Death From Above (differential_Sloth classics)

Fear the black wings of death

It was a brisk early spring morning in Casino, northern NSW. Large patches of fog hung in and around the small town, and it would take time for the sun to burn it away. At the old airport just outside town, a man in his late forties rugged up against the morning chill looked over weather reports in his office, paying particular attention to predicted wind speeds throughout the day. As he worked another man, slightly younger, opened the door and walked in.

‘How’s the weather looking, Rob?’

'The fog should lift around 7:30,’ Robert answered. ‘Wind should be fine most of the day, but there’s a system forming in the south.’

‘Think it’ll cause problems?’ the second man, called Tim asked.

Robert checked the screens. ‘Wind’s predicted to pick up around 3. I reckon we can run until 2 unless something changes.’

‘Good stuff,’ Tim rubbed his hands together. ‘The choppers will be ready to fly by then, the shooters said they’d be around 8. I reckon we can get started by twenty past.’

‘Yeah, if they all get here on time,’ Robert said. ‘Heard from any of em?’

‘Let’s see,’ Time pulled out his phone. ‘Stewart texted me about an hour ago, so he’ll be he soon. Same story with Warren.’ Tim scrolled through his messages, ‘Haven’t heard back from Leroy or Stew’s mate Greg.’

‘Greg should be here the time as Stewart,’ Robert said. ‘That’s what those old army blokes are like.’

‘You want to wait until we’ve got everyone together before we start?’

‘Nah, send up whoever ready to go.’ Robert told Time. ‘We’ve got too many farms to clear to have these guys sitting around.’

‘Too right. Ah, Stewart’s here.’ Tim pocketed his phone. ‘I’ll go get him settled.’

‘Righto,’ Robert turned back to his computer and the weather forecast. Meanwhile, in the car park. Stewart stepped out of his Landcruiser and went round to open the rear doors.

‘Hey Stu,’ Tim joined him.

‘Tim,’ Stewart opened the 4x4’s back doors. ‘How’s the day looking?’

‘Fog’s gonna clear up soon. Rob reckons the wind won’t pick up until later this arvo, so we’re hoping to run until 2, maybe half past.’

‘That’s not a lot of time for a job like this’ Stewart grabbed a bag and slung it over his shoulder.

‘Yeah I know, and Parks found another herd moving out of Hogarth, big one too.’ Tim said. ‘It’s just a good thing we’ve got a week to get it all done.’ Wanting to be helpful, Tim reached for a bag, but Stewart put his hand out.

‘Nah mate, can’t let you carry that.’ Stewart grabbed the bag himself.

‘Oh, sorry. That’s the rifle is it?’

‘Yep, and you know what the registry’s like,’ Stewart grabbed another bag that was for his hands only. ‘If they find out I set someone carry my Cat Ds, they’ll spit the fucking dummy. But if you want to help,’ he nodded as his eskies, ‘you can carry those in.’

‘Sure thing, mate.’ Tim grabbed the eskies and closed the car doors. Juggling his bags, Stewart locked the 4x4 and followed Tim. ‘You can set up your gear in here.’ Tim lead Stewart to a de-mountable building and unlocked the door. The interior was spartan, with little furniture other than the large tables dominating the centre. ‘Just remember, don’t bring your guns out until-’

‘I know mate,’ Stewart set his bags down and pulled out a chair. ‘Not my first time.’

‘Yeah, sorry mate. Just being thorough.’ Tim said. ‘I’ll go put your eskies in the main building, okay?’

‘Sure, just pass me the thermos out first.’

Tim fished Stewart’s thermos out and handed it to him. He took the vessel, put it on the table and set to work loading the magazines. Even with, speed loaders, it was a pain having to load all of them on site. But, the police took a dim view on transporting loaded magazines. At least handling the .308 rounds was more comfortable. Stewart had 7 mags loaded when Greg and Warren joined him. ‘Hey fellas,’

‘Morning mate,’ Greg put his ammo bag on the table and set about loading his magazines. ‘Did Tim say when we’re heading up?’

‘I reckon we’ll kick off once this fog lifts,’ Stewart put a filled magazine in his carry bag for the chopper. ‘Hope that’s soon, they think we can only run until 2 before the wind picks up.’

‘That might make things tricky,’ Greg held up one of his mags. ‘I reckon we’ll burn through these pretty quick.’

‘Yeah, do you guys know why we’re using .308s?’ Warren asked. ‘We don’t need something that powerful for fluffies, and we could take 10 extra rounds per mag.’

‘Every guideline for chopper shooting says .308,’ Greg said. ‘Until they get off their ares and change it for fluffies, that’s just what we have to do. At least it’s claimable.’

‘I fucking hope so.’ Stewart. ‘You reckon Leroy will be late again?’

‘Mate, he’ll be late to is own fuckin’ funeral.’

