Confessions of a Courier #Shortstory

 

Confessions of a Courier
By Eric Johnson

            In this age, a person takes whatever job they can.  I used to be an accountant, but then Black Tuesday happened.  I had everything I wanted: A huge house, a beautiful wife, and two wonderful children.  Now I am a courier in Port Reading, New Jersey.  I live with three other men in a small one-bedroom apartment.  To call it an apartment is a bit of a stretch, but you live where you can live.  At least it had working plumbing.  I lived out of my car for a short time.  That car that allowed me to get a job in this horrible economy.

Being a courier is  not all bad.  It puts food on the table, rent in the landlord’s hands and fuel in the tank.  Fuel is my lifeblood now.  If I could not put fuel in the car, then I am unable to make my deliveries.  If I cannot make my deliveries, then I am as unemployed as those hundreds of people just hanging around outside the Hess plant every day waiting for any job opening.  I will not be one of those.  I will keep my car running.

Today was a long drive.  I had a pickup at the Hess plant, some chemical samples.  I had to deliver them to Princeton.  Now there is a place to be.  Even in this depression, people go to school.  The people there were… well… alive.  Those unemployed zombies outside the refineries were dead.  Sure, their hearts still beat, they walk around, eat food when they can get it, and everything else, but they live the lives of the dead.  I knew that at any time I am only a gas tank away from being dead too.

Something seemed to happen when you crossed that county line from Middlesex into Mercer County.  It is like stepping out of the depression and into the American Dream.  Stores are open and have customers, yards are well maintained, and the roads are properly paved.  My sore rear was very thankful for this last part.

I picked up the clipboard out of the passenger seat and checked the address.  Institute of Mathematics, I get to go on the Princeton University campus today.  Here the rich and smart people live and learn in a world separated from the harsh reality that plagues the rest of the nation.  I long to be one of them.  I knew that I neither have the money nor the smarts to ever be able to school there.  It would be a good day for me.  Tips are usually forthcoming during university deliveries and I will be able to take in the sights.  The trees on campus are magnificent and alone are worth the visit.

The name on the package is difficult to make out.  The first name looked looks Erwin.  It is an odd delivery though, chemical samples going to the math department?  It is not for me to contemplate such things, just deliver them.

Arriving on campus is like entering yet another world.  The buildings are all very majestic and stoic.  Trees are huge and sprawling, many stretching out and covering the entire street in their shade.  People are everywhere.  They are nicely dressed.  They stand in packs talking or mill about from one building to another.  The depression has not touched these people.  Briefly, I feel a part of them.  I have business here and thus must belong.  However, that emotion is fleeting.  My shirt is stained and I am four days over due for my bath.

The campus is made up of various miniature universities, each building having some specialty of learning.  It takes me asking directions three times to locate the Institute of Mathematics.  I park outside.  There are very few cars there, everybody walks on campus.

I grab the package and head inside.  Apparently a lecture just let out because the hall is filled with pandemonium.  I move towards the wall to be out of the way, and to look for some kind of directory or sign that might direct me to this Erwin.  Several students passing by discussing something about quantum physics bump me out of the way and into a doorway.  This collision is fortunate though, the glass on the door has the names of the occupants.  Here is my Erwin.  His last name looked completely unpronounceable.  It is German I think.  I think briefly of the news I read that morning about the German Nazis.  They are a horrible lot.

No one is in the office.  Papers and formulas cover the walls.  It all looked completely Greek to me.  I had to clear a stack of papers out of the guest chair before having a seat.  The hallway outside started to empty.

My patience is quickly rewarded as a man with a polka-dot bow tie and thick-lensed glasses entered with several students.  He continues to talk with them as if still in class and none of them seem to notice my presence.  They complete their discussion and break up shortly and only the professor remains.  He turns and sees me and has a sudden surprised look on his face.  It could have been the glasses though; I think they could have made anyone look surprised.

“Can I help you?”  He asked politely if a little hurried.

“Delivery for Erwin.”  I said holding the package aloft for his attention.

“Wha…”  He starts to say, but after examining the label says, “Oh!  This is from the plant over in Port Reading.  I did not expect it so soon.”

Erwin takes the package and signs the clipboard I present him.  The package unceremoniously disappears amongst the shelves in the office.

“Here…”  The professor pats down his pockets, obviously looking for some change for a tip.  My heart races for a moment, but then slows again as it appears he did not find anything.

“I seem to be short for a tip.”  He says and my hopes fall.

“Wait here a moment.”  Erwin states and suddenly leaves the room.

I sit there for several minutes listening to the occasional conversation in the hallway by students passing.

Something moved on the table nearby.  My eavesdropping interrupted; I looked at the table and notice there was a box that is slightly shaking.  I know better, and I cannot explain why I did what I did, but I get up, walk over to the box, and open it.  I jump back as an orange stripped tiger tabby leaps from the box, hits the linoleum floor and runs for the office door, sliding the whole way.  A mere couple of seconds later and it has vanished.

Guiltily, I quickly close the box and return to the guest chair.  I know I am in huge trouble, I ponder leaving without the tip, but I need the money and they would know for sure it was I who lost the cat if I suddenly leave.  I decide I have only one chance: play stupid.

A few moments later, Erwin and a student come in talking together and the professor absently hands me several coins.  A quick glance and I realize it is three quarters!  That is over half of my pay for this trip.  I quickly and graciously thanked him and head for the door.  As I turn the corner, the professor and student start to open the same box I had just opened.  I step a little faster towards the hall entrance.

“Excuse me!” A German accented voice called to me.

My natural obedience to authority makes me stop in my tracks.  I turn to face him.

“I’m sorry…” I start to say, but he cuts me off.

“Did you see a cat in here?”  He asks.

“Cat sir?”

“Yes, I had a cat in a … never mind…” and he then proceedes to ignore my existence.

“It could not have just vanished!”  He exclaimes to the student with him.  “Help me find it.”

I take that as my cue to leave.  I make it to the front door in time to hear the student calling out to one of his friends, “Hey Marcus!” he shouts, “Come help me find Schrodinger’s Cat!  It’s gone and vanished!”

On a Thread #Shortstory

On a Thread

By: Eric Johnson

     “Nope!  There is no way you have ever taken a skiff into space.”  The guy next to me said.  “They are not rated for that high of flight; they are not even capable of non-atmosphere flight.”

“Ten credits says I did.”  I told him, that’s enough for food for a family for a week.  He has a family; I don’t so that makes it an even harder bet for him.

“You trying to pull something over on me?”  He gave me a calculating look.  “You did it in a cargo ship hauling a skiff, huh?”

I motioned to the bartender, my drink is empty.  I turned to my contestant and looked him up and down.  He looked like a typical settler raised in space and then worked years on the planet: tall and muscular.  If I got him mad enough, I would just be a twig for him to snap.

I shook my head at him.  “No other ships were involved.”

He pondered this for a moment.

