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Sunday, July 08, 2012

Flash Fiction: Under a Dead Sun: Past Sins

Chapter 40

Ally felt Morgan gently shake her awake, the last vestiges of her troubled sleep falling away. She had slept fitfully throughout the night, or at least what passed as a night these days. Every time she woke though she was always greeted with the reassuring sight of Morgan, standing at the edge of their camp site, his rifle cradled in his arms, his eyes searching the surroundings. He stood so still, but she knew his eyes never stopped moving, looking for danger.

Ally stood up, stretching the kinks out of her sore back. Hell, everything was sore still, her ribs, her lip, her cheek. She felt like one big god damn bruise. Sleeping on the ground hadn't helped, but she felt better than she had yesterday. Ally looked up, the sun breaking in the east, casting its black pallor over the horizon, and worked as much of the soreness in her muscles as she was able before strapping back on her gun belt. She walked down to the river edge and took a deep drink, running the cool water over her face and neck. She watched Morgan and the preacher break down their little camp before saddling the horses.She walked over and rubbed the neck of her horse gently as Morgan finally broke the silence that had permeated the camp.

"Listen, we're about the run to Desperation. It won't be easy. Once we round the cliff bank, the valley floor flattens into a grassland that runs to a point, Desperation. Now last night I saw lights across the walls of the old fort the town was built around. The outlying town, and the plains leading to them, are over run with the dead. This won't be an easy run."

Ally looked to the preacher, who just lowered his head and looked to the ground, then back to Morgan.

"We'll lead the horses on foot around the narrow shoreline, then you two will double up on Ally's horse and break for the fort walls. I'll ride out first and try to pull as many of them after me as I can so you can have a head start."

"But Morgan... you can't leave.."

"Ally, listen. I can ride faster alone, I'll loop them out then cut back up around the narrows. Once I loose the majority of the creatures, I can cut back upriver before turning back and meet you inside Desperation. Splitting up is the only way we have a chance at this. Besides, we don't even know if Desperation will open up and let you in. This way if there is a problem you can cut back too."

She wanted to argue, she wanted to tell him how much he had come to mean to her in the past day. How in the moments that things felt the worst, she felt safe with him. But she didn't. She nodded her head and set her face as strong as she could. More than wanting him to stay, she wanted to show him that she wasn't weak. She wanted to prove to him that she was worth a damn.

She watched as the preacher, who had simply nodded, absently rubbed the rosary beads at his waist. He moved silently through the camp, picking up the old pistol that he'd brought with him. He reached into one of the pockets of his robes and slowly loaded the gun as Ally and Morgan lead the horses to the narrow. They secured the saddles and the bags tightly, before moving onto the shore.

The cliff face was sheer, with just a scraggly strip of beach running along the edge of the river. The current really picked up as they were less than a quarter of a mile from the merge point of the twin rivers. Another river from the east met this one at Desperation, creating a major trade route by water that eventually spilled  into the Gulf. Ally remembered wanting so much as a little girl to ride the big boats down the river, how it had all seemed so magical and impossible. Now it seemed like a long, long time ago.

The trio moved single file through the narrow, Morgan in the lead followed by Ally and Father Enrico, each leading one of the horses. The narrow stretched a good quarter mile and they took it slowly. The path was safe enough, but an errant buck of one of the horses would make it a lot more dangerous. You could see the water rushing by, reflecting the blackened sun back towards them. Morgan kept his rifle out, and eventually motioned them to hold back as he moved forward. He peered around the end of the cliff face, and beckoned them over.

Ally peaked around the corner, her heart dropping. There were hundreds of the monsters, some mindlessly shuffling around, others hunched over the fallen forms of the once living. How would they ever be able to get through all of these things? She looked again at Morgan, who was checking the the barrel of his rifle. He glanced up, and gave her a small smile, an unfamiliar sight on his weathered face.  She smiled back, a small flush creeping up her cheek, as he helped her mount the horse behind the already saddled Father Enrico.

"Be ready to move after I draw them off. Stay as close to the river for as long as possible before turning towards the wall. Father, would you like to say a prayer before we move?"

One of Enrico's hands held the reins, but the other absently rubbed at his rosary still. He looked down to his hand as if realizing for the first time that he'd been rubbing them. He pulled them free, the beads clacking against his leg and held them in his hand. He looked east, directly into the dark sun, before speaking.

"I'm not sure there's anything to pray to anymore. Heaven has forsaken this place."

He let the beads fall and Ally watched as they washed down into the river, away from them. Morgan shrugged noncommitally but gave Ally a reassuring pat on the leg before mounting his own horse. He wrapped the strap of the rifle around his arm and cleared the pistol on his hip.

"Well then Padre, time to see if Hell's a more welcoming place."

Morgan gestured his horse and pulled up beside her, giving her a side long hug and whispering words of strength in her ear. He told her that they'd see each other soon. Ally felt a shiver run down her spine as Morgan then spurred his horse, bursting from the narrow. It was then she heard all the gun shots.

End of Line.