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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Chapter 13 - Gremlins

What the hell, dude?  You had a freakin' machine gun!!  You were supposed to kick some butt, man - not get your ass handed to you!(!!)

13 – Gremlins

                When he woke, the sky carried the crisp pale blue of approaching dawn.  And he couldn’t feel his left leg – it was numb from the hip down.  He tried to sit up, but couldn’t.  He was on his side in the grass, his hands bound behind his back.
                Then a clawed foot came down on the grass in front of his face.  At least, he thought it was a foot – it looked more like something out of a B-movie horror flick.  Rubbery green “toes” that were long as fingers and thick like thumbs clamped down the grass.  He looked up just in time to get a glance of the other foot as it grabbed him by the folds of his uniform to prop him up.
                Then the creature grabbed him by the back of the head.  He felt tough, leathery fingers and the pointed nails digging into his scalp.  He tried looking away as the odors of garlic and rot pressed in close to his face.  But the small mouth came in still closer, pressing up to his ear, moving up to whisper something into his nose.  He could feel the hiss of the things breath, feel the long, pointed ear kneading the side of his face.  And he winced as the damp, warm tongue ran its way along the bridge of his nose.
                The creature gurgled something that could have been words, laughed, and then tossed Jonathan back down on the ground.
                Great – a true improvement over the night before.  At first he thought he should just stay frozen on the ground.  That’s what he would have done in Basic – when the drill sergeants told you to get down for pushups, you pressed your nose to the floor and held your chest off the linoleum for as long your shaking arms could keep you up.
                But this wasn’t Basic.  This was some Tim Burton nightmare, replete with creatures and saliva.  And he really wanted to rub the dank smell of the stuff off his nose.  So he wormed around until he could sit up against his right knee.  At any moment, he expected someone to come up and knock him back again, but no one did.  It wouldn’t have mattered either way – Jonathan wasn’t going anywhere.  Not with that arrow sticking out of his leg.
                The first sight of it made him woozy.  He had to close his eyes and slowly open them before he could bring himself to take a real look at the wound.  It wasn’t the wound so much as the sensation that he was looking at a block of wood.  Someone had cinched a leather strap around his upper thigh as a tourniquet – just an inch below that was the arrow.  He couldn’t even feel it.  It stuck a good eight inches out of his leg, and the thing was as big around as his index finger.  The dark feathers were mottled with gray and black, as if they’d been daubed with inch.
                It was the blood, though, that made the nausea return.  It had stained the arrow shaft most of the way up to the feathers, almost as if the blood had bubbled up out of his leg.  And then it was all over his desert pants – the dried blood was so thick in places that the fabric sagged into stiff black pools.
                Two words came to mind: femoral artery.  He shook his head.  That was bad.  But it explained the exhaustion and the tourniquet.  The arrow must have just nicked the artery.  If it had gone straight through, he wouldn’t have lived long enough for the tourniquet.  He would have been like that guy from Band of Brothers who accidentally shot himself in the leg with a German pistol – he would have just bled out and died.
                But now he’d lose his leg.  He stared down at the leather strap around his thigh – it was tied on tight.  It was barely three inches from his crotch.  And when they cut off his leg – oh, yeah, they’d have to cut it off, he figured – there’d be nothing left but a little stump of flesh coming down from his hip.  Oh, that was a pleasant thought.
                No – he had to focus.  He had to get to a doctor.  Maybe it wasn’t too late.  If they could get out of this place – find someone to stitch up the artery before another few hours passed – maybe they could save the leg.  Oh, if they could walk out of here, that is.
                He had to find the Iraqi.  If he could overcome the blood loss, maybe the two of them could make an escape.  He looked around until he caught sight of her.  She was just off to his right, and she was in bad shape.  She lay on her left side, now facing him, with that arrow still sticking up from the right of her chest.  He could tell by the uneven rise-and-fall of her chest that she wasn’t using her right lung – she curled up to her right with each inhale.  And that wasn’t a good sign – either her lung was filling with blood, or the pleural spaces of her chest cavity were filling with air.  Without help, she’d either drown or asphyxiate.
                Crap – so much for escape.  He let out his breath.  He couldn’t believe he had let them get captured like this.  And by people with arrows – arrows, off all things.  He should have opened fire at the first sign of attack.  He should have been watching for them.  At the very least, he should have been wearing his armor.  Would it really have been that bad sleeping in the stuff?  Hell, he would have been better off staying on the ground – if he’d been smarter, he could have held them off for hours.  Now he just got a wonderful look at sunrise with his hands bound behind his back.
