TIME SPIKE — snippet 43

 

This will be the last snippet from Time Spike, since the book should be appearing in the bookstores by now.  Eric

 

 

TIME SPIKE – snippet 43:

 

 

            He came to sometime later. At first he was confused by his whereabouts. Then he realized he was lying inside a cave, covered with a shirt that had been warmed somehow.

            They must have made it to the cave, carrying him all the way. Joe thought about crawling to the entrance, but knew he didn’t have it in him. It took everything he had just to breathe. He brought his hand up to feel his chest. It had been wrapped.

            That surprised him. He knew they didn’t wrap broken ribs any more. They said it could cause pneumonia. But maybe the monster’s claws had cut him.

            Feeling his body preparing to cough again, he instinctively braced himself for the pain. The cough was pathetic sounding, no more than a whisper, but the pain from it caused him to moan.

            “You’re awake,” Lylah Caldwell said. She entered the cave on one hand and two knees. The other hand held a small bowl of steaming liquid.

            “You wrapped me,” he whispered. “Why?”

            “I had to. You didn’t just crack your ribs. I’m sure at least one of them was snapped loose. I didn’t want it to do any more damage than it already had. A couple of the women who had blouses donated their t-shirts for material.” She held the bowl to his mouth and he took a sip.

            It was some kind of meat broth. It tasted wonderful.

            Lylah smiled crookedly. “It’s bear soup.”

            The smile went away. “I would normally tell you to breathe deeply and do plenty of deep coughing. But I don’t think that’s the way we need to go with this.” She offered him another sip.

            “No more. Man, that hurts.”

            “I know. But, hurt or not, you have to drink a little. It’s good for you. Besides, you can think of it as revenge.” She put the bowl back to his lips, tipping it, forcing him to swallow or wear it. Three painful sips later she pulled it away, allowing him to rest. “We made it out of whatever that thing was that jumped you. Marie showed us how to skin it and use the brain to tan the hide. She has people working on making a sort of moccasin for our feet.”

            Joe’s head still felt muzzy. “How long have I been out?”

            “Almost two days, off and on. You came back to consciousness a few times, but you probably don’t remember.”

            Out for two days. That was… scary. More to take his mind off his fear than any real curiosity, he tapped the plastic bowl she’d use to feed him. It was odd-looking. “What’s this?”

            “Karen’s on her monthly. It’s her pad-case. She had it in her pocket.”

            That made him laugh, unfortunately. The pain made him stop. He wondered what they were using to heat the soup in, but was afraid to ask. Another burst of laughter might kill him. Or, worse yet, make him just wish he were dead.

            He was too tired, anyway. He drifted off to sleep seconds later.

****

            Marie dropped another thin twig onto the small blaze. She had been feeding the fire since sundown, one stick at a time, even though she wasn’t sure making a fire was the right thing to do. The fire might be spotted by cons out looking for them.

            But Marie didn’t think that was likely. The fire wasn’t that big, after all. They were well into the wilderness here, and if you didn’t know the route to the cave it would be like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. For the sort of men likely to be prisoners in a maximum security prison, anyway. There might be a mountain man type among them, but she doubted it. Alexander’s inmates had come from all over the state. Most of them had been residents of Chicago or one of the state’s other cities. She figured they weren’t going to leave the security of the prison’s walls to wander miles into a wilderness filled with wild animals up to and including dinosaurs. Not even looking for women. And for all they knew, by now the escaped guards had hooked back up with Andy Blacklock and his people, who were well armed.

            No, it was the dinosaurs she was worried about. She’d made the fire because in the world she’d known, a fire at night was a good way to keep off predators. But those were animals she knew. Probably more importantly, they were animals that had generations upon generations of evolution to teach them that humans were dangerous and a fire was likely to mean humans.

            But was that true of dinosaurs? For all she knew, a fire might draw them like moths to a lightbulb.

            So, she’d had to guess, and she hated guessing. In the end, what had tipped the scales was a simple fact.

            Twice now, she’d encountered dangerous animals out here up close. The first had been the cat-thing that Hulbert had shot before it could attack her. Jeff had told her later it was a Smilodon of some sort. What they called a “saber-toothed tiger” but wasn’t really a tiger. In fact, it wasn’t closely related to modern cats of any kind.

            The second was the bear that had injured Joe so badly. That it wasn’t any bear species she knew didn’t mean anything. It was some kind of bear, for sure.

