Arnie stood up and watched a sliver of light start to bathe the treetops of Central Park. Sunrise marks the end of morning prayers and Arnie was always punctual.
Answering the phone on the first ring, he said nothing as the man spoke. Nodding in agreement, he hung up with a calm “Allahu Akbar.”
“Who was it?” Bishop called out from the main room of their suite at the Ritz. Omnivox spared no expense when it came to accommodating its employees.
All packed Bishop sat on the couch, soaking in the surroundings. He’d never stayed at a Ritz, much less in a massive suite. It was his first official day on the job and he was already liking it.
Arnie walked out of his room, “Are you ready my friend?”
“I am.” Bishop lied. Even after all the medical tests, the physical training, and countless assurances from the technical team, the thought of his first jump was scaring the hell out of him.
“Don’t lie. You look like bird in a cage with a cat. You’ll be fine. I’ve done this a hundred times. And after the first few you jumps you get used to an elephant sitting on your chest.
Bishop smiled. The medical team told him the compression is the hardest part. But the sensation only lasts a few seconds. “What’s the plan after we land.”
“Just keep your eyes open and follow me, the first few seconds are always critical.”
Before bishop could respond, Arnie twisted the outer ring of the transponder on his wrist. The compression hit him like a Mack truck knocking all the air out of his lungs. Eyes still open, the sumptuous surroundings of their room at the Ritz imploded, replaced instantly by the frigid air and frozen ground surrounding the airport in Donetsk, Ukraine.
“Get down.” Arnie grabbed Bishop’s jacket and they both dropped. Bishop felt a burst of wind and stinging pain in his ear. Pressing his left hand to the side of his head, a warm ooze filled the palm. Pulling his hand back it was covered in blood. Another faction of an inch and Bishop would have had more than blood on his hand.
The firefight was raging. Mortar rounds concussed all around making it hard to hear while white hot particles burned the air making it hard to breath. Face down in the dirt, Bishop yelled as loud as he could, “What now?”
Laying slightly behind Arnie’s left hip. Bishop grabbed Arnie’s jacket and shook him, yelling, “Arnie, what now?” No response. “Arnie! Arnie!?”
Shimmying along the frozen ground, Bishop moved just high enough to roll Arnie on his side. That’s when time stood still. Bishop had seen people die, but never with half their face missing. Bishop gasped for air, he couldn’t tell if it was the elephant on his chest, the motar rounds, or the sight of Arni’s skull.
Bishop snatched a string of thoughts from the whirlwind in his head. He’s dead! Don’t think act! Bishop hugged the ground, straining to keep his head lower than the bullets above him.
Reaching across Arnie’s back he pulled the transponder off his wrist, and then slid the sleek, carbon fiber pack off Arnie’s shoulders and put it on. From his training Bishop knew enough to initiate the transponder, but it wouldn’t work for at least forty-five minutes. The jump intervals were set by Data Command to keep employees from making unauthorized jumps.
Finally catching his breath, Bishop started to get his barring. To the right, 10 ft from Arnie’s body, was the smoldering shell of a transport truck. The front half was a skeleton of charred camouflage and iron while the back half was largely still intact. Keeping his head low he scurried across the frozen deck and landed his back against the left rear tire as his head slid under the tailgate. As he pulled his feet in underneath him, the backend of the truck convulsed as a high caliber round hit tailgate just above his head.
Face down, Bishop hit the ground just as another shot thundered in and exploded the left rear tire.
Holy Shit! He scrambled into a low crawl, quickly moving around to the right side of the truck. That’s when he had his first full glimpse of the devastation.
The far left side of the terminal had been reduced to rubble. And across the tarmac planes were thrown about like a dandelion in the hand of a child. A tank less than a hundred yards away sat completely hollowed out, nothing but a blackened carcass sending smoke signals skyward, begging for a truce. But none of these ravages were anything compared to the thirty or so bodies stacked three and four high near the terminal entrance.
As bishop thought about these men, these fathers, brothers, and sons, another high caliber shot rang out, shattering the truck panel above his head. Ducking down, he pulled his feet under him in a squat. Looking left to right in an 180 degree arc, bishop locked his sights on a strand of trees some 40 yards to the right of terminal. As he readied himself to run, he looked at his watch. He knew this would be the longest 39 minutes of his life.
This week’s Garage Fiction prompt was provided by Dogwood…
When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer by Walt Whitman
When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars
These weekly scenes & stories are part of an ongoing project codenamed “Garage Fiction”. Since January 2015, three writers (Nicholas Brack, Dogwood Daniels and Jinn Zhong) have committed to writing a flash fiction or scene each and every week. We post on Fridays and dissect on Mondays via podcast. Listen to the episode here: