03-05-2007 03:40 PM
“What’s this?!” the editor demanded as he threw the copy on the desk.
“It’s my article,” the reporter said, looking up at him from her MAC monitor. “Can’t I write a piece about the war?” She knew exactly what the problem was; the media had an agenda to make the war look so awful and terrible, pointing out every time one person died. The article had research in it on the number of people killed in gang shootings daily—higher than those at war—testimonies from people that appreciated the soldiers’ intervention, and gave the brainwashed public a real look at the numbers and how they stacked up. 3,000 dead over the course of how many months and years? Cancer took more than that. Those numbers were trivial compared to other wars. Siverine’s piece showed all that with a strong inference that the general media coverage twisted it to their own purposes—just as they had for decades.
Her editor’s lips went tight and he marched off. Siverine looked back at her computer. Her eyes glanced down at the framed picture sitting next to her monitor of two lab crosses; a large ivory colored one and smaller black one with amber eyes. She smiled at it, tucked a strand on long, straight, red-blond hair behind her ear, and went back to work.
The editor approached her later that day, dropping a packet with plane tickets stick out the side on her desk as unceremoniously as anything.
“All right, warrior of truth, I’m sending you out on assignment again. You heard of Merabyoyo?”
“Yeah. Weird stuff going on there. They’re sending in a team of scientist and diplomats to talk with the natives. You can go and bring back an ‘honest’ and ‘unbiased’ report.”
Siverine looked at the packet. “Uh, sir, this is for two months. I told you, my dogs—I can’t get my sister to watch them for more than a week.”
“I know how attached to them you are, so I’ve made arrangements for you to take them with you if you want. I can’t promise it will be pleasant for them, but they’ll be with you.”
Siverine smiled. Her dogs were her closest family—they were practically her kids. Being away from them for two months would have been torture on her.
“Thank you, sir.”
Three months later…
The helicopter hovered forty feet above the ground. Six ropes dropped down and military men in full combat gear rappelled to the ground. The helicopter lifted away, the pilot holding a fist up for the leader—his buddy. Once the helicopter pulled away the ten on the ground would be on their own for seven days in Merabyoyo. In that time they had to learn what had happened to the party that has been sent here two and a half months ago and disappeared.
They moved to the old encampment to find anything torn apart. No signs of life. Food storage gone, water stores dry, medical tent eradicated. The wind didn’t blow across the red-soiled waste land and moon offered no condolences. The ten military were the only ones that moved through the night, cautious and always keeping an eye out for danger or signs of anything living—and lacking that, a clue as to what had happened to the forty that had been sent here, more than half of which had been their countrymen and women.
One of the masked military men pause as something caught his eye. It was a picture of a woman, probably mid to late twenties, with two dogs; the ivory colored lab was really big.
The team moved to where the party was supposed to have been meeting with the natives. Here they found part of what they were looking for. Bodies, cut down, blood stains on the ground around them, torn pieces of flesh that had shriveling in the sun.
They did a head-count. Thirty-five. That’s if the three whose faces had been so mangled it was impossible to tell what they’d looked like had been natives of the Redlands. Even if not, that left two. Their mission was to account for everyone; they had to find the last two.
“Where to Sergeant Kane?”
The sergeant looked to the north—further into the Redlands.
“The ruins are half a mile north. We’ll look for the others there. If we can’t find anything in 24 hours, we’ll come back and bury these and spread out for more clues.”
The darkest hour of night fell over Merabyoyo.
Bodies littered the ruins of Kariokyarya. There had been another fight among the native tribes. As always, they’d left the dead and slaughtered lying in the streets. They’d be gone within three days. The Whriniret never left flesh lying about for long.
Some men were still patrolling the city—just to finish killing any already dying, friend or foe.
A woman kept crouched low as she moved among the ruins, careful to step over as much blood and flesh as she could. In the Merabyoyo, blood was…dangerous. Whoever had attempted the original translation had gotten it wrong. It wasn’t the Redlands; it was Bloodlands.
She saw a shadow cast by one of the torches that never went out and stopped, slowly lowing herself and closing her eyes as she slumped against the wall, doing her best to appear dead.
A tribe man moved among the bodied, stabbing some at random. The woman was easily noticeable. Short, curly hair, kept away from her face by a headband. He grinned, showing dark stained, broken teeth as he crept closer.
He heard a soft noise and turned just in time to see a massive maw reach for his throat and rip it our before he ever had a chance to scream.
The woman opened her eyes and looked around. Then she stood and walked away.
The massive dog released the dead man and went to the wall it had been hiding behind. He was at least the size of a lion with an ivory coat which as given a tinge of red from the soil and blood. He reached into the shadow and picked up something smaller and stiff. It was another dogs, black with white on his chest and paws.
The large dog looked at the dead man as he gently held the stiff, unmoving dog in his mouth.
‘Did you think I wouldn’t kill you?’ the ivory asked. ‘Of course I would. And I’ll continue to kill whenever you threaten Siverine. You’ll not have us; any of us.”
He followed after the woman, the small dog’s lifeless amber eyes gazing at the ruins around them.
03-05-2007 04:37 PM
I really enjoyed read it. I loved that you had a lady who was so attached to her dogs, because I feel like my dog is my baby also. Great way to connect to your readers. I wasn't sure what to expect when I read the first part about her being a reporter and doing an article on the war, you totally threw me with what happened, but in a good way!
"tucked a strand on long, straight, red-blond hair behind her ear" I think you meant to write "...a strand *of* long..." instead of on.
Oooo, I really liked the part about it not being Redlands it being Bloodlands. Did the other dog die? That made me sad
I'm definatly wondering what happened to make everything go so wrong. Great job on that.
