Ayanna's stomach churned as she stood high in the watchtower. The mists of early evening had begun to settle over the forest, the fading light filtered through a thin pall of clouds. Cries of creatures she had yet to see rang out, sporadic hoots and whistles, and the red leaves of the forest shifted subtly in its languid dance of swaying limbs and twisting trunks.
The work of the day burned in her shoulders. She scanned the timber walls of the perimeter, watching for movement. The dusk was the beginning of their watch, when the forest came truly alive. The walls kept the stationary plants at bay, but it was the forest creatures that were a threat. Triffids would tend to congregate near sources of light and warmth, and their tall spine could reach high. They sometimes clambered on top f one another and built themselves a mound, over which the uppermost triffid would sometimes topple and make its way into the fields--if its central spine survived the fall. Chenley was in the hospital hall tending to a survivor of the triffid's poison lash--they had brought it down yesterday only after it had managed to shuffle a good hundred meters into the field. They were slow, but their lash had a length to it and it was startlingly quick. The Warden himslef had led the hunting party, and they had finally managed to bolo it and pull it down. The cinders of yesterday's fire set on the pile of triffids that had enabled the breach were still sending up wisps of smoke that Ayanna could see from her post farther along the circular border.
"Connor, did you hear that?" The sound of the shovel as it dug into the rich brown soil of the furrow changed into the clink of a struck rock. Connor stopped his humming and looked at Perra.
"What, you hit a rock?" Connor's face grimaced in annoyance at the question, his curly red hair bobbing as he reached his hand to grasp the roots of the octaweed. They squirmed and pulsed, sensing a threat to their established hold on the soil. But it was just a plant, and Connor had been digging the field now for five years or more. Time ran together out here at the bluffs. He liked it better when he didn't have to think too much about it. But Perra was always asking questions like that.
"No, Connor, over there." Perra tapped Connor's shoulder with a callused hand. "Look," he said more urgently.
Connor stood from his squat and turned his body. He looked at the palisade, and the timbers that ran straight up and down, and the sky, and the clouds in the sky, and the line of the canopy... "Perra, you talking about that triffid?"
"Shit, yeah, I'm not crzay." Perra dropped his shovel and before it had hit the ground, he was sprinting across the furrow, his hhand waving his hat and hollering for the fieldwatch. Connor watched as the flicking, waving strand that he had seen beyond the wall of wood that separated the field from the growth of the Bloodwood grew longer, and the cluster of its poison sacs emerged into sight. He absentmindedly dropped the octaweed, and turned to the chuck wagon to see about a tool that might keep the damned thing at bay while the fieldwatch came. The two large wheels on it supported most of its weight, but a few oddments hung off the bar that served as a tackle stowage and handle for pushing it along. There was a long-hafted spear, and he grabbed that and pulled with a grunt. It stuck on another bit of gear, some hole-digging contraption that Perra had insisted they bring along on their shift. He heard the thump as the triffid fell from its height. He glanced back behind him to check if it had fallen on this side of the wall, and scanning the wall, he realized he'd lost track of the spot they had seen it.
Shit, shit, shit. His hand clenched hard on the spear and he yanked, still facing the wall. His shoulder spasmed in pain as his torso jerked against the still backwards-cast arm, and the feeling lanced up through his neck. "Ah, shit!" he exclaimed aloud. His knees buckled, and his hand released the spear while his other hand went reflexinvely to his shoulder. He tried to keep his head up, to scan the field for the triffid--they were easy to spot, usually, even if they got into the fields, because their poison sacs were a deep red cluster of orbs, and their height made the red hover amidst the white-washed wall of the palisade. Unless it had broken a stem and still lay flat on the ground... there. He watched as his eyes locked on to the creature, righting itself like a spear with legs, its three tentacles whipping in coordinated fashion to move its long, stiff strunk back into a skyward angle. He grimaced silently as the pain in his shoulder and neck fired again, clenching his teeth to avoid further sound from giving away his position. Where was Perra? Where was the fieldwatch?
Connor stood, the low-angled sun warming his neck at the end of a temperate day in the season between the brutal summers and the frigid winters. He heard a shout, and there, off in the distance was Perra, with the fieldwatch squad and their gear. He squinted, and it looked like they hand their bolo ropes in hand. They were running, but it seemed as if in slow motion. The triffid was heading his direction, still, and seemed unmoved by the shouts from the farther group. He turned, trying to focus less on the pain and more on keeping the thing at bay, and twisted the spear's handle to dislodge it. He yanked again and thrust his hand out to grasp it fully two-handed, whirling around to bring the fire-hardened point of the heartwood to bear. And as he did, he heard the trample of the rods from the creature's piston-like legs, jerking up and down in synchronous rhythm, inexorably carrying the trunk of its body. Connor saw the whips thrashing about, feeling for him, searching for some part of his body to contact and inject its poison into.
He realized that his spear would not be enough. This was a far bigger specimen than he had realized, and even the length of his spear put him in reach of its wild flagellation. "Ha," he spit. The only play he had now was to run for it, to bring it in reach of the fieldwatch, who were still only half the distance to his spot. It advanced, and he realized that he was trapped, blocked from escape behind by the chuck wagon. He threw himself prone and rolled under the handle, crawling backward in between the two tall wheels as the vines slapped against the exterior of the wagon, searching for him. it towered over the wagon, and the stench of its moldy underbelly wafted to him. He dragged his spear, fighting the pain of his shoulder and neck aggravated by the cramped position he was in, and tried to emerge as quietly as he could on the other side of the wagon. He watched the creature's legs, and another spasm of pain seized him. Connor folded his right arm up against his chest, using the left to grasp the spear, and he pushed the butt of his hand against the ground to shove himself backwards. Too damn slow, he thought amidst the pain. But the triffid had not moved from its station where he had been standing, and he listened for the sounds of its tentacles before rising up cautiously. The spear he held aloft, hoping to use it to shield him from a stray flagellum. The waving tentacles seemed to orient to him as he raised the spear, and Connor hurriedly backpedaled, trying to stay out of range and move towards the fieldwatch patrol. They were nearly upon the chuck wagon, and Connor could see the Warden raise his arm with a bolo to ensnare the triffid, when it lurched forward horrendously quickly. The wieghted rope when flying past where the creature had been, and a tentacle slammed into the spear in Connor's left hand, sending it flying and spraying a red fluid on his hand. The hand immediately went numb--and then Connor was almost flung into the air. Another tentacle had swung around while he was focusing on his hand, slamming into his neck. His eyes began to burn with pain, and the world faded to white. The sounds of the scuffle grew fainter and fainter as he fought to remain conscious, but unfeeling spread throughout his body and he subsided into a bank of snow, pure and white.
That was fast, his final thought echoed in his mind.