Where I've Been, part 2

The Martians are busy in the pit, but given the last few hours of noise, I don’t think they’re going to come for us if I just type this up.

Where did I leave off? Right, with Jeremiah leaving us in that hot nasty tent full of flies and particulate Red Weed for twelve more hours. The stranger next to me murmured and cried through the whole night. I couldn’t get to sleep. I felt for the man, but he was driving me nuts.

Someone kicked me awake while it was still dark out. “Change of plans.” A familiar voice - the guard who had called for Jeremiah earlier. He yanked me to my feet and threw me painfully over his shoulder, knocking the wind out of me, then did the same with my tent-mate. The giant of a man hauled us out to where three more white men were waiting, along with Jeremiah.

“Change of plans,” Jeremiah said, cutting the rope binding our ankles. “Sorry boys. Our three-legged friends’r gettin’ restless. Too close for comfort. Thinkin’ we should give ‘em what they’re after a little early.” The burly guard stood us up. “Can I trust you boys not to run? You won’t get very far, I can assure you of that. Just make it harder for yourselves ‘n the rest of us.”

The guard looked us over in the dim bioluminescent light of the Red Weed. None of the kindness of Jeremiah’s face, however artificial it was, had touched his. “Better not fuckin’ run, ni-”

And before he could even get the word out I heard the MMmmmmmuh-GAH! of the Martians’ horn, blaring somewhere within the mile.

Jeremiah cursed under his breath. “That right there. Hear it?” I heard something else, too, the sound of huge metallic thuds, coming closer and closer.

Jeremiah’s party glanced around nervously. “Uh, sir?” the guard chirped. “Don’tcha think-”

And the thing’s footfall, impossibly fast, collided with the camp and sent a thunderclap of dirt, grass, and tent canvas flying in all directions.

Myself, the stranger, and our captors all fell. I caught an almost comical expression of panic on Jeremiah’s face as he went down. All those years of gymnastics to try and impress boys who weren’t looking paid off in that moment. I pushed against the ground and hoisted myself to my feet.

“What are you doing!?” Jeremiah screamed at the air. “We had ‘em ready for you! You’re ruinin’ it!”

I stumbled over to the stranger, who was sluggishly attempting a similar maneuver to my own. “Come on,” I hissed. “Let’s get to the woods and away from these freaks. We can figure out how to get these off our wrists once we’re safe.”

Tears running down his wrinkled face, the stranger nodded, and, pushing against me for support, he got to his feet.

Something whizzed past my head from behind me, and in the commotion of the attack, I heard a gruff shout: “You fucking black bastards!” I snapped around to see Jeremiah, disheveled, eyes wide with fear and anger, gripping a pistol.

He fired again, and I flinched. And again. But he was at least twenty feet away, and both his hand and the ground shook. He squeezed the trigger again. Clink. And again. Clink.

Jeremiah dropped the pistol to the ruined earth and screamed. “Why are you doin’ this!?” He looked up, and at the same time so did I. There were at least three Martian war machines on the grounds of the camp, and at least one of them was gargantuan, the kind I remember Penny saying were taller than skyscrapers. “We were on your fuckin’ side!”

Two big bug eyes, eyes that would look silly in any other circumstance, smoothly looked from a burning tent to Jeremiah’s rage.

“Run!” I yelled, and as the stranger and I took off for the woods, I felt the heat of the war machines’ weapons, far too near.

We didn’t stop running for at least a mile. By the time I finally let myself fall over, my vision blurred and my legs screaming, I’d lost the stranger. I sat myself under a tree and felt around for a sharp branch or bit of bark. By the time my companion came stumbling up, coughing like a smoker, I had managed to free my wrists. Feeling came back into them with the circulation, and I realized this whole time I’d been unable to move my fingers. There had just been more pressing things to worry about.

“Here,” I said, “let me.” I untied my companion’s wrists and pocketed the rope, figuring I would regret letting it go in this oppressive new world. “I’m Anton.”

“Pastor Bob Gray,” the man wheezed.

“Let’s find somewhere safe and get some rest.”

“Yes. Safe.” And then, as if he was trying to give me whiplash: “No! I know where to go.”

“You do?”

“Yes. My church. There’s food there.”

And so we wandered through the woods, me following the pastor, until the first light of morning peered over the purple-red horizon.

“Is your church near here?”

“Near here. There’s food,” the pastor insisted.

I took a good look around. We’d ended up on top of a forested hill, with a dilapidated farm house to our west. I pointed.

“There,” I said. “Let’s go there.”

“But my church…” the pastor whimpered, total dejection in his voice.

“We’ll get there. Let’s just take a quick rest on the way, okay?”

So we descended the hill, him following me this time, and set up in the basement of the farm house, which contained several jars of pickles and a can of preserves. Both exhausted beyond words, we leaned against opposite walls of stone and fell into a deep sleep.

We were yanked out of our rest by a confusing and world-endingly loud noise, and the accompanying earthquake. The pastor screeched through a sore throat, and I admit I may have made a similar noise. At first my mind jumped to a war machine so tall it reached into the clouds, its gargantuan legs shifting tectonic plates every time it moved. Then one of the walls started to crumble, something pushing against it from the other side, and I realized what was happening.

“It’s a cylinder.” The words poured, dumb, from my mouth. “It landed on the house.” How in the hell could we possibly have been so unlucky for a cylinder to land directly on us, and so lucky to have it spare us?

“Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy,” the pastor squeaked, his face slick with tears, sweat, and dirt.

We learned quickly that the Martians could not see us, but we suspected they could hear us. We crowded around a small gap in the basement wall, our prying eyes obscured by a wisp of Red Weed, to see into the pit where the cylinder had landed. It had utterly obliterated the surrounding area. My immediate impression was that it was much smaller than the ones I’d seen on the news, and a bit differently shaped, but there were several Martians inside all the same.

The cylinder did not rock like a printer, nor did it make any fighting machines, or machines of any kind for that matter. Instead it seemed to be filled to the brim with what I assumed at first were juvenile Martians. They had stubs for arms, no visible eyes or mouth, and looked even more bloated than their mobile counterparts, who had started unloading them like cargo and casually setting them aside to roll like balloons. I stuck with the theory that they were Martian young until I saw one of the mobile Martians feed for the first time. At least, that’s what I think it was doing.

It took one of the bloodbags - that’s what I’ve started thinking of them as - up in one tentacle, and held a sharp, thin, long triangular tool in the other. I watched in fascinated horror as it punctured the bloodbag’s small body with the needle, which filled quickly with blood. It then poked around one of its own flippers with its tentacles and, satisfied, plunged the needle deep into its own skin, unloading the blood into its body. As it inoculated itself it made an awful hooting noise, like a cat with no vocal cords trying to hiss.

I realized all at once what use the Martians had for humans.

We’re still here in the basement, no apparent means of exit, waiting for the chance to escape. I’ll update you as soon as anything comes up.