Friday, August 12, 2011

FICTION: The Call – Part 7 By MJ Wesolowski

It was hard to tell if either Louis or Erik had heard the gunfire that had, by a hideous coincidence, come from directly underneath where they were coiled. Neither moved; clinched together into an indent in the foot of a tall tree at the base of a small hill, deep in the tangled floor of the forest. Louis’ back was pressed against sodden bark, the back of Erik’s head an inch from his face; their arms were intertwined across Erik’s chest in a pose that, in any other context , would have seemed passionate, yet intimacy was not entertained by either party, simply survival. The rain still fell in a relentless sheen that was lit in striped, blue patterns from the light that filtered through the trees from the risen point close to where Louis and Erik lay. Both were mesmerised by the smoke and the flicker of blue flame that were still roaring and belching respectively despite the rain’s snarling tattoo.

“Can you still see them?” Louis whispered, barely moving his lips. His mouth was very close to Erik’s ear and he did not want to startle him.

Erik did not answer; the fear that had sent a vicious spike of adrenaline racing through his bloodstream was only now beginning to fade. He had managed to control the shaking and the onset of tears as he had lain beneath the tree for the last few minutes. These minutes could have been hours; there was no indication of time’s passage, but for the numbness in his lower half and the steady saturation of his clothes indicated that a significant while had passed. He wanted to ask Louis what he meant by ‘they’, ‘they’ could have meant the cigar-shaped lights that hung horribly still in the blurred skies above the forest, their colours shifting from red to blue in an almost organic regularity. ‘They’ could have also meant the three ink-black felines that lay high in the branches of the trees that surrounded the knoll where the blue fire blazed.

“Their eyes have gone out...”

Louis’ voiced was breathlessly whimsical, almost sinister and Erik wanted to ask him what he meant, but instead, he focussed on the forms of the hulking predators that had not moved from their twisted perches in the trees. Louis was correct; the mirror-effect in the eyes of the animals that had glowed a menacing silver, like pale coins in the blue flame, was no longer in effect. Erik had kept his head down, trying not to catch the eyes of the creatures, but also because of the terrifying proximity of them. They looked so out of place, their fur hanging in sodden clumps as the rain did not desist in its tireless plunder of the forest floor.

Erik forced his eyes skyward, peering furtively into the branches of the trees and into the faces of the three big cats that were perched high in the branches above them. The more Erik allowed his gaze to linger on them, the less real they seemed. First of all was their surreal presence, so far from their natural home; next was their size. Erik had seen enough television and been to enough zoos to know that wild mammals always seem smaller in stature when observed in real life. The three black cats that did not perch so much as hang from the trees in the near distance seemed just too small to be real; it was a strange visual effect, almost like an optical illusion. They were also difficult to look at somehow; Erik felt his gaze desperately trying to shift from them, a fizzy ache in the undersides of his eyes, like trying to focus on something just too far away to see.

“Erik,” Louis spoke again, this time his voice was slightly more than a whisper, “I think they’re dead.”

Erik wanted to speak, to answer; he heard the child-like tone in Louis’ voice, wanting him to make a decision, to know what to do. The rain had begun to relent slightly and they could both hear the faint crackling and smell the burning plastic-like odour that was trickling down from top of the hill before them; three too-small dead panthers lay in the trees above them. Erik opened his mouth, but nothing came out except the beginnings of a hopeless sob that he choked back in the nick of time. He wanted to curl into a ball, to block out everything and wait in the freezing mud of the forest, simply to die. He was saved by a rare moment of self assurance from Louis who spoke again.

“Come on Erik, we have to go and see…”

Wiping the beginnings of tears from the corners of his eyes, Erik thought of his Grandfather; driven from the skies by some nameless menace and plunging into a freezing wilderness. He would not speak of what had happened deep in the snow drift forests of northern Finland, but he was still alive.

“De gamle bukkene har de stiveste hornene…” Erik muttered to himself and despite the pulling sensation of fear that held fast to the deepest part of his stomach, he got himself slowly to his feet.

* * *

The rain no longer hissed spitefully through the leaves of the trees; in its place was a swollen silence that pushed fuzzily at the edge of Louis and Erik’s consciousness as they crept through the forest. Their eyes had become accustomed to darkness through the months of living without light in the blackness of the mine, but that did not stop their imaginations conjuring nameless horrors in their peripheral vision; rocks were clustered crustacean-like shells and braches the cruel pincers sprouting from them. Instinctively, both reached for the other’s hand in the dark and there was no minute flinch of self-consciousness as their hands clasped. They were half way up the hill where the blue flames still silently wavered and they had reached the base of the tree where from whose branches, one of the black cats lay.

“It’s definitely dead.” Louis nodded, more to himself than Erik, staring up at the sodden, prostrate mammal whose undersized front paw hung like a predatorial pendulum from a knotted branch. Louis gave a little gasp and looked away from the cat, rubbing his eyes. “I can’t…”

“I know,” Erik interjected, allowing the peculiarity of the cats to remain unspoken for now. Tension was heavy in the air, both Louis and Erik were treading gingerly on the knife edge between carrying on or screaming flight. Both knew this, and both knew that when they came to the top of the hill, what they saw there, what was emitting the blue fire, would be the real test of whether they would make it through. Both could feel the end approaching. Neither knew how to articulate it.

