No quit, p.1
No Quit, p.1
By Clover Autrey
Copyright 2014 Clover Autrey
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
Cover art Photos licensed from Dreamstime.
All Rights Reserved
Do Not Resuscitate
First Published 2014
First published in Deep in the Hearts of Texas 2013
First published in Deeper Magic: The First Collection
Edited by Jeremy Whitted
Amberlin Books 2003
Día de los Muertos
An original Cael and Jake story from The Anointed series
New edition 2014
The Eaglekin series
First published 2011
A bit from Clover: The only thing these stories really have in common is that they each feature a soldier/warrior who has no quit in him. Actually this guy does want to quit several times, but his resolve holds out. Do Not Resuscitate is a story that has seen many transformations. This is one of the oldest and one of the ones I like the best. It ultimately became a 60,000 word young adult book titled Extraction about a teenage girl who has her soul stolen, rather than an old WWII veteran as in this original version. But I still like this version and thought it had a place in the universe.
Do Not Resuscitate
When Mike Matthews took the eggs out of the fridge, he had no idea he’d be dead in twenty-three minutes. Or that the biggest adventure of his life was beginning.
Where the hell? Sprawled across cold uneven gravel, he squinted up at orange streaks of tracer bullets, whizzing across a darkening sky. Pounding crumps of distant mortars rattled along his skull. He’d know those sounds anywhere. Flashback? PTSD episode? Hadn’t had one of those in decades.
The last thing he remembered was breaking his morning eggs into the sizzling pan—the same pan he’d been using the past thirty years that Sabrina said should be thrown out—and a terrible pain in his chest.
The pain had subsided, had actually shifted downward. Groggily, he sat up. What in all…?
He wore dark fatigues, steel-toed boots. His shirt was torn and dirty, shredded at the left pocket. Pulling aside the stiffly dried material, he frowned.
Two tiny punctures marked his highest ribs. He’d seen too many bullet holes at Guadalcanal to not know what they were. Dried blood stained his skin in light swirls where someone had attempted to mop it away. He’d been shot in the chest?
No, not his chest. His pulse banged in his ears, drowning out the stuttering of artillery. This was not his chest, not his body. He stared at his shaking hands, blunter, wider and darker than his own. And much younger. No wrinkles sagged vein-edged flesh that molded upon each knob of bone. Some sort of wiry bracelet shone around his wrist, hot. It steamed in the balmy night air. Just a dream then. This was all just some really vivid dream.
Hushed voices called to one another, stilling Mike’s heart. Footfalls scraped over stone and gravel as shapes of men moved toward him from the darkness.
This couldn’t be real, could not be happening. He must be flat on his kitchen floor, suffering from the blasted coronary Doc Burke had been warning him about, and having the mother of all hallucinations. And sure, why wouldn’t he dream up a war zone? Leave it to him to plop himself back to a place he had no unequivocal desire to relive. While he died like a putz in his kitchen.
And who was there to find him? Shawn wouldn’t get worried for days, wouldn’t think to check on old dad for a while. He supposed the eggs would burn and at least send smoke through the house. Funny, he was more worried about how he’d be found than the actual possibility that he was dying.
The shadowed men swarmed around him. Soldiers all, authentic from their dirty helmets, loaded ammo belts and rucksacks to the long rifles palmed in agile and filthy hands.
But that’s where his imagination must have taken a crack in the head.
Mike stared. Sickening dread curled around his gut as long golden eyes peered at him from a lean face streaked with dark grease. Certainly a hallucination. Who had eyes that color? And those thin slashes of skin at either side of his neck, like gills on a fish. He usually dreamed in bold and vivid strokes, but this took on an entirely new clarity. A new intensity.
The soldier spat out a tangle of incomprehensible words and slapped a helmet onto Mike’s head. That felt real enough.
Others crowded around him, patted his leg, inspected the bullet wounds. Each had those same skin flaps at their necks, and eyes of too vibrant shades, violet, silver, seafoam green, that shimmered like jewels beneath the war-lit sky.
