Sleep In Heavenly Peace
Owen awoke to the sound of sporadic gunfire and the pelt of rain on the side of his face. He coughed to prevent swallowing a mouthful of mud as he picked himself up slipping against the water-logged ground. He mentally checked the cache of aches pinching at his body noting there was nothing worthy of medical attention just yet.
He stayed low, sitting back on his heels to wipe the grime and blood from his face and sleeving the moisture dripping from his nose. His mind hurt making him feel disjointed and out of place, a ghost in his own body. He kneaded his temple with his wet fingertips trying to alleviate the slur of his thoughts. “Okay Owen, where the fuck are you?”
There was no sunlight in the sky just cloud covering all in its mantle and making spectres of the desolate landscape. Before him stretched the remnants of war, a grave of unburied dead all in different stages of decomposition. Bodies lying in random patterns made by the spill of bullets and the reach of detonations, some whole, others shapeless pieces of flesh, amorphous forms, defaced and pounded to desecration. Skeletons of men, stone against the weary earth, looking up for absolution while lying forgotten on the edge of the world under a weak sky that had lost all warmth.
He swallowed, nothing lived here, everything was dead, everything was barren and wasted, the earth raped and left to drown in its misery.
He was in hell, one fashioned and carved by mankind. He shook his head, sniffing against the spit of the weather. “As if this day can’t get any worse.”
A shell exploded to his left covering him in sodden debris, bruising where it touched. He looked up to the heavens. “I was joking you miserable fuck!”
Owen covered his head, instinct making him grab for a fallen rifle. He looked down at the shadow of its former owner, a man more bone than flesh. “Sorry mate, my need’s greater.”
He stood and stooped away from the circle of the explosion as a few listless rifle shots cracked around him.
Owen dodged the broken earth, gullies and ruts filled with oily water, the mud sucking against his purchase trying to draw him to its core. He was glad for the rainfall, its biting drive shielding his movement against the indolent bullets.
Another explosion shook the ground causing him to freefall forward into crater. His landing winded him but there is no ominous splash or pull of mud against his body, just his mind reaching for the sanctity of unconsciousness. He wrestled with the darkness bringing himself from the brink, not wanting to sleep when so many were at rest forever.
He breathed wishing on all that he held sacred that he hadn’t. Something clambered over him, feet with claws, stopping on his heaving chest to see what had disturbed its refuge. A rat. They eyed each other, the creature’s eyes pinpricking the gloom, its nose tasting the air dwelling on the seep of Owen’s blood; fresh blood. The doctor tried to knock it away with a sweep of his hand but the animal just rolled with the blow, still holding Owen’s stare with impertinence.
“Get the fuck off me, Ben.” This time Owen struck the creature and it scurried off out of sight.
He blinked letting his eyes adjust to shadows of the hole, his mind finally recognising the roam of decay and the press of dead bodies left to perish in the crater. He swallowed and carefully shifted his weight against the tangled assortment of corpses trying hard not to sink into their depth and become buried among them. They turned with his movement, stirring from their rest, their bony hands reaching, their hardened forms falling against him, dislodging tattered limbs and maggots.
He tried not to breathe, hearing the sickening squash of bloated flesh as his shoes shoved against the mound pushing him through their ranks towards the side of the pit.
He moved a little quicker, kicking out at the sea of dead like a drowning man, panic overriding. Even when his back hit the wall of mud he still lashed out with his legs smashing at turned heads who watched his efforts with dead eyes.
His breathing hitched. “Get a grip, Owen,” he laughed, the sound lost in the crater.
He twisted himself round and tried to maintain some balance against the instability of bodies. Owen stretched grabbing onto the slick loam of the side, his fingertips skimming the surface, unable to gain any leverage to crawl out. “Shit, shit, shit.”
He shook his head and tired again, his endeavour slipping against the mud. “No!” He hit the mud in frustration.
A crow fluttered down, it wingspan creaking as it folded. It looked at Owen, inclining its head, its greedy stare glistening with amusement. The doctor threw some caked mud toward it, the bird screeched but remained attentive.
Owen whacked his palms on the damp barrier of earth resting his forehead between them. He was trembling. Rivulets of water ran between the span of his fingers pinching at the spring of his nerves. He dug his nails into the malleable surface raking them down the soil, squeezing it in his anxiety. He looked again at the remote rim and the crow standing sentry over it.
“You are going to die here with these lifeless companions, slowly and alone, praying for rescue. It won’t come, there is no one to hear your cries,” Agroná’s voice whispered through the lips of those buried but the doctor’s focus remained on the winged scavenger in the daylight above him.
“Ianto.” He whispered, the flood of memory returning. “What about Ianto?”
“Ah, what about Ianto.”
“You know, you sound just like my mother.” Owen’s fingers pulled a weighty stone from the mud and hurled it at the bird causing it to move in a flutter of black feathers. He was angry now, all the despair was gone and anger was a feeling he could use.
He took a deep breath and with his bare hands began to claw at the mud scraping it with his nails until he had dug out a foothold in the side of the crater. He hoisted himself up, his fingertips exploring the loam until he found a small outcrop of stone above his head. He extended his reach, grazing the pads of his fingers as they took his weight and he was able to propel his body further, his free foot trying to find purchase in the greasy soil.
Sweat mixed with rainwater trickled down his face and into his eyes, Owen shook his head in an attempt to clear his vision. He gritted his teeth and pushed the tip of his shoe into the slippery earth, gouging out another footing until he could place his bulk on it.
He stretched upward, again searching the sides by touch until he found something he could wrap his grip around, an exposed root. He pulled it, checking his weight against it, hoping it would hold; it did. As he lifted his foot, his knee brushed against something sharp. Owen hissed in pain and looked down at the large piece of shrapnel jutting out of the earth. He placed his foot on its overhang and pushed himself toward the edge, scrambling to find some grip on the mound of greasy earth before he slid back down.
With great determination and a guttural yell he heaved himself over the rim, using his elbows as leverage against his weight and the last vestiges of his strength to crawl away.
Owen closed his eyes and rolled over onto his back feeling his body burn with exhaustion. He tried to fill his lungs but his chest moved against the influx of air, expelling it in short gulps. He looked up at the dull sky letting the rain wash over him and rinse the blood and dirt from hands and nails.
Slowly, he collected himself against the soft embrace of the mud until his inner demons were under control. He got painfully to his knees looking around at the ocean of broken mud and bodies. He skimmed a hand over his face, squeezing his nose with a loud sniff; Ianto was somewhere out there.
Owen began to search through his pockets pulling out his PDA. He held it for a moment in his swollen grasp, his hand trembling. He pressed the power switch and light expanded across the screen. He began to trawl through the menus leaving bloody fingerprints on the liquid display. No satellites but Tosh had calibrated a direction finder to pick up short range rift emissions much like a Geiger counter. He aimed it toward himself, to test its effectiveness, and the machine gave a resounding blip.
“You beauty,” he declared giving it a quick kiss.
Owen pointed the device away from him and began to scan the area, moving it back and forth in a methodical circle while watching the screen. A small blip heralded hope.
Copyright RMC Jan 2018 Chapter 21
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