By Jason Halstead
“I told you not to fucking move!”
Jessie barely heard the words shouted at her. She felt something stop her fall and saw that it was blue. A wall? It had to be a wall, she reasoned, since she was sliding down and away from it. There was a ringing her ear and a dull echoing noise that made no sense. She tried to roll over and stand up, knowing somehow that she had to rise. She wondered if he was in the beginning stages of the fever.
For some of the people that came down with Burnout Fever their sanity was the first thing to go. A day or so later and they lost energy, became lethargic, and their body started to shut down. There was blood everywhere it could leak out of a person. A day or two of that and they died. There was no cure. Once you had it, two out of three people died. The others were immune. She figured this guy wasn’t one of the lucky ones.
He was shouting at her. Spittle sprayed from his cracked lips. She had no idea what he was saying, it just washed over her and hurt her already ringing ears. A concussion, that’s what she must have. It made sense, and explained why the left side of her head was warm and throbbing. He’d hit her with his gun. He didn’t like the answer she gave him so he clubbed her.
He bent down and grabbed her halter top with his free hand. He pulled in an effort to rip it off, but it stretched and dug into her skin. Jessie hissed in pain, trying to grab his hand and work it free. Her fingernails bit into his wrist and broke the skin, drawing blood. He screamed and swung his gun again, the barrel glancing off her forehead and stunning her for a few moments.
She stared at him, suddenly nauseous and wishing the world would stop spinning. “Stop,” she whispered, pleading with him. “Please stop!”
He grinned at her, aiming his pistol at her head. A crack rang out and Jessie jerked. She had squeezed her eyes shut, wondering why there was no pain. Was she dead? She was warm and comfortable. All that ended a heartbeat later when something fell on her legs.
Jessie stared, mouth open, when she looked and saw the man’s body. He was half on her legs, his limbs twitching a few moments before he finally lay still. The warmth was his blood. His head had exploded, bits of brain and blood showering her body. She could not help but stare at the carnage and felt herself suddenly taken back to another time and place.
* * * *
Jessie held up the microphone to the lieutenant so he could answer the question she had asked. He opened his mouth, a smile on his face, but never had the chance to speak. Someone was shouting about infidels and then someone else was shooting. A man’s body was flying through the air, punched through a dozen times by the 5.56 millimeter rounds. He landed nearby, a peaceful grin on his face. The lieutenant, a man who’s last named was Thelen, threw himself at Jessie and tried to take her to the ground even as the suicide bomber released the trigger he held in his hand.
* * * *
Jessie snapped out of it, pulling herself forcibly out of her memories. That had been years ago, a different life for a different girl. She kicked her legs, making the corpse move and causing some of the gore to spill onto her bare knee. She gagged and then turned to retch. It turned to dry heaves quickly, and she was huddled up and shivering a few moments later when the man who had saved her walked up.
“Get up,” he said, his voice dead and emotionless.
Jessie jerked. She rolled over, retching again from the vertigo. She stared up, an arm held above her head as if to block a kick or a punch.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” he told her.
She stared up at him. He was older. Not grandpa old, just older than her. Solid too, she saw. A rifle hung from a strap in front of him, easy to grab and use if he needed it. Black hair that was starting to lighten with gray spoke of either age or stress, probably both. His eyes were brown and sharp, missing nothing.
He reached down, offering her a hand. His eyes glanced around, checking the surroundings efficiently then darting back to her. Jessie hesitantly reached up, realizing he could have easily killed her if he wanted. If he didn’t want to kill her, then that meant he wanted something else. She felt the strength in the gloved hand that grabbed hers and knew she had no chance except running if she had to. She saw his eyes glance to their joined hands, surprised when he realized he held a hand that was missing her little finger.