Where Sport Meets Meaning by Zachary Smith //

Daybreak by Jennifer Wood //

I caught sight of my reflection in one of the windows and cringed. Being covered in fermented molasses smells bad and looks worse. Next time I blow something up to get away from the baddies I’ll stay far, far away from the rum distillery.
Or I could avoid getting chased in the first place. That made a good deal of sense, but not even my powerful abilities of self-delusion could convince me that it was a possibility. The only way to avoid getting chased, shot at, or covered in noxious substances was to leave the job unfinished. 
No way was that going to happen.
The sound of rubble being shoved around broke my grim concentration. Three pounds of C4 and still kicking? Well, time to make up a plan B.
I checked my sidearm and scowled. Obviously the molasses would seep through every crack and clog the chamber. I’d probably gotten it all on me, leaving none for the… whatever it was. I still hadn’t gotten a good look at what had been chasing me. I had the distinct impression it had antennae, though.
I hadn’t actually known I’d be blowing up a huge 100 gallon tank of molasses when I’d set my charge and ran. I wasn’t far enough away to avoid getting hit by chunks of debris and a wave of hot goo. I’d hoped the goo was bits of my pursuer. It’s been a bad day when you’d rather be covered in monster slime than a sticky sugar by-product.
It was probably going to get worse. I was in no shape to run, I was pretty sure I was bleeding, and there was no help to be expected from the town. When my deputy had come into the office and told me something had gotten loose from the farm, I’d expected him to strap on some extra ammo and help me, but instead he hung up his hat and hid under his desk.
That was the biggest problem with this job. Everyone was just too damn used to monsters, ghosts, and God knows what else. The unofficial town motto was ‘Hide until it Blows Over.’ Children’s hide and seek championships were considered one of the more important parts of the school curriculum.  
I staggered away from the shifting rubble, briefly wishing that I’d taken lessons from the hide and seek champion. I was more of a cops and robbers sort of kid, with the emphasis on cops. Subtlety was not my forte, and it had faded as I got older. 
The street was empty, and night was falling. The lonely street light clicked from green, to yellow, to red. Then I heard the scuttling sound of multiple legs over pavement. I turned around and finally got a good look at what had escaped the farm.
It was a grotesque mix between a praying mantis and a horse. Four legs ending in tiny hoof like claws. Then two giant scythe like arms reaching for me. I dove out of the way just in time, but I knew it was no good. This thing… The Horse Mantis or whatever it was, was fast. It stopped and cocked its triangular head at me. I started to crab walk backwards until I ran into a building. I think it was the joke shop, which seemed fitting for how I was about to die. 
The Horse Mantis scuttled forward, than shied back. Its antennae, poking out from the long black mane, were waving wildly, and I think I heard it sniffing the air. I didn’t know why it was hesitating now, after leading me on a merry chase around town. It reached one wicked looking scythe arm down towards me, and I cringed. Instead of grabbing me, dismembering me, or well, doing half a dozen horrible things I was imagining, it wiped some of the molasses off my face and sniffed it.
I’m pretty sure my jaw hit the pavement when a horsey tongue reached out of its mouth and licked the sticky goo off its claw. It reached down again and wiped more molasses off of me and slurped it up.
I slowly got to my feet, and the Horse Mantis moved closer and started licking my shoulder. Trying to avoid any sudden movements, I reached up and patted its thick exoskeleton covered neck. 
“Good boy,” I said through the frog in my throat. I coughed as unobtrusively as I could manage, and amended, “Or good girl. Whatever you are.”
The Horse Mantis followed me back to the station, where it stayed in the doorway chewing thoughtfully on my jacket, as I roused my deputy from under the desk and asked him to call the farm.
“I think it escaped because it was hungry,” I said, watching the Horse Mantis finish off my heavy woolen coat and look expectantly at me for more with its big black eyes.
My deputy hung up the phone and sighed, “The farm’s sending a truck. Did you really set off an explosion? It would have gone home eventually.”
I rolled my eyes. The town motto was hard at work in this one. “Or it would have gone out of the city limits and found its way to the next town over. And what if it wasn’t relatively harmless? Next time it could be a werewolf or something.”
“We haven’t had a recorded werewolf sighting in nearly ten years,” my deputy said.
“And how are you so sure of that if you’re under your desk every time something scary goes bump outside?” I asked. He just shrugged and gave the Horse Mantis a wary look. I didn’t blame him; horses were herbivores, but praying mantises were carnivorous if I remembered correctly. Both species seemed to like sticky sugary substances though, so I figured we were okay. “Make sure it doesn’t wander off, I’m going to change so it can finish off my uniform. I don’t want to test if it likes the taste of raw deputy.”
The man gulped visibly and glanced from the Horse Mantis back to me. “Can I at least keep an eye on it from under my desk?”
Some attitudes in this town were going to be harder to change than others, so I made a gesture that said ‘Be my guest’, before heading into my office. First thing next day, I was going to have a word with the principal about having other games introduced to the elementary children, like tag, or red rover.
I smiled as I imagined the children scattering to hide as soon as a kid ran forward to try and break the line. I’d only been Sherriff of Daybreak for a month or so, but I could already see some things changing. For instance, I needed a full dossier on what exactly was going on at that farm if it was producing six foot tall Horse Mantises.  
I shivered at the thought of there being more than one.