Lem came in scratching. With my luck it was fleas and I would have them by sunrise. He stripped his coat and boots, forgetting them as they left his fingers and hit the ground. The lanky man followed them, muttering nonsense as he curled into our bed. He was drunk; the sweet acrid smell cloying in small space.
He wasn’t conscious to hear my huff. I left, knowing at least he would be passed out till the camp packed the next morning. The wind burned my nose and pushed snow into my eyes. The moon hadn’t risen far in the starless expanses of sky. It was early yet, a few bundled people left around the lit oil drums.
That was good. Nothing would come out with the fires going. I took my post nonetheless. The wastes were still dangerous. One by one the fires went out, snuffed to conserve the precious oil as people retreated within their flimsy tents and makeshift structures. But the walls they put up will not keep the monsters out, so we guard.
Scout slunk from the shadows of the nearest supply wagon, taking up the post nearest mine. I got a glance from her, only an acknowledgement before she settled into the snow to wait. Our fellows would form the rest of the ring, the nearest only barely visible in the very dark night.
The moon was higher when the horizon shifted. They came, moving like the ocean tide, slow until you look away and it’s over the ice and on you. Scout stood, shaking snow from her head. I was already on my feet when the howls start around the ring.
There are three of them, emaciated bodies bare to the scathing wind. I dart forward. The first one, human shaped and walking on two legs, snarls. I show my teeth back. Scout is next to me, darting between the others which are shaped as we are. She snaps pulling one to the ground.
The human shape swipes at me with fingers crooked like claws. It is slow and unbalanced, my teeth sink into its leg and I whip my head back and forth, tearing fiber and cold flesh. It screams contempt into the wind as it falls. I bury my teeth again, this time in its throat.
Tail flattened to its pale belly the third runs growling at us. It is hard not to chase but we show restraint. It wouldn’t pay to break the perimeter.
They come, we fight. The retreat, we growl and stand our ground.
When the sun rises the monsters bodies melt into the icy ground until even the cold smell of them is gone. Scout wags her tail and limps back into the camp, her hind leg bothering her again from a fight seasons ago.
Lem is breathing softly when I pad into our tent. He grumbles and swears when I dig into the nest of furs and blankets, using my now very cold nose to make room. Eventually he does, shifting so I can wriggle next to him.
When Lem wakes he scratches my head with callused hands. “Time to getup Buddy.”
I ignore him with a deep sigh and close my eyes again.
He shakes his head at me and stands to get ready. “Lazy dog.” I hear him mutter as I drift off and begin to dream.