Thursday Brings a Conclusion.
Today brings the conclusion to the short story I started last week. I must caution you, I dipped into the Dark Place that writer’s sometimes go. I am satisfied with where the story went, though I confess this work is in a very raw format. Please enjoy. I think next week I will discuss going to the Dark Place in greater detail, and what it means to me.
To Use a Gun No More.
Ignatius leveled his pistol and fired a shot at a shadowy figure without hesitating. As the bullet tore through its target, realization hit Ignatius: these were children. Horrible transformations altered the shape, size and walk but they were clearly young slaves perhaps between ten and fifteen.
“Madre de Dios!” exclaimed Angela, “What manner of God-forsaken bastard could do this?”
“The unforgivable kind,” said Ignatius.
The fire at the camp had not caught all of the experiments, that much was obvious. There was an obligation to his country here. The oath he took entering the service was explicit. None of the experiments could survive. They were a shocking force and judging by the variety of armaments, a dangerous one. If allowed to enter the general conflict the damage against the Union forces could be immeasurable.
Tiny smoke stacks puffed sooty black clouds into the morning while pincers clicked in agitation. One child swung a razor sharp saw blade back and forth. The hundreds of teeth made a whistling sound through the air. On the back of each individual was a square box with the chimney rising up. It has to be a power source much like a steam engine, supposed Ignatius. The group hovered at the stream’s edge. They did not seem inclined to cross the running water.
“Get out of here Miss Angela. You have to reach the top of that hill. The rest of the Confederates are not far behind.”
“What do you intend?” she asked.
“I have to do my duty. These abominations cannot exist. I have to destroy every one of them.”
“If you must, I suppose. Take this,” Angela said.
She tossed Ignatius a Colt Navy .44 handgun. He nodded thankfully.
“When we have more time, you will have to explain where this came from,” he said.
“I will look forward to it. You bring the brandy, I’ll bring the cigars.”
One of the taller clockwork children wrestled the corpse to the creek and threw the body across the water. With and splash and hiss an impromptu bridge was built. The leader put one foot gingerly on the back of the fallen one. Sizzling rose from the metal pack as the skin touched the near red-hot surface. Face frozen in a tortured grimace the experiment crossed the running water. Ignatius and Angela backed away.
Ignatius squeezed the trigger twice in rapid succession. The young man flopped over into the creek. Groaning, Ignatius saw that he inadvertently created an even better bridge. The pack of monstrosities surged forward. Shouts rose from behind the children, in the direction from which they had just come. Ignatius looked at Angela and jerked his head at her. She nodded, dropping a belt of ammunition on the ground and sprinting away.
Ignatius spun and snatched the belt from the floor and headed northeast hoping that he would lead the pursuit away from Angela. His Beaumont was out of cartridges. He jammed the Colt into his waistband and worked the release on his gun. Brass shells fell to the forest floor in glittering pinwheels. With a certain amount of composure, Ignatius slid fresh bullets into the empty cylinders. He dodged past tree stumps and fallen logs. The edge of his vision started to get blurry, while the center remained sharply focused.
A moan sounded from just behind him. Glancing over his shoulder Ignatius saw two of the younger, lighter children were keeping pace with him. Tubes ran, curving out, from behind to plunge into their thighs. The steady noise of pumps working chased after Ignatius. Part of him was deeply curious. The call of the mechanics felt tangible at times. Using his left hand, he pulled the Colt out and fired a hasty shot over his back. The round grazed the right leg of a pursuer popping the hose loose. Bluish fluid sprayed in all directions.
Ignatius wheeled around and thrust the Colt forward, catching the remaining child in the forehead. The clockwork child lost his footing and fell to the ground. Ignatius grimly put his foot down on the abomination’s chest and squeezed the trigger. The bullet made short work of it. Ignatius found himself caught in the wide-open gaze of brown eyes. They glazed over in moments. Fire flickered across his thigh.
