I was working in the apple orchard, tending to Elder, when word came from younger trees.
There was a woman on the property.
I glanced over to Elder.
“No, child,” he stated. “It’s not your mother. I’d feel her if it were. She has a distinct tread that shakes the foundations of this farm.”
Straightening up, I adjusted my Colts in their holsters. “Any idea?”
“No,” the tree answered.
“Where is she?” I asked.
Elder paused, then answered, “Not far from here. Along the wagon trail leading to the lower orchard. She’s come to a stop.”
A whisper ripped through the apple trees, and I heard one say, “She’s wrong.”
“Wrong?” I inquired.
“Yes.” Elder’s branches shook for a moment, casting a few loose leaves down. “She’s too warm, child.”
“Well,” I sighed. “Let’s see what she wants.”
I took my leave of the trees and made my way to the trail, and followed it a short way. Not more than a mile or so before I came ‘round a bend and saw her. She stood perfectly still and smiled at me in a pretty white dress. Her hat was perched upon her head, and she offered a low curtsy.
“Can I help you?” I asked, resting my hands on the Colts.
“I am a gift your mother sent,” the woman replied, and as I drew the .44s, she shed her skin.
A great beast, perhaps twelve or more feet tall, stepped forward, sun glistening off grey flesh and yellow, mottled eyes. Her mouth opened wide, not to reveal teeth but flames.
She sprang forward, leaping high in the air, arms outstretched and fingers adorned with talons.
The first few slugs tore through her hands, slammed into her chest, and destroyed the side of her face.
But the thing didn’t stop.
Fire billowed from her wounds, setting the grass aflame.
A quick shot took out her left kneecap and sent her tumbling to the ground. She twisted, reached for me with a shattered hand and left a trail of fire behind her.
Stepping away from the thing, I emptied the Colts into her head.
She shivered, groaned, and then lay still.
Young trees moved forward, dragging earth with them and pushing it over the flames.
I reloaded the Colts, watched the trees extinguish the fire, and wondered what my mother might send next.