The theme for Sunday’s Flash Fiction was “the race”. I made a loose connection to that theme with this flash that is actually a continuation of a prior flash called “Above“. This is kind of my nod to Michael Crichton (RIP) who, in my opinion, did a brilliant job building suspense in his novels.
The twinkling sky captured our collective attention as the remainder of the fifty immigrants emerged from Sub-Earth District 7. When our final party member emerged, we all listened as the hatch below slammed shut and locked. We were now inhabitants of Above, a place no one in generations had either seen or visited. There was no turning back, not even to the swift death that a dagger wielded by the District 7 homeland security would deliver.
We surveyed the area, listening for sounds of life, but other than the rustling of the foliage in the breeze, heard nothing. We saw nothing living either. Other than the twinkling high above our heads and the flashlights and torches that all of us carried, we saw no sources of light.
“We should make camp here until the first light of dawn,” Captain Oliver said.
We called him Captain for short. He was the only person from the military in our party though his service had ended some fifteen years prior. Like an old toothless dog, however, he still knew how to bark and bark loudly. Most of the immigrants nodded at his suggestion and were grateful for his leadership.
“Don’t you think that we should perhaps find shelter from the sun first?” my brother asked. My brother, Willem, opinionated as always and with more guts than brains, had a good point.
“Willem’s right,” Jolinda, his wife, said. “If we’re out in the open when the sun rises, our protective gear may not be sufficient. We should have a home base of sorts, that’s shielded from its rays.”
The Captain snorted and said, “That’s what a camp is, people, if we build it correctly. The tents will shelter us. Let’s get started.”
A few grumbles followed but the group acquiesced. In short order, we had pitched twenty-five tents, each holding two immigrants.
“I need volunteers for a scouting party,” Captain announced to the group after we’d rested for a scant fifteen minutes.
I checked my watch. Seven o’clock. That gave us approximately eleven hours until dawn, assuming we didn’t sleep. I raised my hand to volunteer as did Willem.
Five other men and two women also volunteered bringing our scouting party to ten total which meant forty stayed behind to scrounge around the local area and hold down the fort.
Captain pulled his compass from his pocket and pointed us to the north.
“Why north?” I asked.
“Why not? It’s as good a direction as any.”
No one argued so we gathered up what weapons we had, a flask of water each and some energy rations, and started walking.
For the first mile or so, we hiked through what was probably a grassland, flanked by large pillars of vegetative matter that grew tens of feet into the skies. “Trees” were what our ancient texts called them. We marveled at how closely their shadowy giant figures, illuminated only by flashlight, resembled the drawings and pictures we’d seen.
Captain stopped us where the grassland met the treeline in front of us.
We listened. Humming sounds wafted in to our ears, carried on the light evening breeze so crisp and fresh. We stilled all of our movements to eliminate our own sounds from the equation. The humming noise grew louder and closer. We gathered in a defensive circle, our backs inward. When the humming stopped, the only sound was the pounding of my own heart and if my ears were more sharply attuned, I’d have probably heard the beating of my companions’ hearts too.
Swishing. Whispering. Vibrations rose from the ground through our feet and melded into the chattering of our teeth, the fear so palpable.
We focused our flashlights in the immediate area surrounding us.
“Over there! I saw something,” yelled Captain.
“What? What did you see?” Geoffrey asked.
“I don’t know. It moved too quickly. Stay put everyone.”
More vibrations. The grass rustled near me and I heard panting.
“Something’s headed this way,” I whispered to Willem.
The beams from Willem’s and my flashlights scoured the dark space in front of me and the rustling sounds increased in frequency as if its maker were dodging our discovery.
“What do you think it is?” I asked Willem.
“I don’t know. But I’m tired of whatever it is holding us at bay.”
Those were his last words before he charged out into the grasses, toward the source of the sounds. The rustling increased and we heard Willem’s battle cry as he moved forward.
“Willem! Come back!” I yelled.
“Damn fool,” Captain said. “Nobody else is to leave this circle.”
“We have to go after him,” I pleaded. “We can’t just keep standing here waiting for whatever it is to decide its next move.”
“That’s right,” said one of the women. I think it was Trinka.
Others murmured their agreement and Captain heaved a sigh and said, “Okay then, we follow Willem’s trail. Walk two abreast behind me. Trinka, you and Galindo bring up the rear since you have the most powerful weapons.”
We moved forward, walking as Captain had instructed us. Off in the distance we could hear crashing of vegetation and Willem’s cries of “Come, come! This way! Come! I think I’ve discovered something!”
When we finally caught up to him, he stood shining his flashlight on what appeared to be a row of statues standing guard to some long vanished settlement. The features on the objects were alien to us, likened after a race of beings not entirely human but utterly terrifying.
“What do you suppose they are?” I asked, drawing up beside Willem.
“I have no idea,” he said.
Trinka’s screams rent the air and polarized all of our attention to the rear of our group. The humming sounds we’d heard earlier, then the loud vibrations made an encore. Footsteps running away, the fading sounds of Trinka’s screams was all it took to plunge our group into complete chaos.
“What the hell?” Captain bellowed. “Trinka! Trinka!”
Silence descended like a death pall. No more humming, no more rustling, no more footsteps, no more screaming. Whatever this race of beings was, they now had Trinka. I heard the sounds of liquid splattering against the ground and realized to both my shame and my relief that I wasn’t the only one making them.