In an unaware motion, Mike’s hand drifted to his own neck and found soft folds of skin there as well.
Two more soldiers crouched low over an oblong machine, turning keys and punching buttons as it radiated a low hum that vibrated across his skin. A tool and dye man by trade, Mike’s interest perked up considerably at the sight of the machine, even one dreamed up in his own hallucination.
Even so, he winced when one of the soldiers, frustrated and fuming in garbled tones, slapped the odd contraption. The soldier grinned as the machine blinked off. The man next to him nudged the soldier away and gently slid the thing down into his rucksack.
One of the men closest carefully removed the steaming bracelet from Mike’s wrist and handed it to the soldier in charge of the machine. “You got a name?”
“Uh Mike,” he answered numbly. “Mike Matthews.”
Strange words were barked out, obviously commands, and Mike was hauled to his feet and pointed in the direction they were to take.
So he ran with them, these unearthly soldiers, through concertina wire, and in and out of bomb craters, while the barrage-ravaged skies lightened to day.
While Mike admittedly enjoyed running again with the loose rhythm and almost casual ease of youth, each stride taken also increased a snaking fear that this was a little too real.
He must be in hell. Died on his sticky kitchen floor while his breakfast burned. That was all there was to it.
His mouth went dry as he tried to think his way through this.
“Sietz, sietz!” The soldier in the lead motioned everyone down. They all hunkered close to the ground under whatever cover was available while plumes of dust from what Mike guessed was a motorcade moved down a scraggle of road about one klick off.
Whatever was real, or better yet, whatever wasn’t, the tension streaming off the soldiers surrounding him was an undeniable fact. Heart and mind racing, Mike watched the distant vehicles roll off while he hid behind a hump of soil far too inadequate for cover.
“Hey, you okay?”
Mike nearly jumped out of his skin. Well, it wasn’t his skin at any rate. “Geez, kid, you scared the crap out of me. Wait. You speak English?”
The young soldier scooted next to him, grinned sideways and whispered, “Sure. Yeah, yeah. I’m borrowed from Earth, same as you.”
“Borrowed?” A ton of ore dropped in Mike’s stomach. “What—what’s going on? I don’t understand any of this. You’re saying this is all real?”
The soldier grinned. “Yeah, I know. I thought I’d lost my friggin mind when I ended up here. You died, pal. You’re not on Earth anymore, and the Machts…they snatched your bright sparkling soul right outside the pearly gates. Lucky for you we stole you right out from under them first.”
“Tuan ep,” the obvious commander called out.
“Cap’n wants us to zip it and move out,” the kid said. “Hey, don’t worry ‘bout it, you’re in good hands. I’m Sal. I’ll be right behind you, but don’t call out. We’ve gotta move real close to where a Macht unit dug itself in during the night. We ventured far in behind our lines to retrieve you.”
“You crossed enemy lines to get me?”
“Well, sure.” Sal’s brilliant rose-pink eyes squinted. “That’s our squad’s sole purpose. We resuscitate the dead.”
This wasn’t a hallucination. This was a walking, breathing, living nightmare. Mike’s flesh puckered with chills that had nothing to do with the humid air. He was dead, flat on his cold kitchen floor. And his soul was here, on some other friggin planet, walking around in another man’s shot-to-pieces body, enlisted, apparently, to fight in some other world’s war.
Fine. He was dead. Fine! Good and well. Surprisingly that wasn’t the part that shook him up. But he’d be damned if he was going to happily go off and soldier for some planet or some cause he knew nothing about. He’d already fought his war, fought for family and country, and yeah, for America, he’d do it again. Definitely for Sabrina, God rest her soul, and the kids. But this wasn’t even his planet! .
Behind him, Sal stumbled over an exposed root. The soldier ahead turned back and gave them both a golden-eyed warning.
Mike nursed his growing fury. They and their little war could kiss his ass. He’d have no part. And what could they do about it? Kill him for mutiny?
