Friday, October 29, 2010

Land of Shadoews: Chapter XVII - Awakening

Dee awoke to the sound of a big General Motors V8 rumbling roaring to life. It was just beneath her by the sound of it. She was stretched out on the over sized center console of Dotty's Hummer. Allison was leaning over with a concerned look on her face. She could hear James and Dotty arguing quietly nearby but could not make out what was being said. Every part of her body hurt.

She tried to sit up but Allison pushed her back down like she was small child. She didn't realize how weak she was, but she must be pretty bad off if Allison could so easily restrain her.

"Notebook," she managed to whisper. Allison fished about for a couple of seconds and produced the spiral bound notebook Dee had found at the scene. She fell asleep again with it clutched to her chest.

Duke jumped into the seat vacated by Allison and nuzzled his head into the crook of her arm. He refused to move when everyone else got into the Hummer.

* * *

Sister Irene once again found herself staring at the man with shameful lusty thoughts. She knew she was going to have to spend the next several hours in prayer. There was no priest to hear her confession, grant absolution or assign penance. She just had to hope that her prayers to God would be enough. If it was not already too late.

He had recovered quicker than she had thought possible. He had the body like a Roman gladiator, strong and battle scarred. She turned away before she would more to seek forgiveness for.

She ran back to the kitchen in time to rescue lunch from burning. She finished it up and served it on one of the good china plates normally reserved for holidays. She took the plate back to him in main garage where he was working on the generator. It was looking like he just might get it up and running. It would be good to have lights and a freezer. Ice cream! She could have cream again.

She set the plate down on the hood of the Bishop's Oldsmobile. It had last moved under its own power fourteen years ago when she had used it for gathering supplies from town. It was using too much gas. She had siphoned it off to use in the little VW Bug she had found in town. But the Olds was serving quite well as a workbench and table.

Elias had spread a tarp out on the hood of the Olds and laid several of the parts he had been working on on top of that. While it was true that he'd had no formal mechanical training his father was always working on his old Camaro when he was home. And Elias had often been recruited to help. Besides when you got right down to it living creatures where just complicated machines. An internal combustion engine was child's play compared to the muscular and skeletal system of a human.

But this modified Stirling engine was completely different from any other engine he had ever seen. Combustion took place outside the piston and cylinder causing the air inside the cylinder to expand and exert force on the piston. Due to this arrangement it could burn just about any liquid or gaseous fuel with just minor adjustments to the fuel jets. But the jets were clogged and the combustion jacket was badly caked with carbon. Sister Irene had not been able to get it running since it quit three years ago. She had not known to, or how to, adjust the jets and the old gasoline had built up layer upon layer of carbon until there was just no room to burn fuel and the motor quit. The crankshaft used permanently lubricated ball bearings and the phenolic pistons were fitted in anodized aluminum cylinders. It needed very minimal lubrication on start up. The only thing he needed to do was clean the combustion jacket, and jets and make a few adjustments.

He had instructed the nun on how to do this if it ever needed to be done again. She had been watching him but he got the feeling that she was watching him for entirely different reasons.

He had just fitted the two halves of the combustion jacket on the block and was installing the air compressor. This engine was a heavy breather, it required a lot of air burn clean. He almost dropped the compressor when he felt a light touch at his elbow and turned to see Sister Irene's dark brown eyes staring into his. She looked away suddenly ashamed.

"Your lunch is ready." she told him quietly.

"You know there are other people out there. You don't have to live alone like this."

She turned back around to face him. "You don't think I know that? I hate being alone. I've always hated being alone. But I took vows..."

"Vows to who? You think your God wants you to be alone? Are you afraid that just being around other people that you will be tempted..." He stopped seeing in her eyes that the temptation was there. To just forget about her vows and abandon the convent, her duties and vows. He pulled her to him and kissed her then, knowing that it was wrong, not knowing why he was doing it. For a moment she responded, then she pulled away from him.

