Tuesday, 16 March 2010

One Hour Fiction: Rain Patrol

For days, it had rained. He had forgotten when it had started and forgotten what being dry was like, becoming accustomed to the mud, the constant companion of damp and the sheer brown of his existence. And then, as suddenly as it always started, the rain had stopped. The clouds parted just long to let the twin suns of this barren, forgotten rock peek through to remind him they did in fact exist.

"In The Rain" © Vitaliy Smyk

Three stinking months. That’s how long he had been here, this time round. He still wondered quite why he had signed up to return, knowing that the promises of forging new worlds and bringing hope to oppressed peoples were nothing but empty marketing drivel. Instead, all that awaited him was foot rot, tepid meals consisting mostly of rainwater and a near statistical certainty that he would return in one or more body bags.

His company of men lived in what seemed to be a plughole for the whole planet. How did all the water drain here, from both the ground and the sky? Last week a mobile command post had been washed away. Three guys now missing – dead, really – after the building had been torn from its moorings and swept down the valley. He had heard them yelling for help on the radio, but what could be done?

Now, the rain had been absent for maybe five minutes, all told. He had been so used to its constant hammering on the thin shell of his living unit, demanding to be let in, that the quiet was eerie and almost unwelcome. A company of forgotten troops, each man separated from the next by the dreary slog through the wet, brought together for an instant by that simple distilled silence.

He stepped outside and stood on the step. It might as well have been a World War 1 battleground, just like they’d told him. He’d seen old pictures of it but had never really understood or believed them. Now he could all but see the flooded mud planes, troops sinking in filth, retching and choking and drowning.

He smiled and looked up at the suns, shielding his eyes. Glorious.

The rays from the two suns beat down on his sodden face, bleaching the streaks of mud on his cheeks into primitive war paint and evaporating the raindrops that clung to his eyebrows. The crust of salty tears remained.

For a few moments he stayed still and imagined what it might be like to own his own farm, to step out on the porch after a downpour and look across the fields. He thought about owning cows and horses, having a wife and maybe a kid. That wasn’t really too much to ask, was it?

But he had wound up here. So perhaps it was too much to ask, just for now. But a man can dream, can’t he? Sometimes that’s the only thing he can do.

Whenever the rain stopped, it was time for patrol. He knew this of course, and knew he couldn’t feign ignorance or surprise any longer, or even be allowed to enjoy the light from the suns and their brief warmth. A respite from the rain just meant more time for work. He pulled his backpack on and picked up his rifle. Looking for his helmet, he saw it was exactly where he had left it the night before, and was still filled with water. Damn. He tipped it out and placed it carelessly on his head. Immediately, his hair and face were wet again – The rain might as well never have stopped.

He began to walk, joining the others. They marched mostly in silence, the platoon spread out over a quarter of a mile. Through a shantytown they trudged. Somehow buildings still smouldered, all twisted metal and shattered corrugated iron. One of the Natives scampered through the wreckage, trying to forage for something to eat. He didn’t know what they ate or how they survived. Maybe they were actually aquatic and liked to eat mud. There seemed to be nothing else on this sorry moon.

Smiling wryly he thought back to his farm that didn’t exist. One day, all this will be yours, he told himself. One day.

Foot followed foot as they slogged pointlessly onwards. His thoughts continued to wander and he tried to keep reality at bay with thoughts of sheep and hay and harvest. He was brought sharply back to the present as the ground underneath him gave way and he found himself knee deep in a pothole filled with liquid mud. Damn. The mud poured into his boots. So much for being dry.

With a sigh he slung his rifle over his back and searched for some firm ground so he could get free. The mud sucked and clawed at him and the more he tried to escape, the stronger its grip seemed to become. His buddies either didn’t notice or didn’t care, and slowly continued past him as he struggled alone.

He turned his face to the sky, mouthing a silent prayer to an unseen god. Please save me from this hopeless misery.

By way of a reply, a single raindrop patted him lightly on the cheek.

1 comment:

  1. This is my favourite...
    Not saying the other ones are bad, just saying this one is the most awesome one c: