Reggie hit hard against the rocky ground as he tumbled from the dimensional fork. A wave of pain shot through his spine as he rolled with his momentum, landing against the "dwarf killer" strapped to his back.
There was no time to wallow in the pain. Reggie was a soldier, and this was a drill he knew all too well
from his prolonged war with the Tall Man.
Objective One: Close the gate. It was always disorienting coming through the forks. There was no way of immediately
knowing where, or when, he had emerged, but one thing was sure; someone, or something would be following him.
Reggie scrambled to his feet and lunged for the fork from which he just came. The whine of the approaching sphere
could be heard from the space between the chrome poles. Without hesitation, he slammed his palms down upon the tops of the poles, jumping back as they dematerialized.
This would be his first opportunity to catch a quick breath.
Objective Two: Ascertain locale and time frame.
Reggie could hear the distant sounds of gunfire and the concussion of an occasional grenade explosion. He looked
up at the sky and saw that it was the color of orange flame splashed
with red. The air around him was dry and hot.
Corpses of fallen soldiers and dwarves littered the horizon and he could spot faraway glints of silver streaking
the sky as "squadrons" of sentinel spheres descended to join the battle.
Reggie was grateful that he had emerged when he did. Twenty four hours earlier and he could have stepped into
the heart of the battle, tracer fire or a flock of attacking spheres
cutting him down before coming all the way through the fork.
The sky was always a good gauge of the time frame he was in. From its hue, and from the looks of the armaments
on the soldiers' bodies around him, he could tell it was early in the war; maybe 2010 or 2015 Earth.
Objective Three: Gather supplies and munitions.
Reggie could not have been more fortuitous in his arrival here even if he had planned it. Everything he needed
lay before him; Guns, ammunition, grenades, "breather" masks and a change of clothes. He loathed the idea of stealing clothes from the dead, but the tattered remnants of his once white pants and black leather vest were badly in need of replacing. His white shirt he had lost long ago.
He began to survey the carnage before him in search of a fallen soldier whose size approximated his own. It
did not take long before he had found a match; the body of young
Corporal Rodriguez would serve his needs perfectly. Outside of some
minor surface grime, the soldier's uniform and accompanying body
armor were in good shape. The young soldier had lost his life to
a sphere, his forehead exhibiting three small puncture wounds, his
blood pooled and coagulated a good ten feet away from the corpse.
Reggie moved quickly, yet cautiously as he stripped the black armor and outer clothing from the body. He was
careful not to lean against the body or exert any undue pressure
against it. He had seen bodies literally burst open from the internal
gases accumulated from decomposition. In one such experience in
the past, a shower of maggots had accompanied the explosion, covering
Reggie with the squirming parasites. The hot, arid climate of the
corrupted planet Earth was conducive for decay and plague, and it was getting worse by the minute.
Having removed all of the soldier's outer garments, Reggie stripped out of his own dilapidated rags and began
to change. Slipping into the soldier's socks, Reggie barely even noticed the scar above his right heel from where the dwarf had bit him all those years ago. The tendon had healed as well as could
be expected without the benefits of proper medical attention. To
this day, he still walked with a slight limp, but the pain that had accompanied it dissipated years ago.
The uniform was a surprisingly good fit; a little baggy, perhaps, but he favored his clothing loose. Easier
to move in. And at fifty years of age, at his best estimate, he needed all the mobility he could get.
He struggled momentarily with the chestplate of the armor, confounded by the buckles and closure which were rapidly
becoming lost in the length of graying hair flowing down his back. Once fastened, the armor vest gave him a far greater sense of security. It was definitely bulky, but he was grateful for having it. An added measure of protection for, what he hoped would be, his final assault upon the Tall Man.
Now finally suited up, he began his search for supplies, all of which were there for the taking. In a matter
of minutes Reggie was fully armed and ready for battle. From his uniform hung myriad armaments; grenades, bandoleers of both shotgun shells and bullets, a .38 semi-automatic pistol and a "breather"
face mask. For the time period, the lightweight mask was the state-of-the-art
breathing system which, with two fully loaded condensed oxygen canisters,
would supply the wearer with breathable air for one hour.
A priceless commodity for his ultimate destination.To find a dimensional fork which would spirit
him to that destination could be a challenge, though, especially without a means of transportation.
Reggie wished for the 'Cuda right now. He lamented the fate of his prized muscle car on an almost daily basis,
the vision of its charred husk smoldering upon the remains of the
I-65 expressway outside of Indianapolis forever etched upon his brain.
Another casualty of war in the battle against the Tall Man and his legions of the undead.
Reggie managed to take small consolation in the fact that not long after the car's demise, the nation's fuel
supply finally dried up, which spelled doom for the 'Cuda as surely as the explosion did.
"Better to burn out than fade away." Reggie smiled slightly at the recollection of the line from the
song, but could not remember the title or the artist. Christ, it's hell getting old.
In his past experiences with the Tall Man, Reggie had learned that the gateways to his destination were always
in "dead houses;" morgues, mausoleums and other locales that facilitated quick processing and transport of the dead. On at least a couple of occasions in the past he had accidentally slid
between the chrome poles of the forks to find himself in the hot, crushing, crimson atmosphere of the Red Planet.
The next time he would emerge there would not be by accident.
The Red Planet was clearly the base of operations for the Tall Man and his unholy schemes, whatever they were. After
all his years of war with the undertaker, Reggie had gained no real
insight into the Tall Man's objectives. If anything, he was more
confused and disoriented now than ever; having traveled time through
the forks so often and constantly dealing with realities which became
nightmares, or vice versa. He had often considered that there was
a very real possibility he had gone insane somewhere along the road.
But in a world gone insane, Reggie was a perfect fit. And after
surviving as long as he had, he was clearly doing something right.
Satisfied with his armaments and clothing, Reggie began to walk, taking a brief moment first to remove the
"RODRIGUEZ" name patch off his uniform. He laid it upon the fallen soldier's chest as a small, but sincere memorial.
Reggie was heading east, the only direction that indicated any remains of civilization upon the horizon. Tiny
silhouettes of the buildings of an obliterated city poked into the
orange sky, traces of smoke still wafting from many of the wounded monoliths.
He guessed that it might be the ruins of Pittsburgh, or maybe Philadelphia. He had noticed on Corporal Rodriguez' dogtags that he was part of the Pennsylvania infantry, so it stood to reason that he was standing in what remained of the Keystone State.
Wherever he was, he was a good day's hike from the city- a prospect made more bearable by the new boots upon his feet.
As he walked, the sounds of the distant battle faded into nothingness, leaving him in the silence of a void. He actually preferred the sounds of the gunfire and explosions to the silence that now enveloped him. At least in the chaos, he knew he was not alone in his struggle. Here in the wastelands, the dead were his only companions, and that concept never failed to chill him to the bone. Even in the blinding heat.
Faraway flashes of lightning began to brighten the western sky. A storm was moving in and Reggie quickened his
pace towards the city.
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is Copyright 1999 by Richard Elkin and is published in feoamante.com
and Feo Amante's Story Time with his permission.
Richard also writes under the psuedonym, Richard Dean.
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