This seems like such a captivating story, I hope you write more of it!
03-05-2007 07:31 PM
03-05-2007 10:00 PM
“Tell us about before.”
Siverine looked up front the wad of cloth in her lap she was trying to turn into a blanket.
“You want stories, Lan?” she asked the massive lab. He lay across the threshold of their dwelling, the flap that served as their door at his back. The mud and clay the ruins had been built of keep things comfortable at all times; once you learned to ignore the heavy musk of blood and mud mixed by piss.
“Memories. Duke wants to hear them too.”
Siverine glanced at the stiff dog that had been set at her side and smiled.
“Very well, since you both insist. Before we came here, we lived in a small house on the edge of town. The yard was smaller; so were you then, Lan. I’d take you for walks almost every morning and evening. When I had them, I’d give you cookies. You both got so excited when I would say cookie.”
“I remember that,” Lan said and laid his head down on his paws.
“You both loved attention. I could never pet you enough—even when I was trying to work you’d keep nudging me for a pet. I learned that if I ignored you or got you distracted with a toy, you’d leave me alone for a while.”
“We would play and wrestle on the floor, right?”
“I didn’t kill anything then.”
“Not on purpose. But you liked soft things and when you visited my parents would sometimes get out a rabbit and play with it you death—but I don’t think you meant to do that.”
“I remember rabbits, I think. I liked to chase them.”
“Yes; at Grandpa’s you’d chase them, but they always eluded you. You both liked to go down to the river and swim; especially when it was hot.”
“Swimming, yes. I miss that. But I wouldn’t want to swim in the waters here.”
“I don’t blame you.” Siverine’s eyes glazed over for a moment; the less you interacted with the Bloodlands, the less they changed you. Even before the massacre, just breathing the air and walking on the ground had created changes in them. The others hadn’t wanted to acknowledge it; fools they were. Even when Lan’s growth was undeniable, some had ignored her. Never mind the changes they had to have been noticing in themselves. But she didn’t need her perpetually straight hair becoming curly and breaking off until it was as short as it was to realize what was happening. Lan was eight years old—it was impossible for him to have grown so much suddenly. And then came the day he had spoken to her; the same day Duke had—
Lan’s head jerked up and his lopped ears rose.
“There’s men in Kariokyarya. But they’re not Meryani. They have guns and are seeking.”
“I wonder if they’re here to kill us,” Siverine said.
“They don’t yet smell of blood or fear; they haven’t been in Merabyoyo long.”
Kane signaled down one of the ruin’s allies and the men moved in formation, keeping to the walls and watching every direction they could. It wasn’t long before they found the first body. After that, there was at least one dead man on every corner and every block. It was almost impossible not to step in the pools of blood. Kane and his men check every body, but they were all Redlands natives.
“What do you supposed happened here, Sergeant?”
“I’m not sure,” Kane admitted, stepping around another slashed body.
“To survive in Merabyoyo, you have to spill the blood of others,” a female voice suddenly said and everyone but Kane brought their firearms up.
He raised his hand and half lowered their weapons. “Who’s there?”
“I should be asking you that. Who are you, why have you come, and who are you going to kill?”
“I’m Sergeant Dallas Kane. We’re here to discover what happened to the party sent here three months ago and safely return any survivors. We have no intentions of killing anyone without need.”
The voice chuckled. “Trust me; in the Bloodlands, you’ll have a need.” There was a pause as Kane and his men tried to pinpoint the voice’s source. “Tell me, once you find survivors, how do you intend to get them out?”
“The helicopter will return at a set time; we’ll take out who and what we can then.”
“Did it land?”
“The helicopter. Did it ever touch the ground?”
“Then you’ve been left here to die, just like the rest of us.” From some dark shadow, a woman stepped in front of them. “If your lives were of any value, you would not have been sent to Merabyoyo.”
Kane looked at her carefully. “You’re…Siverine Nicholson, the reporter.”
“Correct, Sergeant Dallas Kane.” She walked forward and the object in her arms became discernable. “This is Duke. And this is Lan.”
From the opposite side of the alley Siverine had come from, the largest dog Kane had ever seen stepped out and moved next to Siverine. He heard Harrison behind him swear at the lion sized dog at the reporter’s side and the lifeless one in her arm.
“He looked smaller in the picture,” Kane admitted, recalling the photo he’d seen at the abandoned camp. Was this not the same dog?
“The Bloodlands change us all,” a deep voice said and Kane had to swallow hard when he realized it had come from Lan.
“Follow me; the Whriniret will be coming soon. You’ll die all that much sooner if you’re caught in it.” Then she turned and started walking away.
“Sergeant Kane?” Jones mumbled. “Are we really going to follow her?”
“Why not, Jones?”
“That dog she’s carrying is dead, and the big one…he’s big.” Jones couldn’t make himself admit out loud that the dog had spoken. “Do you think she’s sane?”
“We’re alive; you’ll find that means more than sanity here,” a deep voice said and Kane and Jones both startled to realize Lan was right next to him. It was impossible to know how something so big and light colored could move without being noticed.
“Until we figure out what’s going on, we’re going with her. She’s one of the survivors, after all.”
Lan had turned to follow Siverine and now looked back at them. Kane wasn’t sure, but it almost seemed as if Lan was laughing at him.
03-06-2007 12:10 AM
It's very original. I like how Lan, the dog, can talk. Sometimes I wish my dog could talk.
I wonder how the Bloodlands (which by the way, that would be a cool title for your book, it would definatly grab someones attention) changed Siverine besides just her looks.
Can't wait for the next installment!