“I got it!” he exclaimed, “You had a modified engine!  You had oxygen fuel and…”

He wrenches his face for a moment.

“No wait, the skiff is still an aerodynamic vehicle… It could not fly that high, big engine or not.”  He corrected himself.

My new drink arrived.  I started to dig in my pocket for some change.

“So tell me, how did you do it?”  He asked me.

“You want to know?”

He nodded.

“Then you have to pay to play.”

I moved to pay the bartender a couple of quarter credits.  My acquaintance stopped my hand then dropped a couple of quarters himself.  The bartender looked at me, I nodded, he picked them up, and wandered back to cleaning glasses.

“Thanks,” I smiled at him, “but I said that 10 credits talks.”

He frowned.  I turned back to my drink; the free ones taste the best, and took a sip.  I pay him no attention.

“It has to be some trick!” He said, “You are trying to grift me!”

“It was a normal skiff, normal engines, and normal wings, normal in every way.  There was no other ship involved and I flew it into space under its own power.” I assured him.  “The only thing about a skiff that can handle a trip to space is the pressurized cabin.”

He seemed to think about this a moment.  I turned back away from him.

A few moments later, I heard him slap the bar next to me.  I glanced over just as he pulled his hand off a shiny 10 credit token.

I stood up from my stool for a moment to dig in my pocket.  From a handful of change, I plucked out a couple of 5 credit tokens and laid them on the bar next to his.  I pocketed the rest and resumed my place.

“What is your name farmer?”  I asked him.

He seemed slightly taken aback that I knew he was a farmer, but answered, “Robert.”

The large muscular shoulder, callused hands, and dirty nails are what gave it away.  I replied to him, “Robert, pleased to meet you, I am Matt.”  I shook his hand.

I took another sip of my brew before beginning.

It was the Eighth day of Luna and I carried a shipment of fertilizer to settler Franco.  He’s that guy who lives so remote from everyone else, that rich guy with all the land.

Well, it was stormy that day, and I tried to delay the delivery, but he was quite persistent.  I waited for a clearing in the weather at the airport then took off during a brief window of opportunity.  When I hit the sky, it was only clear for about 25 square miles around me, not really that large of an area.  Ahead of me, I could see the storm like a wall of stone, dark and grey.

I pulled up into an upward spiral and tried to get as much altitude as I could before hitting the clouds.  It seemed like only seconds though before that hole in the clouds closed up and swallowed the little skiff.  Since I was in the clouds now, I continued my climb in the direction of the delivery.

Winds buffeted my plane and knocked it hither and fro…

“So the winds boosted you into space?”  Robert interrupted my story.

I stared at him for a moment.

“No,” I finally replied, “the winds did not boost me into space.  If you would like to finish my story for me, go right ahead.”

“Um, no Matt.”  He looked sullen, “I want to hear your version.”

I finished my drink and gestured to the barkeeper.

“Now where was I?”  I pondered out loud before continuing.

Winds knocked my plane around, but NOT into space.  It was a struggle to keep the plane steady, so my climb was slowed greatly.  I was flying on instruments.

“Have you ever watched a thunderstorm?”  I interrupted my own story this time.

Robert nodded.

“I mean have you ever just sat and watched one?”

This time he shrugged.

“Well, when you watching a thunder storm, you only see a very small amount of the lightning.  There is plenty of lightning that discharges from cloud to cloud, hidden from view.”  I explained.  “You might see the clouds flash a little, and maybe hear a little bit of rumbling, but the inside of the storm is even more active than what you see on the outside.”

So there I was.  I was flying blind with only my instruments to guide me.  I would have just turned around, but I really needed the money and Franco, he pays well.  Besides, I had already burned a lot of fuel just trying to climb over the storm.  So I continued.

All around me, the entire time, lightning flashed.  A few even hit me.  But the skin of the skiff acted as a Faraday cage, as it is supposed to, and I did okay.  It is the sudden thunder that accompanies a flash that always throws me off.  It can be deafening.

Well, my luck had held up so far, but it quickly ran out.  A smell of smoke accompanied one of those flashes and all my gauges went out.  I still had control, but I flew completely blind now.  I figured my sensor array must have been improperly grounded, which I found out later it was, and that it had taken a direct hit, which I found out later it did.

So now I am flew in a bunch of grey nothing, barely able to see through the rain and flashes, constantly buffeted, knocked around, and nearly completely deaf.  At this point, I decided it was time to cut my losses and head home.

I pause in my story to pay the bartender, Robert was not falling for the “pay for my drink” trick again, and took a quick slug.

So I turned my plane around, or my best estimation of being turned around.  I tried to dive, but the updrafts kept me aloft.  Quite a few close calls scared me as I thought the plane might stall from all the conflicting forces.  Somehow I managed to keep going.

Now try as I could, I could not seem to break the bottom of the clouds, I was stuck in the middle of them.  With all the jostling up, down, left, right, etc. I had no idea which way it was to the bottom of the clouds.

This went on for some time and I found myself completely lost.  I could have been just hovering against the wind from the way it felt.  A couple of times I thought I had hit something and the entire skiff shook horribly, but still I flew on.

I looked at my fuel gauge, it read empty.  You see the thing about gauges, I still had plenty of fuel but could not see how much.  I could stay up for a while, but I did not want to.  I wanted down and the sooner the better.  Only it seemed my craft had other plans.

The flashing finally let up and the grey became slightly lighter.  I figured I had finally broken free and was coming out below the clouds.  The grey became lighter and lighter and then the next thing I saw blew my mind.  I was looking at the top of the clouds.  Worse, looked slightly downward at them, but the receded from me.  I felt like I raced downward to catch the clouds, but they moved slightly faster.

“Told you it was an updraft.” Robert said smiling at me.

I stared at him but said nothing.  After a moment, his smile faded.

“Sorry, go ahead with your story.” He apologized.

A quick sip and I did continue.

So, here I was, I flew downwards and only gothigher and higher above the clouds.  I must say it was a truly unique experience.  I was quite certain that it was the sky beneath me was falling, because I could come up with no other reasonable explanation except the sky was falling.

Blue sky hung above me, and I could see the sun.  Something bothered me about that though.  The sky was blue, but it was a darker blue than it usually looked.  Not that soft pastel blue you usually get.

I found next that none of my controls would respond.  I tried to put the skiff into a dive, but it stayed almost level, only slightly looking down.  It felt like someone had a grip on the tail and held it up.  Just out of curiosity, I attempted to look towards the back of the plane, but the cockpit windows in a skiff don’t allow much looking back.  Then it hit me.  The skiff had rear views: cameras at the back of the plane, usually only used for backing up at the airport.  I never used them then either.  I fired up the monitors, but I only saw a dark blue color, nothing else.  I turned off the monitors.

I looked forward again and the sky ahead of me darkened more, and I could see faint red flashes above me in the darkness.  This did not make sense to me, I could see the sun, it was still day time, but the sky darkened more and more.

