by Greg Mitchell -
“It’s just a fact of nature,” Trebs said in a hush, watching through his set of green-tinted binocs over the ashen terrain.
Dressler kept his eyes forward, likewise watching the battle from the safety of the makeshift roost. Up ahead, two dominant beetles tore apart their weaker brother. Even from here, Dressler heard the shrill cries of the thing, and felt pity.
“It’s the Rule of the Strong,” Trebs added as one of the larger bugs tore a leg off the smaller. “Those that are strong make the rules, you get me?”
“I get you,” Dressler grumbled, wishing Trebs would quit talking. That was always the worst part when their shifts fell together. Despite the dangers, hunting bugs for meat was usually a time for quiet reflection—a time Dressler desperately needed since the doctor diagnosed Edilyn with ash lung.
“If you can’t hack it,” Trebs droned on, as the lesser insect finally fell in a spray of yellow gore, “You don’t deserve to live, know what I’m saying?”
A warbling shriek filled Dressler’s ears. He clutched at his head, startled.Trebs did the same. Deadly pincers pierced the scrap metal roof and tore it back, red sands and heat pelting the humans inside. Another bug—one they’d not previously seen—reared up on its back crawlers, its throat emitting a high-pitched rattle.
Trebs screamed, “It’s calling the others! We—”
The beetle that towered over them dropped its foreclaw like a pick axe, piercing the meat of Trebs’ thigh. He fell back, blood gushing everywhere, and hollered in anguish. Dressler reached for his spear and jabbed at the thing, searching for the exposed underbelly.
With its other claw, the monster slapped him away and Dressler crashed through the rough wall of their roost, landing in a plume of sand. He stood, disoriented, no clue where the spear had gone. Fear took hold of him and shook hard, the sounds of Trebs struggling for his life mere feet away. Dressler dropped to one knee and brought out the rifle slung on his back. A thunderous crack echoed across the canyon as Dressler’s shot struck the beast in the eye. It howled in pain, raining yellow blood on the ruined roost, and backed away.
The gunshot had scared off the other bugs, a prime reason why most hunters used spears. Even though they lost their catch for the day, Dressler was relieved. He rushed to the rubble, where Trebs was alive and in pain.
It’d be a long, miserable hike back to camp.