03-06-2007 07:23 PM
I like this story. It reminded me of one of my favorite Harlan Ellison stories, "A Boy and His Dog," which also features a post-apocalyptic world and an intelligent dog. Lan sounds like an interesting character, and you have the fascinating chore of figuring out how an intelligent dog differs from human beings. (For surely there are significant differences in their temperaments.)
You can do some really interesting things if you make your story hinge on Lan's character. Good luck with the story.
03-07-2007 12:49 AM
Siverine told them they were welcome to eat some of the kubaku, but suggested they should eat their own rations as long as possible.
“The less of the Bloodlands that gets into you, the better.”
After catching a whiff of the cooking animal, the men quickly ate their rations. No one went into the other room to see how she cooked it.
“Ms. Nicholson, are there any other survivors? We counted 33 bodies near the camp; were they all from your party?”
“Yes. Thanks to Duke and Lan, I was able to escape the massacre.”
“What about the thirty-fifth person?”
She was quiet for a moment. “He’s alive, as far as I know. This land doesn’t know the justice to kill him.”
Lancaster stood up. “Excuse me, but is there a bathroom around here?”
“Piss hole around the left wall. Anything else you’ll have to hold until morning and go to the latrine.” Siverine gathered the remains of her meal, appetite suddenly gone. “You’ll have to stay here, I’m afraid. If you’re outside in the next two hours, you won’t live long enough to know if your helicopter is really going to return.”
Lan lay across the threshold of the door, blocking anyone from leaving. Kirk and Jones had done a quick sweep of this building they were in and found no other exit and one window near the back that was covered with a cloth and too small for anyone to climb out of.
The men bedded down uneasily. Siverine promised they’d be safe so long as they stayed inside, but she and her strange dogs unnerved them almost as much as anything they’d find outside.
Kane couldn’t sleep; or maybe he wouldn’t. If there was another survivor, why wasn’t he with Siverine? Who would break up in a place like this?
For the first time he wondered, what was this place?
There was a quiet, low rumble; like someone who was asleep and not yet snoring. It seemed to be coming from outside. Kane pushed away from the wall as he stood. He glanced around the room; most of the men weren’t really asleep, but none wanted to prove it by moving. Siverine was curled on a cot made of knotted rags and a blanket of more rags, the dead dog at the edge of her bed, facing toward the door. He wondered how crazy she was to carry a stiff, dead dog around with her.
Oddly enough, he didn’t recall that much white on the dog’s chest and paws in the picture…
Kane moved toward the door to see what was making that noise. Lan raised his head as Kane reached for the curtain.
‘If you expose one finger to the outside, I’ll rip your hand off,’ the massive lab said. ‘Whriniret is coming; we can’t let it know we’re here.’
“What’s a Whriniret?”
‘A blood drinking whirlwind; perhaps some kind of demon.’ Lan’s ears perked and he looked around. ‘If you’d like to see, you can open the curtain a crack with something inanimate. The Whriniret cannot see—it won’t go off its course unless it tastes blood and flesh.’
‘I must me losing my mind too,’ Kane thought as he picked up his gun and used the barrel to push the curtain back a bit. He couldn’t see anything except a couple of dead bodies that littered the street.
The low breath drew closer and Kane waited patiently. Then there was suddenly a red sandstorm that covered half the street. As he witnessed, it whipped across and around the bodies, ripping them apart with sand and absorbing the blood until there was nothing but bone.
‘The bones will be eaten by the mice and rats once the Whriniret passes. Kariokyarya does a very good job of keeping itself clean. By morning there will be no signs of the tens that were slain.’
“How do you know those words? Whriniret and Kariokyarya. I’ve never heard them before.”
‘Duke told me. Ah,’ Lan continued before explaining, ‘across the alley, in the next doorway. See the body?’ Kane opened the curtain a little more see. ‘Unless his blood has leaked into the street, Whriniret will pass him by.’
And it did seem that at first, the whirlwind would pass by. But then one grain of sand touched the trickle of the man’s blood and the entire storm jerked around like a hound suddenly catching the sent of wounded prey and in moments only bones remained.
Kane pulled back into the building and didn’t realize his heart was in his throat until he swallowed it.
What kind of nightmare had they stumbled into? This couldn’t be real, it just…
“What happened to you? Why are you like this?” Kane found himself asking.
‘To better protect Siverine. The same reason Duke is how he is; even as the simplest of animals, we wanted to protect her. Unknown to us, Merabyoyo answered this desire. It’s either a blessing or cruel fate for it keeps us all alive, but we remain alive here.’
Alive? “Then the other—er, Duke. He’s alive?”
Lan cocked his head to the side. ‘Of course he is. Like the rest of us, he’s just been changed by Merabyoyo.’
Unsure of what to say—the rigamortus dog was alive?—Kane looked back outside. As Lan had predicted, already the rodents were out gnawing on the bones.
‘You should rest. Merabyoyo requires all a person’s strength to survive. Don’t fear; Duke is keeping watch.’
That didn’t settle Kane any—the NOT-dead dead-looking dog was keeping watch?
He settled back into his spot as closed his eyes. He still couldn’t bring himself to argue with a lion-sized dog.
‘In the morning we’ll find the other survivor,’ Kane told himself, his eyes drifting open a crack and looking at Duke. ‘And tonight a dog that doesn’t move is keeping guard.’ He remembered Siverine’s question about the helicopter landing and remark afterward.
‘What the hell is going on here?’
03-07-2007 08:59 PM
She remembered her former life well, but it was now tainted with bitterness. She’d lost it all. And for what? Why had she been sent to this place of certain death?