With hands clasped and the bracken of the forest floor crunching and squelching beneath their boots, Louis and Erik ascended the steep knoll where two trees stood like cursed sentries at the summit.

“Jesus…” Louis breathed as they stared down the sheer drop at the crown of the knoll. It was as if something giant had taken a bite from the forest, leaving a small-scare quarry-like rock face that was nearly flat on the other side. At the bottom of this anomaly lay the remains of some thing. Neither Louis nor Erik had been the one to mention that as they had reached the top of the knoll, the lick of blue flames had desisted, neither wanted to mention to the other that it felt like it had stopped for their benefit.

Crushed into the bottom corner of the rock face that was the bite mark out of the hill, lay what was once some sort of vehicle. The rock where it had impacted was scorched a devilish black and spread with fresh web-like cracks. The vehicle itself was the size of a small aircraft and might have been saucer shaped once, but was viciously buckled, its sides crumpled into spikey folds like a discarded drinks can. Its upper side was once flat but looked to have burst upon impact with the rocks, a gaping hole, metal torn like the peel of an attempted orange. A steady trail of smoke was spiralling from the concertina folds at the nose of the craft and a lazy few puffs came from the hole in the roof. High in the sky above, the few craft hung still; garish swollen stars in the darkness.

Neither Louis nor Erik were in any state of mind to be speculating on why, despite the darkness, they were both able to see the craft clearly, as if it were illuminated by something. No spotlight from above or below, but the shimmering surface was clear, as if its very presence lit the night. The closest reference to the colour of the craft was the swirling, rainbow effect when light reflects off spilled petrol; yet this was still, no movement to the colours, whichever angle it was seen from. With faltering steps down the other side of the knoll, their boots carving wedges into the thick, muddied soil between the moss-capped rocks, Louis and Erik descended toward the craft, their eyes saucer-wide and their mouths open. It was slippery and difficult, the moss that clung to the rock and foliage, leafy and long like fine seaweed. Louis and Erik moved automatically, letting their instincts guide them. The closer they got to the craft, the louder a faint humming that neither could remember beginning, became. It seemed to be emanating from the hole in the roof where the petrol swirled metal was pulled back in a great ragged fold.

Now they were within six feet of the craft and both Lois and Erik could feel warmth in the air and taste the stench like burning plastic at the back of their throat. Erik pulled the sodden collar of his army jacket up over the end of his nose; the smell was so cloying, he felt like he was going to be sick; the humming was penetrating right through his skull and festering somewhere in his stomach. He slipped slightly forward , holding tight to a sprawling tree root that had thrust itself, worm-like through the bite mark in the knoll. What he saw inside, through the rip, drove a stake of strange revulsion and panic through him; he squirmed like in school, where they’d been shown a video of the insides of a human body, the furious pulsations of the heart and gasping mouths of ventricles.

Whilst not organic matter, the inside of the craft was evidently the work of something; it had obviously been built, but was incomparable to anything made by a human hand. What looked like four silver metal seats, the shape of spindly wild mushrooms, sprouted from a central cylindrical hub. There were screens that faced each seat, each of them a dead, obsidian oval. Everything else was bare metal, with rounded edges but no join marks, dials, buttons or switches. The bareness of it troubled Erik and the four screens held his gaze like the startled gaze of a long-dead sea creature lying still on a clear bed of ice.

The humming inside his head now felt almost rhythmic, back and forth with the beat of his heart; Erik felt a sudden need inside the craft, he wanted to to feel the flat metal of the mushroom seat under him, he knew it would be cool, despite the smoke that still poured from the nose of the craft. He wanted to stare deep into that black shark’s eye screen and he knew that if he did, that it would answer the questions that had burned inside him since he was a boy, the answers to his grandfather’s silence; the answers to those who had escaped the call and sat in the black silence of the mine.

“Erik!” Louis’ voice was flecked with panic, the shout of a child who has begun their run down the hill and knows that they will not be able to stop; the shout of the child who is running into open arms. He was at the bottom of the knoll; shouting up, his jacket was soaked around his scrawny frame and along with his face was blackened by the mud. Behind him was an indent in the soil, as if he had simply crawled on his belly down the hill in desperation to reach the craft.

Panic seized Erik as he gazed down at Louis, advancing on one of the craft’s smooth, outer edges, his arms stretched wide in a terrible embrace. Louis was now focussed on the craft, a wide desperation in his eyes and Erik’s heart jolted with what should have been concern, but was now a searing flame-like jealousy. With no regard for caution, Erik tore his eyes from the hole in the roof of the craft and began a stumbling descent down the hill.

High in the velvet darkness of the night sky, the glowing craft began to disperse, as silent as cloud.

No comments: