My entry for the Tales of Terror 2009 writing competition.
The report of my rifle echoes through the decrepit room, accompanied by a fleshy thump and a gurgling moan from a haemorrhaged throat.
Now I hear only my ragged breath, the room still and quiet.
Two bodies lay before me. One is torn by dirty fingernails, cracked teeth, and most recently by the bullet I’d cast through her. The other is pristine. As I walk over to the woman I pull a pistol from a holster at my hip. Another report, and there’s a second bullet hole in the body, this one through her temple.
I fan the gun over to the second body, but stay my trigger finger. The man is untouched, with only a few pools of coagulated blood sunk into his shirt. Her blood, probably, which had dripped from her wounds as she knelt over him.
Of course, I check his vitals: no pulse, no breathing, but still body heat. He hasn’t been dead long, it seems.
As I make to stand, my eye catches something peculiar under his hand. I lift the limp limb and retrieve the object: a book.
The cover is stained with dried blood, as are some of the pages. I leaf through it, and see that it’s handwritten, not printed. I stop a page with my thumb, and realize that I’m holding a diary of sorts. This entry is dated the 17th of October, 2009. I read,
I haven’t slept in days, but not just because I’m alone. True, there’s no-one to watch the doors while I slumber, but I can’t sleep because I always see her, every time I close my eyes. It was two days ago that she was torn from my grasp, and her frightened face haunts me.
I need to see her again. I need to know that she isn’t in pain anymore. I can’t go on with these fears pressing me. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t even fight anymore. I used the last of my ammo last night, so I can’t even shoot myself. I still have a knife, but I’m not brave enough a man to kill myself with that.
But I don’t want them to kill me, either. At first I feared them because they wanted to kill me. Now, I fear them because they want me to join in their lonely hunger.
“Me too, mate,” I whisper. “Me too.”
A few moments pass, and then I hear the distinct sound of an automatic rifle being discharged outside. Taking my own rifle, I move to the window, squinting my eyes at the sun.
And the sight outside brings me to my knees once more.
A military jeep sits in the road, several armed men surrounding it, weapons trained on doors and windows. From one such opening a pair of men exit, grim smiles on their faces. They go into another building, and I hear the firing of their weapons once more.
Now, how to get their attention without getting shot.
Luckily, I have the sense to suspend my shirt from the barrel of my rifle out the window. I hear someone shout from outside, and then the dull pounding of heavy boots on the pavement.
I don’t know if they’re addressing me, or giving orders to their own men.
My question is answered as one of the men steps into the door frame, rifle trained on the two corpses.
“They’re both dead,” I say.
He simply nods, and motions with his rifle for me to leave the room. I pocket the book before stepping into the street, relieved at my apparent salvation.
“Teddy, call a chopper and get this kid airlifted out, copy?”
I don’t see or hear a reply: I’m swept in a sudden tide of emotions. I feel joy, sadness, anger, relief, pity, longing, and everything else that I had pent up during the last week. I fall backwards into the pool of feelings I had neglected.
I must have blacked out, because when I came back from my reverie I was in a helicopter, wrapped in a blanket and with bandages on my body.
My stirring must have caught someone’s attention, because a canteen of water was thrust towards my face.
“Drink up,” a voice near me says. My senses haven’t all caught up with each other quite yet, so I can’t place where exactly it came from. “You’ll be alright, kid.”
“Thanks,” I manage after taking a swift gulp. In my eagerness I choke, and am racked by a short coughing fit.
“Take it easy. You’ve survived all this, don’t let a little water kill you.”
I laugh. Really laugh, for the first time in weeks. The other man laughs, too.
“Now, stay put, ‘aight? You’re being airlifted out of this mess. You’ll have to stay in a field hospital for a few days, but that’s just routine.” A few seconds later, he adds, “Try to get some rest. Relax.”
He demonstrates this by letting his own head fall backward, a smile crossing his face. He takes a deep breath, holds it, and then lets it out slowly. A minute later and he’s sound asleep.
Having just came to, I can’t sleep. I’m restless, too, but there’s not much one can do in the hold of a chopper.
I shift anxiously, and feel a lump on my side. Reaching a hand down, I find the book I had retrieved in my pocket. I take it out, and stare at the cover. It’s perfectly plain, the only distinguishing feature being the blood splashed across it. A journal, obviously, judging from the entry I had read before.
With nothing else to do, I open it, and start to read. Immediately I notice that there’s something different about the first page, something that makes me pause: the handwriting is different. It is more, well, feminine, and not as rushed as the entry later on. The first line held some answers for me:
My name is Olivia Penn, and this is my survival journal.