Flash Fiction: Blood in the Desert

moon

This week’s dose of flash fiction comes inspired by Chuck Wendig, as per usual.  This time around, I was supposed to start a story with one of the sentences submitted last week as my prompt.  I chose the edited version of a sentence submitted by The Story Hive.  After realizing that I had to rewrite what I’d initially created, I used this week’s project to experiment with timing in narration.  I also tried to continue with a character that you’ve seen before.  You’ll probably still enjoy it.

***

He flipped his still glowing cigarette out of the wrecked windshield.  The radiator hissed and burbled, steam rising from the car’s crumpled hood.  The engine ticked occasionally, contracting as it cooled.  Gilbert slowly exhaled his last lungful of smoke, watching as it disappeared into the steam.  Somewhere out in the dark, something groaned.

“Shit,” Gilbert muttered.  “Guess we’re not done yet, are we?”

***

The briefing had been simple and to the point: find the targets, then eliminate them.  There would be at least four subjects, and they would likely be traveling together.  Given their natural proclivities, he was strongly cautioned to deal with them with extreme prejudice.  Which, as he’d translated for himself, was to say violence.  They were a small group of pack predators, trying to escape the confines of the land they’d been given to hide on, and while normally his employers would want to try to settle things with reason and a nice peaceful settlement that made everyone happy, these particular escapees had been acting “squirrelly” of late, even before their escape.  Gilbert had not liked hearing that word used to describe his prey.  He was only ever called in for important, high-value targets, and having them be unpredictable or weird was the last thing he wanted.  He’d gotten out of the last mission without egg on his face because no one had blamed him for the river problem, but he didn’t want to make fuck-ups into any sort of pattern.  He’d made sure that he over-prepared.

***

Reaching down to undo his seatbelt, his chest and hips felt like one huge bruise.  He brushed aside the airbag to get out of his seat, fighting not to sneeze from the talcum powder everywhere.  Getting his legs out of the car was easy: the driver’s side door was already missing.

His boots crunched down onto sandy gravel.  He could feel his joints protesting as he slowly straightened and rested his hand on the crumpled frame of the car.  He absentmindedly swept powder from his leather jacket as he considered the mess in front of him.  He ignored the blood that dripped slowly from his nose and congealed in his thin beard.

Dead ahead, the dusky blue desert horizon held the faint glow of a city at night, bleaching the stars from the western sky.  The glimmer of the moon overhead cast enough light to see by, but the most illumination came from the piercing cone of a single functioning high-beam.  It glared at him from the wreck of the car that he had rammed several minutes earlier.

The minivan had spun around and left its tail in a ditch along the side of the road.  It was still upright.  He thought he’d done a good job of clipping the driver’s side, but apparently he hadn’t done well enough.  He could hear the sound of someone, or some thing, shifting inside.  He patted his holster, forgetting for a moment that he’d already lost his pistol, then turned and teetered back towards his ruined sedan’s trunk.  It felt like his whole body was trying to tell him just how bad an idea this had been.

***

Finding them hadn’t been that hard.  They’d left a trail of bodies clear as day, like they hadn’t had a care in the world.  Gilbert hadn’t quite understood why they’d do that when they were trying to escape, but he was on a tight time limit and wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth.  It hadn’t taken him long to track them to a small motel outside of town, where they’d forted up for the past few days.  Since he preferred to have the advantage of preparation and surprise, he’d canvassed the area carefully before setting up in a blind where he had a good view of their room and the vehicle they had been using.  Since he’d known that they were inside, he’d been content to wait them out.  Sooner or later, he’d thought, they’d have to move.  And then he’d have them dead to rights.  Or just dead, as the case may be.

***

The trunk opened easily enough, undamaged from the impact, and he pulled a long gym bag towards him and rooted around; his fingers closed on different forms, feeling the metal of each before discarding each in turn.  Finally, satisfied, he pulled out a shotgun, racking the slide to check the chamber by touch before closing it once again.  Holding the gun in his aching right hand, he reached in once again to pull out a handful of shells and stuff them into his jacket pocket.  He stepped around the side of his car and trudged back towards the single gleaming headlight, sand and gravel crunching beneath his feet.

The sounds from inside the minivan grew louder as he approached.  He brought the shotgun up to his shoulder, glad that it wasn’t his already bruised one, and took a slow walk around the side of the tilted minivan.  BLAM.  He fired into the driver’s side, the muzzle flash briefly illuminating figures inside.  He racked the slide, pulled the gun into his shoulder again.  BLAM.  The second shot roared into the rear compartment of the minivan, answered by screams.

