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In Sheep's Clothing

Author(s): Terry Lloyd Vinson

1880’s, Utah territory: an entire unit of U.S. Calvary soldiers has vanished from between the walls of Fort Drake, a remote site surrounded on all sides by warring Indian tribes and whose lone mission had been to protect the local gold-miners of nearby South Pass City. A trio of snow-crested mountain ranges away at Fort Lagrange, Wyoming, golden-boy Lieutenant Drew Barron and three hand-picked subordinates are tasked with solving the mysterious disappearances, their laborious quest littered with assorted dangers; roaming marauders, bloodthirsty wolves and a blizzard of epic proportions. At trek’s end, Fort Drake is found to be deserted until a trio of unlikely allies crawl forth from hiding just as the frigid grounds fall under attack yet again, the survivors forced to barricade themselves within the cramped confines of the post armory. Faced with dwindling supplies, bone-chilling temperatures and a relentless enemy poised just outside their rickety safe-haven, Lieutenant Barron and those within his care will soon discover they have yet to confront the worst that the newly dubbed ‘Fort Dread’ has to offer.


As swirling plumes of smoke began a rapid descent downward within the room's confined space, the man dug frantically through the opened drawers of a large oak desk. Over the sound of his own grunts of desperation, he noted the outer regions of the cabin walls had seen human screams gradually replaced by decidedly inhuman growls, a rather garish trend that served to fuel his frenzied search.
"Ma-major! Major Hawkes!"a shrill voice rang out just as the office door flung open to allow access to a fresh wave of blackish fog. It was a young private whose name the major was unable to immediately produce, his face as beet red as his carrot-top shaded noggin. Bug-eyed and convulsing, the private appeared every ounce the frightened teenager he most certainly was.
"The-they've broken over the wa-wall, s-sir, an-and we're-the m-men I m-mean, a-are…"
"The men are what, Private? My god, spit it out, boy! This is certainly no time to develop the stutters!"Hawkes shouted angrily, instantly regretting the act but utterly powerless to control the slowly building rage behind it.
"The-they…we're out of…almost out of ammo, s-sir! W-Watkins, Butler an-and Sergeant Weems…he's-they're g-gone, sir,"the private cried between coughs while crouching to the floor with his sidearm tucked to his chest, "t-they've dug 'neath the south wall and the fi-fires are spreading."
"Well, son, Weems tossing those lamps into the cabin walls wasn't the brightest move I've witnessed in terms of combat effectiveness,"Hawkes berated, flinging a handful of assorted forms and paper tablets airborne before giving the drawer of their origin a similar toss against a nearby wall and thus shattering it into strips of jagged kindling.
"I'm distressed to announce a rather upsetting lack of ammunition myself."
Laying his forty-four Colt atop the desk amid wildly scattered papers, Hawkes inhaled deeply while running splayed fingers though his sweat-saturated, gray-tinted coif and coughed forcefully to exhale.
"Looks as though we'll have to adapt to survive then, boy, now doesn't it?"he continued, stepping over to retrieve a sheathed sword from the hook attaching it to a nearby bookcase, "many a red savage have I sliced into submission with this trusty carbon-steel blade."
"I-it ain't the injuns that took 'em, s-sir."
Falling to one knee directly in front of his whimpering subordinate, the senior officer reached over with both hands and obtained a firm grip atop trembling shoulders.
"Man or beast, Private? Private Sullivan isn't it?"
The young man nodded feverishly.
"Well, man or beast, Sullivan, the blade shows no prejudice, nor does its user."
"How c-can this be, sir? I mean, I ain't never s-seen the likes."
"Quiet, private,"the major commanded sternly, tilting his head slightly to the right.
Gradually engulfed in a swirling fog despite the close proximity to the hardwood flooring, man and man-boy sat wordlessly, sharing a moment in stark, unrelenting terror that showed no favoritism in terms of rank or combat experience. The brief respite, though mere seconds in duration, was sufficient to note all human cries outside the cabin walls had halted in favor of a sudden barrage of blood-curdling howls—canine shrieks delivered in almost perfect unison that fell eerily silent in the same abrupt manner.
"Oh, sh-sheeeeet, s-sir. What a-are w-we gon-gonna do?"the private had whispered between muffled coughs as he'd tucked the back of a hand against his lips in a fruitless attempt to mute.
After coughing into the crock of his bare elbow, Major Henry 'The Hammer'Hawkes, renowned as much for his excessively dour demeanor as a battlefield fearlessness that had overseen countless victories, stood stiffly with his trusty blade held defensively at chest level.
"Private Sullivan, on your way in, did you secure the front door to this cabin?"
The young man's bottom lip quivered uncontrollably even as his brow creased in thought. Tears streamed down both freckled cheeks as he strained mightily for the correct response.
"I'm, sir. I was, well, kinda…pa-panicked,"he finally blurted, staring down at the pistol in his left hand as if it were some strange, unrecognizable artifact, "I t-think I booted her shut, but the roof is…burn-on fire, sir. We can't stay. Once the sergeant tossed...and the lamps exploded like they did, I, um…"
The major bristled at the mere mention.
"Understood, Sullivan. Damn Weems and his panic attacks. Idiot must've decided dying by fire would be preferable to the alternative you and I now face. Dwelling upon it at this moment, the sergeant might well have had something there."
From the front room came the unmistakable sound of shattered glass, followed by a series of shuffling sounds and a chorus of low, guttural growls.
"Ah, thick oaken doors mean little when there are flimsy plate windows present,"Hawkes replied at full volume, stepping past the cowering man-child and fronting the office door in a defensive side-pose. "Private, I have a dreadful feeling the subject of a proper escape route is going to be woefully moot any moment now."
"Sir?"the private sobbed as a flurry of frenzied scratching and thumping ensued from the other side of the door from which the words 'Officer in Charge-Captain Lance Boles'had been so expertly etched.
"You need to procure a weapon, Private,"Hawkes remarked calmly, having casually loosened the top two buttons of his dark blue frock, "any weapon will do."
Utterly speechless with fear, the private checked the chambers of his pistol with shaky hands and found two bullets still tucked neatly inside. He re-secured the cylinder just as the lower portion of the door fractured, birthing a tight-lipped grin of begrudging respect from his commanding officer.
"Take a moment to pray to your maker, son,"he announced as the door creased dramatically at the center, "as I am about to do."
As to comply with a final verbal order, the young private briefly bowed his head before joining his superior in watching their surviving barricade being systematically pulled apart from the bottom up. Aiming the pistol at the fast-spreading chasm and overcome by an abrupt wave of calm, his gun-hand no longer shook.
Just as the door folded in on itself and a shapeless, grayish blur shot forth from the ample space provided, the two men, separated by over three decades in age and a world apart in rank, spat out almost precisely the same shrill, panic-stricken curse.

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ISBN (Print): 978-1-62420-051-9
ISBN (Electronic): 978-1-62420-050-2
Genre: Horror
Date Published: 04/21/2014
Publisher: Rogue Phoenix Press

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