Friday, February 8, 2008


By Keith Giles

The damn machine sputtered and shook violently before it back-fired and died with a slow belch of black smoke. I sat back and let the great yellow beast roll a few more feet before it finally ground itself to a stop. The sound of the gravel crunching beneath the knobby black tires was like the hot sizzle of grease in a hot skillet.

I closed my eyes and for a moment I imagined I wasn't covered in dirt and sweat. I was at home, my family was alive and this damn war had never happened.

My hand strayed absently to the raised scar across my stomach. It was still tender. The Jackals had inserted their toxic sacks into my abdomen before I could escape. The rest of my family hadn't been so lucky. Their bodies were already providing nutrients to the genetic embryos growing inside them. In a few weeks they'd be cut open to harvest the biological weapons inside and discarded into the pit behind the barn.

When I opened my eyes reality snapped back into place. There were only two rounds in the pistol and my canteen was mostly condensation. The last bite of food I'd had was days ago. Almost on cue I could hear the sound of distant gunfire. Getting closer? It didn’t matter. I had to move.

I dropped out of the cockpit and pulled my backpack down from the cab in one single motion. The sun would be down soon and I needed to find cover before dark.

My feet started to hurt immediately and I remembered why I'd stolen the dump truck in the first place. Either way I had to keep moving. The Jackals would certainly have missed their vehicle by now, and even if they were mostly ass-backwards religious nut-jobs, they were also well-known for their creative forms of torture. No turning the other cheek for them, no sir.

My pistol was digging into my hip as I ran so I had to pull it out to keep my pace. It felt good in my hand. The weight of it was seductive and it gave me the illusion of power. For a moment there I really felt like I could make it another day without a fight, and then I heard the approaching sound of the helicopters. I didn't need to look up to know the gleaming hornets were headed straight for me. I decided to drop the backpack and run hard for the treeline.

Those were Government air patrols. I'd run into them before. They swept the countryside looking for people dumb enough to venture outside in the daylight. People like me.

I'd rather face the Jackals than be gunned down in my tracks by fifty-millimeter canons. The tree line was thirty yards away. I could tell without looking that the helicopters were probably a half mile behind. Almost within range to squeeze off a few shots at me. My lungs were on fire as I sprinted for the trees.

Suddenly I felt a hot ripping in my stomach and at first I thought they must have shot me, but looking down I could see my wound had re-opened. Bright red blood was pouring out of the gash as I ran, but I couldn’t stop. I had to reach the treeline.

The sound of the helicopter was impossibly loud now. The blades were chopping the air into chunks and I couldn't hear myself breathe. Any minute now the bullets would come and I would never hear a thing.

Closer now. Were they toying with me? Why else would they wait so long to cut me in half with their guns?

Suddenly the air around me filled with swirling dirt which caked onto my skin and filled my eyes with sand. I had to stop and cover my eyes as the copter hit the ground just twenty yards away. My hand went up to aim the pistol and I realized the helicopter was white, not black. There was a large red cross against the fuselage.

I lowered my weapon and a young woman dropped from the passenger side to jog over to my side.

"My name is Soreena," she said into my ear as the rotor blades wound slowly down. "Congratulations, Sir."

I cocked my head and licked my lips. The smell of her hair was like honeysuckle. Her green eyes were flecked with yellow and her skin was clean. She had recently bathed and was wearing clean clothes and new shoes. I hadn't seen anything like this since before the war which was years ago.

"Who the hell are you?" I asked.

"I'm with the network. You've won, sir. Our viewing audience has selected you as our grand prize winner. How do you feel sir?"

I looked down at her slender hands and realized she was holding a wireless microphone. Over her shoulder I could see a camera man and a lighting engineer. They were wearing new clothes too.

I shot her once in the forehead and as she fell forward I shot the cameraman who was also, apparently, the pilot.

The lighting engineer dropped his parabolic lamp and raised both hands into the air. I couldn't hear what he was saying but I didn't really care.

The pilot’s seat was still warm when I slid into the cockpit. The fuel gauge read full. I wound up the rotors and as I pulled back on the stick and cut into the skyline the sun was setting just behind the hills.

It was good to be alive.

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