"Who are you being so loyal too?" he demanded. "God has turned his back on us if he ever existed at all! This isn't how it is supposed to end. I have read Revelations too!"

"But, this is not the end. It is only a test. Everyone is coming back."

"Denial of facts is not faith, it's stupidity!" He was as surprised by her slapping him as she had been by his kiss.

"They will be coming back, I've seen it. The will come back exactly as they left, naked and frightened. They will fall from the sky and tumble down the streets, And there will be nothing for them here. I have to do what I can to be ready. That is why God spared me!"

"And when will this miracle take place?"

"I don't know, but it will be the exact day and hour they left." That froze Elias. At first he had assumed this to be just a religious fervor or delusional fantasy. But what if she was right? It fit with everything he knew of the project, and he had not told her anything about it. Even in his fevered ramblings she said that he had not said anything intelligible.

He had thought that he was the only one sent forward in time because no one else had appeared with him. In the years since his arrival he had just assumed that whatever had vaporized the project facility had done the same to the people. But what if...

He began muttering a string of profanity that made Sister Irene blush. Now that the possibility had been raised the only way to put his curiosity to rest would be to go down to the company's headquarters in Houston and see what he could dig out there. He should have done it years ago, just to find out for sure what the Hell had happened, but the one person he had encountered from that area had said that Houston was infested with the wraiths.

"What's wrong?" she asked frightened by his sudden change of mood.

"I have to leave. I need to check on something. I don't suppose you would want to accompany me?" he asked already knowing the answer and grateful for it. He did not want to have to be worrying about her on the trip, and she was relatively safe here.

"Where are you going?"

* * *

"Houston," Dee repeated.

"Why Houston?" Allison asked.

"Because that is where Daddy's killer is going."

"How do you know that?"

"Because Daddy told me!" she handed Allison the journal. "Read it yourself." Allison took the journal and opened it to the folded over page Dee had used to mark the spot.

They had been travelling for two days now. Dee was not fully recovered, but she was able to sit up and walk with a pair of crutches Olly had fetched for her from a CVS pharmacy they had passed. The journal had been stained and torn in places from the rough handling it had received and some of the pages were out of order. It had taken her a while to find the answers, but when she did find them the implications of that entry scared her to the very core. She could see the same reaction now play out across Allison's delicate features.

"Daddy knew all this time? But why didn't he..."

"What, tell us and cause a panic? You know people would either panic about it now and make things worse or chalk it up to the ravings of a madman and ignore the warning. No, Daddy did the right thing. Tell a few select people and make quiet preparations."

"But we really should have done something about this before!" Allison protest.

"About what?" both Olly and Dotty asked, both feeling left out of things by this time. Allison handed the journal to her brother and told him. "About the end of the fucking world!"

* * *

In dark clearing in the woods moon light was spilling in drips and spatters on the forest floor. In one large puddle of moonlight a dark shape began to stir. It was large and slick with blood. Its dark eyes opened and took in its surroundings. It was alone. Perhaps for this first time in its life. Its litter mate, a constant companion since birth was nowhere to be seen. Neither was the master. It stood up, its legs threatening to buckle but still it managed to stand. It shook the leaves out of its short fur and sniffed the air. The scent was still strong.

Bo slowly followed Dee's trail out of the woods.

© 2010 R. Keith McBride

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Land of Shadows: Chapter XVI - Left for Dead

It had taken Allison so long to get around the woods, she half expected to find Dee waiting impatiently on the other side. But she was not there. She considered calling her on the walkie talkie, but did not want to in case she was trying to sneak up on the target. She settled in to wait.

* * *

Dee opened her eyes on a trial basis. When she found that she was not in the Lake of Fire Pastor Tom preached about, she sighed with relief. But that, like everything else hurt. She tried to sit up and found that her belly was a mass of pain. She had no idea how many times she had been stabbed with the little throwing dart. Only the short length of the dart saved her. But it still hurt.

