The Heavens Are Closed | mynameisjoe

We were awoken in the early hours of the morning by the sound of fierce battle raging above us. The cacophony of war had crept closer throughout the day, and we could spot the flashes of dark sorcery on the horizon and the thick columns of smoke that rose high into the sky and spread out like a huge blanket of gray until it blocked out the sunlight. It was only when we began to hear the fell voice in the air that we were finally sent underground. We must take shelter in the caverns beneath the city, we were told – that was the only way we would survive the night.

It gives me great discomfort to sit here and describe those next few hours to you, and I do not think that I will ever be fully able to recount them, though I will do my best. We were sat there in the darkness for what felt like an eternity, sobbing and crying and praying for a quick end. The ear-splitting thump of the artillery grew louder with each passing barrage, and the caverns around us shook violently from side to side like it was built upon the thinnest of foundations. Like a human head being smashed again and again into solid rock, with only a matter of time before the skull is shattered and the rock is victorious, we too knew that it would only be a matter of time before the caverns came down around us and we would suffocate under the rock. Barely an hour had passed before the first person’s spirit broke and she began screaming out for help. I could do naught but roll over and try to fall back to sleep.

I drifted in and out of sleep throughout the morning; I dreamt of my family, of our farmstead back home, and of my wife – most of all I dreamt about my wife, and the last moments that we shared together before we were separated. My dreams were ever changing, shifting effortlessly from one to the next, but the sound of war was constant throughout and I could not escape from it. No matter how lush the fields of our farm looked, no matter how beautiful the face of my wife, the crackle of gunfire and the booming of artillery in the background was a constant reminder of what was waiting for me when I woke once more. I startled awake proper when the messerschmitts began screaming overhead, peppering the city with machine gun fire that crackled and fizzed like dying embers.

“The dark army is here, brother.” A voice called out. “ We will not survive the night.” I could not see his face, and neither could he see mine, but it did not matter. I felt his eyes upon me in the darkness, cold and calculated and unwilling.

“ It matters not, friend. “ I told him, “ We were dead the moment we came down here, perhaps even before that.” My voice was shaky and sounded rough and unfamiliar, I had not spoken aloud in a long time before that moment.

We sat and spoke for some time, sharing stories of back home and passing cheap whiskey back and forth until we were soundly drunk. He told me his name, where he was raised, why he had joined the war. His reasons were the same as everyone else’s; because his country needed him, that the cause was righteous and just. We sat there, awaiting our death, and we laughed at those sentiments – and we cursed the politicians and we cursed the national press and, most of all, we cursed the enemy.

Our cursing and our manic laughter was eventually cut short when we realised that all had gone quiet above. For a few brief seconds we all considered the possibility – that the battle was over, that danger had passed – but those thoughts were soon silenced, snuffed out like a candle leaving nought but darkness in its wake. It was the voice again, a menacing growl that sputtered and rumbled like a dying engine. The dark lord whispered to us all, and try as we might, we could not escape his voice. He offered us no mercy, granted us no surrender.

“Do you think our souls will make it to heaven?” I asked, “With the dark lord walking above us so freely?” I heard him look upwards and grunt.

“No, comrade… the heavens are closed on this night.” He said.

Shrapnel | Shiiu

Thomas thought he heard thunder when his eyes fluttered open.

Loose dirt fell off the corporal’s wool uniform as he propped himself up to a sitting position. The sunset’s red paintbrush swept its colors across the sky, its crimson light glinting off the dull green of Thomas’s steel helmet. He looked around, confused, as his hazy mind struggled to clear itself. His heart stopped in shock when he saw the other four men of his crew laying in the dirt, their 18-pounder field gun ruined.

Thomas attempted to move his right leg, only for it to erupt into an inferno of pain. A burning sensation ran up and down the limb, his nerves screaming from the agony. Forcing himself to look at the wound, the corporal saw a jagged piece of metal jutting out from a tear in his trouser leg.

Gritting his teeth, Thomas staggered into a standing position, leaning on his rifle for support. He tried to ignore the pain and called out to his crewmates, “Are you all alright?”

His only response was an incessant ringing in his ears. Through the shrieking, high pitched whine, Thomas heard the booms of artillery in the distance.

The corporal awkwardly limped over to his crewmates. He tried to shake them awake, shouting into their faces, but their bodies were gripped tight by the cold fingers of death.

Suddenly, one of the men began to move. Thomas hobbled over to him and grabbed his uniform, pulling the other soldier up.

“Peter!” Thomas yelled, breathless. “Peter. We have to get out of here.”

“Let go of me,” muttered the younger private, dirt caking his face. Peter tried to push Thomas away, but his feeble attempts barely managed to budge Thomas. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying. I’m not going anywhere.”

Thomas tried to force his comade to stand. “We have to move. We have to get to the support trench, or we’ll be hit by the next barrage.”

Despite Peter’s protests, Thomas began to drag the private out of their gun emplacement, towards their support trench. Dead, yellow grass crunched and gave under Thomas’s boots as he limped, pulses of pain steadily radiating from the shrapnel embedded into his calf.

“I don’t want to go, I don’t want to go,” mumbled Peter. He shook himself free from Thomas’s grip and sat down, his head buried in his hands.

Thomas flinched and ducked down after a shell exploded mere yards away. “You’re just not getting it! If we don’t keep moving, we will die. I’m not leaving you behind.”

With those words, Thomas grabbed the younger man’s wrist and resumed walking towards the support trench, now less than a hundred yards away.

The two men flinched and crouched again when several more shells impacted the dirt behind them, striking the area their gun emplacement had been. A fine shower of dirt rained onto Thomas when he looked back, and he felt an icy dread squeeze his stomach as white clouds began to billow out of the shell craters.

“Gas!” screamed Thomas, letting go of Peter and opening his gas mask pouch. As the corporal was about to fumble the rubber mask on, his eyes widened in shock at the sight of a large hole torn open by shrapnel.

The cloudy plumes of venom rode the winds and began to embrace the two men, surrounding them in a veil of poison. Thomas glanced back at Peter, who had managed to put his own mask on.

Thomas choked as the gas began to burn his flesh and sear his skin. In a panic, he raised his rifle and fired a single shot.

Peter looked down as a small stain of red appeared on the wool of his dark green tunic. “Don’t shoot,” he faintly pleaded, before crumpling to the ground.

The corporal ripped the gas mask off of Peter’s face and hurriedly put it over his own. He ignored Peter’s dying eyes, looking at Thomas with fear. With disbelief. With betrayal.

Thomas began to stumble towards the support trench once more.

Solitude | von

She remembered light.

Light would gather at the edges of the windows and pour through all at once to wake her up. Light would lick at the tips of her fingers and bounce off her hair. It would kiss her on the cheek, and nudge her gently out of bed. It had been years, and she could remember the slight heat, the direct warmth of light.

Now, the light had receded to be a pinpoint behind her. Eighteen years, and no signs of any other light. With none on the horizon either, she was destined to live in the bluish glow of LEDs for the rest of her life. Laying in bed, eyes open but unfocused, she noticed the monitors on the wall begin to hum awake.

They had warned her when she left that the loneliness would be overwhelming at times. They had given her prescriptions to prepare for these times. Those prescriptions had run out fifteen years ago. A quick glance at the monitor next to her bed told her it was a Tuesday. Nothing exciting ever happened on Tuesdays. She rolled over and pulled the blankets further up over her head, receding into the darkness and drowning out the artificial light.

Twenty-five years ago, she and her husband had made the decision to travel into space for the rest of their lives. They knew it would put strain on their marriage, but in the name of science, it was worth it.

Think of the implications!” He had said. “They can test the effects of artificial gravity on both a man and a woman over a long period of time! They can test what happens if there’s a conception while traveling through Space! We can see more of the universe than other couples could ever dream of!”

They had signed up enthusiastically, gone through training for a year, and then launched. They traveled at extremely high speeds for years, migrating past the known solar system within the first ten, and then settling to a lower cruising speed to continue on. They had only one-way communication with Earth from here on, sending back weekly reports. It was there, in the solitude of deep space, that her husband had gotten sick.

It started with a cough which only worsened. He couldn’t get out of bed a few weeks later. He stopped eating, and then he stopped all together. She gave him all of the antibiotics they had, and nothing worked. She had sent out mayday calls for help, but it was no use. One-way communication meant that they were hearing everything she was saying, but couldn’t respond back.

For fourteen years, she went about both of their duties, alone, watching the light from her distant sun fade behind her. Fourteen years of monotonous and routine checks on the ship, eating dehydrated food, and watching the same six movies over and over. After another few minutes of trying to fall back to sleep, she sighed and decided to start the day, because it wasn’t going anywhere. She stood and walked through the rounded hallways, coming to the front of the ship.

Even after all this time, the vastness was overwhelming. Darkness in all directions. Pinpoints of light scattered throughout her view, but there was no way of knowing which ones were close, and which were far away. She sat down at the controls and looked at the fuel gauge. There was only a quarter of the fuel gone. High efficiency fuel systems meant that this ship would probably keep going, and keep gathering data after she was gone.

Lost in her thoughts, she was startled by a strange noise coming from a wall panel to her right. She didn’t even know that panel made noise. She walked over and opened it, finding a computer screen back there that she had never known to exist. The monitor was tinted green, and a darker green block text was sitting at the top of the screen.

Come home.