The shooters continued to load magazines, ready their gear and make a few friendly bets as they waited for Tim to give them the all-clear. The fourth shooter Leroy arrived 20 minutes later. Just as he set his gear down, Tim turned to the others and said ‘If you blokes are ready we’ll send you up.’

‘Righto,’ Stewart, Greg and Warren grabbed their rifles and ammo bags and followed Time out to the tarmac. There, four helicopters waited with a pilot and spotter each. Tim paired the three shooters with a crew, then went to the fourth.

‘Leroy should be ready soon. Just grab a cuppa and wait inside.’

The pilot and spotter walked back to the hanger, shaking their heads and muttering under their breath. The other crews accompanied by a shooter got into their helicopters and strapped in. Stewart secured his rifle in a rack and slipped on the headset.

‘All set?’ The pilot, a younger man called Dean, asked.

‘Good to go,’

Dean nodded and ran through the startup procedure. A low hum turned into a shrill whine as the turbines came online. Above, the rotor blades spun lazily but soon enough were up to speed in a barely invisible blur. After waiting for the other choppers to leave, Dean lifted his off the tarmac and climbed turned to the southwest.

On a creek bank not far from the Hogarth ranges two herds, one big and one small were in the middle of a standoff. Despite being outnumbered the leader of the small herd, a dark yellow earthie stared his opponent down. ‘Nu! Nu am gun be in yuw hewd!!’ the smarty said, hooves dug in and a defiant look on his face. He puffed out his cheeks and waited for the other smarty to answer. Instead of responding aggressively, though, the blue unicorn just tilted his head to the side.

‘Wai?’ Taken off guard by the question, the yellow stallion’s cheeks deflated, and he stumbled. Before he could speak, the unicorn went on. ‘Fwuffies be mowe safe if am in big hewd. Id be bettah if yu an fwends be in Smawty’s hewd.’

‘N-nu! Smawty say nu!!’ The yellow smarty yelled, trying to regain his composure. ‘Dis am Smawty’s hewd! Yu nu can hav!’

‘Smawty,’

The stallion turned; ‘Wat?!’

‘Stahp bein dummeh, dis Smawty am wight.’ The yellow smarty’s eyes nearly popped out of his head at the brazen act of treachery, from one of his best toughies no less!!. ‘If fwuffies am in big hewd, den be mowe safe fwom dah bawkie munstahs, an-’

‘Shud up, dummeh!! Yu am in Smawty’s hewd, not dat Dummeh’s!!’

‘Wat am Smawty scawdies boud?’ The blue smarty asked. ‘Nu wan giv huwties, ow take yuw speciaw fwend. Just tink am bettah if fwuffies am in big hewd.’

‘Nu cawe!! Yu nu can hav Smawty’s hewd!’ The yellow stallion yelled, defiant as ever. For him, it was a matter of pride. His herd was small, but it was his. If the stallion didn’t have a herd and wasn’t a smarty, what was he? The rest of his herd, unfortunately, were less fussed. Many of the toughies were on the practical side and didn’t see a downside in joining a larger, stronger group. The foals and young fluffies were cheerfully playing with those from the other herd, and the mares just wanted their babbies to be safe.

‘Smawty, pwease,’ the toughie tried again, ‘dese fwuffies nu am meanies. Fwuffies be mowe safe if-’

‘Hey!’ A fluffy from the big herd interrupted, looking up. ‘Wat am dat?’

‘Wat am wat?’

‘Fwuffy nu see anyting,’

‘Babbehs, cum tu-’

‘Shh! Hewd nu tawkies!’ The blue smarty looked skyward, searching for what had drawn the fluffy’s attention. His first thought was the fluffy had seen a birdy monster, maybe one of the huge ones that sometimes followed his herd for miles. They were terrifying, but only seemed to attack fluffies who were alone or in small groups; it proved to the blue unicorn the wisdom of the small herd joining their ranks.

But, the sky was empty except for some clouds.

‘Wait, Fwuffy heaw sumtin!’

‘Huh?’

‘Fwuffy nu heaw anyting.’

‘Yu bein dummeh gain.’

‘Nu! Fwuffy heaw sumtin! Nu am bein dummeh!’

Fluffies from both herds craned their ears, searching for the sound. After a few moments, the blue smarty picked up on a noise in the distance that made his blood run cold. ‘Smawty?’ One of his toughies asked. ‘Wai wook so-’

‘Wun! Wun!! Back tu dah fowest!!’ The unicorn yelled to his herd, then turned to the other smarty. ‘Wun way!! Munstah am cumin!!’

‘Munstah? Wat munstah?!’ The first smarty asked, but the unicorn and his herd were already running for the nearby bush.

‘Smawty, Tuffy heaw sumtin!’

The first smarty turned to speak, but another toughie yelled ‘Wook!!’ The small herd turned and saw a strange thing in the sky, coming towards them.

‘There they are, dead ahead,’ the spotter said over the intercom.

