Deus ex machina by Andrew Lilly

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The air was cold and empty. It was an early morning in October, and the snow had not yet fallen. The city lay flat on the western horizon, stretching from north to south like a great sleeping lizard. Aside from the city, the terrain was mostly flat. There were a few clumps of trees here and there, and a highway ran out of the city, but other than that it was flat. No birds flew over head; there were no vehicles on the highway.

Bacchus rubbed his forehead. It had been a late nigh for him last night, and he was feeling vaguely sick. Why did he do these things to himself? Oh well. He opened the door of his half-ton and stepped out. The grass was long and dull yellow and very dry. Bacchus walked around to the box of the truck and picked up the hunting rifle that was in it. He loaded the gun and removed the safety. Right, he thought to himself, time to get to work.

He struck out north, away from the highway. It was foggy and after about forty minutes he was out of sight of the half-ton. The city could still be seen, but it seemed dimmer than it had been. He crouched down in the knee-high grass. He was wearing tan colored clothes, and he hoped he blended in. His rifle had a scope on it, but it didn't do him much good in the fog. He scanned the horizon with his bare eyes and noticed some trees several hundred meters to the northeast. He looked through the scope to get a better view and still didn't see anything out of place.

He ran, half stooping over, as fast as he could toward the trees. As he ran he tried his best to observe the landscape. Nothing seemed out of place. He could hear nothing unusual.

He reached the trees and relaxed slightly. There didn't appear to be anyone around. The trees were fairly thick and would provide good cover for him. He could just sit and wait in relative safety and save his energy. He lowered the muzzle of his gun. In the air he caught the faintest smell of stagnant water, so faint that it seemed it was only a memory coming back to him.

He leapt out of the way as fast as he could, but he wasn't quite fast enough. The ground beneath him gave way and water sprang forth from it, pushing him through the air. He landed in more water. He tried to run, but the water was knee deep now and it was hard to move. Within about ten steps he was starting to feel fatigued, and the water was only getting deeper. He stopped at a tree that had a few low branches and tried to climb it. He let his gun dangle by its strap from his right arm. The branches of the tree were weak and the first two he tried broke when he put weight on them. The third one held, and he was able to get up out of the water. He grabbed a higher branch, but it was a poor choice and broke. He was off balance. His arm flailed frantically. He fell. He was in the water. He got to his feet; the water was now at waist height. He still had his gun.

He was going to try climbing again, but just then his real trouble started. A three-pronged spear flew past his ear and buried itself in the wood of the tree in front of him.

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