As if in a drunken haze she took in her surroundings. It was dark and beginning to get cold. Through the hole she had blasted in the canopy of the tree was lying under, she could see a portion of the sky. In the moonlight that spilled through she could see Bo's lifeless body. Her shotgun was nowhere in sight and when she looked she found that her other guns were gone as well.

She tried to stand and was unpleasantly reminded of the bear trap on her leg. Her pant leg was soaked in blood, but she did not think that any major arteries were severed. But it was difficult to think clearly. She was tempted to just lie down and sleep. Just deal with it in the morning. But no that was not right. She tried to pry open the trap but the trap was old and rusty and the spring too strong. She felt around under the leaves and found a large rock. It took both hands to move the head sized stone. But she managed to get it up over her head and brought it down hard.

The pain was excruciating. But the rock had forced the spring back down and was holding it there. She yanked her leg free and kicked the trap away. It snapped harmlessly at her again and lay there. Blood, old and fresh painted its jaws a dark red and black in the moonlight.

She cut away her pants leg with a single edged razor blade she kept tucked away in the tongue of her boot. The wound was nasty looking. The jaws had bit deeply into the meat of her leg. But the bone was not broken and the bleeding was stopped except where the act of pulling the shredded denim away had re-opened it. She got up and stumbled over to Bo. Her leg supported her but screamed with pain at each step.

She was dizzy and faint and the poor dog looked to be about twenty feet below her as she looked down. Her head felt like a balloon about to float right off her neck. There was no sign of Duke. Things faded for a second and she decided to get moving. She wandered over to the dead stranger and found a notebook bound together with a plastic comb binder. Her mother had done that for her Daddy so he could keep his journal organized. She bent down to pick it up, her injured left leg up in the air behind her as a counterbalance as she scooped it up. For a moment she began to lose her balance and looked crazily about trying to figure out where she was going to land, but somehow managed to right herself before stumbling off in a direction she hoped would take her out of the woods.

* * *

Allison woke with a start, cursing herself for having fallen asleep. She quickly scanned the area to see what had awakened her. It was already dark. In the moonlight she could see a shadow moving about at the edge of the woods, it was too large to be one of the dogs. She snatched the night vision goggles from the dash. Sure enough it was a wraith.

She dove into the back and quickly loaded a missile into the mole gun. They only had about a dozen missiles so so had to make it count. The carefully centered the beast on the guns little LCD to let the missile get a good look at its target and fired. The sound alerted the beast and it broke into a run. But it was already too late for it. The missile swerved and followed it tracking its every move till it inevitably struck its target, whereupon it began to bore through the tough hide of the wraith. It attempted to dislodge it by rolling about on the ground, but that only drove it further into its flesh. That was when it detonated. The otherworldly creature was ripped apart.

She stared at the corpse and the blood matted grass for a few moments before making her decision. She locked the Volvo up and headed into the woods. If Dee was not out yet she was most likely injured and Allison would be damned if she would just leave her.

She found her a few hundred yards in. She was a bloody mess, but she was still alive. She was huddled at the foot of a tree with Duke standing protectively near her. Bo was nowhere in sight.

"dead." Dee told her just before she passed out. Allison ran back to the Volvo as fast as she could in the dark, to get the first aid kit. But a brilliant glow from the clearing at the edge of the woods warned her that something was not right. She stopped before leaving the shadows of the woods and stared.

The Volvo was fully engulfed in flames. A young man stood about twenty feet away. Closer than she would have wanted to stand next to a burning vehicle. Especially one running on propane. In the firelight she could see his features quite clearly. He was handsome but the insane grin on his face gave her the creeps. A wraith crouched at his side. He turned and looked directly at her. She knew it was impossible for him to see her, he would only be seeing spots after staring into those flames. But she slunk back into the woods a bit more anyway. He scanned the edge of the forest for a moment before he left heading south west with the wraith following like a faithful hound.

© 2010 R. Keith McBride