‘I see em,’ Stewart grabbed a magazine from his bag, put it in his rifle and chambered a round.

‘I’ll drop us to 100 feet once we’re past those power lines,’ Dean said.

‘Perfect. Just keep us nice and slow too,’ Stewart replied. ‘These buggers don’t run as fast as pigs.’

‘No worries.’ Once he was clear of the powerlines, Dean descended to 100 feet and slowed the helicopter to a jogging pace.

‘Screeeee!!!’ The chopper’s powerful down-draft washed over the fleeing herd. Those near the back stumbled and tripped, and many were blinded by the spray of dust and debris. Foals were blown off their mothers’ backs and strewn on the ground.

‘Scree!’

‘Mummah! Sabe babbeh!!’

‘Babbehs!’ A green mare stopped to gather her brood, herding them together as best she could. ‘Get way dummehs!’ She yelled, muscling other fluffies away. ‘Yu huwt babbehs if yu-’

Thwack!

The mare was suddenly thrown to the ground by an unseen force ‘Mummah? Mummah!!’ One of her foals stumbled over. ‘Mummah, wat happen? Wat happen Mummah!?’ There was no response. The mare’s mouth hung open, tongue lolling out. As the foal stood there, thick, red blood started to pour from his mother’s mouth. 'Eeee!!’ The foal stumbled back in terror, and another nearby fluffy was struck down.

Bang-Crack. Bang-Crack. Bang-Crack

Stewart methodically lined up fluffy after fluffy in his scope and squeezed off rounds, dropping them cold. Though with the .308 rounds, it was more like the fluffies were slammed to the ground, and sometimes not in one piece. A shot caught a terrified stallion in the head and burst it like a water balloon, spraying blood and brain matter over the fluffies around him. The WT-25 kicked hard, but Stewart was used to recoil and wielded the big rifle with ease. His biggest problem was having 10 less round per mag than usual.

‘You need a machine gun for this job,’ Dean said.

‘I’d prefer bloody mortar,’ Stewart put a fresh mag in the rifle, leaned back out the open door and resumed firing.

‘There’s a small group running along the creek back there,’ the spotter called, noticing the small herd running in the opposite direction to the helicopter.

‘We’ll get em on the way back. Bang-Crack They’ve got nowhere to go. Bang-Crack Bang-Crack’ Stewart kept up his fire rate, methodically dropping fluffies on nearly every shot.

‘Screee!’ A young stallion screamed as a round sent him tumbling.

‘Bwudda!!’ His sister turned back to help but was struck down too. Another round dropped a mare with small foals.

‘Speee!!’

‘Peeep!!’

The young foals tumbled to the ground. Some landed hard, breaking their delicate bones. ‘Squeee!! Peep peep peep!!!’ The injured cried out, writhing in pain and calling out for their dead mother. The few fluffies that slowed to help were shot down in quick order, large red wounds staining their bright fluff.

‘WUN!! FASTAH!!’ The smarty screamed from near the middle of the pack. ‘AM CWOSE TU FOWEST!! JUS WITTWE MOWE!!’ Ahead was the treeline; hard experience taught him that birdy monsters, especially the large ones, couldn’t follow fluffies once they went into the tree ‘HUWWY!! HEWD BE SAFE IF GET TU FOWEST!!’ From behind came the sound of the monster and the noise of it killing fluffies. The screams of the dying also found their way to the smarty’s ears, each another herd member and friend lost.

But they were close. Once the herd made it under cover of the trees, the monster would have to give up. It was bigger and scarier than any birdy monster, but it followed the same rules. When they reached the forest and hid under the trees, they’d be safe! The trees were still some distance away, but all they had to do was keep running!! If they kept running, they’d-

The blue union filled Stewart’s scope for less than a second before he squeezed off a round. The bullet entered the stallion midway down his back and blew out the front of his chest, splattering the grass with bright red blood. His body tumbled, tripping the fluffies following close behind and causing a pile-up. Few could get to their hooves and back up to speed before Stewart killed them. Due to the noise and panic, though, the smarty’s death hardly registered among the herd. Cries of “Dah Smawty am fowewa sweepies” were drowned out by gunshots and rotor wash.

‘We’re not far from the tree line!’ Dean announced. ‘How’s your ammo holding out?’

Stewart glanced down at his bag and didn’t like what he saw. B loody hell ‘I’ve only got two fresh mags left.’

‘You went through it that quickly? Alright,’ the pilot slowed to a hover, ‘you want to circle back and get that other group?’

Stewart looked at the remains of the herd they’d been chasing. They’d taken a chuck out of it, a decent one at that. ‘Yeah, take us back.’

‘Alright. Hold on,’ Dean spun the chopper on its axis and went for the smaller herd.

‘Wun!! Munstah an cumin back!!’ The toughie screamed. ‘Fastah!! FASTAH!!’

