They were decoys.
I’d been following a narrow river for the better part of the day when I caught sight of a trio of men. They were on the righthand bank, two sitting down and the third leaning against a tree for which I had no name. I could hear birds in the trees, animals in the undergrowth, and the gentle whisper of the water.
But nothing from the men.
They were silent, and they were still.
Their clothes were a good forty years out of fashion, and while this might not normally strike me as odd in an odd place, today it did.
Something was wrong.
I moved to the right so I would pass the men with a wide berth, and as I drew nearer to them, they turned to face me.
Their motions were stiff and unnatural, as though they were mechanical in nature, and it had been far too long since their gears and pulleys were oiled.
Dead eyes rested in their sockets, and tired cheeks pulled weary smiles up onto their faces.
A man in a straw hat opened his mouth to speak, and the trees struck.
It is my good fortune that there were only a few trees, as well as my good fortune to be an obstinate son of a bitch. Literally.
The roots snapped out of the ground, trailing earth and worms behind them as they reached for me.
As they did so, I drew the Colts and opened fire.
The roots recoiled, many of them severed and seeping a black ichor. The ground shook beneath my feet, and the trees, four of them, tried to move toward me.
I moved farther away, eyes darting to each and every tree I saw, assuring myself that they were not waiting to trap me.
Several more roots lanced out, but these suffered the same fate as the first.
In a moment, the echoes of the shots were fading, and the severed tips of the roots lay on the ground. The injured roots twisted and coiled like cobras, waiting to see if they could strike.
They could try.
After a few minutes, the roots retreated, and the trees sulked. I reloaded the Colts, slid them into the holsters and took the rifle off my shoulder.
I shot each of the decoys in the head, destroying them.
The trees shuddered, and I turned and left them there.
Had I kindling, I would have burned the bastards down.