                He looked around for the creatures – for they were creatures, not at all men.  More like gremlins.  He expected them to be everywhere, but they weren’t.  Instead he saw only five of them – they crouched in a small circle around the smoky wisps of a dying campfire.  And they were small.  The largest one – a gray-skinned little beastie with gnarled Yoda ears and what looked like a deer-hide jerkin – couldn’t have been over three feet tall.  The longbow draped across its knees was longer than the creature was tall – Jonathan wondered how the thing could have possibly wielded the weapon, let alone hit anything.  But with those sharp-clawed fingers, it worked the knots on the bow’s end with deft precision.  The others around the fire were doing the same – either tightening the strings of their bows, or running whetstones over the serrated edges of long, curved daggers.  The smallest one – was it a child? a teenager? the runt? – sat cross-legged on the ground with a spool of wire and a burlap sack stuffed with feathers.  As Jonathan watched, this smallest gremlin-creature pulled out a feather and then used its smallest fingernail to carefully split the quill down the center, dividing the feather into two halves.  Then it reached over for a shaft of wood to fix the quills on the end with the wire.  As it finished, it placed the finished product off to the side with its mates – a quivers-worth of finished arrows.
                His thoughts of escape felt even more distant now.  They were prisoners, and their captors were not the kind to sit idly by.  No, this was bad.  Still, he had to try.  He squirmed on his butt, pushing with his right foot, to get a more complete view of the clearing.  The best was the sudden sight of a real sign of hope – the two-four-nine.  It sat on the back of long wagon with wood-spoke wheels.  He immediately tried to move toward it, but he didn’t go far – besides being tied behind his back, his hands were anchored to the ground, as if the rope holding his hands was also tied off to a stake in the dirt.  Still, he squirmed.  The two-four-nine was mere meters away.  He caught a glimpse of brass from the slowly rising sun – the ammo belt was still clipped-in to the feed tray.  All he had to do was get to the gun and open fire.  Assuming he could free his hands to pull the trigger, of course.
                The sound of a clearing throat stopped him.  It was then Jonathan caught sight of a sixth little gremlin – the green one.  It stood at the edge of the field, short arms folded over its little chest.  Jonathan knew by the skin tone that this was the one that had harassed him earlier.  It held Jonathan’s gaze with a single, yellowed eye – the other eye was hidden under a faded leather patch.  As it stared, it reached up to take another bite from a clump of leaves in its hand.  It chewed on the leaves, holding Jonathan’s gaze, without blinking.  It turned only to spit a squirt of brown juice, then turned back to fix that look back on Jonathan.
                Jonathan gave up his squirming, the green-skinned creature returned to paying him no heed.  Mostly, it just stood.  It presided over a line of lumps in the grass – five, all-told.  It took Jonathan a moment to realize what they were: bodies.  The remains of the gremlins he had shot the night before.  Each was draped with a thick woolen blanket, so it was impossible to see how wounded each individual had been.  But Jonathan remembered well enough – he’d seen the bullets cut through them.  Five-five-six rounds were small, as far as bullets when.  They didn’t have much stopping power – the bullets usually went right through.  But the high-velocity bullets tore apart everything they touched.  He knew – intellectually, at least – what the things did to adult human beings.  He could only imagine what they had done to the smaller bodies of the gremlin creatures.
                If he wanted to feel pity, though, that desire was cut short by a second glance at his leg.  Yeah, it looked bad.  He had lost so much blood that the top of his boot was the color of dried rust.  Crap.
                Again he tried to pull free of his bonds.  He could feel tight ropes digging into his wrists.  And whatever they had used to fix him to the ground, it wasn’t moving.  Thinking it might be a tent stake or a really long nail, he tried leaning forward to get some leverage to pull upon it.  Nothing happened – if anything, the more he struggled, the tighter the ropes became.
                He was just about to lean forward for another go when a shadow suddenly passed overhead.  His first thought was of a low-flying aircraft, but it was gone before he could look up.  Then he remembered – this wasn’t a place for airplanes.  Here there be dragons.  Crap.
                He leaned forward until he felt his buttocks burn from the strain of the wounded leg – still nothing.  He heard the gremlin creatures calling out to each other, but he didn’t have time for them.  What would they do – beat him?  If there was another dragon coming down, he figured the little buggers would run off without a thought for either Jonathan or the Iraqi.
                But they didn’t run off.  And it wasn’t a dragon that had flashed past overhead – it was a bird.  An enormous bird.  He caught sight of it as it circled around for another pass – it was long and slender like a crane, with a wingspan like a Cessna.  It wasn’t nearly as large as the dragon had been, but that didn’t much matter.  The beak alone was large enough to take off a man’s head.  And the thing could fly, and they were exposed in an open clearing.  How, he wondered, could this possibly be good?

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