‘Whewe fwuffies go?!’

‘Wat du Smawty?!’

‘Mummah!!’

The yellow smarty’s mind raced to find a way out of their deadly predicament. To one side was a creek, the wide span of open ground between them and the bush on the other. They’d never make it across that gulf, not with that monster prowling the area. His small herd’s only chance was to find a hiding place along the creek, so they ran for all they were worth. But, they might as well have been standing still for how quickly the helicopter closed the distance. Within moments it was hovering close by, like a spectre of death.

‘SCREE!!’

‘NU WAN FOWEWA SWEEPIES!!’

‘MUMMAH!! SABE BABBEH!!’

The herd screamed in terror as they ran in vain from the helicopter; its rotor wash threatened to push the fluffies over the edge into the creek, but for some reason, no shots came.

‘Hang on, I’ll take us to the other side.’ The pilot moved the helicopter to the other side of the creek. 'Can you hit ‘em now?’

Stewart looked through his sight; he could see the fluffies, but only as brief glimpses between tree trunks. Either by intention or accident, the herd positioned themselves in such a way they Stewart couldn’t get a clear shot at them from either side. ‘No good; I can’t get em.’

‘We might as well head back,’ Dean said. ‘We’ll refuel and reload load. Plenty more big herds to worry about.’

‘Fair enough.’ Stewart cleared the rifle and secured it in the rack. Once everything was secured, Dean climbed back above 500 feet and turned back to the airport. Meanwhile, the herd kept running and only stopped when exhaustion made it impossible to go on. The fluffies stumbled to a halt and collapsed, wheezing, crying and waiting for the end. It took some time for them to realise the monster had disappeared.

Slowly, despite shaky legs and the fear of death, the yellow smarty crept out from cover and scanned the skies. He found no sign of the deadly monster. ‘Haff haff haff S-smawty tink haff id am, safe.’

‘How haff haff S-smawty knu?!’ A mare asked on the verge of tears.

‘Nu can heaw munstah, wisten,’ A toughie said. ‘Id go way.’

‘Bud wat if id cum back?’

‘Shud, haff up!’ The smarty yelled, taking control of the situation. ‘Haff Wisten, hewd am tuu sweepies tu keep goin.’ No one argued with him on that. ‘If twy tu keep goin nao an munstah cum back, id-’ The smarty was interrupted by a strangled cry from a young filly, who curled into a ball. ‘Twees, keep munstah way.’ The smarty went on. ‘Hewd gun stay hewe, den twy get tu fowest.’ He nodded at the distant hills.

‘Otay,’ one of the toughies said, turning to the rest of the herd. ‘Yu heaw smawty, hewd gun stay hewe. Nu weave.’ The terrified and exhausted herd readily agreed and went to lie under one of the trees by the river bank. While they settled down to rest, the toughie and smarty looked at one another a moment. The toughie was the same one who urged the smarty to join the other herd, most of who now lay dead. Though the smarty was well within his rights to berate the toughie, he had no apatite to do so. The two just nodded to each other and joined their families.

‘Screeee!!!’

‘Wun!! Fastah!!’

‘Nu wan fowewa sweepies!!!’

Bang-Crack. Bang-Crack. Bang-Crack

Warren squeezed off round after round into the fleeing herd, dropping fluffies with each shot. The dead tumbled and rolled, spilling their blood and guts on the ground. Bang-Crack. Bang-Crack. Click. Warren swapped magazines went back to firing. Bang-Crack. Bang-Crack. Bang-Crack. Nearly every shot dropped a fluffy, sometimes two thanks to the 308’s over-penetration. Still, Warren had used half his magazines, and the herd didn’t look half dead.

‘Howd on babbehs!’ A mare yelled as she galloped hard, nostrils flaring and legs burning. ‘Howd on, Mummah sabe yu!!’ Her litter of three clung to her back with all the strength they could summon. Two huddled deep in the mare’s fluff, desperate to hide from the horror all around. One, though, keep watch on another mare close by. His best friend was one of the other mare’s foals, and he tried to catch sight of him.

‘Fwend! Fwend!!!’ He called. ‘Id gun be otay fwend!!’ At that moment, another fluffy nearby gave a strangled shriek and dropped to the ground. The colt’s ears flattened and his bowels quaked, but he tried to stay brave for his friend. ‘N-nu be scawdies fwend!! Mummahs gun sabe babbehs!! Gun sabe babbehs fwom-’

‘Squee!!’ The other mare’s face erupted in a sudden burst of pain, and her legs went out from under her. The colt watched in horror as her foals were thrown form her back to the ground.