Why, to die of course.
She’d fought the system; she wouldn’t conform to what mass media wanted to brainwash the public with. She wasn’t corrupting the truth and skewing facts to fit the over all political agenda. Chalk up another reason to dislike politics.
She closed her eyes to check her emotions. Had her editor really sent her here to die? Had he done it because he wanted her dead, or just out of the way for a while? Maybe he hadn’t been told what this place was really like. Then again, even if he had, he knew all to well how facts and stories could be bent.
Could he have been a pawn in all of this to? Was he another victim of one man’s perverted madness? One man? No, she didn’t believe that. While it was only one she saw, there were enough clues to know that the evil that had brought her here spread beyond that mind.
The Sergeant stirred and sat up. By the look on his face, he hadn’t meant to fall asleep. It was for the best that he had—no day in Merabyoyo could be survived easily.
He noticed her awake and smiled a good morning.
A smile. Apparently her memory was fading since she’d forgotten what those were.
He pushed away from the wall and came closer, squatting next to her make-shift bed.
“Ms. Nicholson, do—”
“Siverine. I’ve almost forgotten my last name, so just call me Siverine.”
He nodded. “Ms. Siverine,” oh for crying out loud, who had those kind of manners anymore? “you mentioned another survivor yesterday.”
Her hand had been lying on Duke and she grasped at his fur. “One of the party that came is still alive besides me, yes.”
“Who is it? Do you know where to find him?”
“What will you do with him?”
Kane was stunned a moment by her question. “I’ll take him home; you too.”
“You intend to take all of us home?”
“Why? We were sent here to die; perhaps you were too. If you have a reason to live, as soon as that helicopter comes back—if it really does—leave this place and pray you can forget everything you’ve seen.”
Kane cocked his head to the side and the touched her wrist. “My mission is to find out what happened and bring any survivors out. That includes you, Siverine, and your dogs.”
Smart man; he knew better that to try and tell her they’d have to stay. Kind, but foolish.
Siverine sat up at pushed her blanket back. She knelt so she was eyelevel with the Sergeant and moved her head close.
“There is a difference between ‘alive’ and ‘survive’. I’ll take you to where that man can be found if you really want, but it’s not because I expect either of us to be saved. You’d do the world a great service by killing him. And I know that I’ll never leave here alive.”
“Siverine, I don’t know what happened, but you can’t give up hope.”
Siverine closed her eyes and shook her head. Memories of her life before here she kept dear to her, but the memories of what had happened here…those she wished she could cast aside. They were memories she was loathe to share with someone who can still walk away.
She opened her eyes and looked at him. What of person was he? The kind that let himself be led around by the media and agendas of those higher than himself or the kind that could think and see beyond the smoke and mirrors of other people’s words?
Did military think for themselves, or do as they’re told?
Would he kill someone because it was the just thing to do, or make the lives of others even more hellish than what Merabyoyo could?
“When your men are ready, I’ll show you where you can take a dump. It will take five days to reach where the last survivor is.” She picked up Duke in her arms and walked away, Lan watching her walk out of the room before lowering his head to his paws.
“Wait. You still haven’t told me his name; the other survivor,” Kane said, shaking anyone still remotely asleep awake.
“Doctor.” Then she left the room, clenching Duke close to her.
“What? Kane, are you nuts? You honestly want to split the team?”
“I don’t have much choice, Harrison. Siverine said it will take five days to reach the last survivor; the helicopter will have come back for us by then. You, Fields, Daniels, and York stay and meet it. Just to be safe, give us ten days after that and come back. We’ll be ready by then.”
“Damn it, Dallas, you’re letting a crazy woman lead you into a forsaken wasteland.”
“I have my orders, Harrison. And you have yours. I’m not leaving here until my mission is fulfilled.”
“Look, I’m trusting you to take our one guaranteed ticket out of here and still come back to get us. I don’t know why, but something doesn’t feel right. I think Siverine is much saner than you give her credit for and she seems convinced that whoever sent her here did so with the knowledge she’d die. Find out who and why. And if anyone has the slightest idea exactly what this place is, I’d love for you to come back and tell me.”
Harrison really wanted to deck him at that point. Damn fool; it was like he wanted to get himself killed in this freaky place.
“Fine, I’ll do it. But you better be alive and sane when we come back or I’m gonna pound you into the dirt of this place and…feed you to that Baskerville hound!”
“Thanks Holmes; that makes me feel so much better.”
Harrison nodded. Damn this guy anyway. Why couldn’t he stay mad at him? It would serve him right if they all just tied him up and hauled him in the chopper when it got here. And if Miss Freaky wanted to stay, she was welcome to it. With a talking dog the size of a pony, he couldn’t see how she’d be in too much danger.
Unless the dog ever got really hungry…
Harrison tried not to clench his teeth. He didn’t like dogs; the whole bitten as a child thing. That monster Lan nearly scared the piss out of him—the blood around his mouth wasn’t comforting either.
“We’ll go with you to the old camp and you can wait there. Keep an eye out, don’t get involved in anything you don’t have to, and go when its time,” Kane told him. The crazy chick had told Kane that earlier when he’d told her about his plan. “Try not to forget to come back, though.”
‘And find out what’s going on,’ he didn’t add, but Harrison knew it was there.
“Yes, Sergeant Kane.”
03-07-2007 10:24 PM
03-07-2007 10:53 PM
You also might consider what you are trying to say with the story. Based on the first two beats it is obvious that you want to say something, you probably want to think about how you might show that through the story it self.
03-07-2007 11:28 PM
But, for the sake of quicker feedback, I'll do the summary/outline. I do know how the story goes, ther are jsut a few holes still.
If anyone wants actually story updates, please say so. If not I'll stick to the outline. Like I said, I enjoy writing and storytelling and am glad to share, but don't want to force something that wouldn't be wanted.
03-08-2007 01:12 AM
03-08-2007 08:41 PM
She jumped when a hand settled on the tip of her shoulder.
“You don’t have to force yourself,” Kane told her. “If you’d rather not go back—”
“It’s fine. I…I’ve been meaning to get some things I left.”
Kane nodded, but waited for her to start moving again of her own free will. Stubborn pride more than anything made her go; she wouldn’t be cowered by this place now. Everything that had made it truly terrible was gone—now there were just memories and shadows.
The soldiers has already gathered bodies and parts and bagged them to take back. Siverine’s eyes glazed over when she looked at them. She’d told them and warned them, but no one had listened. Even the other reporters had ignored her. It wasn’t important, didn’t matter, she was paranoid, the heat was getting to her; there had been may excuses. Finally Siverine had given up and did what she did best; observed and learned.
‘Maybe they just didn’t want to see,’ she thought as she moved among the tattered tents and scattered shreds of memories. ‘People can be like that; I can’t blame them for wanting to hide from the ugliness that was happening around them.’
But Siverine couldn’t turn a blind eye or ignore it. Maybe because that ugliness threatened her and her dogs and she couldn’t forgive that.
Her feet took her to her old tent and she stopped outside. She’d pillaged it the night she knew she had to leave—the night of the massacre. While the others were tricked into their deaths, she had slipped away with Lan and Duke to gather what she could. At the time she’d thought she’d only have to lie low. But then had come the screams and shouts and she knew there was no coming back.
Something on the ground caught her eye and she bent to pick it up as Harrison walked closer. She brushed away red dirt with the back of her hand to reveal a picture of her with Lan and Duke taken in her backyard. How long would it be before the house was repossessed? Would her parents or sister keep making the mortgage payment on it? When would they give up and sell it?
Harrison’s steps kept her from being too lost in thought. She glanced at him and folded the picture before putting it in her pocket.
“Memories are the most valuable thing here,” she explained, fully aware he wouldn’t understand her. “When you forget who you are and where you come from, the Bloodlands can make you something else. It’s ironic; everything about this place makes you want to forget, but that is the one thing you can’t do if you want to survive.”
“I overheard you this morning telling the Sergeant there’s a difference between ‘alive’ and ‘survive’,” he said. “What did you mean by that?”
Siverine looked at the camp around her. “Some of you think I’m crazy. If that’s true, then I’m only alive and I haven’t managed to survive since this place has defeated me. If I’m not crazy, then it’s because I’m surviving; but surviving in a place like this can’t really be called living, can it?”
“So which are you?”
She wanted to laugh, but that probably wouldn’t do much for her sanity argument.
“I’m standing here, breathing, so I must be alive. But if I’m alive, it’s only because I’ve survived to make it this far.”
Harrison raised an eyebrow.
“I’ll tell you what; if that helicopter lands when it picks you up, then I’m as crazy as you think. If not, be careful, because I’ve lost nothing on my mind.” She started to walk past him, more at ease now that she had one more scrap of memory. “And just so you know, in my mind, I was sent here to die.”
“Harrison!” Kane shouted, waved him over from the other side of camp. “It looks like you’re set up here. We’re going to move out. Remember, we’ll meet you back here in twelve days.”
“Yes sir. Be careful out there.”
“I wonder who will be in more danger,” Siverine said as if thinking aloud, and walked away, Lan following in step next to her wth Duke in his mouth.
Harrison adjusted his pack as he watched Kane leave with the rest of the men and Siverine.
“If that helicopter lands when it picks you up, then I’m as crazy as you think. If not, be careful, because I’ve lost nothing of my mind.”
He couldn’t shake her last words. The big dog had been carrying the smaller one in his mouth and Siverine carried only a beaten-up, salvaged canteen tied to her waist with braided rags. Harrison wanted to pass her off as a complete nut, but she just didn’t look like it—at least when she wasn’t carrying the dead dog around. He’d seen people who’d gone crazy and she didn’t have that look in her eyes. He hated to admit it, but she might actually be sane.
And if she was, he worried even more.
“I wonder who will be in more danger.”
It was going to be a long wait for the chopper.
03-09-2007 04:02 PM
“Is it going to be rough getting there?” he asked to get his mind off the dog.
“Depends on your definition of rough. Are there multiple points at which one or more of you could die unpleasant and painful deaths? Yes. Are you going to wish you’d spent more time on the treadmill? Maybe. Are you going to wish you’d taken up knitting instead of joined the military? Unless you’re a sadist. Is the trail hard to follow? Not really.” She glanced back at him. “Does that answer your question?”
Kane gave her a wry smile. “I think that’s the most I’ve heard you say at one time, Ms. Siverine.”
She shrugged as she faced forward again. “I’m a little more talkative outside of Kariokyarya. It’s not as crowded out here. The Meryani fight and die in the streets almost nightly.”
“How is it they haven’t killed themselves off?”
“They bred like rabbits. Only the men fight, so only men die. The woman stay pregnant constantly with whatever man can pin them down. They grow up quickly and if nothing else, Merabyoyo doesn’t lack for food if you know how to get it. And…there might be something more, but I haven’t been able to confirm whether it’s true or not.”
“What something more?” Kepper asked cautiously.
