Technical Difficulties Episode 01byLucyH©
A harvest moon shone down on the feed lot that crisp, cool night in October, making the row of light posts down the center redundant. Most of the cattle slept, their hides and ears twitching reflexively to shake off flies. Two black cows in the paddock on the end poked their heads through the fence and nosed around in the mostly empty trough. They ignored Zach's approach.
Everything Zach knew about handling cattle, he'd learned that week. Don't bother sleeping cows. Pick one that's awake and approach slowly from the front to avoid startling it. Act like taking a stroll in the feedlot at midnight is a perfectly normal thing to do.
Zach stepped on the trough and boosted himself up over the fence beside the smaller of the two animals. He checked the ground for cow patties before climbing down on the inside of the paddock. The cow half turned its head and looked at him with a glimmer of curiosity. He petted its flank, hoping to reassure it. The cow resumed nosing around in the trough.
The smell of cows, and particularly their poop, got on Zach's last nerve, but he was too hungry not to bite. He pressed his face against the cow's neck, got a big mouthful of dirty fur, and sunk his fangs in. The cow's skin twitched, as though Zach were a giant horsefly. He choked down as much blood as he could stand to swallow, fighting his reflex to gag. Why did the one species of mammal (besides humans) too stupid to run from a vampire have to taste so horrible?
Ryan hurried to wiggle a hand free of the rope that bound him to his father's old weight bench. The stifling heat in the garage added to his impatience. He inched up, trying to get a bit of slack, and a big splinter jabbed into his arm; the bench was home built from rough, heavy lumber. At least the movement won him a free hand.
Layla and Zach yelled to each other and made ray-gun sounds as they fought the imaginary bad guys in the front yard. Ryan used his fingernails and incisors for the delicate job of loosening knots in the kite string that bound his other hand. He couldn't afford to get too frantic, or he'd just tighten them and end up hopelessly stuck without scissors.
It was even harder to be methodical when he felt the knot loosen, but he fought the urge to tear at the string, and instead eased the loose knot down its length until he could slip his hand out. Once he regained the use of both hands, he sat up and freed his feet with little difficulty. He ran to the big garage door. Before he reached it, the door flew open. Ryan squinted into the blinding sunshine.
Layla aimed her water pistol at the junk in the garage behind Ryan. "We're here to rescue you. Let's get moving before the guards come."
"Whew. Thanks. It's lucky you made it." Ryan ran out into the gravel driveway and followed Zach and Layla as they took off down the sidewalk toward their home base in the neighborhood park.
"Hurry, they're chasing us," Layla called over her shoulder, and picked up speed.
Heat radiated from the pavement and a mirage shimmered on the road ahead. Ryan felt light-headed and sweat rolled down his back under his t-shirt. "I can't go any faster. They poisoned me," he shouted.
Zach turned around and walked backward for a few steps. "Just move as fast as you can, then. I'll cover you."
Ryan staggered the rest of the way to the park and collapsed on the packed dirt in the shade of the cedar bushes with Layla and Zach. The game always ended there.
Layla caught her breath first. "My turn to be the prisoner next."
"No, it's my turn," Zach argued.
Ryan took the squirt gun from Layla's lap and sprayed water into his mouth.
Layla shook her head. "Ryan's mom comes home soon. We only have time for one more game." They weren't supposed to tie each other up, because it would be dangerous if the house caught on fire, according to Ryan's mother.
"Yeah, but it's still my turn." Zach sat up straighter and frowned.
"I'm moving tomorrow. This is my last chance to have a turn." Layla pried her squirt gun out of Ryan's hand and took a drink.
Zach started to sound more pissed off than whiny. "I know you're moving, but we can't play the weight bench game properly with two people, so it's the last chance for all of us. You had a turn right before Ryan."
"You two can find somebody else to play with," Layla said. She sounded sad.
"Who?" Zach demanded.
Layla shrugged. "I don't know. Anybody."
Ryan worried that they wouldn't get to play at all if they kept bickering. "How about you play rock paper scissors for it or something."
Zach glared at Ryan. "Why should I have to play rock paper scissors when it's my turn?"
Layla sniffed, and Ryan realized she was trying not to cry. She got into a crouch and crept out of the hideout.
"Nice going," Ryan grumbled.
Zach crossed his arms. "What? It's not my fault she's being a bee with an itch about it."
"She is not." Ryan rolled his eyes. "You can have a turn tomorrow. I'll go outside by myself."
"What are you going to do out here?"
"Who cares? I just promise I'll do it. Come on. Don't ruin Layla's last day here."
"Fine." Zach ripped a twig off the nearest bush.
Ryan chased after Layla, calling her back.