He stumbled. Stopped.
The enormity of what had happened crashed over him. Pressure built in his head and chest so quickly, he wondered how it was possible that his ribs simply didn’t burst apart. He was dead. He was dead! He should be with Sabrina.
No wonder the realization of his death hadn’t bothered him. He hadn’t sought it, but he’d been waiting for it. He wasn’t so angry that he had ended up here either. Not really. He was angry because they had kept him from her.
They’d all stopped, we’re looking at him. Sal laid a hand on his shoulder. “This isn’t the best place to take a breather.”
Mike looked at him coolly. Coughs and shrills of distant battle hummed across the dark land. These people kept him from his wife. Eight years she’d been dead and eight years he’d missed her. No longer. These people, these aliens, had no right to keep him from her. No right whatsoever.
“Send me back.”
Sal’s features went pale as milk. His gaze shifted toward the others, troubled. “We can’t do that.”
“Yes, you can. Use that clever little soul snatching machine you have and send me back.”
“It’s a one way trip, pal.”
Mike took a step forward, stared down at him, waited a beat. “I’m not your pal, and the hell you can’t.”
The soldier with golden eyes shoved Mike back, spitting a brood of stilted sentences at him. Mike held his ground. Whatever he was saying, there was an emotional kick to it.
“Easy, easy. We gotta go.” Sal wedged his shoulder between them. The others clamored close.
The captain pulled back on the angry golden eyed soldier, hissed out a low command.
The soldier’s body snapped rigid, his fists imperceptibly clenched.
The captain’s dark violet eyes ran the length of Mike, measuring. “I feeeell…” the words vibrated in the air. He glanced at Sal.
“Understand, Cap’n. Tyst,” Sal supplied.
“Onnderr sssstand,” the captain said in a slow rolling tone like rocks being smoothed by waves. “I onderr ssstand isst harrd.” He turned to a tall, lanky youth who watched from the outer circle of men, leaning on his rifle, and fired off a slew of words in his own tongue.
The soldier pressed between the men, who were still watching curiously as the captain pulled another man back with him and drew out a sketchy rag of a map from his uniform pocket.
The soldier also looked Mike up and down, shook his head. “Cap’n wants me and Sal to do a little explaining so you’ll be willing to move out quiet like. See, here’s the thing, we got a ways to go to circumvent the known Macht hotspots. We had to come way in here for you. The least you could do is go along until the squad’s tucked in safe and sound. Cap’n says he’ll explain everything after that and if you still want, he’ll personally send you on your way.” He lifted the muzzle of his weird rifle to his own temple. “It wouldn’t be the first time.”
Golden eyes barked out what could only be a livid curse and stalked away.
Mike watched him go. He cocked his chin at the retreating back. “What’s his beef?”
Sal tipped up his helmet. “It’s not you. The body you’re in…it was Nial’s brother.”
Mike’s heart skipped, then beat heavily.
“Garren got himself shot last night.” Sal fingered the holes in the pocket of Mike’s uniform. “The meds couldn’t patch him up fast enough to save him, but he was in good enough shape still for you. BETI, what’d you call her?. Our little soul snatching machine…I like that.” Dimples appeared with Sal’s grin. He was just a kid. Or his body was. “When BETI gets a soul into a body, things kinda get fixed, cleaned out and cauterized or something. Better than before. I dunno. Techs are still working on figuring that one out.”
“The thing is,” the lanky soldier took up, “Garren wanted his body used. There just aren’t that many lying about, not so fresh or not shot full of holes or worse, ruined by bio-plague. He made Nial promise him, but the poor kid hasn’t got a handle on the entire situation yet. I don’t know what he’ll do if you decide to check out.”
Mike slanted a glance at Nial. The young alien paced furiously, tossing heated glares over his shoulder like cigarette sparks that floated down and disintegrated behind his steps.
“So, what do ya say? You’ll wait to hear us out?” Sal asked.