It hit me quite suddenly.  I looked down at the clouds, they were still retreating, and they were extremely far below me now.  I looked up and the canopy loomed black.  I had entered space.  I had no idea why, but my ship continued to climb into space.  And those red flashes kept getting closer.

“You know when you see a flash in a thunder storm and a big bolt strikes the ground?”  I asked my listener.

He nodded dumbly.

“Well, I came to find out later, that flashes of lightening are kind of like a car taking off in the gravel.  The car goes forward, but a lot of gravel shoots backwards.  In the lightening’s case, the downward flash throws energy up into the air and when it hits space, it creates these little plumes of light called sprites.

I gulped the remainder of my drink and turned the glass upside down.  That was enough for now; I had to fly in a few hours.

Before too much longer I looked down on those red flashes as well.  I could defiantly make out the curve of the planet.  About that time though, my engines started to cut out.  They starved for oxygen.  Had my gauges worked they would have warned me about mixture levels way before this.

The storm drifted now way below me, but I could only see the far edge of it because I could not see directly below me.

Then the engines died.  You do not know silence until you are just entering the vacuum of space and your engines stop turning.

I hung there for a short time, though it seemed like forever and then started to fall.  I could see the sprites below me, the storm, and the planet.  All of them at once rushed towards me.  To add to my confusion, everything started to spin, The skiff spun in a dead stall.

I took a moment and looked at Robert.  He held his hat in his hands and crumpled it up.  Standing behind him are several other bar patrons gathering around to get their own telling of the story, for free I might add.

So, I pulled the stick and started working the pedals against the spin.  I have practiced this many times in a simulator, but have never faced anything like this.  I do not think anyone has.  I found freefall from space in a skiff a unique experience.  I did manage to pull of out the spin, and pulling the stick, I was eventually able to get the nose to respond and pull out.  Gee forces pressed me to my seat as I made the maneuver at speeds the craft never would have achieved on its own, but I was slowing down fast now that I lad leveled out some.  I had to get the engines restarted.

Skiff engines require blow starts.  That means they have to have a lot of air forced into them to get the turbines spinning.  On the ground, there is a large truck that does this for me.  In the air, I had to rely on my own speed.  I had very little time to get the engines started before I would be going too slow to fire them up.  I quickly fiddled the controls and dumped fuel and fire into the engines.  A sudden roar and I knew I succeeded.  I pulled up and tried to gain some altitude above the clouds, but I could not get enough speed now to pull up.  Pushed the throttle forward and tried again.  I could only hold altitude now.  I flew above the storm, but if I lost any more altitude then I would be in the middle of it again.

I stopped and listened.  The engines did not sound right.  They sounded quieter than usual.  No, IT sounded quieter, I only had one engine restarted, the other failed to start.  I pulled at the controls again and dumped more fuel and fire.  The skiff shuttered, but still did not pick up speed.  I tried it once more and had the same result.  I would have to land on one engine.

The bartender stood next to me at the bar, I look down and he turned my glass upright and filled it again.  Not one to argue, I drank a little more.

The people behind Robert conisted of the rest of the patrons of the establishment.

Now, it is not that hard to bring down a skiff with one engine, but to do so in this storm, with no gauges, and no visibility, it would take a miracle.

“Now you can see I am standing right here before you,” I interrupt myself, “so you know a miracle must have occurred, but you have to stick with me here and once I tell you, you still will not believe it.”

So I held the plane up as long as I could above the clouds.  I wasted some fuel in the restart attempts, but I figured I still had enough to make it past the storm, but I could never seem to find the edge of it.

I flew as straight as I could for about an hour and by this time I skimmed the tops of the clouds.  I finally gave in and went for a dive downward through them.  My old acquaintance, the color grey, greeted me there.  Everything was grey and I had to hold my eyes level with a dirt spot on the windscreen to tell if I still went up or down.

“It’s an inner ear thing.”  I quickly explained. “You look at something level with your eyes and you can tell by your sense of balance as to if you are facing up or down.”

The whole group nodded together.

So I flew completely by ear, one engine, thunder, lightning, no gauges, and totally blind in the grey.  Oh, and the turbulence had gotten worse, much worse.  Maybe the lack of engine power made it worse, but my skiff tossed all over, I gripped the stick half out of steering, half out of needing something to hold on to.  Downward I went.

I managed to get somewhere this time.  It did not take me long before I burst out of the bottom of the clouds.  Below, the terrain was called my name, and I hoped not answer it too quickly.

I found visibility here only slightly better, I could make out some shapes below, but had no idea what they belonged to, and I hadto get closer.  This idea almost sent me back into the clouds it scared me so much, but I had already been there and knew what waited for me.  I decided to take my chances with the ground.  I pointed downward, though not too steep, and made my way.

Now, when you are flying a skiff, the only thing you can hear from outside is the sound of the engines, or in this case, engine, and thunder.  But that day I heard something so loud that I could not hear the engines over it.  It sounded like a plasma engine taking off over the ocean.  And more than hear it, I felt it.  The entire ship vibrated in its fury.  I looked out the window and could not see anything but occasional shapes in the rain.  Then a dark area appeared off to my right and it closed on me fast.  I was not flying in that direction so it had to be coming at me.

“Was it a twister?”  One of the patrons interrupted and he received dark stares from others around him.

“Yes,” I answered him, “it was a twister.”

“Probably same one that hit my farm.”  He added, but by several people shushed him.

Robert though seemed in thought for a moment, and then spoke up.  “So was it the tornado that threw you into space? ‘Cause that would be an updraft.”

I just shook my head at him.  Someone behind him though hit him with their hat.

So this tornado headed straight at me, my entire plane is vibrated, and I cannot hear the engines or the thunder.  My ears are still ringing from the noise.

I tried to steer away, but the craft started crabbing towards the dancing devil.  It had me caught in the suction zone.

I prayed and steered.  I held my skiff at bay as best as I could, but it was a losing battle.  When the twister grabbed the plane, it was kind of like when you shoot a piece of paper with a rubber band.  One moment that paper is sitting there minding its own business, the next it seems almost instantly somewhere else.  My skiff played the part of the piece of paper.  We suddenly moved so fast that it threw me out of my seat.  When I checked my seat later, the five-point belt remained completely buckled.  I have no idea how I left the seat.

I banged my head good, but remained conscious.  Through the front glass, all chaos was going on.  I saw things going past that I was not sure whether they were upside down or not, or if maybe I was.

It all came to an end rather suddenly or at least the part that I can remember.  The plane hit the ground, but it seemed somehow a soft landing.  As I flew across the cabin, I remember thinking that I hoped it was not a water landing.

I emptied my glass, the bartender had bottle in hand and saw my dismay.  He refilled it quickly.  He balked when I started to dig for change.  He made a motion to finish the story.

I guess I can put off that flight later on tonight.  I took a sip and continued.

When I came to, silence rang in my ears and I lay across one of the ceiling control panels.  The knobs ate into my back..  I pulled myself up, and I felt bruised over my entire body.  By some miracle I did not have any major injuries.

