by Travis Perry -
The charging bugs hurling forward, Ross didn’t know where to run. He dodged left as a buzbug bolted past him and then right, too slow, as another plowed into him. The beast massed less than half his weight but it sprinted as it bleated in terror and hit him low and off-balance. Ross plunged to the ground, rolling, catching glimpses of the nomads responding. None yet knocked down like him—all dodging more successfully than he, even the old ones—in spite of his terror of being trampled to death, some part of him registered chagrin at that.
He pulled himself to all fours, the herd bugs of the nomads still rumbling around, over, and into him. Markas, a robust man of about thirty, jumped up and seized the elongated neck of his aspbug as it galloped, all sixes clawing rocks and gritty dirt backward. He swung upward into the saddle and in moments had his mount under control. He thundered the beast forward and reached a calloused hand out for the bridle of another frenzied mount.
Ross watched in fascination, again amazed at the resourcefulness of this nomad people. But several herd bugs hit him in the side at that same moment, knocking the wind out of him and rolling him onto his back, reminding him he was still in the midst of a struggle to survive.
Covering his face with his hands and balling himself up to make a smaller target, belly down, his ears recorded not only the bellowing bugs and the staccato thunder of their hard chitin feet impacting on rocky ground, but also the nomads calling out to their beasts and one another. In minutes—no, probably seconds drawn out long in the heightened awareness of fear—the rumbling of most of the herd had ceased.
Ross uncovered his head and quickly stood to his feet, ashamed to be the only man on the ground. He spotted Shoo, the old woman who always favored him, also hunched down like he had been. He walked over to her and without thinking offered his hand to help her up. The move was unthinking because in the tribe men only touched women if they were close relatives or married to them. So the fear of having committed a grave social error rushed into him, too late to take back the hand hanging down. But the old woman took the hand and pulled herself up, grinning toothlessly at him.
After that he afforded himself the luxury of looking around. His eyes confirmed what his ears already knew. The nomads, led by the first aspbug rider, had gotten the herd back in control…most of it anyway. Some dozen bugs still rushed westward.
Ross met the eyes of Markas, the rider, who glared back at him in anger. As if the stampede had somehow been his fault.