            Mammals, both times. Not dinosaurs. The fact was, although they’d seen dinosaurs, they didn’t seem to be plentiful. Not big ones, anyway. Since escaping the prison, she’d seen a few creatures that were either dinosaurs or some kind of ancient reptiles. But none of them had been big, and none of them had been threatening in any way. In fact, most of them had run away as soon as they became aware of the humans approaching.

            That wasn’t surprising. It was what you’d expect, unless the Quiver had transported them into some kind of fantasy world. In the real world, big animals were scarce. Wilderness or not, it didn’t matter. That was true of herbivores, and it was even more true of carnivores. They couldn’t be plentiful, because there wasn’t enough food to support them. Even the huge bison herds of America’s past hadn’t really covered the plains. It just looked like it, when you were in their vicinity. But most of the plains, at any given time, had been empty of any big creatures.

            So, she’d decided to take their chances on the dinosaurs. She was more worried about something less exotic. Granted, the mammals of this time didn’t have the same ingrained instinct to avoid humans. But she was still hoping they’d stay away from fire.

            And all of that was probably beside the point. Everybody was exhausted and scared half out of their wits. Whether making and keeping a fire through the night was the right thing to do or not, it helped settle everyone down.

            Including her.

            “Mind a little company?” Frank Nickerson sat down next to her.

            “How’re you doing?” she asked, not taking her eyes from the orange, red and blue flickering light. “That toothbrush you took in your leg did some damage.”

            “It’s been a while now. It seems to have healed pretty good.”

            “The nurses look at your stitches?”

            “Yeah. They’re going to take them out in a few days.” After a short pause, he said: “They told me what you did at the infirmary. I still feel bad that I wasn’t there when that bastard came in. They sent me to A-block just six hours before the shit hit the fan.”

            “What could you have done anyway, Frank? You didn’t have a gun. Collins would have just shot you as soon as he came through the door.”

            “Marie, what you did…”

            “Let it go, Frank. I wasn’t being a hero. I was scared spitless. I can’t even remember the details of it now. It’s just a disjointed blur.”

            She tilted her head so she could see the stars. They were as beautiful as they had been the night before and the night before that. She didn’t think she would ever tire of looking at them or ever get used to how plentiful they had become. There was no light pollution at all in this new world. Unless the moon was out at night, the darkness was like nothing she’d ever imagined.

            She dropped another stick on the fire. “I wish we had a radio so we could just call the others.”

            Frank shook his head. “It wouldn’t do any good. They didn’t take one with them. They were going to be out of range after just a few hours.”

            “I hope they’re all right.” She had to work at keeping her voice steady. For her, as for all of them, the greatest fear was that something bad had happened to Captain Blacklock and the rest of the guards. As long as Andy and Rod were out there somewhere, safe and sound and with well-armed people around them, things would eventually work out okay. But if they were gone…

            He nodded. After a while, he said: “No one talks about what happened to the rest of the world. It’s like it never existed.”

            Marie didn’t answer. She wrapped her arms tight against her chest. There was a feeling—an ache—that left her feeling hollow each time she thought of home. She knew why no one ever mentioned it. It hurt too much. And everyone believed his or her pain was the worse. Kathleen, with her new baby—and her husband and three other children gone. Barbara, with her four-year-old grandson at a babysitter’s. She’d been the boy’s mother, for all intents and purposes. Her daughter and son-in-law had dead for sixteen months, killed in a car wreck. Marie herself, with her sister living just a mile away and her two nephews waiting for her to take them to the movies next weekend like she promised.

            They had all been ripped away from family and friends. She knew most the stories, including Frank’s. He had lost his wife—a bride, almost. She’d been nineteen years old, a few years younger than he was. They’d been married exactly one month to the day when the Quiver turned the world upside down.

            They couldn’t talk about it. Not yet. Maybe the not knowing would make it taboo forever. Were they the only ones ripped away? Was there just a hole where the prison had stood? Or had everything and everyone been caught up in a hurricane and dropped at random, scattered across time and the universe, dumped here and there like litter blown on the wind.

            Or maybe the unthinkable had happened. Everyone else in the world had been destroyed in the disaster, and they were the only survivors.

            “Luck for us,” she whispered at the sky.

****

            Joe woke during the night, shivering with fever, his skin clammy with sweat. Casey Fisher was leaning over him, soothing him, using a dampened rag to cool his forehead.