Siverine looked back at them again. “As a reporter, I prided myself on being factual. Gossip and shoddy research are for tabloids. I won’t speculate; especially not with this. If I’m right, I still can’t explain what it is. If I’m wrong, I’ll have done nothing but added to your fear. The Bloodlands have enough of that.” She turned away from hem once more. “And don’t tell me you’re not afraid, because I won’t be able to trust you. The fearless are the first to die.”
There was silence for a while as each man fought with his ego’s boast of “I’m not afraid” while a part of him was more than willing to confess, “Well, just a little.” Maybe they tried to justify that they were cautious or wary rather than afraid. But the small child that resides in every adult and whispers at the least expected moment trembled with fear of the unknown, the worst kind of fear there was.
The baked red earth didn’t stir as their party cut across the plain east of Merabyoyo’s only city.
“Miss Siverine, do you know what this place is? Why is it so…different?”
“You mean why is it so wrong and freaky?”
“Yeah, I guess that would be a better definition.”
Siverine looked up at the sky. It looked very similar to any other sky in color, but for some reason it seemed further away.
“The way Duke tells is—” did she realize citing a dog wasn’t necessarily the most credible thing?—“Merabyoyo is a land that has forgotten. It’s lost its old memories and been twisted by the agenda of someone else.”
The soldiers glanced at each other, arching eyebrows and giving funny looks.
“Uh…can’t say as I follow,” Kane admitted while Jones rolled his eyes.
“Tell me, Sergeant, are you familiar with the story of creation from the Bible?”
“Yes. I still attend church on occasion.”
“When God created the world and He told everything what to do and its proper order. He told the earth how to be and it obeyed, He told the water how and where to flow, He told the animals to multiply and replenish, just as He did man. Most of the earth listened and still remembers, behaving as it was told and moved upon by God.
“Merabyoyo, however, forgot. Maybe it was willful and thought it could do without the God that had made it. It’s been the experience of civilizations that they turn from God or distort God and then claim He’s abandoned them to the fate of their own making. That may very much be the case with Merabyoyo. It forgot its creation and creator and became susceptible to the whims and wills of those with more carnal minds.”
“That’s not exactly how I remember Genesis,” Kane said.
Siverine shrugged it off. “I worked in media; do you believe everything just as it’s written?”
“So you’re saying Merabyoyo forgot God and went off the deep end?” Lancaster asked. He wasn’t much of a religious person—he was more agnostic.
“It had help. Men came and Merabyoyo learned their ways of bloodshed and corruption. The Bloodlands were born under their tutelage. Whoever it was killed themselves off and Merabyoyo absorbed their emotions and corruption along with their blood. Maybe it’s that their spirits still roam this land and are responsible for its further distortion. Maybe even the Whririnet is some form of those men reincarnated.”
Siverine sighed and looked over her shoulder, resting on hand on Lan’s back.
“Or in the early 1900s Russia did a lot of radiation and nuclear testing and screwed everything up and hired witches to erase the evidence. Merabyoyo is just the bastard of voodoo and radiation.
“Take your pick; one story is as good as another, right?”
“What happened to credibility?” Lancaster asked, annoyed since he felt she was mocking them with her hair-brained stories.
Siverine shrugged. “And what, pray tell, would be a credible source? The scientists researching it were all slaughtered by the natives—who will be just as willing to slaughter any of you. I’d only be killed if I resisted being their brood mare. Sorry, but I haven’t had the opportunity to do a proper interview. I’ll pencil it in.”
Lancaster glared, but conceded to defeat.
“What’s that smell?” Jones asked, holding his nose higher into the air. “It’s…sweet.”
“The ants. I hope you can all run fast.” Siverine stopped and the soldiers all move up to see the field of giant anthills before them, spreading out for a mile.”
“We go through there?” Kane asked, rather impressed with the mud constructions created by millions of hardworking insects. Humans used to make architectural feats with only their own ingenuity and hard work that baffled later generations. Somehow society had lost that skill.
“Yes. Quickly. You’re in the Bloodlands. Do you really think you’ll find normal ants down there?”
The soldiers looked at each other. More than one thought ‘Man, this woman is just too plain freaky.’
“What kind of ants are they?” Kane asked. Siverine gave him a ‘don’t you know’ look. “Let me guess; they’re blood ants.”
03-11-2007 01:20 AM
Kane looked at Siverine for an answer. “Another hour. The ants move slowest during the heat of the day. We’ll have the best chance then.”
“You know, we move slower during the heat of the day, too,” Lancaster told her and wiped the sweat from his brow. Lancaster sweated easily, so it wasn’t that big of a deal, but they were all feeling the burn except for maybe Siverine.
“So why are these Blood Ants so nasty that we have to out run them?” Jones asked. “They like fire ants?”
“Somewhat. Ah. Come watch and you can see for yourselves.”
The soldiers moved to the edge of the rise that over looked the ants—some more reluctant than others. From the north a small herd of kubaku entered the ant field. Then, after a couple of second, dark red ants the size of small mice emerged from their nests and swarmed toward the kubaku. They panicked and ran faster, and it looked like they would escape unharmed. But then, half way through, one suddenly stumbled, its leg snapping like a twig as it stepped through the ground into a hollow below. It let out a croak/scream as hundreds and then thousands of ants took advantage of its immobility and caught it. They started to bite at its legs and worked their way up. By the time one of the ants reached the neck, it collapsed to the ground and was coated within a second, disappearing under the ants.
“Maybe Blood Ants aren’t an adequate name; they don’t only eat blood. They eat everything. Flesh, bone, internal organs; if it once lived and walks into their territory, they’ll eat it.” After a few moments the ants retreated, carrying away any grain of sand that had blood on it so there was no evidence of their meal.
