Flash Fiction – Raining Mud

Another short for you.  This one features Alex and Susan, two characters in my novel ‘Water’, and shows how Alex was introduced to the Seven

Somehow when I thought of Afghanistan, I imagined desert, men in turbans, and camels. I was so wrong. Instead, there were treacherous, ice-covered mountains. The men who shot at me didn’t wear turbans; they mostly wore their knitted pokal hats. And the only camel I saw was dead, bones picked clean by a starving village.

It was a horrible place, made more so by constant war. I shrugged off the misery of Afghanistan; it was better than going to foster parents. My mom signed the parental release forms for the military on her death bed; we had no surviving kin.

“Henson! Do you have them yet?”

“Working on it.” I grunted back. I was supposed to be behind the lines in a warm tent, playing with high-tech, cryptologic receivers trying to intercept enemy communications. But our small detachment got attacked, and the commander decided to integrate the radio guys with infantry. Apparently, in Afghanistan, there was no such thing as ‘behind the lines’.

“Hurry up, Marine! We need some intel.” The platoon sergeant kept pressuring me. He had no idea how difficult it was to operate a receiver with bullets flying so close I could feel the wind off of them.

“I swear to – ” The sergeant was cut off by a bullet to the throat. I watched, his body falling in slow motion while the rest of the world continued at a normal speed. Dust billowed up around him as he hit the ground. I crawled over to him, putting pressure on his throat. He started to gurgle so I let go immediately, afraid I was choking him. I didn’t know what the hell to do. I looked around helplessly, just in time to see the first truck in our convoy out of there get blown up. By the time I looked back down at the sergeant, he was gone – eyes wide open and lifeless.

I stared in shock, from my bloody hands to the whites of his eyes, and back again. His body jumped slightly as a bullet zipped into his side; like kicking him while he was down.

“Fuck a whole lot of this.” I immediately backed away; that bullet was probably meant for me. Another deafening blast; the convoy was not done getting ripped apart either. Where the hell were the reinforcements? I had called for them myself over three hours ago. These shooters weren’t exactly accurate, but they were coming out of the woodworks. Word of our position spread faster than disease out here, except to our allies.

I grabbed my rifle and radio and slithered over to a ravine. Two grunts took position on either side of me; keeping enemy bullets at bay. I switched channels back and forth on HF, trying to remember the frequency for the battalion. I didn’t bother going secure; there was no time for it.

Finally, something came in. It wasn’t the battalion intercepting my distress call. It was a woman. “Say again, I do not read you. I repeat…say again.”

“This is Corporal Henson, 3rd Platoon located three clicks northwest of Korengal Valley. We are under fire; we need air support and evacuation of casualties. Transportation is out.”

“Where is your battalion, Corporal? I will relay the message.”

I gave the woman my battalion’s information and our grid coordinates, praying this wasn’t some sort of trap. Five minutes later the radio crackled back to life, “Helo went down in route to evac you. They are doing recovery efforts there. Will be some time before they can get to you.”

I exchanged a despaired look with one of the Marines beside me. I put the handset up to my mouth when her voice came back on, “We are coming in from the south. Look for two vehicles with the number seven on the side. And do not effin’ shoot us.”

“Who are you?”

There was a short pause before she answered, “A friend.”

“Seals?” One of the Marines offered.

“What, they’re sending GI Jane to save us?” I rolled my eyes at him. Maybe CIA? Whatever – if she had vehicles that weren’t currently on fire, it’ll do.

No less than ten minutes later, the sound of idling vehicles reached us. They stayed well back from the battlefield, hidden to the enemy in the shadows. We had all taken up positions behind our rifles, but couldn’t let up. A break in fire could mean an enemy through our lines; another Marine dead.

A slight tap at the shoulder and my reaction was to immediately let my elbow fly back. Thankfully, she was expecting that, and ducked.

“I suppose I should’ve made it clear. No elbows, either.” The woman was almost as tall as me, an unusual trait. She was in tennis shoes and what looked like a running outfit. It wasn’t camouflage but at least it was dark. She had her hair pulled back into a tight ponytail at the nape of her neck. In rural America, she could have passed for a jogger.

“Who are you; why are you here?”

“I am Susan. We are going to get you out of here – alive.” She peeked around me at the raging battle; we weren’t even in the thick of it. We were on the outskirts. She put up a hand-held walkie-talkie to her mouth and began issuing instructions.

“But why are you in the area?” I asked.

“We’re here to help the environment.”

I laughed – as did several others. Susan glowered at me.

“Seriously, now.”

