Sneak Peek

Highland Soldier




The mulchy rotting floor of the grain elevator made slow rotations below him. Blinking, Ethan fought his way to consciousness. The spinning blurry floor and close wooden walls created a swell of nausea bubbling inside his gut. Thick ropes clanked and swayed around him. His legs knocked against something metal as the ground spun.
No, it wasn’t the ground twirling. It was him. He spun, dangling high in the air at about fifty feet up like a fish on a hook. His entire body dragging on one arm, it felt as though it was going to rip out of his socket.
He twisted his head upward to see what he’d gotten hung up in, and pain exploded across his stomach, brutal and sharp. There was something jabbing up into his skin between his rib bones right where his heart was, a stationary pole or stick that was tearing the edges of his flesh as he dangled, spinning around the object jabbing up into him.
The scrape of it along his bones had him heaving out the contents of his stomach, making the jab of pain pierce more forcefully with each shudder. If it went in farther, stabbed his heart…if it hadn’t already…
“Mah,” he wheezed, flailing his un-trapped hand out blindly, groping for something to stop the spinning.
His fingers found wet metal. He grabbed on. His body jerked to a stop, jarring whatever he was impaled on farther across his bones, tearing more of his flesh. Ethan sucked in a hiss, clenching his muscles against the brutal shock of pain.
He breathed through it, closed his eyes, hoping that when he opened them again the world would have settled. Sweat trickled down his face. He curled his fingers tighter into the metal, his anchor in this tide of nausea and pain, and opened his eyes to take in the situation he was in.
First and foremost, where was the flubbie he’d sprayed before he went over the edge? He’d gotten the monster good with the anti-rift serum Alexander had concocted. It took away the Sifts’ ability to rip a hole in the air and flee through time so the saggy bag of flesh was around here somewhere. Last thing Ethan remembered was falling with the disgusting thing. Stupid. Stupid. He should have gone low into the storage area instead of following the tracks in the mud that went high toward the large unloader above the river.
Now here he was.
The metal he had a hold of was part of the bucket conveyor that had once scooped grain from the boats on the river below and carried bucket loads up to fill the silos that were above him on the hill. Or at least would have been before the barge loader was abandoned. Hard to keep a business running while troglodytes were damn well eating the human race out of existence.
Ethan breathed hard through his nose. The dampness he felt on the metal was blood. His own, he was sure of it as he felt along the roller chains that once moved the conveyor belt. He felt where the metal alignment holding the chain in place had been broken and bent a long time ago in the past when the length of the metal workings had warped and twisted, breaking up like brittle rails snapping off their tracks.
It was just his luck to fall right on to one.
Except his luck hadn’t been all bad. Whatever his arm had been caught up on to stop his fall short, had also spared his heart from being completely impaled by the twisted rail. As it was, he estimated by the feel of it against his bones and where the other part of the rail had broken off still lying flat against the conveyor, it had only gone up into him less than an inch. 
He could deal with less than an inch.
Hell knew he’d dealt with worse.
Swallowing, he tilted his head to get a look upward and once again his muscles clamped tight and his head swam with dizziness, nearly taking him under the blackness creeping around the edges of his vision.
Damn he wished Dez was with him on this one. Could use a little help, buddy. But Dez was on a mission of his own, gone out with Alexander to locate Jewel’s missing brother and deal with a bunch of vampires they had hopes of working with to rid the world of the Sifts once and for all.
He was on his own. Exhaling through the grip of nausea, he made another attempt, this time moving slowly, lifting his head ever so gingerly until he could see a bit of what was above him and the sight nearly had him upchucking again. 
His entire arm was red and bleeding, twisted in the barbed wire of the fence the Sift had pushed him into. The chain-link fence that was supposed to keep unsuspecting idiots from falling into the abandoned grain elevator. The fence that had given way and dragged him down with it into this mulch pit. The fence that was now twisted and caught up on the broken wooden shell of one of the buckets attached to the conveyor above him.
The only thing holding the fence was a broken bucket hanging onto the warped conveyor and the only thing holding him to the fence and keeping him from dropping and his heart being skewered like a shish kabob was barbed wire cutting into his arm and turning his flesh into wet kibble.
He sucked in a nervous breath at how close he’d come to biting it and felt the stab of metal inch into him. Okay, no more of that. Shallow breaths moron. First things first. Get off this stabbing hunk of metal. Worry about getting down after that. And hope to hell that the monster had offed itself in the fall because he was in no shape to tackle one of the beasties now. He was barely remaining conscious.
Blinking through his salty sweat, he scanned the area below him, looking for the monster. Although his vision was blurry, he didn’t see any shapes in the debris below that fit a fallen flubbie, but it could just as easily rolled down the sloping floor, gone through the open hatchway and into the river.
