Read Dirt Nap (A Marnie Baranuik “Between the Files” Story) Online
Authors: A.J. Aalto
In the back seat, I started taking off my Keds. “Back home, like here, there are two types of bears, grizzlies and black bears.”
“Okay?” Batten said warily, scowling at the shoe removal and my apparent
“When confronted, you gotta know the difference between them before you can decide how to react, because you do the exact opposite, depending on which bear it is.” I pulled off my gloves, too, and tucked them between my thighs for safekeeping. “With a grizzly, you climb a tree. Grizzlies aren’t great climbers. A black bear will climb that tree after your ass. With a black bear, you drop and play dead. A black bear won’t eat a dead guy. A grizzly will gobble up a carcass. I think.” I thought about it. “Or maybe I got that backwards. See the problem? You do the wrong thing, you’re bear chow.”
“Great,” Batten said sourly.
“Of course, the best advice is, stay the fuck away from bears.”
“Does this have anything to do with the boggle?”
I nodded, which might not have been noticed, as the Jeep was bouncing all over and we were clutching the seats to stay upright. “Stay the fuck away from boggles. The miners didn’t leave it alone. Dynamite goes off, rocks come down, boggle gets pissed because it didn't ask for renovations. It comes out of its lair, and they tried to run it off. Ballsy, but stupid. Thus, the carnage. Honestly, it looks like they got off lucky; it’s only eaten a truck. Those ambulances need to get the injured the fuck out of there before they start looking like a post-carnage snack.”
Batten rubbed his face vigorously, like he was washing without water. The Jeep hit a rough patch, jostling me against his meaty shoulder; a touch of him was like a dose of courage and faith, and for a moment, I believed that I could handle anything that happened in this pit. With Kill-Notch at my back, how could I fail?
Thank you, Jeep driver.
“There are two types of stonecoat,” I continued. “You treat them exactly opposite. With a Hedley Stonecoat, you want to run. Hedley Stonecoats won’t put up much of a chase. They’re heavy and clumsy. Yakima Stonecoats, on the other hand,
to chase. They tend to be smaller and looser at the joints, and they’re curious and playful, just... big puppies.” I wrinkled my nose. “Big puppies made of avalanche, which could eat you whole. So, you know, bring a shitload of rawhide chews. Maybe several cattle, actually.”
Hood muttered, “Jesus,” just as the stonecoat took another aggravated swat at the ground.
“A Yakima Stonecoat will chase you until you fall down dead,” I told them. “They may not be fast or nimble, either, but they have incredible stamina. They're like wolverines, but, you know, way bigger. And less cuddly.”
“Fuck,” Batten said, almost lost under the rumblings.
“Now, with a Yakima Stonecoat,” I said, “what you want to do is play killdeer.”
“Come again?” Hood said loudly over truck and monster noises.
I balled my fist and stuck it in my humid armpit, folding my arm into a makeshift wing. Then I flapped it. “Make like you’re injured,” I shouted back, “and limp away. Capture its curiosity and it'll follow at your pace, like a kid chasing a grasshopper. You can lead a Yakima Stonecoat just about anywhere. The Hedley Stonecoat will take one look at your limping ass and crush you into paste.”
“So, which species is this one?” Batten asked.
I smiled up at him sheepishly. “I have no frigging idea.”
“You’re our preternatural expert,” he informed me, as if it were news.
“Boggles have never been my strong suit,” I confessed. “I failed boggles in third year lab.”
Batten’s jaw did its clench-unclench dance while his eyebrows furrowed into a furious trench: a two-for-one reaction.
“Probably, you should have to pass boggles to graduate,” I agreed. “That’s what you’re thinking, eh?”
“You don’t want to know what I’m thinking.”
“No need to be a sphincter, Jerkface. Boggles are super-rare. What are the chances I’d ever need to know about them?”
His eyes bulged with disbelief and he jabbed a finger at the ambulances, which the Jeep was rapidly closing in on. “Those people are in danger. Our first priority is to protect them at all costs.”
“I know that, but you also have to respect the fact that this creature is not at fault here. We do this my way, with conservation in mind, not with balls a’flapping and guns a’blazing.”
Hood glanced around from the front seat, his usual geniality gone, and his mouth set in a grim line. “Batten's got a point, Mars. What do we do with this thing? Justifiably angry or not, that thing is a threat.”
