In a darkened purple forest, a possum in a bowler hat lit a paper cigarette and waited.
Darren didn't like this, not at all. He'd always known his boss was crazy, but this, pitting him against the monster, leaving him alone in the forest with Frisco—it meant Darren was a redshirt, disposable. There was no other explanation. He was completely exposed, on the edge of a big, treeless circle, clearly visible anyone who might come by. On nights like this, he wished he'd never become a raider.
“How does he even know she'll come this way?” Darren muttered to himself.
Frisco seeped out of the shadows and pushed his face next to Darren's. “Shut up,” he told Darren. “You just do what you're supposed to do.” Darren didn't even have time to shudder before Frisco had gone again.
What he was supposed to do was wait in plain sight and let the monster get close. Very close. Then he was supposed to pick up the bat that was leaning beside the tree behind him and crack her over the head with it – and hope that that was enough to keep her down. He'd heard rumours that she could burn people at a distance with her laser eye and he wholeheartedly believed them to be true. Craven Lorne had said she'd been beautiful, once. That, Darren had trouble believing.
At length, the monster came. Even with Darren's night vision, his first view of her was just a light, a floating green orb that seemed to dodge erratically among the trees. By the time she stepped into the circle and her face was fully visible, Darren had felt himself freeze. His hands were clenched so hard he didn't think he would be able to pick up the bat. Every part of him wanted to play dead.
Darren couldn't see Frisco, or hear him, but he could picture him, skulking around in the dark, getting ready to attack, taking meticulous mental notes about every movement, every sigh, every hesitation that Darren made.
The monster saw him. There was no escaping it now. Darren reached behind him and groped around for the bat. As his hand wrapped around the handle, he heard a woman's voice, tired and sarcastic, asking if she was there yet, then perking up slightly and saying, “Hey, see that light? I think that's Minty.”
Minty tilted her head, slightly, regarded Darren, then continued her jerky walk toward him and the voices behind him.
Darren relaxed. He couldn't attack her now. Clearly she had friends around and he had no idea how many. He couldn't risk it. There was nothing he could do, and no one could blame him for biding his time. For a second, relief poured over him.
Frisco poured out of the darkness, and rushed toward Minty. He grabbed her arm with his long, thin fingers and squeezed so heard that the porcelain seemed about to fracture. Minty turned her head and looked at him, her eye whirring continuously as it tried to focus.
“The things we'll do to you,” Frisco said, smilingly. “Oh, you can't even imagine.”
“Let her go.” That voice, Darren thought he could almost recognize. There was a rabbit – Darren had seen him a couple of times from a distance and heard him shout a word or two. He was obsessed with killing raiders. As if it was his personal mission.
Frisco wrenched on Minty's arm and Darren thought he heard something crack. Darren hoped, for a split second, that the rabbit would kill Frisco, that the monster would escape and he could go back to the boss and say that it hadn't been his fault – or better yet, he could just quietly disappear and everyone would think he'd been killed too. But, he realized, if Frisco was dead, there would be nothing to stop the rabbit from coming after him next.
“I said—” said the rabbit.
There was a twang and something rushed past Darren's head, passed through Frisco's arm and stuck in a tree.
Frisco screamed. Darren could just make out that the something had been an arrow. Frisco had had to melt his arm to avoid being hit and the monster had used the opportunity to run away.
Minty reached Daisy Chain and his human almost instantly and the three of them ran, for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, they reached a cornfield with pale gold stalks taller than Daisy Chain and a royal blue sky.
“Come on,” Daisy Chain said, nodding toward the field.
His human sighed, and started to walk, but hesitated when she noticed that the others hadn't joined her.
Daisy Chain was waiting for Minty. “Come on,” he repeated. “You'll be safer with us.”
“Come with us,” said the human, even though the invitation clearly caused her pain to give. “Really.”
Minty turned and ran, along the edge of the forest, then veered sharply and disappeared into the tall stalks of corn.