My Legs Hurt – Part Two
By Matthew Sylvester
Michelle tried not to groan as she leant her back against a tree. “Just a flesh wound” was a common term films and books liked to use. Usually the hero just shrugged it off and kept going.
It was utter bullshit. Every step she took felt like someone was pouring bleach into her flesh. Tears filmed her eyes permanently and she’d taken to trying to breath as shallowly as possible. Which was made all the harder by the fact that they were trying to get to the homesteader base in a mountain.
‘I’m tired mummy,’ Sylvia plonked herself down next to Michelle, not even bothering to take her backpack off. Thankfully, the pine trees covering the mountainside not only gave shelter, but also their thick branches prevented snow from building up around their base. The needles littering the ground also made a fairly soft covering for them to sit on.
‘Me too, sweetie. Me too,’ Michelle reached out and patted her on the knee. She’d never been prouder of her daughter. In the last few hours their lives had been completely flipped over. Gone to ratshit as her husband would have said. She’d even been forced to kill two men in order to save her daughter. She’d never killed anyone before. Never been forced to climb the slopes of a mountain in a desperate scramble for her life.
‘What’s that noise mummy?’
Giving herself a mental shake, she tilted her head, straining her ears to hear what Sylvia could. A helicopter was approaching, flying upslope.
‘Lie down baby, face to the ground. They shouldn’t be able to see us.’
Sylvia immediately flattened herself, Michelle taking longer due to her wound. Dashing away the tears on her cheeks she lifted her rifle as the downwash from the helicopter blasted the branches of the trees.
It hovered, unable to land because of the steep incline. Cursing, she watched as five men in black fatigues dropped to the ground. As soon as they landed they ran forward a few paces before taking a knee. No sooner had they done so than the helo was banking away.
‘Is that more bad guys, mummy?’ whispered Sylvia, her voice muffled by the soft loam covering the ground.
‘Yes love,’ Michelle followed the Sentinel troops as they gathered around a woman wearing a red beret. From what she could see, three of the enemy were armed with assault rifles, whilst the remaining two had shotguns. Her rifle could easily outrange both sets of weapons, especially the shotgun, but there was no way she could match the amount of firepower three assault rifles could send down range. ‘We’re going to have to be very still and very quiet. Can you do that?’
‘Yes mummy,’ Sylvia said, dropping her face into the ground, hands over her ears.
Michelle kept her scope trained on the sentinels, watching as they slowly stood, weapons scanning the slope.
No chance I can take them all on, she thought. Not on my own, not with Sylvia. Slowly, timing her movement as the sentinels continued to scan the slope, she lifted a hand and gently took hold of a branch, pulling it slowly down to cover them.
“Have the bad men gone, mummy?” whispered Sylvia.
“Not yet, baby. We’re just going to lie here for a bit.”
Laying her rifle down, she pulled a map of the island out. Keeping it low to the ground, she swore underneath her breath as it refused to open up.
Take your time. Speed, not haste, she thought as she finally managed to get her numb fingers to part the paper. They were in Harris Forest, with Erewhon being roughly North-West of their position. As the crow flies, it wasn’t far. But with a young daughter and enemies trying to track them down, as well as all of the static patrols in this area, it might as well have been on the other side of the planet.
A tear trickled down her cheek. Bones aching, eyes feeling as though they were full of sand, muscles screaming with every step she took, the exhaustion was almost overwhelming.
Then she looked at Sylvia, still face down in the soft loam, keeping as still as possible.
Steel yourself, she thought. Get to fucking Erehwon and you can sleep as long as you like.
Lifting the branch slightly, she peered through the gap, seeing that the sentinels had moved northwards. If they kept moving that way, they’d soon open up a much larger gap, allowing Michelle and Sylvia to slip through.
“You’d think they’d have better things for us to do than guard some old fucking ruins,” called out one of the sentinels guarding the ancient ruins which bordered the road.
“Hey, it beats having to drill all damned day, fucking Wolves are running us ragged. And at least there’s no damned Ghosts running around here!”