Eyes hard on Nial, Mike nodded.
“Good.” The other soldier patted his arm. “I’m O’Malley by the way. Guess you already figured I was from Earth too. Me, Sal, Rich here, Smitty and Preach over there with Cap’n, are all borrowed souls. The rest are native.” He grinned. “Let me lay it out simple. These Machts, they got a machine that can snatch newly deceased souls leaving earth. Screwy thing is, they built it for another purpose entirely. Only found out accidental-like that it could take souls, and they needed souls—almost lost the war due to low manpower.”
“Yeah.” Sal snorted. “Idiots almost wiped themselves out with their own bio-disease. Rotten luck for us that they didn’t.”
O’Malley patted Mike on the shoulder. “I’ll go tell Cap’n we’re ready.”
They moved into the awakening day, keeping to the shadows made from husks of burned-out farm buildings. The land was moist and fertile, dark beneath a delicate orange-cast sky. Sharp violet crops tilted together like racks of spears, coated in fuzz and velvet soft as they trailed through them. A stiff line of trees, similar to oaks and pines, brooded ahead at the edge of charred fields.
The soldiers grew quieter, more alert, as the barrage that was constant throughout the night thickened around them, closer. Teeth rattling concussions of air vibrated through Mike’s bones. Blue streamers whined and smoked overhead, spiraling to the other side of low hills Mike assumed were east of them and behind. Debris-packed clouds threw massive splinters in the air. It surprised Mike how easily he reverted back to the demeanor of a soldier. After all, it had been more than fifty years since he’d been in the military. He relied on skills he thought long discarded. It was exhilarating to walk without arthritis pain, and have the strength to carry heavy gear. Now he was alive, in another man’s body, an alien at that, smack in the middle of another world’s war. How was this not insane?
And he missed Sabrina. He’d been so close to getting to her, had waited so long. This was wrong. This was all terribly terribly wrong. He didn’t understand how that machine had worked, but he’d been robbed of his death. He didn’t want to be here, didn’t want to be a soldier again. He didn’t know what their war was about and he certainly didn’t care. He wanted out. His next step faltered.
Out. Getting out was easy. All he had to do was run out of the shadows and get himself shot or blown to pieces. He’d be dead all right. He’d be with Sabrina. Let them try to snatch his soul a second time. It obviously didn’t work for souls exiting this planet. Otherwise Garren would be in his body now.
They dropped into the stinking bottom of a crevice. A soft hum moaned above. Smoke drifted into the hole. Nail’s eyes burned into Mike’s profile. The inside of his mouth tasted of oil. Then the unmistakable clanking and whirring of what could only be a tank moved right over their heads. The soldiers flattened against rough earthen walls. Miniscule landslides of loose dirt spilled over the edges.
Mike had been close to tanks before, Shermans—big, massive monsters. He’d never gotten this close to a Panzer though. If he had, he probably would’ve been dead.
The thought brought a curve to his lips. This was his escape out of this little insane side trip. If he just got up, got out of this hole…
He felt Nial’s stare and looked over at the golden-eyed soldier. The man was poised, watching him carefully, ready to pounce. As the lumbering vehicle moved over them, they simply stared.
Just as the tank moved on and the other soldiers eased away from the dirt walls, Nial sprang onto Mike, knocking him to the ground. The alien shouted out what could only be garbled curses. The veins in his forehead bulged.
“Get him off him! Pull him off!”
Several voices, several arms and faces hovered above, trying to disengage them. Nial continued fighting as they pulled him off.
The captain rapped out orders and Nial finally gave up, shoving the other alien’s hands off him.
Sal and O’Malley crouched down around Mike. “You all right?”
They glanced at each other, though neither attempted to say anything more on it. Finally O’Malley gave it the old college try. “Look, I know this isn’t easy, but what you were thinking would have put all of us in danger.”
No Quit by Clover Autrey / Fantasy / Actions & Adventure have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on20 votes