I paused to see if anyone would comment about the miracle.  Thestory held them too enthralled.

So by standing up, I found that the plane pitched at a slight nose down angle, and tilted to the right some.  Oh, and it sat completely upside down.

I stepped lightly around debris that littered the ceiling of the cabin.  I stopped to pick up a pack of Chewies and popped one in my mouth.  It seemed awkward trying to operate the door handle since it was at the wrong height, wrong side, and well, upside down.  I managed it and stepped over the wall in the doorway and into the back of the skiff.  Bags of fertilizer lay scattered everywhere.

I made my way through cargo area and before I could quite make it to the door, I heard a tapping.  Someone banged on the outside of the skiff. A thought crossed my mind, “I hope they don’t scratch my ship.”

I smiled and finished my trip to the door.  That is where the tapping came from.

Fiddling with the lock and handle, I finally managed to get it to open.

“Do you know who was standing right outside my ship?”

In unison, the group shook their heads.

“Franco.”

They all stand there in silence.

“Do you know what he told me?”

Again, the synchronized head shakes.

“He said that he tried to get a hold of me at the airport and delay the shipping since the weather was so bad, but I had just taken off.”

Of all the places I could have crashed, that tornado threw my skiff down on top his pile of hay bales.  And that was my miracle, the only way I survived the whole ordeal.

I made the delivery, he paid me, and he gave me a little bit extra for making it so convenient to just dump the fertilizer on the hay before he spread them on the fields.

“So how did you go into space?”  Robert asks

“Oh, that.”  I acted dumb.

It took three days to get my plane back to the airport for repairs.  They said they had been looking for me.  I explained where I had been and then they filled in the holes.

You see, in the storm, I go so turned around, I had flown into a restricted area, the area where they operate the space elevator.  I actually collided with the uplink cable.  Every time I pulled on the cable, it would create some slack, and the operators of the elevator would have to pull the slack out or risk losing their orbit.  Every time they pulled the slack, I went higher.  We were having a tug of war and I was losing big time.  The only thing that set me free was that my engines starved and stopped pulling.  That released me from the cable and I fell.

“But that was not under your own power.”  Robert claims, reaching for the coins.

“It was my own power because I was pulling the satellite station and the cable would only go one way to release that tension.” I explain, “I just kept pulling, and they kept releasing the tension.”

“So what happened to your skiff?”  Robert watched me pocket the coins.

“Warranty.”  I said simply. “Bad construction caused the problems; they repaired the whole thing, good as new.”

“Still got a bit of a fertilizer smell though.”  I added.

I got up off the stool and made my way through the press of bodies.  I had to get back to work.

Playing Rummy in the Shadow #shortstory

Playing Rummy in the Shadow

 By: Eric Darrel Johnson

 

Dilanio 24:04: New Australia has to have been one of the worst ideas in colonial history.  They sent us here ill prepared for what was waiting.  By the time we arrived the engineers had already seeded the moon and it had developed a good bit of oxygen and a layer of soil.  How the plants grow here though, I have no idea.

 

Through some random or maybe psychological profile reason, the council selected me as one of the waiters through this Shadow.  Not something I want.  I have heard of waiters going crazy and killing themselves or other waiters.  Another outpost reported a waiter unplugging the sleepers, or at least that is what I heard.  I do not want to be a waiter.  The Shadow scares me.

 

Dilanio 25:04: Our moon spins around one time every 22 hours.  Our days though are rather capricious though.  In mid cycle, we have day light all day long, half of the day from the sun, the other half from that monster Raskolnik.  When we are off to the sides of the gas giant, the light from the planet makes for either earlier mornings or later evenings.  Then there is the Shadow.  I have slept through the Shadow the last three cycles.  The colony though does not have enough sleeping pods though for everyone to sleep every year, so some people have to wait it out.  In the Shadow, Raskolnik faces towards the sun and casts a shadow onto New Australia.  The planet is so large that it takes nearly a twelfth of the cycle to pass through.  In that time, we don’t get light from the planet or from the sun.  It would not be so bad except that it takes us 1282 days to complete a cycle.  That means about 106 days of darkness.  Raskolnik is already in crescent.  I do not want to be a waiter.

 

Dilanio 27:04: I tried to appeal on grounds of mental instability today.  The council laughed at me.  Laughed!  They said they could not appeal being a waiter on the grounds of being afraid of the dark.  It is only three days till the darkening.  They have already started taking the first sleepers and getting them prepped.  The first time I slept, on the trip here from prison, I hated the idea of sleeping for such a long period of time.  The smell of the sulfur dioxide had me trying to claw my way out of the pod.  My body, being inert was an unreal thought.  Essentially, I was dead between the prison and New Australia, dead for one hundred and twenty years.  Except for those others from the prison that came with me, everyone I ever knew is dead.  However, they woke me up.  They made me alive again.  I know now it is safe to sleep.  However, I have heard stories of what happens in the Shadow.  The Shadow scares me.

 

Umbra 1:04: The shadow comes.  Rask has but a slice left.  I can see the sun peeking out from the edge.  It is a strange sight.  At the prison, we hardly saw the sun, coming to New Australia gave me a respect for the sun, and I learned to relish its presence.  I feel like I am saying goodbye to a good friend who is going on a long vacation.

 

Umbra 3:04:  The corona flare would have been the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, were it not for the sudden darkness after.  I was in solitary a couple of times in prison.  When it is lights out in there, it was lights out.  You could not see the hand in front of your face.  It was nearly that dark.  We even cut off a lot of the settlement power because the solar and wind energy is not usable during the Shadow.  They tell me the temperature is not going to drop much because of the tidal sheer from Raskolnik.  I am not sure if that is true, but I know I felt a chill through my core when the sun’s sabbatical began.

 

Umbra 5:04:  I think I am coping fairly well.  Power consumption is severely limited, so entertainment options are limited.  I spent a bit of yesterday with Miguel playing rummy.  It sounds weird to call it yesterday because all the days, or rather nights, all run together.  I have not slept much since the third.  Maybe I will sleep better tonight.

 

Umbra 7:04: Miguel and I got in an argument today during the rummy game.  On the other hand, should I say at the conclusion of the game?  I was up by 200, and he decided to get up and leave.  He said he had to go meet with Monika.  I told him he needed to finish the game or next time don’t start something he cannot finish.  I miss the sun.  When I walk outside, it is black out.  I can see very faint lights from the buildings.  The temperature has dropped about 10 degrees from the loss of the sun.  The only way I know if it is night or day is by searching for the hole.  During the day, the sky has a huge black hole where there are no stars.  No stars, no sun, just black.

 

Umbra 8:04: Damn Miguel!  I told him I forgave him, but he still does not want to play anymore.  What do I do for entertainment now?

