The Sargent forged ahead and I wrapped my arms around myself. Around me, my fellow soldiers crawled and stumbled over the crusted landscape. A little further down the slope behind us, the last few troops emerged from the tree line. If indeed you could call the alien trees that. Their sparsely spaced, thick trunks soared up but they sprouted no leaves or branches

Wind whistled by as we hiked up the passage, blowing first one way, then the other, buffeting us about. I sank down in the lea of a slimy outcrop and hid my head. I didn’t want to be here.

Footsteps squelched by across the spongy ground. “What are you doing?” Someone asked. “Quick, come on, before the Sarge notices.”

I shook my head.

With a shrug, the unnamed soldier moved off. The tail end of the invading force passed me by and I counted silently towards the arbitrary number of a hundred. That was when I would peek to see if the coast was clear before making a run for it, back down the passage towards daylight.

Fifty-three, fifty-four, fifty-five. A few brittle yellow flakes dislodged from above and brushed my side as they fell and tumbled away down the slope. I looked up.

“What do you think you’re doing, Private?” yelled the Sarge.

“Er, I, er‒”

“You will get your ass out of that hole and march it up that hill right now, Private. What are you, some kind of coward? I don’t believe I have cowards in my army!”

“Sir, no, Sir,” I said, shaking.

I crawled from the hole and the Sarge jumped down behind me.

“I need every single one of you putrid slime balls to get this job done, so you will not hide in a hole like some vile bacteria, you will do your duty. Do you hear me?”

“Yes Sir.”

“I can’t hear you.”

“Sir, I hear you, Sir.”

The Sarge marched behind me until we caught up with the rear end of the unit then he ordered a corporal to keep an eye on me and returned to his position at the head of the column.

The light from the entrance to the passageway grew fainter and the ground more slimy. The mucus – I refused to refer to it as anything else – sucked at my feet. In the growing darkness, my eagle eyed Corporal kept one hand against my back, so I couldn’t slip past.

We crested the hill and began to slip and slide our way down the far slope. We had to rely more on touch than sight now. The wind soaring up and down the passage died down a little.

At the bottom of the slope we paused on the lip of a cliff. I struggled through the massed troops to peer over the edge. The chasm yawned into complete darkness.

“At ease, soldiers,” the Sarge called.

We settled down in the dark, on the disgusting plateau, and waited.

Some time later, I realised I could see and groped my way to the edge of the precipice. Light welled up from the bottom of the cave.

The Sarge jumped up. “Right, this is our opportunity. Our battle ground stands at the bottom of that maw. We take it hard and fast. There won’t be much resistance but they will send reinforcements. It’s our job to hold the line until our main force arrives. Are you with me?”

“Sir, yes, Sir!” The troop responded as one.

A deep rumble and the sound of rushing air welled up from below.

“Go, go, go! And find something to hang onto at the bottom.”

The army tumbled over the cliff, dropping from one rounded, slippery ledge to another, bouncing and falling, until it landed in a heap on the soft ground at the bottom. Those at the front quickly dispatched the few, pitiful resistance fighters.

“Find something to hold onto,” one Corporal yelled above the rushing wind.

We spread out and grabbed onto any lump or bump we could find on the smooth floor. Some just dug their way into the soft, fleshy ground and made their own hand hold.

The wind grew, blowing in with the light. The roaring noise deafened us. A few unlucky souls lost their grip and tumbled into the darkness behind. I clung on for dear life.

Suddenly the noise and the inrushing air stopped. I relaxed my grip.

“Hold on, this is it!” yelled the Sarge.

Before I could get hold again a storm of violent wind surged up from the darkness. It lifted my body from the ground and bore me up the cliff. The crusted, slimy landscape whipped by in a blur and then the world turned bright white.

My broken body lay surrounded by those of some of my fellow soldiers along with small boulders and puddles of slime dislodged by the gale. The white cloak over the world closed in around me and I let my own world close with it.

 

Paul’s crumpled tissue hit the bottom of the waste basket. “Damn it, I think I’m getting a cold.”

***

I hadn’t originally planned to post any fiction on this blog, but this piece came about because I was too ill to think of anything interesting to write about.

You can find more fiction over on The Great Escape

© 2011. C Harrison. All rights reserved. Do not re-distribute.

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