"Thinning the Herd"
A short story by: William Hrdina
Jeremy Butler stood in front of his window, his eyes glued to the small crack of glass between the drawn curtain and the wall; giving him a small vertical view of the outside. He didn't dare to open the blinds all the way- if he did they could easily get a lock on him. Moving slightly to the left and the right to maximize his view to either side Jeremy waited for a group to pass so he could join them. If he was lucky he'd be able to squirm his way into the middle of a group.
It was safest there.
After five minutes he spotted a large pack of people dashing across the grounds to where the enclosed walkway led to the classrooms. It was a large group- clearly one that was arranged. Jeremy was only a freshman, he wasn't allowed to take part in pre-arranged huddles, it was one of the perils of being a first year.
Upon spotting the group Jeremy didn't waste any time grabbing his backpack and rushing out the door. He took two steps and then turned back to double check the lock- he didn't want to find anything waiting under the bed when he got home. Confident it was secure he turned and sprinted toward the mass of children rushing along through the crisp fall air.
The group was moving fast and Jeremy had to run until he was safely in the center of what was essentially a rugby scrum without the ball. Once he was safely ensconced in the bosom of the masses Jeremy allowed himself to relax- if only a bit.
Jeremy couldn't see Gerald Perkins from his position in the huddle. Gerald was far behind, lagging a good twenty feet behind the moving hunk of kids. He was far too busy talking to his girlfriend Stacey on his cell phone to notice his vulnerable position. The night before she'd let him get to second base and his hormones left him unable to focus on where he was going and what she was saying at the same time.
Less than fifteen seconds after Gerald allowed himself to fall behind, a low murmur rippled through the group. It was the sound a NASCAR crowd makes when a car first starts to skid out of control. When it reached Jeremy's ears it caused him to shiver- the hair on the back of his neck standing up. Curious, he lifted up his head and craned around, looking to see who'd fallen out of line. He only knew Gerald by his nickname "Snacks" and frankly, he wasn't particularly surprised to see him being the one to draw an attack.
A dark shape was soon running on four legs out from behind a tree, traveling much faster than the group. Its unnatural skin shimmied in the air, the creature only really fully visible when it was moving. Sentinals of Attention weren't invisible, but light seemed to have a hard time sticking to them. You had to really be on the look out- which was the whole point.
Everyone wanted to yell and warn Snacks what was coming, but it was forbidden. Anyone who said anything would be excised from any scrum until they graduated. Without the protection of the masses you were a goner. Sentinel food.
Just like Snacks.