The sun glowing sun that had risen out of the sea was descending behind the rolling green hills to the west taking with it the day and leaving behind the darkening skies of dusk. The wind made the tall grass sway and leaves rustle. The water swelled up in white peaks and broke on the sandy shore gradually reaching further and further up the sands.
The blanketing night sky flowing from the horizon meant James soon had to return home. He was old enough to hunt on his own, but his father warned him and his brother they take a hit for every hour after dark their mother had to worry about them.
James sat perched on a rock that overlooked a small piece of coastline. In his line of sight was a large steel vessel that was stuck in the grip of the wet sand like a beached whale. The behemoth had sat silently rusting away on the rock and sand for a long as James could remember.
The corrosive force of salt water and time had eaten away at the dull grey metal hull like a kind of necrosis. The growing rust-edged chasms kept expanding eating way what was left of the steel corpse.
Many creatures sought shelter in the remains of the vessel. For James, this particular beach had become a hunting ground. He waited on the rock watching the breaches down the sights of his rifle. Several millenniums ago the young man's ancestors had discovered the benefits of ambush hunting and growing up in slim times he appreciated the value of what had been passed down to him.
He peered adjusted his scoop and saw something taking form in the dark entrance of the steel cavern. A few seconds later a feral dog cautiously emerged from the jagged fissure. Its ears were pointed upwards, and it took a second to sniff the passing wind before taking a few more steps out.
“I got you,” whispered James caressing the trigger.
The dog moved forward and was followed by two companions. James hesitated, thinking he might be able to take all three. The dogs put their nose to the sand and spread out ever so slightly before another emerged from the ship.
“I can get at least two,” James said to himself adjusting his scoop again.
He waited for the dogs to venture just a bit further from their den. Just far enough so he was confident he could pick at least half the pack off before they retreated into the ship.
He braced to fire but was startled by another shot that rang out from further up the beach.
There was a crimson explosion from the dog's matted fur. The animal let out a yelp and fell into the sand sending the rest of the pack fleeing.
“What the hell?” He muttered.
“Gawt eem.” squealed a high pitched voice
Running down the beach to collect the carcass were two boys.
From a distance, James could tell they were at least a few inches shorter than he was and probably 25 pounds lighter.
He estimated the bone thin pair were at least five years younger than him. He was sure he could hold his own against both of them even if they had a rifle and knife between them.
James kept them in his sights and made sure no others were following they seemed to be on their own.
“Not a lotta meat on this one.” complained one of the boys while he began carving up the furry carcass with his serrated hunting knife.
James fired into the sand directly behind them Making the startled pair jump away from their prize.
“keep still!” James ordered.
As he took the last few steps down the sloped earth to the beach. The boys stared at him wide sky blue eyes and silently took a few step backs.
“I said keep still!” James warned
He did his best to interrogate the two frightened boys but even though they seemed to be speaking the same language, their tiny voices and strange annunciations left James confused by every third word. They told him their names were Matthew and Jacob. They babbled about coming from the other side of the sea with their families and some minister.
They asked James if he was an "Ahmareicun." It was a term the boy was only vaguely familiar with. He ordered the boys to lead him to where they were camped. Whoever these people were James would be the first to find out, and then the rest would finally see he was a candidate for manhood.
The crickets and coyotes heralded in the twilight with a chorus of chirps and howls. It wast too late to turn back now, James figured he might as well take the punishment from his father if he had to. His overwhelming curiosity about the shallow faced boys with funny accents led him deeper into the dense forests and their dark, unforgiving embrace.
Even with his rifle James and his prisoners were still prey for the human and animal predators silently stalked the leaf covered labyrinth. As visibility faded their advantage grew, every passing moment made the conditions more favorable for an ambush.
The glow of a campfire diffuses through the forests. Wafting smoke carried voices, At first, the mutterings were incomprehensible to James.
“get down.” He hissed at his young captives.
“We're gonna get in close.” said James. “if either of you two try anything, you're dead.”
The boys stayed close to the ground and crept slowly towards the clearing with James following close behind. They had the same accents, but they were easier to understand than the two children he had with him.
“We have to find them before it's too late!” a woman sobbed.
“Mum?” whispered one of the boys.
“Shhh.” said James as they crept forward.
“They'll be back.” a male voice said in a soothing tone. “Father Brown said they'll be back before night sets in.”