“Well, what numbskull told those men to confront a fucking boggle?” I demanded, motioning at the thing punching holes in an excavator. “Le Pique the Dique, that's who. I hope he gets paper cuts on his dick from handling all the workman's comp and liability paperwork. Those poor fuckers are miners and engineers, not boggle wranglers.” I had a momentary vision of Devarsi Patel dressed as a rodeo clown, riding the boggle while wearing a bright jester's motley, and figured that was a really impractical outfit for the job.
“Marnie, fix this.” Batten's desperation would have done so much for my ego if I'd had the attention to spare. Hood was clearly out of his depth; I could all but see the thought balloon over his head: him, behind the wheel of the H1 Hummer he’d extracted from me in a deal, driving in any direction whatsoever as fast as possible, maybe with a frosty pitcher of beer at the other end.
The Jeep pulled to a stop a safe distance from the crazy corner of the pit and let us out. I grabbed my shoes from the back seat and tossed them in the dirt, then rolled down my socks. The driver looked at Batten hopefully, wordlessly pleading to be released back up to the safe zone. Batten made
motions with his hands through the dusty wind that whipped around us. The driver visibly wilted, but nodded.
“Right!” I balled my bare fists and propped them on my hips. “Well, okay, it just so happens I
have a plan. First, some Juicy Fruit.” I dug out my pack of gum and offered Hood and Batten a stick.
They stared at me in unison.
“Your loss, this stuff is awesome.” I tossed the gum packet at Hood, who caught it, midair, more reflex than anything else. I then dug out my condom, mini Moleskine, and golf pencil. “Hood, make yourself useful for a second and hold all this shit.”
“How much are we going to hate your plan?” Batten asked me.
“Hey!” I dug out my pocket knife, and stuck it between my pinched lips like a cigar, which bobbed when I said, “Trust your preternatural expert.”
“Would you like me to list the reasons I shouldn’t trust you?” he asked with a faux-polite lilt, indicating what was in my mouth for starters.
“If it rubs your balls the right way, sure, go for it.” I peeled off my dust-coated cargo pants and flapped them at him. “Here.”
Batten just blinked.
I flapped them more exuberantly, kicking up a cloud of red powder around us. “Take my fucking pants, goobercanoe! After getting me naked how many times, I shouldn't have to repeat myself saying
Hood, a natural red-head, managed to blush pink right through the flush of the heat, and the Jeep driver averted his eyes though he was clearly enjoying eavesdropping. My legs aren't spectacular, but they
really frigging pale, and probably the only bare ones for five miles in any direction at the moment that weren't broken.
Batten wrapped my pants around a meaty forearm doubtfully. “I'm afraid to ask.”
“The monster needs to
the injury.” I took the pocket knife out of my mouth and opened it. “It’s not quite as dumb as it looks. I mean, it’s pretty dumb, but…”
“Wait, what injur— Christ!”
I twisted at the knee and slashed the back of it lightly, waited for the blood to bead, and spread it around, fingering it into streaks down my calf to make it look much worse than it was.
“Should have left you in lock-up,” Batten said.
“But then you’d miss out on witnessing my genius. And my Kermit the Frog panties.” I did the same shallow slash to my palm, and then held my hand under my armpit until the white cotton soaked up the blood. “The FBI owes me a t-shirt.”
Batten just glared, unwrapping my pants from his arm with an annoyed twist-fling, pitching them in the dirt. My key ring jingled a retort against the rocks.
“How do you go that long without blinking?” I asked him. “There's a vein at your temple. It's really pounding. Aneurism?”
He pointed at me. “You’re not right in the head.”
“What are you, new?” I sifted around in my belongings in Hood’s hands, looking for what I needed. Naturally, both men looked stricken when I fished out the condom.
“Do I want to know why you’re opening that?” Hood asked, the corner his upper lip curling off his teeth.
“Gotta get his attention.”
Hood smirked. “Thing that big, you oughtta have a Magnum.”
I barked a surprised laugh.
Batten’s iron grip landed on my elbow. “Whoa, where do you think you’re going?”
“Listen carefully, Kill-Notch, this is your part. While I distract the stonecoat, you help the paramedics get the wounded out of here.” I pointed to the opposite side of the quarry. “Once they’re safely away, go over there and swing something like a club.”