“I am being serious.”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake, woman.” The crazy episodes of Whale Wars came to mind. “My hands are stained with the blood of my sergeant, and you’re here to keep them from cutting down trees?!” I shot off my last couple of rounds and changed out magazines. “There are no trees out here!”

She shrugged, “Not anymore.”

I looked at her, mouth open, “You are serious.”

“They cut down most of their trees for war. Plus, the land is depleted and not conducive for agriculture. Help the land, help the economy. A stable economy makes for a stable country. See – it’s this whole domino effect that I don’t have time to explain, because your Marines are dying.”

Another explosion, closer this time, sent us all flying. We picked ourselves up. One of the Marines beside me went running into the thick of it, relaying orders for a retreat. He never came back. 13 others did.

“We can all fit, I think – let’s get going before they realize what’s up.” Susan said.

“No,” I stopped her, grabbing her at the wrist. “We have to get the fallen.”

Her mouth pressed into a tight line, “I’m sorry, we just don’t have enough room.” There must have been twice as many Marines dead than those that still stood. I shook my head, “Non-negotiable.”

Susan stopped, turned to face our group, and scanned their faces slowly. They were tired, dirty, bloody, hurt, and scared. But they were as resolute as I was. We all go, or no one goes.

She dropped her head in consent, “Fine. But we’ll need at least one other vehicle.”

There was one other, sitting untouched amongst the smoldering scraps of its brothers. I could see face of the enemy just beyond it. They hadn’t approached yet, but it wouldn’t be long now. “We’ll need a diversion.”

“Done,” Susan said, “When the storm hits, get someone to back that vehicle out of there, and get everyone on board – quick.” Susan held the walkie-talkie up to her mouth again, “I need you here.”

Placing the walkie-talkie in her back pocket, she closed her eyes, and began slowly raising her arms into the sky.

“What are you doing?”

“Please don’t distract me.”

A large, native-American man, with dark, black hair in a thick braid that went down to the middle of his back, walked up to join Susan. Despite the cold, he was in a sleeveless shirt. His thick arms were adorned with tattoos of the planet Earth, various trees and of course eagles.

“You people are crazy.”

“About as crazy as you, Marine.”

Great, compatible by insanity. Susan’s arms were all the way above her head now, and the wind had begun to pick up. How had she known a storm was coming?

I looked back at her face.  Her eyes were striking, glowing a bright green against the dark sky. Her hair was coming loose; wild strands whipped around her face. The man next to her was now kneeling, with one hand on the ground, chanting.

The Marine standing next to me suddenly lurched forward, then fell to the ground. Blood gushed out from under his not-so-bulletproof helmet. That was the last Sergeant; meaning now I was in charge.

Susan yelled at me over the increasing wind, now infused with dirt and sand, “The storm will temporarily disorient them and slow them down. But it won’t stop bullets.”

Got it.  I barked out orders to the nearest Marine, “As soon as the storm moves into that group there, run for the vehicle. We’ll lay down cover fire.”  Then turned to the rest of the group, “The rest of you – get your brothers. We’re bringing them home.”

I had to cover my mouth. Where had all the sand come from? I had seen nothing but ice and rock on the ground for almost a month. The sky cracked open with a bolt of lightning, and rain like I had never even seen stateside poured down. It was literally raining mud. The storm’s intensity moved from directly overhead toward the enemy line. We were still getting rain and wind, but now they were bearing the brunt of it. My platoon stood stock still, staring at the freak storm with nervous glances at Susan and the Native American. “Move it!”

My bark shocked them into action. The whirlwind of rain and mud tightened in on itself, sounding almost like a freight train. Susan’s vehicles pulled forward, and two more men got out to help load the wounded and the dead.

Our vehicle came up beside them. A quick head count – everyone was accounted for and loaded up. “We’re good!” I shouted to Susan.

Her arms began to sink back down to her sides, and she lay a hand on her companions shoulder. He broke out of his trance and stood up. The storm had already started to diminish.

“We have about five minutes before they come charging through what’s left of the sandstorm.” Susan said as she hopped into the passenger side of one car. “You coming?”

“Yeah.” I narrowed my eyes at the storm, then her. It couldn’t be. But then again, I did just see it for myself.

I was the last one to the vehicles. I glanced at the large number seven painted on the side of the vehicle, then crowded Susan over as there were no more seats.

“I want to join.”

Susan looked at me with a half-smile, she exchanged glances with the Native American, then handed me a clean rag from the glove box. “Haven’t you done enough joining for one lifetime?”

I used it to wipe the blood from my hands, “Apparently not.”

