This week’s Free Fiction Friday story from UnWrecked Press is “Mud and Salt.”
UPDATE: Now that the free week is over, you can read the rest of this story by downloading an ebook from Amazon or Smashwords. Then you can read it on your laptop, desktop, Kindle, iPad, Nook, iPhone, or whatever device you use to read ebooks.
This story was first published in Writers of the Future 16 in September 2000, and it was reprinted in The Wannoshay Cycle.
The author clearly understands Wittgenstein’s famous observation about speaking lions, as the alien remains just that—alien… Take your time with this one.
— Tangent Online
Mud and Salt
Skin followed Georgie and Matt out of the pickup, his entire body shivering despite the three layers of clothing he wore. Outside the truck, the early-morning November air was crisp, with just a hint of wind that seeped through his camouflage jacket. Skin felt Matt watching him in the semi-darkness, making his shoulder blades itch until Georgie slapped him on the back and handed him a rifle. Once all three were armed, they stood in an empty field a mile from the abandoned Omaha Indian reservation. According to the guy in the bar last night, the alien had been seen in the area the previous afternoon.
“Thanks so much for sharing,” Matt said, pulling a ragged scarf tighter around his thick neck. “At least you have nuts, unlike our buddy Skin here, who won’t even protect his own woman.” He pulled out his heat-sensitive field glasses and elbowed Skin in the ribs. Skin swallowed hard and checked his gun for the second time to make sure it was loaded.
Sunlight crawled over the bluffs of the Missouri River to the east as Skin glanced at his old friends, his heartbeat thudding in his ears in anticipation of the hunt. He saw Georgie’s boyish face slip into a grin, while Matt’s chubby face frowned at the brown landscape from behind his glasses. All three men were in their mid-twenties, high school buddies from Fremont, Nebraska, class of ’09. None of them had ever killed anything larger than a deer before.
Georgie coughed and spit, breaking the sense of dread building in Skin. “Let’s go.”
Skin and Matt moved at the same time, forming a wedge with Georgie in the lead. The dead, frozen ground crackled under their boots, and the tree branches above them rustled in a sudden breeze. Pulling his jacket tighter onto his wiry body, wishing he’d been able to buy a new coat this fall, Skin glanced at the forest again. The Indians had left the reservation over two years ago, heading farther south to put more distance between them and the detainment camps. The camps had been a good idea, he thought, even though it had driven the Indians away.
“Don’t drop that new gun, Skin,” Matt said, his jaggedly-cut blonde hair flipping into his eyes. He adjusted his spectacles on his nose and lowered his voice. “Of course Georgie gives me the shitty one. I know it’s hard for you to carry a conversation, much less heavy weaponry.”
“Shut up, Matt,” Georgie whispered. “Someone’s been through here recently.”
They slowed, Matt glaring at the back of Georgie’s head. Georgie pointed at some thorn bushes and matted-down grass, but Skin couldn’t see any difference in the brown undergrowth. He knew they weren’t going to find anything out here, but he liked hunting with Georgie. After walking around all day, freezing their toes and fingers, they’d all end up at his house for home-brewed beer, chili, and the sports transmissions from the media satellite system that eastern Nebraska had finally had installed.
They continued walking north at a slower pace, closer to the abandoned reservation. Skin had only seen blurry pictures of the aliens, and he wasn’t sure if he wanted to run across one today in the single-digit cold. Ever since their arrival, followed by the accidents in the Dakotas and Minnesota, he’d envisioned them as big, monkey-like creatures from his childhood nightmares. The guys they drank with at the bar had a working list of insults and myths made up about the aliens, from “graymeat” to “hellspawn” to “dirteaters.” The list grew nightly. Lisa, working as a nurse’s aide at the Fremont hospital, had heard from other nurses who had been to one of the camps that the aliens carried diseases and were drug addicts, and they smelled terrible. He inhaled icy air and held back a cough. His legs were getting tired already.
“So is Lisa going to be home tonight?” Matt asked under his breath, loud enough for only Skin to hear. “What’s she going to be wearing?” Skin hated the way Matt’s voice had grown more and more oily since high school, especially when he was discussing Skin’s wife.
“Don’t talk about her like that,” Skin said, regretting it immediately. He should’ve just shut up and taken it. Back in high school, Lisa and Matt had dated, for only a month.
“O-ho! Now he’s got an attitude! Where was that attitude last night, when she needed you?”
Skin shut his mouth and walked faster. Matt’s soft laughter made his ears burn. He should’ve taken a swing at the guy harassing Lisa last night, but he knew he would’ve gotten his ass kicked. Lisa had pulled him out of the bar and left Matt and Georgie inside, talking to the guy about hunting. “Don’t pull that macho crap with me, Tim,” Lisa had said in the car on the way home, while Skin fought to see through the frosted windshield. She was the only one who didn’t call him by his nickname.
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