 

Umbra 9:04:  Bored in the Shadow dark, everyone now is sleeping, I am seeking light.  I have played so many games of solitaire.  When I close my eyes, I see spades and hearts fighting in a battle to be on top.  It has reduced me to haiku poetry.  I hate the dark.

 

Umbra 11:04:  Miguel and Monika got in a fight today, best game of cards I have had all week.  I hope they keep arguing so Miguel will be able to play everyday.

 

Umbra 13:04:  Who does she think she is?  Monika thought she could come in and play rummy with us today.  Miguel was even going to let her.  “What about how she treated you?”  I reminded him, but he persisted.  I had to quit before I got too upset.  Maybe I will go by the rec-center and see who is hanging out there.

 

Umbra 14:04: Today I met Gregg.  He is from a neighboring colony, but got trapped here when the Shadow hit.  Energy conservation meant he either had to walk home or stay here.  He has been living in the rec-center since then.  He does not know how to play rummy.  I think I will teach him.  He talks about Gloria from the other colony a lot.  The hole in the sky is scary.  I hate the Shadow.

 

Umbra 19:04:  Gregg is pretty good with the cards.  Maybe he was lying about not knowing rummy.  He will not shut up about Gloria though.  The sun is out there, behind this behemoth hole, I must have it back.  Stupid haikus.

 

Umbra 21:04:  So today Miguel shows up at the rec-center, trying to find out where I have been.  Gregg, Miguel, and I get into a good round of three-handed rummy.  Maybe Monika could have joined us the other day.  But then they were all kissy kissy.  I could not stand it.  Maybe I need a woman.  What I need is the sun back.

 

Umbra 25:04: I thought we had a good thing going.  Gregg though says he is tired of rummy.  Miguel just had to agree with him.  What am I supposed to play if they don’t want to play rummy?  Gregg offered to tech us dominoes, but I never was good enough at math for dominoes.  They were both beating me very badly.  Then they started making fun of me by asking stupid questions like, “What’s four plus six?”  The kitchen ran out of tomatoes today.  They don’t keep long in the Shadow and they cannot grow more.  They still have some canned tomatoes, but it’s just not the same.

 

Umbra 26:04:  As if to rub my nose in it, Monika showed up today.  The three of them played dominoes all day.  No one wanted to play rummy.  I went for a walk, or rather tried to.  That dark hole was staring down upon me.  I feel like the sky is going to fall down upon my head at any time.  Where is the sun?

 

Pullus 02:04:  The rec-center was exciting today.  Monika and Miguel really got into it.  I think the Shadow is getting to them as well.  They were fighting tooth and nail all day.  No could get any card playing done, we were all watching them.  Miguel stormed out.  Monika ended up hanging out with Gregg all evening.

 

Pullus 03:04:  Gregg was not at the rec-center this morning.  I went to Miguel’s but he did not feel like playing rummy.  Damn Monika is messing up my life even when she is not around.  Had a strange experience today while out walking under the hole; I felt a slight breeze.  I had not realized how stagnant the air was till I felt it moving again.  It almost made up for the hole, but it didn’t.

 

Pullus 04:04:  Gregg is back, but now he has Monika in tow.  We tried to play some Rummy, but Miguel showed up and caused a real scene.  I just wanted to pass the time with some cards.  I had to take a walk instead.  I ended up watching the tides.  It is quite amazing to me how much the level of water changes in the reservoir in just a few hours.  It is like a small desert oasis suddenly becoming a sea.  There is a breeze again today.

 

Pullus 06:04:  Kitchen duty this week.  No time to play cards.

 

Pullus 08:04:  Got to the rec-center on my break.  Gregg and Monika don’t hang out there anymore.  Found out Gregg is staying with Monika.  I tried to go by Monika’s to play some cards, but no one would answer the door.  Back to work.

 

Pullus 10:04:  Chicken today.  Where in the damn Shadow are they raising chickens?  It was a bit of a delicacy having chicken again.  I hear they brought it in from another colony.  It was slightly windy today.  I asked about it.  This guy Franco, who has always been a waiter, said it happens mid shadow that the winds kick up.  He said if it gets strong enough, they will turn the lights back on.  I hope so.  I mean we have lights, but they run them at such a low-level most of the time.

 

Pullus 12:04: Free from that kitchen finally!  Went out to see if the hole was still there, it is.  The wind has really gathered strength.  I saw the windmill turbines turning.

 

Pullus 13:04: I thought the sun had returned.  They turned on the outside lights.  The whole place is lit today.  I am feeling pretty good.  Gregg and Monika are still MIA.  I was able to convince Miguel to play some rummy today.  He is pretty bitter over Monika though.  Gees man!  Get over her.  Let’s play some cards.

 

Pullus 14:04:  Damn electricity!  Now they are going to make us work since they have the power to run the machines.  It does make the time pass faster, but I mean what about the sleepers?  Why not wake them up to work too?  I wish the sun would just come back.

 

Pullus 15:04:  We are building turbines on the machines.  I talked to one of the directors and found out we are making underwater generators.  Essentially, the tidewaters moving through the channels and turning the generator paddles will power the generators.  They are trying to eliminate the need for sleeping.  I cannot imagine having to look at that hole every cycle though.

 

Pullus 17:04:  Having the wind is great!  I don’t mind the work.  The lights on the buildings are bright enough to make most of the stars invisible.  I cannot make out where the hole is.  After work, I got to play some good cards with Miguel.

 

Pullus 24:04:  Been playing a lot of cards after work.  Occasionally I will see Greg and Monika, but they are keeping to themselves.  I almost feel bad for Miguel, but at least he can concentrate on the cards now.
Scando 3:04:  Winds are dying down.  They are talking about turning out the lights again in a week, sooner if they have to.  I hate the dark.  I might go out there and blow on the turbines myself.  I spent an hour staring at the reservoir.  If we had the tide generators setup by now, they could leave the lights on.  We all played cards together: myself, Miguel, Monika and Gregg.  Must be the lights, because we got along just fine.  Monika even teased Miguel a little and he did not get upset.

 

Scando 4:04:  Winds died abruptly today, so did the lights.  The hole is back.

 

Scando 4:04:  Gregg is back at the rec-center.  He seemed a bit distracted and I kept beating him at rummy.  That was not normal.

 

Scando 5:04:  I saw Miguel today.  Guess who he was with?  He had Monika on his arm again.  No wonder Gregg was so distracted yesterday.  I wanted to play cards, but no one was in the mood.  I tried to play solitaire.  I actually won at a game of solitaire, sort of anyway.  Guess what I found though?  I found that after finishing the solitaire hand, I still had three cards left over.  Someone has been cheating!

 

Scando 6:04:  Miguel met me at the rec-center and invited me back to his place for rummy.  Gregg and Monika seemed to be elsewhere, so I went.  We had several good games.  The hole stared down at me on my way home.  I miss the lights that kept me from seeing the hole.  I miss the work even, it kept me busy.

 

Scando 9:04: I am starting to worry about Gregg, he has not been at the rec-center.  Miguel has been around though, and he has at least stopped talking about Monika all the time.  I have not seen Monika either.

