Time Out by deancmoore

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             The deer looked up from licking the mud at the sudden blur of movement.  The jackal was nearly at her now, coming straight on across the parched field.  The doe's entire being was telling it to flee.  But it held its ground.  Nowhere to hide really.  It had made the mistake of straying too far into the open.  Not like it had had any choice.  The parched, cracked soil beneath its feet could barely support this one recessed bit of water.

            The wolf pounced, confident in the outcome that was never to be.

            The deer yawned, exposing its fangs, and with an effortless flick of its neck dispatched the coyote.  Its dupe's one yelp swallowed up by the endless barren landscape as readily as the rain.  The gray and black coated predator's windpipe had been crushed and its head half-severed.

            Peter popped his head up from his camouflaged outpost, barely ten yards from the deer.  He'd dug a trench for himself shaped like a wine barrel, making sure to keep the "lid of the barrel," the circular patch of mud hardened to cement-like consistency, above his head.  And his stink in.  That wolf didn't need any pointers on what was going on; let him think he had it all figured out.

            Climbing out of his earthen casket, Peter raised his fists to the sky in an outcry of joy.  "So you think you're smarter than me, do you, little doggie?  Quel surprise." 

            He pet his deer, "You're quite the con artist, pal.  Couldn't have done it without you."  Unsheathing the Bowie knife strapped to his leg, Peter commenced skinning the wolf. 

            "Careful," the deer said.  "I need to lap its blood.  Tired getting my salt ration out of clay.  Besides, I'm nearly as parched as this desert."

            After peeling back the hide, Peter obligingly leaned back so the deer could drink its fill.  One thing about these codependent relationships, they didn't exactly hinge on loyalty so much as mutual benefit.  Wouldn't do any good to make the deer resentful by making him wait until Peter had had his share.

            Finished drinking, the doe craned her head toward the sun.  "Curse this heat." 

            "Don't you start.  It's not a desert, and you know it.  I'm not so foolish as to steer us into a real wasteland.  Just part of the con.  I only hope you can remember where we put the holographic projector, or we'll be stuck here for real, the foils of our own trap to draw him out."

            The deer took a step back so Peter could do his work.  "I suppose you're going to make me carry those strips of meat once the sun has had its way with them."

            "We're hardly going to wait for them to dry out."

            "Lovely.  Even more weight to haul."

            "You never stop angling for a better deal, do you?  I swear, as plotting and scheming as you are, you'd think you were the trap setter."  Lucky for him the deer wasn't quite that high functioning.  And her lack of hands and opposable thumbs put her at a distinct disadvantage come time to refurbish any pre End Times tech they stumbled upon.  He may be the last person remaining alive on this Godforsaken world, but that just made everything not entirely consumed by the holocaust part of his bounty. 

            Maybe bounty wasn't quite the right word.  The animals were getting harder to find, predator and prey alike.  He'd be a vegetarian soon at this rate.  Providing he could find some device that could make anything growing digestible to him.  Most of the more edible plants were long gone too.  If he could learn to eat bark, that could buy him some time.

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