Leaping back in surprise, Ignatius realized that the other experiment had dragged itself to him and sliced his leg with a keen edged machete. Ignatius quickly finished off the second sprinter then checked on his leg. The cut was shallow, not deep enough to separate the muscle. It might bleed a bit, but otherwise he would be fine. Flipping pistol locked the cylinder back in place. He took a second to scan the surroundings. To his left the valley wall Angela would be rose up. To the right was the creek and ahead lay a thicket of briar bushes so dense even a rabbit would give second thought to heading into it.
He moved to the right, hoping that the water would again form a barricade preventing the rush of steam-driven monsters. His skin tingled in the breeze as he dashed toward the water. The endurance serum was nearing its peak. All of his senses were overloading with stimuli. A chirping bird came across as loudly as the whistle from a train. The wounds ached and flared white-hot with pain. A shape emerged from the mist to his right. Several quick shots brought it down and left his ears ringing. He entered the cold water flinching at the pins and needles that erupted along his lower legs.
The realization of what he was doing crept into his brain slowly. Fatigue and chemicals made processing the thoughts tricky. Ignatius could not imagine the horrors that must have transpired in the Confederate camp. Soldiers, trained men of war, were one thing. They knew that capture would not be a pleasant way of spending the war. They understood the consequences of their actions, the ramifications of an enemy desperate to gain any advantage. Children were another matter.
Ignatius knew he would do a great many things to advance science and technology. However, the harvesting children as hosts for ghastly mechanical upgrades went beyond anything sane. The innocent used in such wicked ways indicated how the South hoped to succeed. A mechanized army would bolster the flagging soldiers who were fighting against the Union. The war could be lost to attrition if not by outright victory.
The remnants of the pack charged out of the woods, howling with raw voices as though it were man learning to scream at the dawn of time. Ignatius leveled both revolvers and fired into the group until both hammers fell on spent cartridges. The last feral youth leapt across the intervening distance and ploughed into Ignatius. The pair tumbled over into the icy creek water with Ignatius on the bottom. Sharp rocks jabbed into his back and neck. The water’s temperature added clarity to his vision.
He could see the youth raising a club-like hammer overhead and managed to roll his shoulder and dodge the blow. Somewhere in the contact and struggle, Ignatius lost his grip on the Colt. He swung the Beaumont up and against the side of the boy’s head dislodging the wiry youth. Both splashed wildly in the water in order to regain their feet.
Ignatius sized up his opponent. The lad was thin but completely muscled, with a mass of dreadlocks that had beads interwoven and dripped creek water, formed a curtain around his face. The large metal box on his back crackled with the vaporizing water. The club fell from his fingers and tattered flesh dropped off the left arm revealing a steel frame from which a blade sprang forward. He grinned lopsidedly at Ignatius and lunged with the blade.
Ignatius side-stepped the charge and met his opponent’s face with a clenched fist. Like lightening the clockwork child spun following up with a series of lunges, thrusts and cuts. Ignatius found himself giving up ground. Panicking Ignatius resorted to ungentlemanly strategy kicking the nearest knee with great vigor. He then whipped the Beaumont around by the barrel and slammed it again into the side of the youth’s head. Sensing the young man’s balance was off, Ignatius seized the joint just above the sword blade and flipped his attacker face forward into the creek.
Falling on top of his opponent, Ignatius viciously and repeatedly brought the pistol down on the dreadlock-covered head. White-hot pain seared through his right knee and leg. He rolled away realizing that he had knelt on top of the firebox. Before the lad could rise up again, Ignatius drew his last weapon out of desperation, a small derringer and squeezed both triggers at once. The tiny popping discharge of the weapon seemed inadequate for the grief it caused. The body twitched and shuddered in the swift current.
Ignatius emerged from the water for the second time that morning. Cold, wet, despondent. All that he fought, spied and lived for lay destroyed all over the valley’s floor. They were not free in the manner that he wished. They were not returning home or emigrating to the north. All he had done was speed up the experimental process to its inevitable conclusion. Ignatius felt the bile rising inside of him and closed his eyes as he vomited along the bank.
