December 18, 2017

Free Fiction Friday: Shadowfall Part 3

And here it ’tis… part three of our four part eclipse tale Shadowfall. The idea for this story actually came up in a  late night discussion on just how bizarre eclipses could get in the far future. We had originally envisioned the gruesome competition described in the story as talking place in Earth’s far future, when the rotation of the plant had slowed down to the point that it was possible to actually chase after the shadow of the Moon on foot. We soon came to realize, however, that this would work much more effectively on a fictional exoplanet with a retrograde moon!

Shadowfall

Chapter Three

by

David A. Dickinson

She stopped and lifted Yeara’s limp ragdoll body up on one shoulder and began hopping along with her. “We’re almost there,” she shouted.

“Kendra,” She shrieked back, pointing just ahead. “It’s Merak…”

They nearly stumbled over the body. Kendra couldn’t recognize it as Merak’s; the sand mites had worked him over and were even now burrowing deep into his moist flesh in search of refuge from the blazing sun overhead. This endowed his corpse with a bizarre twitching movement, as if his bloated body was animated in one last macabre ballet and still trying to crawl across the desert.

“Don’t look, Yeara,” Kendra said, forcing both of them to limp faster. “We’ll cut across and join up with the umbra soon.”

She knew that was a lie; the shadow of the moon moved essentially in a straight line across the curve of the planet and they would either catch up to it or not. How many Shadowfalls had been run, she wondered silently, since humans had the bad luck to discover the unfortunate alignment on Priea that led to this grisly spectacle? How many trails of shriveled corpses marked the shadow paths of previous eclipses that had criss-crossed this planet, with skulls girdling this world in a foreboding garland?

They both kissed the edge of the shadow just as Kendra felt that overheating would do her in. She could tell that they’d made it as Baily’s Beads once again flashed in and out of existence overhead on the rim of the jagged moon, taunting her with her own mortality.

“Here, drink this,” She said, again shoving the drinking nozzle into Yeara’s swollen mouth. The bubbling sound she heard as Yeara slurped water mixed with air through the thin tube told her that there was little left.

“Bad move, rookie,” She heard Herrick call back from ahead. He barely looked winded. “Altruism will get you killed out here.”

‘You’ve gotta keep moving,” She whispered to Yeara, trying hard to fight bad tears. “Don’t give him the satisfaction.”

“We… we’ll dance over his corpse soon.” Yeara forced herself to say from deep within.

“Sure, that’s the spirit,” Kendra smiled, glad that a glimmer of the old wisecracking Yeara was still in there. In a heat-crazed vision, she imagined the two of them, laughing, juggling Herrick’s skull and pelvis as an absurd moon swung high overhead.

The hours dragged on. The conversations also got fewer and farther between, as Kendra knew they would. They seemed to forever linger on the nether edge of the shadow as the ancient moon rolled with them overhead. The pack was thinner now, and Kendra tried not to notice as runners dropped to the wayside, one by one. Sand and horizon seemed to shimmer and merge into a pale blur before them. Kendra would occasionally lag back a bit to listen to the haggard breath of Yeara on the very fringes of the group. Her ragged rasp told her she was still there and alive.

“We’re coming up on halfway,” someone called from up front, although Kendra couldn’t decide on whether or not to believe them. Such deceit, she knew, wouldn’t be above her fellow runners. She knew that she’d have to consider the possibility in her mind that most of the run was still ahead of them.

“Don’t swear off the water now,” She called back to Yeara, hoping for a response. Her labored breath had become a rasp now.

“I see… the pond they’ve been hiding from us,” Yeara said. “So cool…”

“Yeara, no!” Kendra shouted, knowing it was no use as she saw Yeara drift back out of the shadow into the blazing sunlight. “You’re crazy!”

“You’re crazy if you go back after her now, Ken,” Garath said, grabbing her by the arm.

She wanted to shriek but couldn’t find her voice in the dry scraping of her throat. Yeara was more of a sister to her than her own older sibling ever was, a spoilt witch of a girl who manipulated her only because she knew she could. Kendra worshiped and would have followed her own sister through hell if she’d told her to. That was, of course, before Kendra found her own voice and shoved back. She felt protective of Yeara in a way that her big sister never was with her, all the while knowing that she was all that stood between Yeara and the final brutality of the universe.

“Yeara!” She called back, watching her drop outside the shadow and join the litter of corpses scattered across Priea, as they slowly gave their feeble water back to the demanding parched world.

“They made us run their stupid race, but they didn’t say how,” Yeara’s voice from a training session that seemed like months ago now welled up in her mind’s eye. Kendra was sure that she was going crazy now, but the words and thoughts kept her going the only direction she could keep going, forward. “If you don’t step outside of the rules, you’ll never know yourself…” She picked up her pace, knowing that this fleeting burst of energy wouldn’t last. She tried hard to ignore the wobbly feeling that was radiating up her legs. How far could she run now?  Would her next step kill her?

She pulled up behind Herrick, knowing the fact that she was drafting him would irk him to no end.

To be continued…

-Read Shadowfall and other original sci-fi tales by David Dickinson.

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