‘SCREEE!! FWEND!!’ the colt screamed as his best friend collided with the ground and disappeared in the crowd. ‘MUMMAH!! MUMMAH GO BACK!!’ The colt screamed. ‘NEE SABE FWEND!!’ His mother said nothing; there was no time to explain she couldn’t go back, not for anyone. ‘PWEASE!! PWEASE!!’ the colt went on, tears filling his eyes. ‘NEE SABE FWEND!! NEE SA-’

Splat

By chance, the shot meant for his mother went high and burst the colt like a water balloon. Blood, fluff and mangled insides splattered his mother’s back and his sibblings. ‘Screeee!!’ A filly screamed, trying the rub her brother’s blood out of her eyes.

‘Bwudda!’ the other colt cried. ‘Mummah! Munstah giv Bwu-’

Thwack

Warren dropped the mare, with a shot to the midsection. The mare fell sideways, throwing her filly clear. The other colt wasn’t as lucky though; still holding tight, the mare rolled over him and crushed his body. The mare rolled clear leaving her colt on the ground, body broken but still clinging to life.

‘Peep, peep,’ horribly injured, all he could manage was to peep and wave his last unbroken leg weakly. By another cruel twist of fate, all the fluffies running up from behind missed him, leaving him to die in pain.

‘Riverbank coming up,’ the spotter called.

‘Hang on,’ the pilot flew ahead of the herd and tried to force them into a turn. With plenty of experience mustering cattle by helicopter, the pilot turned the fluffies away from the river bank with ease, and fell back in beside the herd. Warren got back to work, emptied another magazine and went for a fresh one when Robert’s voice came over the radio.

‘Tony, can you hear me?’

‘Yeah Rob,’ the pilot answered. ‘What’s going on?’

‘Well we’ve got a problem; the wind’s just picked up from the south here at the airport,’ Robert watched the dancing windsock out the window. ‘Has it hit you yet?’

The spotter checked for signs of increasing wind and shook his head. 'Nah Rob, hasn’t reached us yet.’ Tony said. ‘Is it too strong to keep-’

‘Yeah mate, it’s really kicking up. I can’t send Stu or Greg back up, and Leroy’s on his way back now.’

‘Alright, we’ll do as much as can up here then head back.’ Tony turned to Warren. ‘You get all that?’

‘Yeah mate,’ Warren slammed the magazine in and started firing. ‘Only got one more mag after this anyway.’

‘Righto. Use what you can.’

Warren did just that, emptying his penultimate magazine and half the last one until the wind started to pick up. ‘Alright, lock it all down. Time to head home.’ The helicopter climbed and turned away from the herd, heading to the south. On the ground, what remained of the herd slowed, and some looked to the sky.

‘KEEP, GOIN!!" The smarty screamed. ‘GET TU FOWEST!!’ With the monster gone, for now, he turned what remained of his herd towards a patch of bush-land. He knew the beast had taken a heavy toll and heard the screams over the helicopter and the loud bangs of its forever sleepies magic. But they could only take stock of the losses when they were safe from further attack.

‘Fwuffy nu gun weave fowest!’

‘Bud dewe am babbehs oud dewe! Nee sabe dem!’

‘Nu cawe! Day nu am Fwuffy’s babbehs!’

‘Yu am dummeh munstah, bad fwuffy!!’

Back near the Hogarth ranges, what remained of the herd targeted by Stewart’s team was falling apart. Absent the smarty and shell-shocked by the losses, no one could agree on new leadership or what to do. A few splinter groups had already headed deeper into the bush. Of the remaining fluffies, those not crying over lost friends and family were screaming at one another. The biggest argument was about what to do about the foals stranded out in the open.

‘Day am onwy wittwe babbehs!!’ A yellow mare yelled. ‘’Day nu can get tu fowest!!’

‘Dummeh nu see dat munstah!?!’ Another mare yelled. ‘Id awmost giv hewd fowewa sweepies!! Id giv Smawty fowewa sweepies!!’ She stared at the other fluffy. ‘If fwuffies go oud dewe gain, munstah cum back an giv fwuffies fowewa sweepies!!’

‘Dummeh nu knu dat!!’ The yellow mare screamed back. ‘Does babbeh nee hewp!! Nee sabe dem!!!’

‘Den yu du id!’ the second mare turned to leave. ‘If dummeh wan go den-’

‘Waahh!!’ In a sudden burst of rage the yellow mare leapt on the other, hoofing and biting her. The second mare fought back, rolling away from her attacker.

‘Fwend nu!’

‘Stahp id!!’

More fluffies rushed forward to break up the fight but thanks to confusion and emotions running high, it threatened to turn into a more massive brawl. Then, ‘STAHP DUMMEHS!!!’ The fluffies involved stopped and looked to the course of the voice, even the two mares who’d started the fight. ‘Fwuffy go hewp babbehs!’ A young green stallion stepped from the crowd. ‘Fwuffy go oud dewe an sabe dah babbehs!!’ His announcement was met with silence at first.

‘W-weawy?’ Someone tentatively asked. Before the stallion could repeat what he said, the yellow mare called out,

‘Pwease, sabe sissie’s babbehs!!’