 

Scando 11:04:  Into the Umbra, gas giant conquers the sky, how I miss the sun.  The darkness is really getting to me.  I did not go out today.  I am getting tired of Miguel.  Worse than talking about Monika, he has taken to talking about how the Shadow makes people go crazy and do crazy things.  Maybe he needs to learn how to do haiku.

 

Scando 13:04:  They came and knocked on my door today.  Monika is missing.  Enough people complained that they had not seen her.  The authorities opened up her home and searched inside.  There was food on the table for two people that they estimate had sat there for four days.  They also are not sure where Gregg is; they think he may have taken her to his colony or something.  But that would be a long walk.  They are waiting to hear back from authorities there.  Miguel and I had some great hands of rummy today.

 

Scando 17:04:  Dark black hole is eating my mind.  Miguel and I got into several arguments today over nothing.  I hate this Shadow.  Miguel seems pretty calm and cool about it, but every so often he gets weird.  It’s not anything I can exactly put my finger on though.  Sometimes it’s his tone of voice, the look in his eye, or how he picks up the entire discard pile.  He didn’t used to do that.  Maybe he learned it from Monika.  They still have not found Monika, Gregg either for that matter.  No word from the other colony.  Communications are slow during the Shadow.  They are probably holed up somewhere together hiding from everyone and having some alone time.

 

Scando 20:04: Sometimes I really hate Miguel.  And I don’t think this is just the Shadow talking either.  He did not want to play anything.  He was just sulked and moped around his place.  I was even willing to play dominoes.  Oh well, I may have to hang out at the rec-center again and see if I can find anyone else that plays rummy.

 

Scando 24:04:  Miguel and I played some good games of rummy today.  I don’t know what was wrong with him the other day, but today he seemed fine.  Maybe the Shadow is getting to him.  I try not to even look up any more when I go outside.  I know that hole is there and mocking me.  Maybe Gregg and Monika are hiding in the hole?

 

Antediluculo 2:05: Happy New Year.  I got so smashed on New Years Eve that I passed out for two days.  I still feel hung over.  I looked though, that damn hole followed us into the New Year.  I think I met a girl on that night.  I seem to remember one.  Man, I cannot remember.  Wait, yeah, it was Helen or Heidi or something like that.  Not too many H names out there.  She is a local resident, just does not get out much.  I will have to dig around and see if she gave me her address.

 

Antediluculo 4:05:  Whoever named this month is a masochist.  I remember something about it being based on an ancient dead language.  With spellings like this, I can see why the language died.  It is now in the darkest period of the Shadow.  They say it is always darkest before the dawn.  I am not sure who ‘they’ is, but they have it right in this case.  The authorities came around again asking about Monika.  Neither Monika nor Gregg have been seen in the other colony.  I met up with Hailee.  That was her name, Hailee.  I knew it was something with an H.  Turns out she is a good rummy player too.  She only beats me about half the time though, so we are pretty well matched.

 

Antediluculo 6:05:  Penumbra is going to happen soon they say.  At least the hole will go away, but it will still be darker than usual.  I cannot wait.  Hailee and I have started playing rummy with Miguel.  It is all going very well and we get along.

 

Antediluculo 10:05:  I woke this morning and it was a dark grey outside.  This is much better than a pitch black.  I looked at the hole.  There is a border to it now, a gray line coming around one edge.  I have not been happier than when I am with Hailee.  She has the same interests.  The other night we watched nearly all the water run out of the reservoir during the tide change.  We stayed up together that night and waited for the hole to rise.  Then I went back to her place and spent the day with her.

 

Antediluculo 14:05:  Strange thing happened to us today, we were over at Miguel’s playing cards and the authorities showed up.  We had to wait for an hour while Miguel was outside talking to them.  We could occasionally hear shouting.  When Miguel returned, he picked up his hand and continued like nothing had happened.  He even seemed a little cheerful after the ordeal.

 

Antediluculo 16:05:  I can see the crescent of Raskolnik.  That is the first time in a while I have considered it a planet and not a hole in the sky.  Could not find Miguel today.  Authorities seem to be looking for him too.  Hailee and I end up going out again.  This time we stayed up to watch the crescent rise.  It is almost daylight bright outside now.

 

Antediluculo 18:05:  It is nearly bright outside.  Today we had chores to do.  We made a mess of the outdoors.  In the dark, if something hit the ground, it stayed there unless it was important to find right that instant.  Now in the light, we could see waste debris piled up anywhere there was a windbreak.  Everyone teamed up with a couple of other people and gathered the garbage.  We did not want this place to look bad when the sleepers got back.

 

Antediluculo 21:05:  The sun burst free of the Raskolnik.  A great corona flare appeared to spring out from the edge of the planet just before the sun emerged.  Everyone was outside waiting for it.  There was loud applause.  The sleepers are supposed to start returning tomorrow.

 

Antediluculo 23:05:  We were at Miguel’s playing cards when it happened.  The place was stormed by the authorities.  At first we were held against the floor along side Miguel, but once we were frisked, we were sent outside.  They forced us to stand behind some line in the soil to keep from interfering.  After about an hour, they came out, Miguel restrained with handcuffs.  He was smiling like some idiot and he even waved at us from behind his back as he went by.   There was still activity in the house so we waited.  A little bit later, they removed a large object, draped in a sheet from the house.  It looked like a large chest or freezer.  If Miguel had a freezer, he must have kept it in the basement because I never saw it.  We hung around a bit longer and eventually one of the Authorities stood in front of the group and informed us what was going on.  They had located Monika and Gregg.  They were in a freezer in Miguel’s place.  In his freezer!  We had been playing rummy all that time with a couple of dead bodies just below in the freezer section.  They are calling it a crime of passion, but I think I know what happened.  I think that the Shadow got to Miguel.

Damn Victor

I wrote the following a few years back while in the hospital at about 1 in the morning.  I would get woken up at midnight for vitals and could not fall back to sleep for a few hours.  So I started writing what I dreamed about.  This night I dreamed about Damn Victor and then wrote it out.  It is not pretty and is much grittier than my normal writing.  I came across it today and thought I should share it.

Damn Victor

By Eric Johnson

 

“Damn Victor!” Sergeant Gerald spit.

 

Victor, he was from San Antonio.  Home of the Spurs.  Given name of Frederico Victorious Garza.  Now he was just Damn Victor.

 

Victor was good.  It served him well, most of the time.  This time…

 

Sergeant Gerald, or “The S G” as we call him, knew survival in these dense woods.  He knew the paths not to take and how to never see a trap.  He called it walking hard.  It worked, but as the name implies, it was hard.

 

He lit a cigarette now looking down at Victor.  Victor was still breathing, but we could all tell it was just nerves.  It would take multiple people to carry him out due to him being in pieces.  Small things upon the ground here, small sticks and pieces of bark were aloft in the rivets to blood pouring away.

