Short Story for April – Episode Four: Impasse

3 Apr

IMPASSE

This is episode four of the Garden of Hell series of sci-fi short stories, following after Tiger Lilies, Two Moons, and Crow’s Flight – posted in September and October 2011 fiction.

Copyright J. Dianne Waye March 2012

Contains mature subject matter and violence.

“Perez. Help me. You gotta help me, for the love of God.”

“God doesn’t have anything to do with this,” I said. God wasn’t listening, or He didn’t care, or He shared my sentiments over Crow. Or there was no God, and this place was proof.

Any way I looked at it, Crow deserved to die.

“There’s no point,” I said. “You can die now or die later. It doesn’t matter.”

“It matters to me,” Crow said.

The flower was beautiful, petals wrapped tight like a pitcher plant on a much larger scale, delicate shades of pale purple softening to almost white along the tips. Veins of dark indigo threaded through the fleshly leaves. Inside, barbs pointed downwards, deceptively delicate but needle sharp, trapping what sought that tempting pool of water gathered up from deep roots.

Judging from Crow’s disjointed groans, some slow digestive acid was now at work dissolving him.

“Heartless bitch.”

The moons shifted along their heavenly arcs, casting double-edged shadows over the valley, and still his screams and sobs bounced off the canyon walls – pleas to God, to me, to end it. I covered my ears, rocking back and forth, driven mad by the sound but unable to leave.

Red gritty soil drifted over the barren landscape, reminiscent of those ancient Mars probe movies we used to watch in training camp, laughing over the clumsy tin-can designs until the instructor silenced us with a slap of a hand on his desk. Remember your roots, he would bark. Remember what those brave souls endured to advance us to this new era of space travel.

What had our arrogance shaped us into? We never learned our lesson, never fell to our knees humbled by the miracle right under our feet: the grass, the trees, the flowers – divine in their soulless simplicity. No conscious, no ethics, just a programmed response to live, to reproduce, without guilt.

What had I become? Was I evolving in the wrong direction?

The flower trembled. Through the clouds the sky lightened, painting the streaked cliffs a dull topaz. Dawn was on the way, my time here drawing to a close.

“Help me, Perez,” he croaked, voice broken from screaming. “Have mercy. End my suffering. You must be a good person, for Andy to love you.”

“Don’t you dare speak his name.”

I pulled out my machete and hacked away at the plant stem, savage anger surging through my limbs. Thick sticky fluid seeped from the wounds, dripping yellow blood on the red sand. Petal by petal, I pried Crow free. He plopped to the ground, writhing in pain, cowering in the wake of my wrath.

The monster lay helpless at my feet, barely recognizable as human, his flesh prickled and sliced from the barbs, red welts swelling, skin scalded pink. His clothing was a tattered mess of gelatinous threads smearing his skin with unnatural colour. The shoelaces had dissolved in his tanned leather boots, metal safety toes exposed but intact.

He lay there panting, dazed, as cool misty rain started to fall, washing away the clinging dust, bringing calming relief to his flesh. He twisted his arms up, as if blessing the sky.

The rain stopped. It must hate him, too.

“Daylight’s coming,” he said.

I let him crawl on his hands and knees as we picked our way across the gully towards the shuttlecraft. His feet were too burned to support him, the exposed partially-digested skin blackening as the air crisped it dry. He hurried, because he knew I would leave him behind if he didn’t make it in time.

The first rays of daylight bathed the sky in brilliant shades of green. Out in the jungle the trees shifted and swayed, undergrowth rustling, as those things started to stir.

Crow dragged himself across the threshold. I closed the cargo bay door and bolted it shut, the lock enough protection against them for now. Until they evolved, and figured it out.

I hadn’t slept much in the heat of the day, tossing and sweating on my bunk, mind racing. Night brought cool moist winds gusting through the valley, carrying rain destined to fall somewhere else, not here. Still, the fresh air was a welcome relief to the stuffy shuttlecraft interior.

Crow gathered up dead branches and twigs, and lit a fire.

“You shouldn’t burn wood,” I said, but he did it anyways, his impotent act of defiance.

“Here, I made chilli.”

He handed me a tin cup filled with revolting brown sludge: prisoner rations. His eyes flickered in the firelight, haunted and sad. For a moment I forgot that he was an animal, a man with no soul.