***

Of course something had gone wrong.  He should have known that things were shaping up too well.  His first warning had been the sudden explosion that rocked the motel, a pillar of flame mushrooming up into the night from the room where he’d thought his targets were.  It was, of course, a distraction.  The pickup with a covered bed mushroomed into a ball of flame several seconds later, ruining his night vision.  He’d been zeroed in on it expecting them to leave at any moment, but they’d obviously been ready for that.  Blinking away the glare, he’d just barely made out the shape of a minivan, silhouetted against the flames, as it rolled quiet and dark out of the back of the motel’s parking lot and around the corner of the building.  They were already on their way out.

***

Gilbert worked the shotgun’s slide again.  BLAM.  He fired at each of the remaining seats in turn.  Cool, calm, efficient.  BLAM.  BLAM.  BLAM.  BLAM.  He paused, slide back, and started reloading.  His ears were ringing from the shots, but he looked up in time to see the figure step from the back of the minivan, covered in blood and broken glass.  It unfolded itself, reaching up to a towering nine feet tall, matted fur shrouding its silhouette, and it reached out and knocked him from his feet.

***

The chase had been terrible.  He’d dashed down to his car as fast as he could, ignoring the sounds of closing sirens as he sped away, trying to catch sight of the minivan.  He’d found them quickly, but there’d been no other traffic to cover his approach.  They’d seen him straight off, and they’d opened fire from their minivan as they’d raced out of town onto the broad, endless highway.  He should have known that anyone who could blow up their motel room and their car so spectacularly would also have access to other weapons, but the gunfire had still come as an unwelcome surprise.

With bullets tearing through his windshield, Gilbert had slumped down behind his wheel.  He’d pulled out his pistol and started returning fire, as much to give them something to think about as for any other reason, and he’d slowly but surely started gaining on them.  Minivans just weren’t made for road performance.

Their gun had quieted, and as he’d reloaded he’d dared to hope that he’d caught their shooter.  He’d pulled up alongside their minivan, leveling his pistol out his window and methodically punching round after round into their vehicle.  His gun’d clicked dry, and then their sliding door had opened.  The thing on the other side of the door had reached out as their cars closed together, grabbed his car door, and wrenched it off in a horrific squeal of metal.  Gilbert had dropped his gun in panic as he struggled to keep control of his car, and had fallen back behind the minivan.  That was when he’d realized that he’d have to ram them.

***

Gilbert slid to a stop against the front right tire of his car.  His head was aching and his vision blurry, and he could feel wet heat dripping down the back of his head.  The whole back of his head felt like it was on fire, torn apart by the gravel he’d skidded across.  But he knew he’d gotten lucky.  His car’s door was a testament to that.

Lifting his head, he looked at the thing as it advanced towards him through the beam of the van’s headlight.  He had no idea where his shotgun had gone, though he still clutched several shells in his left hand.  He threw them at the beast in desperation, rolling to his side and scrabbling to his feet.  Not waiting to see if he’d hit the thing, or if it even cared, he ran towards the back of his car, headed for the back seat this time.

“Puny little man!”  The voice behind him roared through the night sky.  “I will snap you in half and feast on your entrails!”  Gilbert could hear the thing thudding closer.  He pulled open the rear door, tugging out the rifle that he’d thrown there when he’d begun his frantic pursuit.  He pulled it up, resting it on the roof of the car and leaning into it as the lanky, hairy thing yelled and broke into a charge.  He pulled the trigger, and nothing happened.

Gilbert nearly shat himself in fear.  Of course, he hadn’t chambered a round before the explosions.  He frantically worked the bolt, keeping his iron sights on target and trying to ignore the scope.  The thing drew closer, almost to his car by now.  He pulled the trigger, and was rewarded with a thunderclap.  The thing stumbled, reaching his car and then slamming its fists into the already crumpled hood.  Gilbert jumped backwards, working the bolt again.

The thing began to step up onto the hood of the car, coming over the vehicle instead of around, and Gilbert fired again.  This time it seemed to take, staggering the beast’s advance.  Gilbert desperately worked the bolt again, bringing the gun back up in line.  Then the creature fell backwards off the car, slamming into the ground limp and lifeless.  Gilbert shot it again to be sure.  He walked towards the van, firing again and again.  He hoped desperately that he had killed whatever the things were, but was too afraid to get close enough to find out.  Finally, breathing hard, he went back and rummaged through his passenger footwell for his cell phone.  He sat on the cooling hood of his car as he dialed a number he knew by heart.

“The targets are down,” his voice was clipped, breathy, uncertain.  “…I think.  But I need medical, evac, and high explosive delivered to my location just to make sure.  End transmission.”  And then Gilbert sat and watched, and prayed that what he’d done would be enough.

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