Now that would almost be worth falling, given the monsters’ aversion to water.
Course if his bone and muscle mass was made of sheer lead, he wouldn’t be signing up for swimming lessons at the Y anytime soon either.
Okay, he was hanging along a broken slanted conveyer with scooping buckets attached at about seven feet intervals. There was one a few feet above his head and then another broken one seven feet above that which the warped chain-link fence was now precariously draped across. If the fence came loose or the bucket broke completely away from the weight, he’d drop on the piece of metal and have a shank pierce through his heart.
Wouldn’t that just make his day? Whatever he did had to be quick and gentle enough to not dislodge the fence.
Just a sunny jog in the woods.
He risked looking up again, craning his neck farther to see more of what was above, exactly how precarious the fence was draped, but his vision blackened, his muscles clamped tight, and a sledgehammer rammed against the inside of his skull. Fighting the grayness back, he let his face drop again. He wasn’t sure if it was a head injury or his spine or the way the metal jabbed at his chest when he moved, but tipping his head upward was out of the question.
Didn’t matter. He had to do something. That barbed wire wouldn’t hold his weight all day. If it didn’t tear away from the fence, the prongs and wire would eventually tear through his arm. Either scenario would rip the metal up into his heart.
Ethan swallowed. He purposefully hadn’t been thinking of that glimpse he’d had of his own mangled flesh, had been ignoring how he couldn’t feel his fingers anymore and how he could feel every minute burn of wire cutting and scraping into his arm, the drag of his weight on his armpit, the slide of blood running along his flesh.
Hissing through his teeth, he shut it all down, closed out the image, and focused pointedly at the river lapping into the slanted floor below where barges once anchored to offload their cargo. He could do this. He had to do this.
Steadying his one arm on the roller chain, he pushed himself up, straining. The piece of metal moved upward with him.
Shit, shit. He lowered back down, shaking from exertion, unnerved by how little strength he had. The metal rail scraped inside his flesh, squeezing more blood out to drip down its length. Nearly blind with agony, Ethan shifted his knee up, trying to find purchase on the conveyor belt. Both legs were uncooperative, his whole body sluggish. If he didn’t do this now, he wouldn’t have the strength to make another attempt.
Gritting his teeth through the pain, he pushed his knee up, feeling with the toe of his boot for any kind of leverage. There. He felt a gap, some kind of hole in the other side of the conveyer belt. If he could only see behind his leg to know what he was dealing with.
He wedged the heel of his boot into the little gap, braced his hand, and pushed, straightening his leg. Every muscle in his body trembled. Perspiration poured down his face and neck, dampened his shirt. Red dots swam across his vision, closing in to cover everything in a sheen of crimson.
It wasn’t working.
Roaring with effort, Ethan dug deeper, pushed harder…and the conveyor moved. Just a fraction. Bracing his muscles, he straightened his leg more, pushing hard, so very hard…with everything he had.
The conveyer hitched downward again, a minuscule movement, but it was enough to pull the rail out of his chest. Ethan screamed. He didn’t remember it going in but it hurt like a mother coming out. The air froze in his lungs. He couldn’t breathe. It hurt so damn bad, pain beyond anything he’d felt before and he wasn’t altogether sure anymore it hadn’t nicked his heart.
Blood gushed over his chest, coating everything within his view.
The fence screeched above, rocked. It jerked so hard it felt like his arm tore off. Twisting, Ethan scrabbled for whatever was within his grasp, grabbed onto slick metal as the fence slid off the broken bucket and fell, scraping and screeching along the conveyor and ropes in metal sparks from friction, towing him with it, ripping his fingers from his hold. The bloody metal rail ripped across his shoulder, narrowly missed his cheek, and pulled across his scalp as he dropped past it, flailing for something to grab onto.
The shriek of the Sift clanged against his eardrums, the reverberations falling with him.
His fall jerked to an abrupt stop, wrenching his shoulder in a howl of misery that sent a shock wave through his body. Dislocated for sure. Still dangling, the fence must have caught onto something else. The pain was so horrendous, he almost wished he would have hit the ground. Wetness dribbled down his arm, pooling into the crook between his neck and shoulder. His arm was a mass of throbbing burning hammered meat.
Reaching up with his other arm, he grabbed onto the twisted fence to try to take some of his weight off and came face-to-muzzle with the Sift.
He flinched back, sending more jolts of torment through his shoulder that nearly cost him his consciousness. He fought to stay awake, breathing so hard his lungs filled to bursting, and let go of the fence to go for his gun at the back of his waistband. The drag on his arm nearly pulled him under again.