I leaned back in my seat, and put my arm around Susan. This was one lady who offered adventure I could not pass up.

 

Flash Fiction – Oil Spill

Welcome to the first ever edition of my weekly short stories, based on characters from my books.  I’ve yet to come up with a clever series name; so for now I’m sticking with Weekly Shorts.  If you have any ideas for a better name – feel free to comment!  I promise to keep them between 1,000 to 2,000 words each.  These are samples of my raw, unedited writing – please excuse any grammar/spelling mistakes!

 This week’s short features Susan and Micah (brother and sister) at a younger age on one of their first missions for the Seven, an organization hell-bent on saving the Earth

“Susan, Micah. Keep up.” The Gaia snapped at the kids trailing her. The hired dog sled team had refused to take them further so they were forced to walk the last mile over rough, icy terrain to the shores of Prince William Sound. “And turn off that blasted headset.”

Susan rolled her eyes, but obeyed anyway and slipped her Walkman into her backpack. “It keeps my mind off the cold. It is freezing out here.” Susan buried her head back under her parka’s thick jacket hood and spared a sideways glance for her younger brother. The bite of an Alaskan winter didn’t seem to be affecting him as much; his mind was elsewhere. Just one month ago, with the untimely passing of the Seven’s Ardwyad, Micah had taken his place. Youngest ever Ardwyad, their adoptive father Cato had said. The Gaia had reservations about an 11-year-old Ardwyad. Several in fact, that she made known to Cato, to Susan and to Micah himself, especially during their tedious trek from Indonesia to Alaska to help with the oil spill.

Her rants did nothing for Micah’s confidence. Since his job was basically to protect and train the Gaia, she really could have helped herself by helping him. Instead, she was making it worse for everyone. Susan couldn’t blame the Gaia too much. Susan knew the Ardwyad’s job was also to kill the Gaia once a stronger one was found. This wasn’t always common knowledge with the Gaias that came through; although Susan was sure this Gaia knew. She has accepted her fate with grace; that is until she met her would-be assassin face to face.

There had been a short send-off ceremony for the trio. The Gaia had tolerated it with her arms crossed tight over her chest, Micah was hanging on every word spoken during the ceremony, and Susan had kept her Walkman on the entire time. Cato blessed them with a prayer;

The Earth is my Mother

I shall not want.

Her breathe is the air that gives me life.

Her hand brings forth the green pastures.

Rivers run forth from her great breasts, remain close.

Fire is her gift, providing purity and warmth.

Her womb is the earth that will enfold me.

Surely, goodness and beauty will nurture me all the days of my life,

and I will become part of the earth forever.

“Here is good.” The Gaia stopped so suddenly, Micah almost ran into the back of her.

“Sorry,” he mumbled. Susan automatically wondered if he was aware of the ‘other’ part of his job; she sure as hell wasn’t going to be the one to tell him. How would he do it anyway? Would they give him a gun? A poison syringe? Was suicide an option – just to spare an 11-year-old boy the trouble? She probably wouldn’t, selfish –

“Susan! Snap out of it!” The Gaia had lost all patience with her charges. “I swear to God, I should’ve been doing this with Sian.” Sian was the former Ardwyad, and had chosen to go with the previous Gaia when it was her time. Susan had only been there a few years, and she hadn’t detected a love interest but what goes on between a Gaia and her Ardwyad mentor was largely private.

The three stood on an icy bank looking out into a sea of oil. Ribbons of gray and brown were strewn over the ocean water, turning almost shiny in the sunlight, and slowly spreading out like an infectious disease. They were told to help, but given very little direction as to how. Cato merely asked they bring as much oil ashore as they could; it would be easier for the Adanas, the earth elementals, to clean up from there.

“Ok, Susan. Do your thing,” said the Gaia.

“My thing?”

“You are a Nerina, yes?”

“Yes,” said Susan.

“A Nerina specializes in the element of water, yes?”

“Yes.”

“This water is dirty, yes?”

Susan grit her teeth together, “Yes.”  She was barely able to hold back the string of curse words trying to force their way out.

“So clean it. I didn’t know you needed someone to tell you how to do your job.”

Susan wanted to scream out loud. Instead, she chose to be the adult, and turned to the oil. She had limited practice with Cato, but had more with her mother who was also a Nerina. She wished she could remember more of that training. She wished she could remember more of her mother. At least she has some memories; Micah had been too young to remember anything about their parents. All he had was Cato.