Appetite vanishing, I placed the cup on the ground.

“It makes me sad, too,” Crow said. “I didn’t want him to die.”

“Don’t talk about him.”

“I have the right. He was my son.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“He was a lot like me,” he said, the accusation taunting me to look closer. “All the best parts.”

I could see the truth – the way his eyes crinkled when he smiled, the set of the jaw, the familiar slope of his skull as it curved down to his shoulders – things that marked them as kin, even when the spirit didn’t shine through.

“I was arrested the day he was born. A whole week passed before they would tell me if he was alive, if Marcia survived. They jailed the lot of us, and for what? Protesting for social reform. They were spending precious money on space travel while children starved on Earth. They claimed it would help us find new food resources, but they lied.”

“So you say.”

“Do you know what it’s like to watch your child grow up hating you? To spend twenty-two years behind bars for a false crime? They made me into a criminal.”

“I don’t want to know any of this. You’re going to die here anyways, when the tiger lilies bloom.”

“You didn’t die. Andy didn’t die.”

“Everyone else did.”

He pulled up his sleeve to expose his arm, pock-marked high up on the bicep. “You’ve got one of these, too.”

I didn’t roll up my sleeve to prove his point but it was there, under the fabric of my uniform, a matching vaccination tattoo.

“I won’t die, either,” he said. Uncannily agile, he jumped up and grabbed me, kissing me full on the mouth, his disgusting tongue duelling with my own.

I shoved him away, wiping a sleeve across my lips, breath catching in my throat as I waited for him to dissolve, for my toxic saliva to melt him into a puddle of green goo.

“See? I’m immune to your charms.” A sinister smile spread across his face, a devil’s grin of satisfaction. He leaned closer, skin glistening with sweat from the pain. “Does Mothership know you’re alive? Do you think it’s a co-incidence that we all ended up here?”

The answer hung between us, unspoken.

“You’ve been raised on propaganda. It’s not your fault,” he said, turning away to scoop up the last spoonful of chilli, as if he hadn’t just risked his life to prove a point.

“Daylight’s coming,” I said.

He kicked sand over the campfire, to extinguish the thin flames. We gathered up our meagre supplies and withdrew into the safety of the shuttlecraft. I bolted the door; Crow placed a hand on the lock afterwards, to double-check. Right away the cabin air felt stale, claustrophobic, bitter with the scent of fear.

He shuffled over to the portside window, watching the horizon, the view tilted from the broken landing gear feet. Every morning, it started the same way – a creeping advancing tangle of leaves, as the jungle border moved closer.

“How many more days before it reaches us?” he said. “Don’t you care? Don’t you care about anything?”

I shrugged and turned away from the viewport.

“Why did you walk into the gully last night?” he asked.

“To watch you die.”

“You’re lying. You came to help me. You couldn’t take it, here alone.”

“You’re a monster.”

“So are you. You are cruel, to let me live.” He rolled his socks over his burnt feet, careful not to damage the fragile crust of new skin. They looked painful, but he never complained.

Outside, the scratching noises started, like branches rustling in a wind.

“We can get out of this hell hole,” he said. “We can fix the ship. All it needs is a repair job to the landing gear. It’s bent, and it won’t seal. That’s all we need to do, Perez, to get out of here.”

His voice had the edge of command, convincing and bold, trained to inspire rallying troops to their deaths. Just like Andrew.

“They’re coming,” he said. “There’s nowhere here we’ll be safe from them. No matter where we go, they will follow.”

He was right. Where he’d failed to manipulate me with emotion, he twisted my mind with cold logic. I couldn’t survive here alone, or with him.

“I’ll help fix the ship,” I said.

“We’ll need supplies from the village. Food and water. There isn’t enough fuel for a regular flight but we can coast part of the way, use gravity to pull us along. It’ll take longer, but we’ll be almost undetectable that way. We won’t leave a traceable contrail.”

Shapes emerged from the jungle depths, malformed mouths gaping, too-long limbs flailing, advancing with the unbalanced gait of something unfamiliar with walking upright. Horrid parodies of humanity, they surrounded the shuttlecraft like a field full of sunflowers – an army of zombies standing tall on the bleak field, faces pointing in a unified direction, towards us.

