The Flock - By James Robert Smith

Chapter One

May 23, 1946

The Flock was out in the Sun. It had been a long time since they had moved in daylight. But this occasion required such a measure. They could not fail. Scattering in the tall grass, flashing between the longleaf pines, the Flock hunted.

Torelli had lost the wireless somewhere along the way. He wasn’t sure of the exact location, but he suspected it had been when they had crossed the small creek about half a mile behind. He hadn’t noticed, because that was where Bauman had been standing when one of those things had exploded from the brush. And before any of them could aim and fire, Bauman had gone down in a shower of blood.

The whole company had scattered after that, and Torelli had found himself afraid of being hit by the odd burp of one of the other soldiers’ automatics. His men were firing blind, shooting into the brush and into the trees and at one another. He was certain that Rainey had cut down Wilson out of pure fear, in his crazy panic to just get the hell away from whatever it was that was chasing them.

What were they?

Finally, Torelli found himself alone. It had been almost half an hour since he’d seen anyone. After Bauman had gone down, he’d caught a glimpse of Hopkins, the colored guy who had been added to the company the week before. Hopkins had been screaming; firing his weapon at every bush he passed as he ran like a crazy man. Torelli would have been hit by one of Hopkins’ bursts if he hadn’t seen where the guy was aiming and eaten dust. Soon after, he had gotten up and run again, racing across those weird grasslands with the palmettos and Spanish bayonet sticking up here and there among the pines. That had been Torelli’s last contact with his company. He was sure those final screams had been Hopkins.

It had been a brief sound.

Now, he was more worried than when the company had first encountered those things. If there weren’t anyone else to chase, they’d be after him, now. Torelli had glimpsed them. He’d never seen anything so big—not outside of a zoo. The largest ones were half again as tall as he was. And they were so fast. Jesus, he’d never imagined anything could move like that. Ralph Weiss, who’d just been made corporal, had been a sprinter at the University of Tennessee, and he’d been run down and stepped on as if he were sitting still. Torelli had watched, frozen, as the thing had stooped, its upper body vanishing in the grass, and had raised its bloodstained head holding a good portion of Ralph’s torso.

Stopping, peering at the tall prairie grass that shivered in the slight, Florida wind, Torelli was very afraid. He crouched, thinking that perhaps they hunted by movement and if he was out of sight, they couldn’t find him, for a while, at least. But there were so many of them. When the company had first started retreating, the things had spread out, like a well-trained platoon, cutting his squad into commander-less sections that could be taken down one by one. They were smart; that was certain.

Torelli got hold of his panic. He was a lieutenant in the United States Army. He was not going to let some kind of animal outsmart him. His men had panicked. They hadn’t listened to him. They’d been undisciplined. It was all Jenkins’ fault. If that idiot had listened to him, had stayed away from that bit of red in the brush…

Torelli hadn’t seen what Jenkins had seen, but he felt certain it had been one of their babies, several, perhaps. Because Jenkins had shot at whatever it was, and after that the madness had cut loose. The woods had swarmed with them. You wouldn’t think so many animals that big could have been all around them like that. Not and remained unseen. But they had.

He crouched down a little closer to the ground and tried to organize his thoughts. The teams were supposed to cross to the north side of the base and rendezvous with the D Company. He’d had the maps, and knew what route they were going to take. They’d been advised to steer east of the savanna that lay between the starting point and the rendezvous. Captain Stevens didn’t know that part of the base that well (nobody did, apparently), and he didn’t want anyone under his command slogging through unmapped swampy terrain. They’d lost