Susan shook off the depression that always set in when she thought of her parents, and concentrated on her task. Almost immediately, she felt herself connect with the water. The tide rushed in to meet her, then pulled a part of her back out with it. Normally she’d have to fight the pull. She would be fighting to stay on land when all she wanted to do is submerge herself in the life-giving liquid. Not this time. This time the water was tainted and sluggish. The dark slime permeated every small cell, leaking into the very essence of the water, the very essence of Susan.

Susan dry-heaved at the feeling, and felt the Gaia huff behind her. She took another deep breath, telling herself it wasn’t really on her. But that was a lie – the water, Susan’s lifeline, was almost beyond repair. All Susan could detect was death; molecules were corroded – and as a result phytoplankton, fish, mammals, and the eco-system as a whole were dying.

Micah stepped up next to his sister. She looked down at him and smiled. His mere presence was calming. Susan attributed it to the fact that although they had an adoptive father, no one would really look out for Micah like she would. He was solely her responsibility. Believing this gave her strength.

She took Micah’s hand in her own, squeezing to feel the ridges of his fingers through their thick gloves, and closed her eyes. The ocean opened itself up to her, revealing its composition, movement, and more importantly, the elemental forces within.

She experimented with those forces, delving into her work, cold forgotten along with time. It took her near three hours before the puzzle before her finally unfolded. Susan targeted the water molecules, charging them with energy. The trace amounts of metals found in the crude oil repelled from the charged molecules, and automatically pushed itself away like two wrong sides of a magnet.

The only problem was, if the oil were to separate from the water, it had to go somewhere, and the only somewhere around that wasn’t water was the shore, which so happened to be where they were standing.

The oil gained momentum, propelled forward by a magnetism force. Within seconds the oil slick was several dozen feet high. Susan, shocked out of her connection with her element, was at a loss on how to stop it.

The Gaia immediately sent her own weaves into the water, trying to undo Susan’s manipulation. But the Gaia’s elemental strength, even with water, was double Susan’s. The surge of her energy into the ecosystem further charged the molecules and caused the slick to pick up speed. Now they both were at a loss at how to stop it.

Micah, feeling largely inept until now, stepped in front of the Gaia. He ignored the oncoming wave of oil and faced her. His hands clenched, and his face had gone red in anticipation of what he thought he must do.

Rivers run forth from her great breasts, remain close. The prayer Cato said before they departed was the only thing running through Micah’s head.

Suddenly, Micah buried his face square between the Gaia’s breasts, which elicited a high-pitched squeak from the Gaia.

Susan’s mouth dropped open. Micah pulled his head out, sucked in a badly needed breath, then looked back at the oil slick. It was still coming. He turned and did another face plant; only harder. Thinking perhaps she couldn’t feel him under all those layers of clothes, he shook his head back and forth.

Just as the wall of crude oil crashed into the shoreline, it lost momentum. It slowed and rolled to a goopy stop right at the trio’s feet. Micah’s move had flustered the Gaia, causing her body to flood with adrenaline. Since her natural reaction of accumulating nearby energy during an adrenaline rush followed; she essentially discharged the molecules.

Susan looked at her brother in wonder. He couldn’t have known how that would play out. Nonetheless, Micah turned back to the Gaia, still wide-eyed, but also with a small smile of accomplishment.

He had done his job; he had finally proven himself worthy of his Ardwyad title. The Gaia slowly raised her hand and issued a neat slap to his face.

“When we get back to the Chakra, I am filing a sexual harassment suit.”

Susan could no longer hold her snort of laughter back; as if the Seven had a human resources department. The Gaia turned on Susan, “Of which you will be included as an accomplice.”

“How – ”

“ – for helping to fulfill the desires of your puberty-stricken brother!”

The Gaia turned on her heel, sliding in what oil had made it that far onto shore, and stomped away in the ice and snow; black boot prints trailing her.

Susan watched the Gaia go, then scooped up some clean snow and put it on her brother’s reddening cheek. He held it in place.

“Well, how was your first time?” She asked.

“It was…” he started to walk after the Gaia, slowly, and Susan followed. “Liberating.”

Susan cleared her throat.

Micah looked up, suddenly appalled, “Wait, did you mean using magic? I mean…I didn’t use any magic. I thought you meant…her, um – “

“Don’t say it. I don’t even want to know what you call them.” Susan spared a sideways glance for her brother, then punched him playfully in the arm. He punched back and missed.

She shouldn’t be so hard on him. He had rougher times with women ahead. It was those handsome green eyes of his; they were going to get him into big trouble one day.

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What did you think of my first short?  Please comment or an e-mail directly to me at terra (dot) harmony11 (at) gmail (dot) com.  Worth following?  Please sign up to follow by e-mail!