James could see the circle of people around the fire now. The men had long scraggly beards and hair as long as the women. They wore tattered and dirt-matted clothes that hung loosely from their diminishing frames.
There were 6 of them. Three men two women and a little girl. One of the women was crying into the chest of one of the men. The rest were staring with downcast eyes into the fire
The men were all armed, and the flickering flames cast their long shadows over James, who only now realized the horrible mistake he had made.
“He'll die out thare if we don't find em!” the distraught woman shrieked.
“We have to trust what Father Brown says is true otherwise all is lost.” the man said assuringly.
“Mum” shouted Mattew springing from the bushes.
“Hey!” hissed James trying to reach for the boy, but he was too fast.
“Matthew??” cried the boy's mother.
“Praise the Lord!” someone called as the boy ran into the embrace of his relieved parents.
Allen had tried to run too, but James caught him by the collar of his shirt and pulled him to the ground. He pressed his rifle against the boy's head.
“Nobody move!” he barked.
Matthew took cover behind the man that was presumably his father. Panicked James scanned the group down the sight of his gun.
“Who are you?” A long bearded man asked stepping forward.
“Stay back! Shouted James
There suddenly seemed to be more of them. They were slowly closing in around the boy. The stock of the gun trembled in Jame's hand and his clenched the trigger.
“I'm warning you!” he shouted as he took a few trembling steps back.
Suddenly it seemed like there were twice as many of them. Some had large hunting knives holster in leather pouches dangling for their waste. Every time the wild-eyed boy moved the barrel of his gun off one of them another seemed to inch closer.
“I'll kill as many of you can I swear to god!” James said in a cracking voice.
“Thare's no need for that.” said a deep and calm voice.
Everyone stopped moving. They turned their gaze back to the fire. A tall, broad figure stepped inside the illuminating radius of the crackling flames. A long curly beard starting just below his ears flowed down to the center of his chest. The brim of a large black hat obscured his face.
"He came back ought nightfall just like you said, Pastor!" Matthew's father shouted gleefully.
"I'm glad to hear it brother Herold." The bearded giant answered.
“I'm Pastor Brown, and this is my flock.” the large man said removing his hat revealing a bald head and saucer like ebony eyes.
“Who might you be.” the large man asked calmly.
James took a deep breath. “My name is James,” he said barely able to control his shaking voice.
Pastor Brown stepped forward on his stilt-like legs and James instinctively stepped back.
“You don't need to worry boy.” the pastor said with a smile.
“Where the hell are you people from?” James said pointing his rifle at the pastor hoping he could regain control of the situation
“We came from the other side of the sea.” The pastor said calmly.
“what do you mean?” asked James.
“We're from SouthWold. We landed here two weeks ago now. We've been having trouble with our food supply. All we want is some help.” The pastor said warmly.
James didn't reply. He looked at the crowd again they seemed to have made their way even closer, and Allen was no longer at his feet. He was all but surrounded.
“I just think Y'all better go back where you came from.” Stammered James.
“But this is our home too!” Brown said with a friendly smile. “Your people and my people are like long lost cousins.”
Jame's could feel his body quaking. He couldn't keep his gun straight. Pastor Brown took another step towards him. A single stride nearly closed the distance between the two in half.
A shot rang out, and Jame's felt his rifle jolt in his hands. It had been a reflexive action. Everyone ducked except the towering pastor who maintained his composure. James quickly turned and darted into the woods.
He bolted into the darkness and didn't look back. He felt like he had to hearts thumping in his chest and the sound of his footsteps on the forest echoed so he couldn't tell if they were his or someone following him.
When he finally made it to the open beach, he dove behind a rock and listened for his pursuers. He tried to catch his breath so they wouldn't hear him. His arms were still too shaky to hold his gun. All he could do was wait.
Every sound that stirred in the darkness sent adrenaline flowing through the boy's veins and caused his heart to beat like a drum that sent vibrations through his whole body. Every noise tormented every moment held the possibility of death.
Finally, he was able to peer over the rock. Everything was quiet. He crawled through the sand and back to the tall grass and listened. There was only the low howl of the wind gently shaking the forests. Trembling James got back to his feet.
He headed home down the beach debating about whether or not to tell his father what he'd done. The lashing he might get didn't bother him he just wanted to escape the night. He figured an unforgiving mother nature would make short work of the people from the other side of the sea.