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Red Dead Whumptober

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The wire sliced into his skin like a snakebite, its barbs latching on and pulling tight into the flesh of his thigh, his side, his arm, ripping tears into his brand new shirt and all. Dutch’d given him that shirt just last week and he’d be givin’ him an earful for bleeding all over it, too.

Arthur hadn’t seen the barbed wire in the dark of the moonless night, making a hurdling leap over the fence only to find himself tangled half way, yelping as the fence fought back with tooth and nail. He tried to jerk free reflexively, but only succeeded in driving the barbs deeper and twisting himself up even further. He hissed in a breath and let it out slowly, feeling hot lines of blood beginning to run from each wound, his eyes darting in the darkness for signs that he was still being pursued.

He and Hosea had made a clean enough getaway from the storehouse—the old man’d taken the wagon with the goods and Arthur’d run a distraction through the fields, tailed by a handful of trigger happy guards. He was pretty sure he’d lost ‘em, making an erratic loop around the property and crawling his way through the waving lines of crops until he made it to the fence, but he could hear the distant shouts of men and see the wavering glow of lantern light across the farmland. If they caught him like this, stuck like a damn pincushion…

The pain was starting to seep through the adrenaline now, cold and sharp, twinging with every tiny movement. He felt like a rabbit in a trap, twitching itself tighter and tighter in blind panic, and forced himself to stay calm, to carefully follow the trail of wire with a shaky hand and pull the hooks loose, one by one. The sound of footsteps was coming nearer now; the swish of cornstalks being pushed aside as the guards methodically scoured the fields. Blood slicked over his fingers, making them slip, making them sticky—his whole left arm burning with stinging punctures as he finally pulled it free. Jesus, how many times had this fence bitten him?

He risked another pause, another deep breath. He could see the outline of figures in the lantern light, a few hundred paces off—they hadn’t seen him yet, but they were steadily closing in. He had to move faster.

A grunt tore out of him as he grabbed hold of the wire and yanked. Three more bastard hooks; an almighty great tear in the side of his shirt; his ribs wet with sweat and blood. His head reeled and he swayed in the metal spiderweb, grabbing hold of the fence post to stop himself falling back against the barbs he’d just freed himself from. If Dutch was gonna make a fuss about his shirt, Grimshaw was gonna make double the fuss over all the stitches she’d have to put into him when he got back to camp…

He swallowed thickly. Just his leg to go now, and he could tell without even looking that it was the worst of all, the wire twisted tight around the meat of his upper thigh. An involuntary whimper escaped his throat as he tentatively pulled at it, feeling the barbs scrape against the flesh. Six inches higher and he’d have really had something to yell about, though, so… y’know. Small blessings.

Still, he wasn’t out of it yet. And the trampling of the guards was coming ever closer. He peppered his trembling hands with fresh cuts and scratches as he scrabbled desperately at the remaining wire, a deep aching pain running through his thigh as those metal teeth bit deeper and deeper the more he struggled. His breath was coming ragged now—just like his shirt. Maybe this was worse than he’d thought…

He was just about to pull out his knife when a hand came down firm on his shoulder and a familiar voice shushed in his ear. Arthur flinched, barely managing to bite down the cry of pain the movement cost him, and craned his neck sideways to see Hosea frowning down out of the darkness.

“Thought you might’ve come across some sort of mischief… What on earth have you gotten yourself into, Arthur?”

Hosea’s careful fingers skimmed over the line of the fence and his concern deepened as he saw the fast-blossoming bloodstains on Arthur’s leg.

“Hosea,” Arthur whispered hoarsely, his eyes on the crop line, one hand on his holster. “They’re comin’…”

“Yes, yes, they’re going to have to wait,” Hosea murmured, making a few calculations in his head and then resting one foot on the wire just above Arthur’s leg. “And I’m afraid this is going to hurt, my boy.”

“Wait, wha–?”

Hosea pressed his whole weight down on the fence and for a second Arthur thought he was going to pass out from the scything pain that ripped through his thigh. But then Hosea’s hands were deftly untangling the wire and the pressure lifted so suddenly that Arthur’s legs just plain gave out on him, and he tumbled sideways into the ditch below the fence.

Hosea make an approving tick of his tongue and crouched beside him, scooping up a fist-sized rock from the dusty ground and launching it with an easy overarm toss across the field towards a little wooden tool shed. Arthur heard the thunk of the rock hitting its target; the scuffling of feet from within the cornfield; the hushed discussion of the guards as they headed off in the direction of the shed, barely three paces away from discovering Arthur’s sorry ass.

He didn’t dare make a sound, even though his chest was heaving and he couldn’t keep himself from panting as the pain in his leg turned hot, then cold, then started throbbing in time with his heartbeat. He clamped his hands around his thigh and felt the warm pulse of blood between his fingers, a low growl in his throat, teeth clenched tight.

Hosea pulled him up to sitting and gave him a hearty slap on the back that set every tiny cut afire. “Think you can hop your way to the treeline?” he said, nodding to a small wood the other side of the fence. “Wagon’s hidden just inside.”

Arthur nodded grimly, though he suspected what blood was left in his head would rush right out of it the moment he got to his feet. He could feel Hosea’s shrewd eyes on him and he nodded again, forced a grumbling ‘yeah, sure’ out of his mouth.

Hosea didn’t look convinced. And there was an edge of anxiety in his eyes as he cast another glance over Arthur’s leg.

“Trust you to get yourself trussed up like a goddamn Christmas ham…” he muttered, waving Arthur’s hands away and replacing with them his scarf which he tied tight around the wound like a tourniquet. “Always knew you had the same sense as an ox, running into barbed wire… Honestly, Arthur…”

Arthur’s wincing turned to a low chuckle as the old man continued his griping, hauling him up to his feet and wrapping an arm over his shoulder as they made a slow limping beeline for the trees. His head whirled but Hosea kept him upright, one agonising step at a time, chiding at him like a wayward child, even though Arthur was a good foot taller than him these days.

If he didn’t care so much about you, he wouldn’t bother tellin’ you what a damn fool you are, Grimshaw’d once said, when Arthur had dared complain about Hosea’s fussing. And so he took it as a sign of affection as the old man shoved him (as gently as possible) into the back of the wagon.

“Might as well tear that shirt into bandages,” Hosea said as he climbed up into the cab, and Arthur could hear the grin in his voice. “Better to destroy all the evidence than let Dutch see it like that, huh?”

Arthur stuck his bloody fingers through a rip that ran from his elbow to his wrist and yanked the whole sleeve off with one sharp tug. “Yup,” he sighed, smirking a little himself at the thought of Dutch’s outraged expression—and the wide-eyed worry that would come after it as he saw just how much blood’d come out of his boy. “You’re probably right.”