The Heist, Part III
“Move that load,” McLaren barked, and his voice snapped the tension like a stick. He rolled the train door open, his pistol ready. As soon as he stepped into the sunlight, the shooting riled up. Foss and Slim grunted, working to right the fallen crate.
“No. The other end, idiot.”
“Heavy.” Foss stumbled in the spilled sludge and cursed. “Slippery, too.”
Beyond him the creatures shifted in the cage. Their talons screeched against the metal bars, sending sparks up Clark’s spine. McLaren’s words slithered through him. Halves.
In his half-seeing eyes, he saw his mother, her braid snaking own her arm, her hand doling out sand. As she painted the ground, she sang the night chant, her words weaving together a powerful healing, a return to balance, to order.
The spirit wind carried the sand away.
Slim’s scream pierced the dark, jerking Clark to action. He slinked through the crates to the far end of the car. The cage end. Clark fought against the stench, and darted to avoid the creatures’ mirror eyes.
Slim had gotten too close. A taloned hand had reached through the bars, caught him by the belt. Outside the train, the sounds of gunfire and death.
“‘O ‘ab him.” Free of effort, Clark’s mouth formed the ancient words. They are coming.
The creature eyed him, cocked his head to the side. “‘O ‘abai him.” They are here.
Clark nodded. Understood. He watched the talons ease and Slim scuttled away, eyes wild as a cornered coon. “Devils,” he said. “All of you.” His boots found purchase and he bolted from the car, leaving the door pen behind him. Sunlight splashed across the crates bringing with it the sharp tinge of sulfur and gun smoke.
“Don’t just stand there, Walker.” Foss’s hands still gripped the end of the crate. , his hands still gripping one end of the crate. “Get the other end.”
Clark stepped through the sludge, feeling it collect around his feet as he worked. Set his hands to the crate handles and heaved. Heavy. How much had been harvested? He pressed away the sick chill and wiped an arm across his forehead. The grey sludge sank into his skin, vanished into his pores. He knew it–understood it–and not just from the look on Foss’s face. Clark reset his grip on the crate handle. “Let’s move.”
Together they shuffled their burden toward the door, knocking over other crates, making a mess of metal and wood. Outside the battle quieted and Clark’s stomach twisted inside him. What fate awaited them on the other side?
Clark felt the change in his hands first. The surging of nail growth. The knotting of knuckles. The prick of pin feathers forming along the tendons at the backs of his hands. The swath of sunlight that lit his skin confirmed what he already knew.
Foss fumbled out the door as Clark’s face stretched to razor-sharp. Clark let the crate go, let the jars tumble to ruin. He rolled the heft of the door, closing out Foss’s cruse. The creatures moaned, the blood of their kin felled to dust.
Clark turned toward the darkness. “Hema,” his voice rasped. One.
His steps light, he wound his way toward the cage, pulled the pearl-gripped Colt from his bag and fired a single shot. The lock gave way. The cage door swung open. Sunlight split the car in two.
He waited for the others to find their way, waited until the change grew complete.
At the door, he stretched his wings wide. Caught an updraft of arid wind. His eyes searched out the carnage below. The vengeful spilling on the sand. A returning to order, to balance.
His cry of defiance rendered the air. Free of effort, the spirit wind carried him away.