“Where am I going to get that? Clubs 'R’ Us?”
“I dunno, find a big stick or something. The stonecoat needs an easy choice: big guy holding a weapon, or little ol’ wounded me. Get it?” After shoving my Keds back on, I tested the ground underfoot. There were an awful lot of big rock chunks, and the soles of the sneakers weren’t thick enough to make running over the lumpy gravel as comfortable as work boots might have. I’d have to do my best to not twist an ankle.
I turned to Hood, who was stacking my things in a neat pile on top of my abandoned pants. “Two things from you. First: we need a survey of the surrounding area. Find me another hole in the ground close by that’s similar to the one with the dens. Second: send that chopper pilot to get me some beef carcasses, as fast as possible. Like, a bunch of them. There are eight bazillion ranches, rendering plants, and slaughter houses in this state; find the nearest one, double-quick. We need to dump the meat near or in the replacement hole.”
“Food cache,” Hood said, following my train of thought.
“Exactly. If it’s a Yakima, I think I can lure it from this den to another one and it’ll stay if it looks like a good deal. The Le Pique can go back to mining, and I can go home to my tub.”
I expected more resistance from both of them; a year ago, neither one of them would have listened. I’d have been called a few derogatory names and largely ignored by everyone but SSA Chapel. Also, Batten would have ranted and raved if I even suggested I might approach the monster. Now, Batten jogged off to do as I asked, which shot my eyebrows skyward.
Well, would you look at that? He listened,
I marveled. For a moment, I felt totally pro, like I knew what I was doing and had everything under control. I could handle this. Everything was going to be just fine, and then they’d all say,
Boy howdy, that Great White Shark really is terrific.
I could see the headlines now, could hear the anchormen crowing about my success.
Le Pique will take back all those mean things he said. Harry will coo with pride and make me cookies. Batten will crack a beer without putting his feet up on my kitchen table. It's going to be glorious…
Hood lingered, interrupting my daydreaming. “Uh, Marnie? One more question.”
I abandoned the condom wrapper and the pocket knife in my pile of stuff, grabbed my keys, and faced him in hard hat, bloody t-shirt, underpants, and sneakers. My pale legs wear smeared with red dust and half-bloodied, but my smile brimmed with confidence. “Yes, Sheriff?”
“This plan will work on a Yakima Stonecoat, right?”
“What if it’s the other kind?”
The grin dropped from my face as if he'd severed it with an axe.
My mind searched worriedly for the answer to the question, “How do you get rid of a Hedley Stonecoat?” and came up with diddly and squat. If I was being really honest with myself, I wasn’t even sure I knew how to kill one short of calling in an air strike or something, if things got that desperate. Hood saw the maelstrom of doubt cross my face and swore quietly; I had to lip-read, but saw him cursing with more creativity than I’d have expected. He’d obviously been paying attention during our morning workouts.
I came up with some new terms of my own, and as he hopped back into the Jeep and took off, I checked to make sure my hard hat was on good and tight.
It should make a handy bucket for anything that's left
I turned to face the chaos, feeling like the only living thing standing still as a colorful cyclone of life spiraled out of control before me. Everyone else nearby was hurrying, but a funny calm sank into my veins, and the scene took on a surreal, disjointed pace. The stonecoat roared and threw both of its arms in the air to demonstrate its superior size, in case we’d missed it. Emitting a series of deep-throated clucks and pulsing calls that were probably aggressive confrontation noises, it reared towards the emergency vehicles in a mock charge.
I’m bigger, you should back off now,
it was saying
And it was totally right; this was a bad place for us to be. It was declaring that corner of the pit its territory, and we were definitely not welcome guests. If the humans had been another, similarly-sized stonecoat, I had little doubt the confrontation would have escalated to physical violence, or whatever it was that boggles did to assert dominance. Maybe they thumb-wrestled or had a dance-off or something. If some species of bird could have flamboyant, non-contact displays to prevent unnecessary casualties and protect their numbers, there's no reason these things couldn't, too.
Dancing With the Stonecoats
would make a killing on prime-time TV. I figured it was still assessing what we were and what it should do about us if we didn’t heed the warning signals. We weren’t part of the usual diet of elk and pronghorn, but I’m betting it would eat us off-menu if we didn't fuck off soon.