‘Fwuffy can du id!!’

More survivors joined in offering encouragement and praise, thankful someone was showing a bit of leadership. Seeing the admiration the young stallion was getting, especially from mares, other stallions stepped forward and announced they’d go too. ‘Otay, fowwow fwuffy!’ The young stallion led his rescue party out of the bush ‘Fwuffies gun sabe does babbehs!!’ The stallions left to a chorus of cheers that followed them across the open plane.

Pride swelled in the young stallions’ chests as they strode across the field. When they returned with the herd’s young, they’d be heroes! Those of them who hadn’t gotten special friends yet would be spoiled for choice. As for the green stallion who set the rescue in motion, his sights were set higher. With the leadership position vacant, he had a shot at taking the herd for himself. Even the surviving toughies would find it hard to oppose his bid. Their enthusiasm took a significant blow when they came across and first body.

The yellow fluffy lay on its side, an ugly red stain in his fluff. Blood pooled on the ground under his mouth. Not far away was a stallion with part of his head missing, and a mare with a messy wound in her back close by. The stallions crept past the bodies as though they’d come to life if the rescue party was too loud. The further they went the more corpses they found; bloody and broken, with entrails, blood, skull and brain fragments everywhere.

Partway through their journey, the green stallion heard a gasp from behind. He turned and saw one of the others staring at a body. ‘Fwuffy, Fwuffy! Wat am id?!’

The other stallion looked up, his eyes wide. ‘I-id… Id am, gulp

‘Wat?’

‘D-daddeh’s bwudda…’ The stallion said quietly, and on the verge of tears. The rescue party’s confidence further waned with the sudden realisation there was a good chance they’d find someone they knew. Some started to shudder and panic as they fought about who was missing. Their leader saw their resolve slipping away, and with it, his chance of leadership.

‘Wisten tu Fwuffy! Knu yu am scawdies an saddies, bud nee sabe does babbehs.’

‘B-bud…’ One stallion stuttered.

‘Fwuffy knu yu am scawdies gun find fowewa sweepies fwuffy yu knu,’ the leader said. ‘Bud does babbehs nu am fowewa sweepies yet! Fwuffies nee sabe dem!’

‘He… He am wight,’ another stallion said. ‘Dese fwuffy am… Bud, stiww can sabe babbehs.’

‘Dat am wight! Now fowwow fwuffy!!’ The green stallion turned and led the others on.

High above in the late morning sky, a wedge-tailed eagle soared, carried along by air currents. The immense raptor’s finely honed instincts adjusted its wings every couple of seconds. Keen eyes scanned the world around it with. A few hundred meters to the left, the eagle noticed another of its kind flying in the same general direction. It didn’t warrant immediate action, but the eagle kept note of the potential rival at all times.

The eagle continued west, flying over the road linking Casino and Grafton. As it approached the Hogarth ranges, its eyes picked up an anomaly on the ground ahead. Dots of colour spread out in a rough line along a stretch of open ground. The eagle had seen those before and knew it meant a feast. It adjusted its wings and entered a steep dive, along with half a dozen other eagles and smaller birds.

‘Peep peep!’

‘Mummah! Peeep! Babbeh scawde!’

Spread out among the dead fluffies were a few dozen foals ranging from barely weaned to blind and helpless. Those who weren’t dead either called for help, made futile attempts to follow in the path of the herd or lay where they were and cried out for help.

‘Mummah! Mummah pwease!!’ A small unicorn hugged his dead mother. ‘Pwease!! Nu be sweepies nu mowe!! Babbeh wan go back tu fowest! Pwease!!’

‘Huuhuhu pwease be wakies!! Mummah!!! Babbeh wan Mummah wake up!!’

‘Fwuffy heaw babbehs!’ The green stallion yelled, trotting past bodies. ‘Dis way, huwwy!!’ The others followed suit, doing their best to ignore the smell of death all around. ‘Babbehs! Babbehs!! Fwuffies hewe tu sabe yu!! Whewe am yu?’

‘Huh?’

Gasp Babbeh am hewe! Babbeh hewe!!’

‘Peeep!!’

The rescue party happened on the first group of foals huddling near their dead mother. ‘Quick babbehs,’ a stallion leaned down. ‘Get on fwuffy’s backsie.’ Most of the foals crawled on board, but one filly wouldn’t budge.

‘Wat boud Mummah? Nee hewp Mummah!’

The stallion glanced at the mare and looked away just as quick. A bullet had opened the fluffy’s side, and a coil of entrails hung out of the wound. ‘Fwuffy am, sowwies. Nu can hewp yuw mummah. Nee go nao.’

‘Nu! Nuuu!!’ The filly waddled back to her mother and hugged her tight. ‘Mummah!! Be wakies gain Mummah!!’ Not wanted to spend more time in the open than he had too, the stallion grabbed the foal in his mouth. ‘Spee!!’ The filly squealed in alarm as she was plucked off the ground and placed on the stallion’s back. ‘Mummah!! Mummah!!!’ The filly’s siblings hugged her tight, scared she’d try to jump off.