“They burrow holes throughout their field to trap anything trying to pass. They can be outrun, but only if you hurry and don’t fall. They have underground passages that messengers can race along to let nests at the other end know you’re coming and they cut you off. It’s not very pleasant; they bite hard and deep. The first to catch you are diggers and all they do is chew up your flesh so someone else can carry it off. They’re also poisonous so that if you shake them off, they have a better chance of catching you later—maybe it makes it easier to bite through the tough parts of the anatomy, too.”
“How are we supposed to get through without becoming ant farm food then?” Kepper asked.
Siverine turned to him, her face very serious as she said. “One of you must be sacrificed for the rest.”
Harrison cleaned his gun and looked around the camp. York and Fields were playing cards while Daniels kept watch.
“Hey Rick,” York called from the card game. “You think it was smart letting Kane and the others go off like that?”
“Like I could have stopped him. Kane would carry out this mission single-handedly if he had to. Even if they bring back that last survivor in a body bag, he’ll see this through.”
“Wait a second; did that lady ever say who it was that was left alive? Who are they going to save?” Daniels asked.
“No; she only that it was a doctor.”
“What kind? Scientific or medical? More than half the team was some kind of doctor.”
Harrison stopped as he thought hard. “She never said.”
“Then, do you think that maybe she lied?” An eerie silence fell over them. “This place is crazy; so is she. You saw that monster dog of hers; he could rip a man’s throat out without a problem.”
“What are you trying to say, Daniels?” Harrison demanded, his uneasy making him irritable.
“That she’s some kind of witch that’s taking them out into this wasteland to kill them all one-by-one and then come back, give us some sob story about how they were attacked, and trick us into becoming her victims too. This is all too creepy and I’m certain she knows more than she’s letting on.”
“Sergeant Kane left us his orders,” Harrison said as he stood, shouldering his gun. “We’ll stay here until the chopper returns and go with them. Then we’ll come back ten days after that. Nothing will detour us from that. And don’t forget solider, Sergeant Kane isn’t as pathetic and stupid as you make him out to be.”
Harrison stormed off, slinging his gun over his shoulder. A few dozen yards away he stopped and clenched his fist. He punched the air in frustration.
“You better come back alive, Dallas.”
All the soldiers froze and stared at Siverine in disbelief.
Lan’s movement startled them out of shock.
‘You shouldn’t tease them, Siverine,’ the massive lab said, setting Duke down before shaking himself. ‘You might scare them.’
Jones almost melted with relief while Lancaster only looked peeved. Lan picked up Duke again and looked at the men.
‘I’ll lead you through so you won’t step into a trap hole. So long as we beat any messenger ants to the other side, it will be all right.’
There was an awkward moment before a snort broke the tension. Kane started with a chuckle and was soon laughing out loud.
“I’m sorry,” he said as he composed himself. “You’ve got a nasty sense of humor, Siverine.”
She shrugged. “I haven’t had the opportunity for humor in so long, I wanted to see if it was still possible.” Her face never once flinched to remotely suggest that she’d been joking, which left the rest of the men feeling uneasy.
“Sergeant Kane,” she said, moving on, “can you carry another man and still run?”
“For a while; not very well with a pack, though.”
“Then let me carry your pack. Lan can lead us through, but it wouldn’t take many ants catching someone to make them stumble enough to be caught. I know how to distract the ants momentarily, so it would give you time to grab whoever gets caught and run.” She looked at the others. “If there’s anything you can live without, I’d suggest you drop it here. I can only stall the ants once; after that you just have to run faster.” Siverine paused for a moment before adding, “Or die quickly and painfully.”
The group on the rise were all very tense except Siverine who just stared out at the ant field. This wouldn’t be the first obstacle to where they were going; it possibly wasn’t the most dangerous either. She glanced at the men and up at the far-away sky.
Why had she agreed? She risked worse what was before them by taking them to the last survivor. Why hadn’t she lied and said she didn’t know? Or that he was already dead somewhere else?
It hadn’t been to save her—if this “rescue” went wrong, she’d be in the worst way of her life. She kept living because she hadn’t lost that which was most dear to her; if that man caught her, she’d wished she’d killed herself and them.
A shiver of fear made her feel cold in the midday heat. Siverine had learned to live in Merabyoyo and how to face its challenges without batting an eyelash, but that man still drove fear deep into her heart.
Maybe it wasn’t too late to turn back…
She felt a weight rest on her lap and looked down to see Lan laying his head on her, his giant brown eyes looking up at her with love and concern. Siverine laid a hand on his head.
No; this would be her only chance to see justice done. Merabyoyo may not remember what justice was, but she did. Now all she had to do was trust in these men to deliver it for her.
Lan raised his head and looked at Duke who was setting on the ground next to him.
‘It’s time,’ he said. Siverine stood up and looked at the soldiers.
“Let’s see what you’re made of,” she said. She wasn’t talking about running.
03-11-2007 01:34 PM
You are really going to town on this story. I've enjoyed reading what you've written so far. Your world is very concrete and visual, well-rendered through your descriptions. You handled the expository elements pretty well, too, explaining the nature of the Blood Ants without it seeming like a throw-in piece of exposition (what they call an "As You Know, Bob..." in sf writing lexicon.
I think you could do with some further research on insects, especially on ants. Ants the size of mice is really getting near the limit of the insect body capability, and the large insects of prehistoric times were out-competed by their smaller brethren long ago. What evolutionary advantage would it serve them to grow larger again?
Also, ants move faster in the hot sun, not slower. They're not warm-blooded like mammals and not affected by overheating in the same way. (There is a level of heat that will make some ants go below ground during the heat of the day, but desert ants are adapted for great heat and are active even during the middle of the day.)