I blinked, and they moved a little closer, hands outstretched.

Face pressed against the window, I strained to see outside where the replicated forms of Bandana Man Faust gathered, fearsome in repetition. In amongst the Chain Gang members, the faces of Rosevelt and Rogers emerged, the false images of my dead friends.

The shuttlecraft shifted, horizon lurching, as the ship vibrated and rocked. The angle increased, and I struggled to hold on to my bunk. Damn that Crow, for burning the wood.

Crow screamed, tumbling down the open aisle to slam into the bottom end of the cabin wall. The creatures shuffled, gathering at that end of the ship.

“Move to the top,” I whispered, as I held out a hand to help him climb.

Row by row we struggled up the aisle to the top end, towards the cockpit. We climbed into the pilot seats and peered out the window. Sure enough, the creatures followed us to that end of the ship, surrounding the glass until we couldn’t see outside.

I checked the gauges to see if he spoke the truth. There was plenty of fuel, enough to get me home. I could fly this ship by myself. So could Crow. He wouldn’t need me anymore, after I helped him fix the landing gear. He wouldn’t hesitate to leave me behind.

“My son! Look what they’ve done to my son!”

Andrew’s face was in the crowd, pressing against the glass. Only one of him today, but tomorrow there would be more. The spectre peered in the window, breath frosting over the glass, hollow eyes watching me.

I dragged Crow from the cockpit to the cabin, and looked out the window. Outside, the creatures moved, responding to our change in position. They shuffled to the starboard side where Crow lay on his bunk, sobbing. I shifted away over to the port side and waited, but nothing outside reflected my actions.

It was him they sensed; he was the one they were after.

I closed the blinds against the horror and lay down on my bunk, pretending to be asleep. My mind went to work, plotting a way to beat him to the finish line. Surely he would be doing the same, once he stopped crying.

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13 Responses to “Short Story for April – Episode Four: Impasse”

  1. Anne Michaud April 3, 2012 at 7:41 AM #

    So good, Di. Please write this as a novel?

    • J D Waye April 5, 2012 at 7:24 PM #

      Maybe I will – and you’ll be the first to read the whole thing. Thanks for your comments.

  2. Marianne Su April 3, 2012 at 9:03 PM #

    You had me from beginning to end. Loved this.

    • J D Waye April 5, 2012 at 7:23 PM #

      Hey Marianne – thanks for your comments.

  3. Matthew April 5, 2012 at 7:01 PM #

    Very nice!

    I love the spare use of language and sharp dialogue. Really good stuff and kept me reading and then looking at the previous entries.

    • J D Waye April 5, 2012 at 7:22 PM #

      Thanks for dropping by, Matthew.

  4. Gareth April 6, 2012 at 2:58 AM #

    Hey JD,
    Nicely done as usual, just the right balance of emotion, twists and of course horror for me. Great stuff. I hope that you’re keeping a printed copy as you write so that you can tie them altogether. Could be a good thing to send off agent wise.

    • J D Waye April 7, 2012 at 8:34 AM #

      Thanks for reading my story, Gareth. This series was meant to be for fun, without the pressure of submitting for publishing. But who knows what will happen… LOL.

  5. T. James April 6, 2012 at 3:08 PM #

    Great writing Dianne, your style reminds me of some of the classic SF I used to read as a teenager. Gripping setting, and involving characters – this series continues to go from strength to strength. I agree with Anne and others, I think you could get a really worthwhile longer MS from this…

    • J D Waye April 7, 2012 at 8:36 AM #

      I guess I’ll have to see if this is MS worthy. Right now, I’m “pantsing” it from episode to episode, waiting to write myself into a corner LOL.

  6. BigBear85 April 7, 2012 at 7:32 PM #

    so will you be expanding on this world and making a novel perhaps because if so, I can’t promise to be the first inline because it will be a very long line but I think I could violently trample those in front of me to BE first in this line….good stuff

    • J D Waye April 7, 2012 at 9:13 PM #

      Bear, you make me laugh. I would never make you stand in line.

      • BigBear85 April 7, 2012 at 9:57 PM #

        well the people might get a bit edgy if a 6 foot 3 inch man bear decided he wanted to get to the front of the line before everyone else lol

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