the other fellas with their toys. I couldn’t really say what it was but it made a strange sound a lot of light and as far as I heard the thing got jammed or stopped working. It was powerful but I don’t think it was meant to be used for a drawn out battle, just quick crowd control and dispersal. It got overheated or something and he was cornered. Then the lights stopped and it got real quiet and then it got loud again.

I think the mexican was hit worse than I saw at first, from what I heard he was bleeding too bad to really put up a fight. His monster was speared by a couple old timers using traps and old boar hunting pikes and finished off with a rusty bowie.

There was a huge crashing and smashing of glass and wood and a horrible howling noise. The hairy guy was one of the last to drop, his beast too.

The way it was told to me was they called him out after his weapon went kaput and he challenged McDonald, the big scot, to a fist fight. Which of course McDonald was more than welcome to oblige. But that was when it got messy.

See it turned out the greasy hairy bastard was just trying to buy time for his pet monster to show up and do his dirty work for him and turn up it did. Came barrelling through the wall like a steam train with teeth and claws.

Despite that, McDonald had got a few good licks on him but there was no way a human could go toe to toe with a monster like that. I mean the man himself and his pet too. He was strong and that suit he was wearing didn’t hurt either. Hand to hand, one on one he was near unbeatable.

And when that thing showed up it put them in a dire position.

Jameson was pretty fast, but not that fast. the thing exploded through the wall of the bank all teeth and hate and he got off a few shots. Before his gun got away from him amongst the rubble and torn wooden beams.

McDonald was still wrestling with the hairy guy while the thing was on him. The monster swept across and cut McDonald aiming at his belly, the cut landed higher on his ribs but it still hurt like hot pokers.

He fell back in pain and looked the vicious thing in the eyes, drooling and hungry and mad.

Jameson found a gun in all that mess of splinters and butterflied a few fast shots into the bulk of the black thing. But it didn’t seem to do much and he couldn’t even tell if any shots hit their mark firing fast and wild as his wits would allow.

The thing lost focus and was split losing it’s interest in McDonald and heading straight for Jameson. The greasey guy lost no time in laying into McDonald.

McDonald ducked and dodged a few powerful hits from the augmented freak and went barrelling after the lugger with it’s back turned to him. With his brass knuckles he hit it a few times in the side of the head hard and it yelped in pain.

The greasy guy cursed and shouted something in a foreign tongue and the monster spun around with it’s claws and cut McDonald deep across the thigh. He wailed something awful, the whole town damn near heard his cries.

The monster damn near took his whole leg off.

In the silence that followed, Jameson’s gun clicked dry and the thing turned it’s attention back on him. He fumbled in his pocket for more shells his fingers refusing to keep still and instead beating in time with his heart.

McDonald tried to get to his feet but the blood was leaving him.

The monster was too fast, it was there bounding at him before he could load a single bullet but there was still a shot. A long way off sound and then a popping snapping noise as something hit it in the leg right along the tendon almost splitting it’s leg with the tension.

It tumbled with it’s mouth open at Jameson’s feet as he loaded one shell into his gun and put the barrel in it’s nostril and fired.

The sweaty guy balked and came at them as Jameson was loading his gun again. McDonald stopped him with a quick hard chop against his fat gut from his kneeling position and floored him. Then they both carried him, groggy to the horse trough and drowned him with his big hairy legs kicking in the air. Guessing they didn’t want to waste the bullet on him.

Clarke scrambled off the roof taking all the roof tiles he could with him as he came over to the scene.

“Did I get it?” He asked.

It was only Gage and Danko Ryan now.

As I said, I didn’t see much because after the first wave of fighting I was hunkered down. But from what I heard Ryan was at him with a knife and he was too quick to let him get at his hog leg and Ryan was determined on sticking him.

He was still just as fast, Gage made a big mistake letting him back up, pulling his arm out of his socket just seemed to piss him off. Although one of his metal arms was broken and the frame of it was hanging loose like a chain on one of them bicycles they have in the cities.

Swinging that blade, making quick and clean cuts on his bulky arms and shoulders but not deep enough to really get into the meat of the great beast. Little slivers of blood and skin and hair but nothing biting deep enough.

Some frustration was there as he cut and cut and the man still stood. He lost his patience and drove the knife deep into his thick shoulder of the huge man and that was that, Gage had him where he wanted him.