Elsewhere, the other rescuers were busy gathering as many foals as they could find. Not every foal made it through the stamped; the rescuers found many who were crushed to death in the stampede. Worse, they found some who weren’t dead, but couldn’t be saved.

‘H-huties… Mummah. Wan, mummah…’

‘Peep, peee…’

There was only one thing the stallions could do; Stomp!

‘Huwwy! Huwwy!!’ The green stallion learned the others. ‘Nee find babbehs before munstah cum back!’ He craned his ears, listening for the monster over the wind and foals. He couldn’t hear anything strange, but that was no comfort. It seemed like no time at all between hearing the monster and it being right on top of-

Fwoosh

‘Screeee!!!’

The green stallion whipped his head around in time to see a hawk flying away with foal clutched in its talons. ‘Screee!! Sabe Babbeh!! Sabe Babbeh!!!’

‘Biwdy munstah!’

‘Mowe!! Mowe biwdy munstahs!!!’

The rescuers looked skyward and felt their bowels quake. Birds of prey were circling the area; not many, but that would change soon. ‘Wun! Get back tu day fowest!!’ The stallions grabbed as many foals as they possibly could and ran for the safety of the trees. Despite the desperate last effort, many foals were left behind at the mercy of the birds.

‘Cum back!!’ A unicorn colt stumbled after the fleeing stallions. ‘Nu weave!! Sabe Babbeh!! Sabe Babbeh!!!’ Above, a circling falcon zeroed in on the foal and made its run. The bird entered a near-vertical dive and levelled out less than a meter above the ground, talons outstretched. ‘Screee!!!’ The falcon flapped its wings and lifted away from the area, prise grasped firmly. ‘Screeee!!’ The foal’s world turned into a blur, wind roaring in his ears and scarp claws pricking his sensitive skin.

‘Mummah!! Sabe Babbeh fwom munstah!!’ He struggled in vain against the falcon’s iron grip as it carried the foal away from potential competition. Once a safe distance from the other birds, the falcon landed in a gum tree and pinned the squirming foal. It leaned down and ripped the colt’s belly open with its razor-sharp beak. ‘SCREEEE!!!’ Ripping hot pain exploded through the colt’s small body. The falcon, unaffected by the pained screech tore off a section of skin and muscle, swallowed the chunk whole and went back for more.

‘SQUEEEE!! REEEEEE!!!’ The colt squealed and writhed in agony, feeling his guts torn apart and ripped from his body. ‘MUUUMMAHH!! HACK M-MUMMAH!! HACK*’ Blood filled the unicorn’s mouth, and darkness crept into the corners of his vision, but it would be agonising seconds before death released him.

Haff haff Wun!! Wun fwom Biwdy munstahs!!’ The stallions fled as fast as could from the new airborne threat, rescued foals clinging to their backs. Behind them, hawks and falcons helped themselves to those left behind, plucking them from the ground or eating them right there. Wedge-tailed eagles started arriving, first one, then a pair. The massive birds landed near a corpse and started to feast on the fresh remains. One of the giants touched down near a pair of adults, and mare and her special friend who tried to save her.

Huddled near the corpses were the pair’s litter; the rescuers hadn’t reached them before the scavengers arrived in force. The foals, already terrified, screamed anew when the sudden burst of wind from the eagle’s landing buffeted them. They emerged from their hiding place and saw the enormous creature looming over their dead parents. Stunned into silence, the foals watched the eagle lean down, and tear open a section of their father’s chest with a loud wet rip.

‘Screeee!!!’ Most of the litter huddled flat on their bellies, shielding their eyes from the grizzly sight. The only foal who wasn’t cowed was a larger than average earthie. ‘Hey!!’ The would-be saviour marched forward. ‘Nu huwt Daddeh, meanie munstah!!’ Seeing the eagle ignore him as it tore a chunk of flesh from the dead stallion, the colt yelled again. ‘NU HUWT DADDEH!! NU HUWT DADDEH DUMMEH MUNSTAH!!’ The colt looked right at the bird’s face. ‘GO WAY NAO!!!’

With that last scream, the wedge tail finally took notice of the colt. It looked down, regarding the foal with unblinking eyes. It took less than a few seconds under its sharp gaze for the colt’s resolve to evaporate. ‘Eeee!!’ The colt turned and scrambled away as fast as he could run; it wasn’t nearly fast enough. The eagle reached down and snatched the colt off the ground.

‘Screee!!’

‘Bwudda!!’

The other foals looked on in wide-eyed terror. For a second they saw their brother hanging half out of the eagle’s mouth. ‘HEWP!!’ Eyes full of terror, the colt desperately tried to clamber out of the eagle’s mouth. ‘SABE BA-’ In one fluid motion, the eagle closed its beak, throw it’s head back and swallowed the colt whole.