            “I need you to…” The pathetic little cough came, followed by racking pain. “Go tell…”

            The effort to talk was just too much. It exhausted him, sending him back to a sleep plagued by giant ants carrying off a picnic basket filled with his wife and sons.

****

            Barbara lay listening to Fisher moving around. She wanted to get up and help her, but couldn’t. The last of her energy had left several hours back. Now all she could do was lie in the dark and wish for a sleep that wouldn’t come. She had always been a bit of an insomniac, but since the Quiver, she hadn’t been able to get more than a few hours sleep in any one stretch. While inside the prison, that hadn’t mattered. She would sleep three or four hours, work about eight hours, then do it again.

            Out here, that wasn’t going to work.

            The cave’s floor was made up of a finely ground sand, something she had seen in a few of the cave tours she had taken when the kids were little. It was also dry and free of animals. When they first found it, she had been afraid it would be full of bats. She hadn’t wanted to enter, but Kathleen had insisted. The C.O. figured a few rodent type creatures were a lot easier to deal with than the men at the prison, and she had been terrified they were being followed.

            They weren’t followed, and there weren’t any bats or rats. Barbara hadn’t even found any insects. That had also surprised her. She’d been sure the place would be infested with spiders. It had seemed a perfect hiding place for creatures life that.

            Kathleen and she had handled the trek better than she had hoped. It was Lylah Caldwell who’d had the most trouble. The R.N.’s legs had swelled and turned black. She had popped a dozen or so veins on the walk. Barbara knew Lylah had the beginning stages of congestive heart failure. She also had a touch of emphysema. They had talked about it on several occasions. The woman had intended to work just six more months and then take an early retirement. She’d planned to sell her house and move in with her sister, a widow living in Arizona. She’d been looking forward to moving. She and her sister were close and they both liked to sightsee. They had a long list of places they intended to visit.

            Barbara rolled over. Joe, twenty-eight women and one baby had filled the cave to capacity. There hadn’t been room for the others. Most of the women and all of the men except Joe were sleeping beneath an overhang about fifteen feet from the opening. Christopher Jordan, armed with the one pistol they had and a whistle Marie had made from a reed, was standing guard right now.

            She could tell by the sounds around her that sleep was coming hard for quite a few of them. And after she dropped the bombshell she was going to drop tomorrow, it would come even harder.

            They were going to have to send Marie and Frank on ahead, while the rest of them stayed behind. They couldn’t travel as a group to find Andy Blacklock and Rod Hulbert. That had been the plan, but she could now see that the plan wouldn’t work.

            First, they didn’t have the supplies. A lifetime of never being more than a half hour’s drive from a grocery story had simply never prepared them for the reality of what life was like when you had no food and were stranded in a wilderness. Abstractly, maybe, but not in their guts.

            Joe had been attacked, and because of that they were going to eat for a few days. But a few days probably wouldn’t be long enough. It might take weeks to find the others and they couldn’t forage as they traveled. None of them had that level of skills, except Marie and maybe Frank Nickerson. And the two of them couldn’t possibly feed seventy people while on the move.

            But it didn’t matter anyway. There was a second reason the plan wouldn’t work. Too many of them simply wouldn’t make it if they tried to cover even ten miles a day, which is what Marie said was a good average for a hike. Much less do it day after day after day.

            Joe Schuler would die if they tried to move him even a mile. Lylah Caldwell would die if they had to travel more than a day or two at the pace they’d been traveling. Stacey White would last a little longer, but not much. Her asthma was acting up. Barbara had seen her sneak off to use her inhaler a half dozen times already. And the woman wouldn’t have a refill once it was gone.

            There were others. Not in that bad a shape, but bad enough. They wouldn’t survive too long either, in any trek through a wilderness that lasted more than a few days.

            She wondered how long she’d survive herself.

            Probably too long. Long enough to bury the only friends she had left, and then either get captured by prisoners or eaten by a predator.

            She lay there thinking about all the ways she had made sure she stayed in shape: the good diet, the vitamins, the exercise. She’d never smoked and used liquor very sparingly.

            She thought of the genes passed down to her by both her parents and grandparents, who’d all lived into their late eighties or even nineties.

            Strong bones. Good hearts.

            The tears started coming, and then came faster and faster. She finally fell asleep shortly before the sun came up.

 

 

About Eric Flint

Author and Editor
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One Response to TIME SPIKE — snippet 43

  1. alis says:

    Well, I guess a new and really open-ended series can be started… “The Lost World” of Eric Flint.

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