Flash Fiction Challenge – “New Life”

“Drones” – Flash Fiction Challenge

We floated in silence. Faint light reflected off the water illuminating the movement of anxious eyes surveying the charred stumps of trees that drifted past. The rudder creaked against the rear of the boat as our guide would attempt to steer the small craft.  The scent of wood smoke still hung heavy in the air.  The total lack of sound was disturbing.  Two weeks ago, reeds would have would have surrounded our boat and the sound of the cicadas that lived in them would have been deafening.  Now, nothing.

I dipped my hand in the water. A knuckle rapped on the back of my head. I pulled my hand back and shot a look over my shoulder, my eyes tried to appear piercing over the handkerchief tied tight around my face.

“Ouo, tunou,” a voice behind me said, the sounds compressed through nasal intoning.

Ash and water dripped down my wrist from my hand. Though my hand was Inches from my face, I strained to see the light glistening on my fingertips. The man in front of me took a bony finger and waved his hand before of my eyes.  What light there was, looked blue off his black skin.  He motioned to the left into the distance.  I squinted to see, nothing.  A pair of black stumps passed by only slightly more black than the surrounding darkness.  He motioned again.

A blue LED moved in the distance. “Drone,” my lips mouthed.  Without a frame of reference I couldn’t place its distance.  The movements were hypnotic.  It hovered close to the surface and made elliptical passes in a cloverleaf pattern. The rudder creaked against the stern and our trajectory shifted to the right.

Without notice, I was thrown into the bow and landed on my face from a sudden impact. The boat came to a rocking halt as the bow was propped up by a log below the surface. The sound of our boat grinding against the large log cut through the mute air. I looked back toward the LED in time to see it change from blue to red as it whipped around and headed right toward us.

Quiet panic took hold. I leaned out over the bow and grabbed the log with both hands as I tried to push off of it. The surface was slick with water and ash, my hands just slid. Leaning out further, I dug my heels against my seat. The whir of the drone was beginning to become audible and my heart leapt to my throat. Wrapping both arms around the trunk, I gave it a hard push back with my legs.  I was out too far, the boat gave way but all my weight was on the slick log.  Red flashed behind my eyelids as my face hit the trunk and my body was pitched into the water.

From below the surface, blinding rays of light pulsed through the black water in alternating sweeps. I swam up toward the boat and touched the underside with my palms.  The strobing light stopped and I paused just below the surface, suspended amid the black water.  I felt something graze my leg.

A blast pulse rippled through the water and shot me end over end toward the murky depths. The air was knocked out of me and I fought to not suck in any water.  Fire above the crest gave me reference to counteract the vertigo.  My muscles screamed as I cleared the last few feet of water and my head broke above the surface of the water.

There was nothing left of the boat or the four men that had been inside it. Bits of wood had been scattered over 20 feet.  Tattered bits of cloth burned and smoke hung over the water.  I kicked my legs to spin myself around to check my surroundings.  No sign of the drone.  “I have to get the hell out of here,” I said to myself.  I swam slow and methodically downstream, allowing the current to assist me.  The guide had warned me of the dangers of this water, but I never got any details.  I really hoped he was only being cautious.

As light crept across the cloudy sky, I could make out my surroundings better. The swamp that was once impenetrable, was now nearly wide open after the volcanic eruption. The fires burned for almost a week after the initial seismic event.  It had killed many, but most of us were going to die anyway.  Men went from house to house, dragging people from their homes and sending them off to work in the camps.  Some, they just killed.  The volcano had bought us some time and also cleared a path across the border.

I wondered about my wife and daughter and the new life we were hoping to have. I had sent them off two days ago before finally arranging my own passage.  I couldn’t allow myself to play through any “what if” scenarios. They would be there, I assured myself.

I caught a faint sound just out of earshot. The light whir of displaced air was coming up behind me.  I dunked below the surface and wrapped my arms around my knees.  I counted while under the water to calm myself and to keep track of how long I had been under. 42 Mississippi, 43 Mississippi, 44 Mississippi… I unwrapped myself and half emerged with my head above the water, gasping for air.

Nothing was in sight. I continued down the flow of water for hours.  My legs were dead and I was content to ride the current.  Leaches had attached to me at several spots, but I was too fatigued to do anything about them.

Without warning, shooting pain hit me in the right thigh and I screamed out against my better judgement. I couldn’t move without the pain radiating up and down my leg.  I reached down and could feel the cloth of my pants was taut and being pulled in around a round stick that was directly into the meat of my leg.  I could see that the wood had been sharpened to a point with a knife.

I felt weak just looking at it. I pulled my pocket knife out and unfolded it then began sawing at the wood a couple inches past where it entered my flesh.  It took forever but it finally got to the point where I thought I could break the spear the rest of the way.  I grabbed it with both hands, pain shot right through me.  I clenched my teeth and kept at it until I finally heard a “SNAP” and I was free and floating down the current again.  Everything began to spin and a black curtain began to fall across my eyes.

When I awoke I was in a tent and there was a fire. A man was there with me, his hair was white and ash was smeared across his face.  When I moved he looked at me and smiled.  “I made it,” I said weakly.  I looked down at my leg and it was bandaged, the spear was gone.  In his hand was a round glowing puck. He looked down at it and rand his thumb clockwise around its edge.

I picked up a sound faintly, but in my fatigue I could barely make sense of it. It approached from outside and became loud enough for me to make it out.  I could hear the low whir of displaced are and the sound of small motors and spinning fans.  The color drained from my face as the drone came in through the opening in the tent.

The LED was blue and then it turned red.