‘SCREEEE!!’

‘NU WAN BE NUMMIES!’

The other foals turned and fled. The eagle snatched a filly and swallowed her whole before the others got out of range, then went back to the adult’s bodies. The remaining litter didn’t get far before other eagles, and a daring hawk snatched them up. By now, half a dozen wedge tails were on the ground feasting on the dead, with more arriving every few minutes. One pair flying in from the west caught sight of the stallions running for the trees. Each zeroed in on a different stallion and made their runs.

‘Mowe munstahs!!!’

The green stallion looked around for the new danger, and his heart sank when he saw it coming from directly ahead. ‘Nu wet munstahs get yu!! Sabe dah babbehs!!!’ He and the other stallions started to weave from side to side, crossing over each other’s paths at times in a desperate bid to confuse the approaching eagles. It didn’t work. The wedge tails easily kept track of their chosen prey, needing only minor adjustments to stay on target.

The fluffies and birds closed on each other, fluffies continuing their desperate attempts at evasion and the eagles keeping them locked in. In the last moments of their dive, the eagles opened their wings, swung their legs forward and opened their huge talons. When the green stallion looked up again, time slowed to a crawl. The giant bird’s outstretched wings and legs filled his vision, razor-sharp talons right in the middle.

The eagle slammed into fluffy, driving it backwards and into the ground. Its talons pierced the stallion’s head and neck in a few places, but none of them scored a killing blow. The stallion made a feeble attempt to struggle against the eagle’s grip as the massive bird started to eat, tearing a chunk out of his belly. The second eagle landed on its target’s back, skewering a could of the foals there. The blow broke the stallion’s back and paralysed him, and he could only whimper pathetically while the eagle ate him and the surviving foals alive.

Four stallions remained, running full tilt towards the safety of the trees. Their lungs burned, and tears dampened the fluff under their eyes. One foal whose grip wasn’t as good as the others slipped and tumbled to the ground. Within moments a passing hawk pounced and ate the squealing foal where it landed. The stallions ran on, hounded by the calls of circling birds. Death was all around, but the trees were close, barely more than 30 meters away.

‘Huwwy! Huwwy!!’ The other fluffies called from the relative safety of tree cover. ‘Fwuffies can make id!! Keep wunnin!!’ They watched with breathes held and hearts beating in their ears as the stallions drew closer, all the while more birds of prey approaching. They’d already seen eagles take down two of the stallions, but the others still had a chance. They could make it!

‘Bawaah!!’ The first stallion ran into the trees and didn’t stop until he was well undercover. He slowed, then collapsed on his belly, shaking loose some of the foals on his back. The next stallion followed moments later, coming to a shaky halt. He managed to stay upright long enough for others to take the foals before he collapsed and started to cry. As they did, the third surviving rescuer entered the trees, tears pouring down his face. That left one more.

Haff-haff-haff-haff-haff!

The stallion’s hooves pounded the ground, kicking up small sprays of dirt. His chest and lungs burnt, but he was nearly in the safety of the trees. It was just a little further, but it might as well have been a hundred meters. Coming in from the side, a wedge tail slammed into the fluffy’s side, knocking him over and spilling foals all over the ground.

‘SCREEE!! EEEE!!’ The stallion struggled furiously in the eagle’s grip, fighting with every shred of strength he had. The remaining fluffies watching from the trees, most frozen in terror. A couple of stallions went to run out but stopped when the eagle ripped a chunk of meat from its victim. ‘SQUEEEEEE!!!’ They and the others turned away at the pained squeal, and a couple of fluffies ran deep into the bush. Meanwhile, the foals held on to each other, paralysed by fear. As it seemed like they’d be abandoned to the eagle, the yellow mare ran forward.

‘Fwend nu!!’ Someone yelled, but there was no stopping her. The young yellow mare ran into the open and made a beeline for the foals, piling them on her back. At any moment the wedge-tailed eagle could have pounced, but it was focused on eating the stallion. With the last of the herd’s young, the mare dashed back to the safety of the trees, leaving the stallion to his fate.

‘SQUEEEEEE!!’ The unwilling sacrifice screeched in agony as the eagle ripped another chunk of muscle from his chest. ‘WAI NU HEWP FWUFFY!! EEEE!!’ He kept begging for rescue, but it wouldn’t come. Even if the survivors somehow beat off the wedge tail, which preyed on many of the creatures that hunted fluffies, the stallion would die from his wounds. With tear-filled apologises, the shattered remains of the herd turned and fled deeper into the bush. The screams and pleas of the stallion followed them until the eagle tore open stallion’s neck

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The eagle at the end constitutes the cherry on top of what seems like an endless, unfair and hopeless fluffy struglle.

6 Likes

Aww cute birdies got a good meal, happy ending for all

5 Likes