Sitting on his knees, he regarded the derringer in one hand, and the Beaumont in the other. The consequences of his actions weighed on him. His heart ached with sadness. He could not allow the corruption of science for any better purpose than to perpetuate intolerable cruelty. Humans, all humans have the right to be free. Not in some tragic fashion such as the one, he instigated. Free in the sense that life is a glorious celebration, worth living well and fully.
Frowning with disdain Ignatius let the guns drop into the creek. Better to allow the water to destroy them than to ever use a handgun again. The ridge, he thought, I still must reach the ridge. Standing up and then wading through the creek one last time, Ignatius moved westward. Minutes later, he heard a howl, grossly inhuman echo up from the south. Still more monstrosities survived, the remaining adults. He would destroy each one he vowed and track down the scientist that created them. The blemish of this inhumanity would end here in the mountains.
Two weeks later…
Ignatius lay on his stomach under a bush on top of a ridge. He held a pair of field glasses to his eyes and swept the area below him. The charred remnants of the camp were cold and still in the late morning. A steady drizzle continued to fall as it had for the past week. It was as if God was trying to wash the mountain clean.
Angela was waiting for him on top of the valley when he finally climbed out of it. He told her of the situation and of his duty. No trace could remain. He was surprised when she volunteered to join him. They stalked the mountain and valleys, tracking down the last experiments and eliminating them. Now under cover several hundred yards away, she was watching too.
Rations were low, game scarce yet they persisted. Each morning Ignatius came to the vantage point above the camp. Like the mountain lion native to the region, he stealthily crept into position and watched. For a couple of days after the fire troops swarmed around the area. They picked over the rubble and removed the dead.
Confederate airships moved through the skies in greater frequency. Some dropped supplies to the forces on the ground while others served as observation posts. Today was no different. The drone of an engine in the distance signaled the arrival of the day’s first observer from the east. Strangely, a second engine sounded from the west. A third ship, a bloated gray sausage arrived overhead from the south.
The gathering of multiple airships was not a coincidence. They gathered for a reason. Minutes later, that reason became evident. A pale figure stepped from the cover of the woods and approached the burned out camp. Focusing the glasses on the person, Ignatius saw a man in his early forties. The left side of his face bore blisters, from the fire no doubt. The man was hairless and had soft doe-like eyes.
He picked his way through the burnt timbers to the middle of the camp. In one hand, he carried a pickaxe and shovel. In preparation, the man hung his broad floppy hat over a timber. For several long minutes, the man dug. He tore through the destroyed timbers with a singular purpose. The sound of the shovel hitting another metal object reverberated up to Ignatius.
Out of the ground a strong box appeared. Watching the man, Ignatius saw him take a brass key from around his neck and unlock the box. Engraved on the lid were the initials ‘S.V.’. Looking into the box itself, papers billowed out of it. Ignatius could not make out any of the writing on the pages facing him. He had to presume that it was detailed notes on the experimentation. A flicker of motion from Angela’s position drew his attention.
Pointing the glasses at her revealed only leafy coverage, so complete was her camouflage. Several branches parted allowing the barrel of a Henry rifle to poke through. She intended on taking the shot. Checking the mystery man at the camp again, Ignatius knew she could make it. The drone of the airships changed. The engines slowed, becoming deeper, more of a low growl. Ignatius looked up to see one descending towards Angela, a rope ladder unfurling from the gondola.
They spotted the barrel poking out, surmised Ignatius. A few seconds more and she will take the shot, but if left alone Angela would be captured by the Southern forces. Somewhere inside his chest muscles tightened, he quickly squawked like a common crow, loudly. Peering through the field glasses, he watched the gun withdraw and the leaves rustle. Returning his gaze to the camp, Ignatius found the man staring up at him with a pair of modified glasses.
These glasses were thicker and multi-lensed. Ignatius knew he was visible to the other man. Rather than retreat hurriedly, Ignatius took a few extra seconds to commit everything he could to memory. Height, probable weight and the hook of nose everything that might identify the man later on. Only then did Ignatius back away.
He would find this man, this S.V. again. When he did, an accounting would take place.