 

“Someone will be along very shortly to check on that noise.”  The S G stated flatly.  Everyone turned in opposite directions guns ready and ear pricked for movement.

 

There was no sound except that constant murmur of the leaves in the canopy banging together in a light breeze.  Two leaves hardly make any noise at all, but stand in a thick forest and a light breeze can sound like air support bearing down on your position.

 

They were in control in this forest; we were the invaders trying to drive them out.  They knew every step to take, every root protrusion to move along and knew where every single trap was.  No, we would not hear them.  Chances are two of our men would fall before we hear the first shot.

 

As one, we turned back to Victor.  Damn Victor.  Damn Frederico Victorious.

 

Today he was too good, or so he thought.  That is what did him in.  He was a master at spotting traps, wires, pits, even knowing where mines were by how the leaves lay upon the ground.  He could move through a mine ridden field and watching him looked like watching a person do ball room dancing all by themselves as he went left, right, slowly turned and proceeded sideways.  What was even sillier to watch was the line of people moving along behind him trying to step everywhere he stepped.

 

That was not his task today.  Today he was supposed to be number 3.  He would be the second to take over for the bushwhacker.

 

He would not have it.  “Trail’s only 20 feet away and clear as an April afternoon in Texas after the rain.”

 

He liked to talk in similes that made Texas sound great.

 

Damn Victor.

 

So number one was Ernesto.  He was also from Texas, from the Del Rio area.  He was very quiet, a little stringy, but hewas one mean one with Bertha.  Bertha was our bushwhacker blade.  A 26” machete forged from hard carbon steel and the whole team had their tasks in keeping her beyond razor sharp.

 

Oh everyone had their own machetes, a standard 18” for some and a large 24” for others who could handle the weight.  But Bertha took anything down.  When we had to walk hard but needed to move fast, that is when Bertha was released from her nest, carefully honed, oiled lightly and then the first ceremonial chop through some thick foliage.  If she went clear through, we knew we were going to do well.  Today a half inch branch stopped it on the first swing.  Be aware though that it cut through about 4 other slightly larger branches.  Everyone went silent.

 

The S G spoke up and took the Handle from Victor; it had been his turn for first chop.  Damn Victor.

 

The Sergeant took a new swipe through which cleared the brush like it had gone through spaghetti noodles and then handed the Bushwhacker to Ernesto.

 

A light of excitement came into Ernesto’s eyes as he took the handle.  Come to think of it, the only time that Ernesto really seemed alive was with Bertha in his hand.  He spoke a little more, always talking back towards number two in line about life in his home town.  But the key to keep him in this good mood was to never ask him what he was going to do when we went back.  His mood would darken quickly; he would look down at Bertha and then start with a new fury into the brush.

 

Today Victor was supposed to be number three, a pretty easy job for a while until one and two cycled through their turn.

 

Ernesto was still only halfway into his cycle and usually ran over when he came to a cross path.  Smartly he called up Victor who quickly accessed the trail. It was really a light rain gully; the flow of water here kept seedlings from take a firm footing and washed away the roots of those that did.  But it also made a fine path when dry.

 

Victor pointed to the uphill side and made out two wires.  The downhill side was clear from this vantage point.  Where we needed to cross was safe.

 

Ernesto hoisted up his blade and submerged himself into his work again.  Number two passed Victor and then so did number four.  Victor stood looking downhill.

 

The S G caught up to him told him to take his place in line.

 

“Trail’s only 20 feet away and clear as an April afternoon in Texas after the rain.”  He replied.

 

“Damn you Victor,” said the Sergeant, “I don’t need this right now, get into line.  We need to be in position by twelve hundred hours.”

 

“Sir, I can scout the parallel trail and make better time and report back anything ahead.” Victor said in his overly confident Texan way.

 

Time was being lost and truth be told, they could use a scout report.  The S G slightly looked up and to the left for a moment, a sure sign of conflicted thought in him, and then waved his hand down the downhill trail.  Victor was going in an instant.

 

“You are still number three, return with your report in time for your shift.”  The Sergeant ordered after him.

 

A waved hand as the figure disappeared into the parallel trail was the only response.  Then he was gone from view.

Going on the trail was quick and easy for Victor.  There were wires and he even spotted a couple of mines where the dirt on the ground was a different color.  They never thought to put the dirt back in the hole in the same order it came out.  He stopped and examined each wire and disabled those that were quick and easy to do.  He still was able to keep very good time ahead of the bushwhack team.  Ernesto moved  fast with Bertha, but Victor could almost run this trail with his eyes closed.

 

Perhaps that is what happened to him.  It was too easy.  He was not ready for what got him.  It was a herring wire.

 

Sometimes when you are moving through to forest, a trap is not the main trap but something to merely distract you into the real one.  This was one of those.  It was a herring wire.  These were strung between a couple of trees at ankle height and easy to spot.

 

Victor spotted this wire and kneeled down to examine it.  That’s when he heard the click.  His knee had just triggered the land mine.

 

He cursed himself silently.  He was the one who named these things herring traps.  He told other people how to watch out for them.

 

A red herring is a statement someone uses in an argument to distract you from the real issue at hand.  Listen to any political speech, and not only can you hear them, but you can count them.

 

The wire between the trees led to no trap.  Herring traps usually didn’t, and that was their tell.  It was there to get to you investigate or step over without looking for the mine beside the wire.

 

Any shift in weight would now trigger the firing mechanism.  He considered his options.  There were very few.  His only chance was to get the team here to possibly dig out and disarm the mine.  And that was a slim to none chance anyway.  Digging usually disturbed the mine and led to detonation anyway.

 

He reached back without looking for the radio and found it easily enough.  The first gentle tug failed to free it, but he felt one of the catches give.  The second tug freed it, but too easily.  Victor inadvertently tossed the radio on the path beside him and then gravity carried it sliding slowly into the gully there.  Victor could not move quickly enough for fear of shifting his weight.  He saw his only slim to none chance sliding away.  He was going to have to jump.

 

Lucky Charles was a legend in the troops.  Everyone knew of him, but no one knew him directly.  It was always through a buddy who used to serve with a buddy of his in another division.  Lucky Charles did everything that should have gotten him killed.   He somehow always survived.  He did not do it to prove anything; people just said he was stupid.   He was reported one time to walk into an enemy encampment, filled his canteen, took a long drink, refilled it again, and then left.  No one saw him, and if they did no one took notice of him.

 

So tales tell of Lucky Charles’ jump.  LC was walking in the woods and stepped onto a mine.  The dirt beneath his feet gave way and he froze solid as he felt the click of the firing mechanism through his boot.

 

“Charles?  Why you stop” His Commander asked him.

 

Charles was not feeling so lucky.  He stood solid still, sweat pouring down his face.  He looked down at his boot.  The commander’s eyes followed his down.  He saw the tell tale traces of the mine.  Most anyone would have caught it.  Dirt was a different color.  Charles would not have caught it, he was too stupid.