Michelle slowly led Sylvia away from the position, hardly daring to breathe.
I’d give bloody anything to just hold up for a couple of hours, she thought as she guided her daughter around her as she turned to make sure the sentinels weren’t going to spot them.
“Mum…!” shrieked Sylvia before her voice was drowned out in a cacophony of cracking and snapping. Spinning, Michelle watched helpessly as Sylvia tumbled down the slope.
“Over there!” A rifle cracked, the bullet zthwipping past her head. Flinching, she threw herself down, dropping behind a stump. More shots threw needles and splinters of wood into the air. There would be a slight pause, then more fire.
They’re moving in on me. No sooner had she thought it, than she saw a flicker of movement to her right. Rolling onto her side, she aimed at where she had spotted it. Another movement and she fired.
“I’m pinned!” yelled one of the sentinels, spraying fire in her direction. It was wild, the bullets cracking past her head and peppering the trees, bark falling to the floor.
Michelle aimed lower, trying to work out the position of the sentinel based on his muzzle flashes. She fired.
“Agh, godammit, I’m hit. Mike, help me, help!” screamed the sentinel, voice raw with emotion.
Footsteps thudded towards her. With no idea as to where the other sentinel was she rolled out of cover. Three turns and she was back on her stomach, stock nestled in her shoulder, sight laid onto the stunned face of the other sentinel.
The world stopped moving. His weapon was pointing to where she had been, but his fear-filled eyes stared at her.
“Let’s not do anything stupid, lady,” he said as he took his lead hand off his weapon. “How about I go get my friend and you head off to wherever you’re headed.”
Sweat rolled down his forehead, as he licked his lips nervously. For a second she thought about it. Opened her mouth to reply. Then her lips firmed and she fired.
Her other kills had been at a distance. In the split second that it took for her bullet to strike and his body to hit the ground, she saw his face cave in, eyes bursting out of his skull from the internal pressure, top of his head go spinning into the air.
A pause. Heels drumming on the ground as her target slowly died. No screams came from the first sentinel. Looking down over her shoulder she saw Sylvia’s still body, partially bured under a pile of dead wood.
Pushing herself to her feet, Michelle crept towards the dead sentinel, deliberately not looking at his face. Slinging her rifle, she snatched up his M4. It was heavier than her rifle, the larger magazine making the balance feel wrong to her. Giving it a quick check over she made sure the selector was on semi-auto and crept down to where she hoped the second sentinel lay.
Angling, she cut around the bush, making her approach step-by-step, trying to get the barrel to lead around the bush as she moved. Finally she cleared it. The sentinel lay on the bloodstained ground, eyes staring sightlessly into the sky. A partially applied dressing hung from the inside of his thigh were her shot had clipped his femoral.
Sylvia! Michelle sprinted towards her daughter’s limp body. Skidding to a halt, she ripped the branches off Sylvia.
“Baby, can you hear me?” Michelle whispered, placing a hand on her daughter’s face.
“Yes mummy, did I play dead well?” Sylvia whispered as she opened her eyes.
“Oh God yes, you did well baby!” she snatched her daughter up and hugged her tight.
She wasn’t sure how long she held her, but as soon as Sylvia started to fidget, she let go. “Wait here, I’m going to get some things.”
Michelle carefully made her way back up the slope, placing her feet so that she didn’t get sent tumbling down the slope. Reaching the sentinel in the bushes, she stripped the body of its plate vest. It was festooned with all sort of pouches and attachments. Grunting, she slipped it over her head, surprised at the weight. And stench. The aroma of days-old sweat and dirt wafted up into her face. Fumbling, she tried not to gag as she clipped the vest into place, tightening it so it was snug.
Making her way back to Sylvia, she sighed. If there were more sentinels along the road they’d have to fight a never-ending running battle.
“We’re going to go along the ridge, get to Scott Homestead, where Zack lives.”
Sylvia smiled, she liked Zack and his family. As she led her daughter through the wood, Michelle prayed that the Scotts were okay.