I don't think your Blood Ants need to be large to be effective. They simply need a way to trap their prey and then swarm over it. Army ants do so quite effectively and they aren't mice-sized.
Otherwise, I am really enjoying the story.
03-12-2007 12:35 AM
03-12-2007 12:38 AM
The ants were quick to emerge from their nests and the group moved a little faster—although Lan didn’t change his pace until Kepper was right behind him. As much as a straight course would have been preferable, Lan wove them about to avoid the pitfalls.
Half way across, the ants underground started to outdistance them, evident by the nests ahead emptying. Lan picked up their speed. The ants started closing the gap.
At the three-quarter mark, they were running past the ants with only a foot to spare. Emmett was having the most difficulty, so Kane kept with him, trying to urge him on without wasting breath.
Two hundred meters left. There was a foot wide crevice and then a hill with dark red-green grass beyond. The ants ahead were closing off their escape, but at the rate they were going, the group would make it with inches to spare.
Emmett stumbled and kept running. At least, he made it another few steps before screaming and stumbling to his knees. The ants started to swarm his left leg, the diggers quickly going to work as the carriers caught up.
“Kane! Get him!” Siverine shouted, skidding to a stop as she jerked her canteen off and opened it with one twist. She swung her arm and an arch of red blood sprayed from it. The ants immediately rerouted their rush for the fresh blood, only the diggers already working dutifully on Emmett’s leg remained.
Kane grabbed Emmett’s arm and swung him over his shoulders in one easy movement. He rushed for the others who were leaping across the crevice.
“Don’t look back,” Siverine told him, surprisingly not winded. “Once across set him down and check yourself. If one ant bit you, tell me. That goes for the others. I can save him if we work quickly.”
Kane didn’t feel the need to reply, Emmett’s weight wearing him out much quicker. He felt an ant crawl up his pant leg and bite the first bit of exposed flesh it came to as he pushed off with this right foot to jump across the crevice. Kane fought to keep from stumbling and slowed to a walk as the bites continued in the same place. He carefully laid Emmett before slapping his leg to kill the ant.
“Did anyone else get bit?” he asked as Siverine knelt next to Emmett’s leg and ripped the pant leg to expose the ants gnawing away.
“One got me,” Lancaster admitted while the rest shook their heads.
Siverine was methodically grabbing the ants and popping their heads off. For some reason Lan had set Duke down and was digging a hole, red earth piling up behind him.
“Eat this,” she told Emmett, holding out two headless ants.
“What?” the soldier said, breathing heavy as he tried not to cry out.
“The ants’ bite has poison. Eating the body acts as an antidote.” When Emmett hesitated further, she gave his a sharp look. “I can just have Lan bite your leg off, unless you’d rather suffer the poison to eat away your brain.”
Emmett whined and took the ants. With a grimace he threw the ants into his mouth.
“Just think of them as those little candy chews with juice in the middle. Except crunchy,” Siverine said, eating one herself without a blink. “Kane, Lancaster, you too.”
“But I was only bit by one,” Lancaster protested.
“That’s all it takes. Eat it.”
“I feel like I’m on episode of Survivor,” Lancaster said, trying to eat the ant without letting it touch his tongue.
“They’re not too bad,” Kane said, crunching his like a pretzel.
“No, they’re not. They taste the best roasted,” Siverine said as she ate another.
“You were bit too?” Emmett asked as she finished pulling the ants off his leg.
“No; I actually like the taste,” she admitted, eating other. Emmett made a face while it looked like Kane might be considering asking for another. “Who has to pee?”
“What?” Jones asked.
“Which of you have to pee? Anyone?”
There was an uncomfortable pause. “I—I do,” Kepper admitted hesitantly. Siverine pointed to the pile of dirt Lan had dug up.
“There. I need to you piss on it.”
“Stop questioning me!” Siverine suddenly shouted and Lan barked at them. The men all jumped. “I’m trying to save a man’s life here, so the least you could do is cooperate.”
There was another hesitation until Lan growled at them. Kepper swore under his breath as his stepped to the pile and unzipped his pants, keeping his back to Siverine who was using a strip of cloth from her brained belt to tie off Emmett’s leg.
“Can I ask what the urine is for?” Emmett asked, his face growing pale.
“Piss and dirt go a long way in Merabyoyo,” Siverine explained. Once Kepper was done and stepped away, Siverine reached over and used a hand to further mix the urine and dirt into mud. With a hand full of it, she started to slather it on Emmett’s leg.
“Maybe losing my leg might be better,” Emmett grumbled.
“These are the Bloodlands. The dirt will absorb your blood and the poison along with it. Once it hardens, we can knock it off. You might be a little scarred, but your leg will be fine and you won’t die from the poison.” She glanced up at Kane who was still standing nearby. “You can use this mud or make your own, but put some over your bit.”
“I was afraid she’d say that,” Lancaster muttered as Kane nudged him. The sergeant used the ready made mud, but Lancaster preferred making his own, keeping his grumblings minimal as Lan watched him.
“He’ll need to be carried for the next day,” Siverine said as she stood, wiping her hands on her pants. “The mud will suck out the blood and keep him from being able to walk.”
“I was afraid he’d say that,” Jones muttered, but obeyed.
“We only have a little further to go before resting for the night,” Siverine told them. Lan picked up Duke in his mouth and stood next to her.
‘That so few of you were bitten is very impressive,’ Lan told them. Siverine returned Kane’s pack to him and they headed out again.
Kirk glanced at the mud as they walked away, then looked away. He’d only been bitten once; he didn’t need some crazy witch remedy.
03-12-2007 12:41 AM