 

The commander pulled off his pack as the others of their troop gathered around.  He pulled out his folding spade and motioned to another soldier nearby to do the same.  They did not get to start digging.  A gunshot rang out through the forest, about a quarter mile distant.

 

The commander made his appropriate curses.  More shots sounded, closer.

 

Everyone got down instinctively.  The commander tossed the shovel aside and pulled a length of rope from his pack.

 

“Boy, we ‘bout to get you killed.” The sergeant told Charles.  “Right sorry ‘bout that.”

 

The sweaty face of the condemned just nodded.

 

The commander tossed an end of the rope to Charles; it just hit him and fell.

 

“You gotta catch it boy!” he said.

 

A couple of bullets went through the canopy above.

 

The commander threw the rope again, it was caught.  Charley stood there and looked at it stupidly.

 

“Hold on tight boy!”

 

The commander played out a length of rope to put a little distance between them then pulled out all the slack.  Several others lined up with him on the rope without even needing to be ordered.

 

“When I says to jump, you jump!”  He shouted out.

 

The sweaty face nodded.

 

Everyone pulled the rope tight and tensed themselves, ready to pull.

 

The bullets played through the leaves around them.  Somehow no one had been hit.

 

“Jump!”

 

In recorded history there has probably never been a man jump so high.  Charles was stupid but he obeyed orders to the very best he could.  There was also the fact that the mine went off and threw him about 40 feet into the air.  With everyone pulling, Lucky Charles soared over head and ended up on the front of the line.

 

“Now run like hell!” The sergeant yelled.

 

LC gained his feet under him and ran.  He did not even ever let go of the rope.  He pulled anyone who did not let go about half a mile till the commander got him to stop at a defensible position.  When they got settled they were ahead of the advancing troops and managed to waylay them in an ambush and took them out quick enough.

 

It was not until after all the fighting was done that Lucky Charles came up to the commander and said simply, “I’m gunna need a new boot.”

 

The commander looked down and it looked as though someone had stolen a tennis shoe shape out of the stupid man’s boot.  His bare foot was there and exposed, but the boot uppers were still there wrapped around his leg.  The sock was probably lost in the run, but the foot looked perfect.

 

Victor looked down at his knee.  The soil all around him was the dark black of the topsoil of the forest.  Where his knee was had grey speckles of sand in it lightning from that rich black.

 

Lucky Charles had his boot to take the blow and a bunch of men pulling on him.  What did Victor have?  A radio out of reach and a trip wire that just went to the trunks of a couple of trees.

 

He considered his options and reached out with one hand and pulled slightly on the trip wire.  It held firmly.  He grabbed it with his other hand and pulled his body weight back against it.  It held.  Slowly, Victor prepped his muscles for release.  He pulled his body back to put as much bend in his legs as possible.  He said a silent prayer to his Lord and then launched himself.

 

The explosion was heard easily by The S G.  The entire troop heard it and by the bearing, they knew it could only be Victor.

 

Victor’s life slowed down.  His knees had not actually left the ground yet when the mine went off.  He flew through the air from the blast, still holding onto the wire and was thrown down hard on his back on the other side.  The breath was completely knocked out of him.  Beside him a boot landed.  Debris, dirt, and shrapnel rained down on his face and body.

 

He let go of the wire with one hand and reached for the boot.  He was looking at the base of it and could just reach the toe with his finger tip.  It took a couple of tries to move it.  It was heavy for some reason.  He pulled it around with some effort and found there was a leg still attached.

 

“That’s my leg there.”  His own voice told him in his head.

 

It did not seem to shock him for some reason.   He could not even feel any pain from losing his leg.  Everything was just kind of fuzzy.  He decided he would have to ask the doctors that put it back on for him why he did not feel it when it was taken off.

 

It was suddenly important to him to make sure he kept his leg, so he pulled it up to him and grasped it to his chest.  His vision stated to fade around the edges, like a dark halo.

 

“Make for there!” Sergeant Gerald called out pointing at a 90 degree to the trail back down hill.

 

Ernesto nodded and went into high gear.  It seemed only moment before he broke through onto the trail.

 

The Sergeant took lead and practically ran down the trail easily spotting the disabled and marked traps.

 

They arrived to find Victor there lying on the opposite side of the wire, clutching one of his own legs and barely breathing.

 

So here we are now, Damn Victor laying there, the enemy an unknown distance away and probably taking sight on us now.

 

“Navigator!”  The S C barked.  One man stepped forward.

 

“Mark this position on GPS for retrieval then take his personals.”

 

“The rest of you, we move now!  That way!” The Sarge indicated back the way into the woods where they had been bushwhacking.

 

“Move in-between, one quarter mile, then bear right walk hard into target direction.  Leave no trail!”  He continued.  “We move out now!”

 

Walking hard was hard.  Walking between was the worst.  You had to measure every step, find holes in the brush a rabbit would turn away from and leave no markings of your passing.  But we would need to leave the area undetected so we could not be ambushed.

 

Damn Victor.

 

#Sneakpeek WeFair – Ambushed!

“Where is Maggie?”  Thomas said as the Iron Grunt pulled into its home shed.  “She usually meets the train with refreshments.”

Ben shrugged.  “Late?”

“Go get Fair.”  Thomas started down the steps out of the engine.  “I will check on Maggie.”

Thomas stepped into the office and found everything quiet.  There should have been a couple of workers at least.  He stepped back out and made his way to the tool crib.

“Marco!”  He called out to his private station foreman.

No one answered.

Thomas looked into the secured tool storage and did not see anyone moving inside.

He exited back to the train area just in time to see his granddaughter helped down out of the carriage.  She wore a fierce frown and attempted to cross her arms but the cast interfered too much.

“The office is empty.”  Thomas informed Ben.  “I don’t like it.  Keep a watch on Fair.”

“WeFair!”  She growled at him through clenched teeth.

He waved her off and turned away.  He pulled his ballpeen hammer out of the coveralls from one pocket and then drew an over-sized wrench from another pocket.

Stepping out of the station everything looked quiet outside.  He could not see the house from the station due to the stand of trees between.  He walked cautiously down the trail: knees bent, eyes narrowed and weapons at ready.

He stopped short of the trees and listened.  He heard nothing, not even birds.

Something moved towards the right in the trees.  He turned and then felt a blow hit him in the shoulder.  Pain lanced across his chest.  The wrench clanged as it fell to the path.

Thomas looked down and saw a crossbow bolt sticking out of his left shoulder.  He dropped the hammer and reached up with his right hand and grasped the bolt.  Pain shot through his right arm and chest as another bolt appeared in his right forearm.  Nausea built in his throat.  He tottered.

When he attempted to move his right arm he found it pinned to his chest.

His stomach convulsed.  He stumbled forward a couple of steps bent over.  He vomited into the grass and then took a step backwards.  His foot caught on something and he went over backwards.  Pain flashed across the back of his head when he hit the ground.  Blackness encompassed everything.