The knife bit deep into the meat of Gage’s shoulder but it wouldn’t come out, held there by his sinews like a rattlesnake bite. He didn’t even make a noise when the knife went in, it was like he couldn’t feel it at all. He just held onto Ryan’s arm with the knife in it and he wouldn’t let him go.

He hit him once hard in the gut and Ryan doubled over and his eyes went fuzzy for minute as all his organs came back into the right places. He wretched but nothing came out, just a dry scratching heaving noise.

Gage picked him up by the head with one hand, keeping the other on Ryan’s hand gripped around the knife. His hand was so large you could barely see Ryan’s head between his fingers as he squeezed. Ryan let out a horrible noise and there was blood coming from somewhere, I can’t say where from and I don’t wanna think about it.

He had him again, right where he wanted him, he couldn’t move. If it wasn’t for those bastard monsters it would have ended right then and it wouldn’t have been such a fucking mess.

I don’t know how it did but Ryan’s pet got the jump on Gage and bit down hard on his collar bone. Still he made no noise but it took him by surprise and it took him off balance. He was probably getting a little light headed, he hadn’t lost too much blood because the knife was still plugging up the wound. But that monster bite wasn’t so clean and it was still gnawing at him and he had to let go of Ryan so he could put hands on it.

And put hands on it he did, thumbs to be precise, right in the fuckers eyes, plucked them right out like plum pie. The thing let go with a welp and thrashed around blind and spitting mad. But it didn’t need eyes that much it seemed, Ryan was it’s eyes.

He was whispering to it in a weird alien language as it perked up and slashed at Gage below the belt. He dodged and ducked and darted his good eye across the ground looking for his iron or a rock or something to put the monster out.

Ryan whistled and the thing reared up like a black bear trying to crush Gage’s skull with all it’s weight

I heard sometime ago, the miners deeper into the valley used to import lions from Africa. Use’em to fight bears and the bears would always win because the lion’s head was so low down and although the lion had all them claws and teeth. The bear had all that weight and it could rear up and crush the lions skull everytime.

I don’t know how true that story is but old man Gage was no lion, no he was a totally different beast, a tough nag with a thick skull that wouldn’t go down for kickin’. The thing pounced on him and he went down with all it’s weight but he wasn’t dead, the thing had him pinned pushing into that old dirt.

He strained but made no noise, his shotgun just out of his reach sticking out of the dust.

Fighting and it cutting and biting and slashing he fought with all his might to keep the monster away from anything vital. But he couldn’t stop it from biting and scratching as it did all over his huge arms and legs. He’d manage to curl himself up to protect his belly and his head. Not like that thing could’ve made him any uglier but he didn’t wanna go blind in the other eye.

The thing missing it’s eyes had no real sense of where he was and was just feeling out and biting and cutting whatever was there to cut. It kept that up for a minute before it let out a horrible whining screaming noise and it stopped struck and rigid. Some vile breath surrounded them both and yanked the creature away like a game bird.

Something mean and more beastial stood in it’s place with the first creature between it’s bloody jaws. Snapping and drooling at it’s neck as if it was trying to eat it but it didn’t quite know what it was or why it wanted to it. A vague empty look in it’s eyes, a vacant expression, covered as it was in cuts and blood of which some could have been it’s own.

Ryan seemed shaken by this creature, evidently he knew what this was.

“Fuck, it’s gone feral”

He shot on his heels and darted around for his weapon, any weapon and found nothing but his feet. He ran down an alley and anyone who knows a dog is that if you run, they will chase and chase it did.

It seemed bigger than the other ones although that could have just been the story, add weight to it. It was vicious and it killed the blind one just because it could, because it was weak. These things were refined, harnessed savagery given a shot in the arm with some sweet stuff. This one was free of any fear of man or death and it ate and killed with no regard even for it’s own skin, a mindless eating monster. Now some speculated that after the boy died, their link was severed. But some of the boy’s consciousness somehow remained in the beast in some kind of diminished capacity and turned it mad. Some just think it was a mindless zombie only thinking about it’s belly. I guess we’ll never know.

We couldn’t ask Ryan because It chased him down into an alley and ate him down to the bone screaming. He must have been alive the whole time the thing was eating from the bottom half up because the top half of him was all we found the next day.

The monster itself got confused and run off into the hills and we never saw it again, but on some nights when it’s really quiet you can hear it howling.

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