The beast screeched, thrashing about, rattling the twisted fence. Its bulbous leathery flesh was caught up, twisted into the length of barbed wire, pinning it to the heap of fence. It must have been above him all this time, out of his range of view, biding its time or possibly unconscious. The wire pulled tight in the pale flesh, lost in its folds of skin, red blossoms puckering where the barbs were buried. The more the Sift fought, the more the wire embedded itself. The long muscular arms were trapped in a way that the beast didn’t have its usual reach otherwise the fatal claws would have already made mincemeat out of the chain-links. Would have made mincemeat out of him.
Blind eyes turned toward him, wide apish nostrils flaring, shooting warm huffs of air that stunk of decay and graveyards.
Ethan used his free hand to brush the small of his back. Empty, his gun gone, most likely fallen, buried in the rotted grain below. He followed along his belt, finding his k-bar secured in its sheath at the back of his hip. With no hesitation and no mercy for the beast, Ethan plunged the blade, hilt-deep and then some, straight into the monster’s heart. Noxious gray blood poured over his hand. 
The Sift shrieked, clawed at the air, thrashing against the broken fence, wild with panic. Ethan grinned, even as he barely hung onto consciousness from the shrieking noise and the shaking metal and the pressure on his tearing arm, and twisted the knife harder into the chest cavity of the beast, before wrenching it out.
The ape-beast carried on as though it didn’t feel it. Maybe it didn’t beneath all that rubbery flesh. It thrashed and twisted, its body writhing into shapes the hulky size shouldn’t be able to twist into. Not caught in the wire as it was. Tough SOB. Die already.
Ethan’s arm couldn’t take anymore. Dropping the knife, he grabbed onto the chain links to relieve the pressure and the entire fence shifted, tilting downward. He and the Sift dropped about a foot, jerking his dislocated arm.
Ethan’s head pounded. His arm was a screaming mass of agony. His sight blackened, and then rushed back into a dizzying gray fog. The barbed wire bit into his arm.
Nauseated and weak from blood loss, he dangled, flopping like a puppet with the frenzied movement of the dying beast thrashing beside him. Or was it the fence moving? He lifted his head to try and see what was happening and pain jabbed behind his eyelids.
He fell.
The screech of metal ground around him, bumping and crumbling like tin foil along the warped catwalks and ladders scaling the walls. The monster screamed, its high-pitched wail equaling the hiss of metal as fence, monster and Ethan hurdled toward the ground.
There was nothing he could do to stop it.
The fence slammed onto the bucket conveyor. The flubbie took the hit, smashing one of the buckets.
Ethan hit the ground in a paralyzing thud, pummeling the air from his lungs. Old grain flew up in dirty brown clouds just as the rest of the broken fence fell over him and the monster crashed into the floor inches away and kept going, sliding down the slanting concrete, dragging the fence and Ethan with it.
Crapcrap, nonononono. He gouged at the mushy grain. That’s all he had, the fingers of one hand gouging silty grain. He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move. Couldn’t tell how bad he’d been hurt by the fall or if he’d simply had the wind knocked out of him, but he couldn’t freaking move, and the weight of the monster and the fence dragged him into—
His chest tightened at the slap of freezing water.
He swam one-armed and kicked against the drag of metal and monster bearing him downward. A jolt dragged on his body when they hit the bottom of the river and the metal fence settled in a plume of disturbed silt and swaying vegetation that caressed like silk across his arms.
Ethan yanked and yanked, desperate to free his arm. Visibility sucked. He could see less than two feet around, couldn’t see where the monster was, but felt its frenzied thrashing, shaking the tangled metal. Streams of blood swirled in the water from the lacerations on his arm. It was his arm or drowning. And he was not going down like this.
His lungs burned, closing, the weight of an iceberg crushing his chest. The panicked sensation to take a breath damn near overpowered his ability to think. Bracing his knees in the sinking mud, he pulled with everything that was in him. He…had…to…free…his arm.
The wire bit deeper into his flesh.
His blood coated the murky water.
Icicles jabbed every nerve ending. Everything was dimming.
He pushed down on the wire, forcing it down into his arm. He couldn’t see if it was working. The blood was too thick. The silt too thick. The feeling in his arm was gone. He wouldn’t give up. Not without a fight. That’s not how he was made.
The monster didn’t get him.
The wolf didn’t get him.
The men of his nightmares didn’t get him.
Neither would the river.
Dez trained him better than that.
Keep fighting.
Except…A tremor ran through his body. The iceberg crushing his chest shifted, squeezing out any remaining air and his sight blackened. Just before everything went dark he thought he saw the grimly set face of an angel coming toward him.

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