Shadows in the Night

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Silence pervaded the night air. The starry sky shone high above the earth, winking down on the cold, damp valley once home to a lush green forest. But the valley had become dry, barren, and lifeless; it was a wasteland, just like the rest of the world. A stream, once clear and crisp but now sluggish and polluted, snaked its way through the valley along with several crevices in the surface of the earth, some hundreds of feet deep. Quiet shadows lurked along the gray earth, cast by torn down buildings and ruins, results of the world rising up in smoke. The last thing nearly eight billion people had seen on this earth was a single blazing inferno. It would almost be easy to drift off, to sleep forever. The suffering might finally end. But the mission came first.

A cold sweat beaded on his forehead. A loaded Heckler and Koch M417 dug into his field pack straps, starting to pierce his aching shoulder. He shifted slightly in his prone position, lying in the shadows as he waited patiently for the extraction due to him in exactly three hours. Shadow had not operated alone since the war nearly two years ago. Reconnoitering was a complicated job. It was harder when done alone. Once, in a world distant, military intelligence had been his main objective but in this dying world, survival had become priority number one.

“Shadow, what’s your status?” The quiet voice startled him, ringing out in his head and shattering the silence.

At least there’s someone out there who cares about me, ran its course through Shadow’s thoughts. They soon changed, however, hiding themselves behind his passive mask and he refocused his thoughts on the current situation.
“Shut up,” Shadow growled into his throat mike. “I told you people to cut any radio contact. If they’re anywhere near us and listening tonight, they might pick us up and haul out after us. You guys might be safe and sound under 20 feet of solid concrete and metal but I’m on the surface, which means that it’s my a** on the line! Now, who is this?”

“Sentinel. You have some problems with your anger, you know?”

“Who the hell let you into the comms room?” Shadow’s impatience started to show in his voice.

“See what I mean? And, Shadow, I’m not in the communication room. I had orders to follow you. Oh yeah, and Arctic’s here too. He says hi. Good ol’ times with Shadow 01, eh?”

“What orders? Why wasn’t I duly informed of this? What kind of Sass are you?”

“I’m one that’ll kick your a*** nice and good.”
“Just shut the-”

Suddenly, a shadow loomed across the sky, veiling the moon and casting the earth into darkness: the shadow of a Banshee, a recent addition to the nightmares in the new dried up world.
“Damn! Shut up! Shut up!” Shadow whispered frantically into the mike.
It passed overhead and began circling, searching for the signatures the electro-reception pores lining its broad jaws had picked up. The pores were similar to those of the old world sharks, yet were far more enhanced and picked up everything from a heartbeat to an EMP. Railway spike-like teeth jutted out of its maw, ready to crush through flesh and bone. Shadow shouldered his rifle and held his breath, trying to calm his racing heart, which sent out little electrical signals of its own. The creature flew across the sky, blocking out the stars with its huge wingspan and throwing the world into darkness. Searching for its prey, it circled the night sky slowly, drawing closer and closer to Shadow’s location. Its black eyes shone, looking for movement or perhaps a familiar shape it once associated with food. Finally, the Banshee gave an anguished snort and flew off towards the horizon without success. After a few moments, Shadow released his pent up breath in a quiet burst, sucking air back into his lungs.
“Shadow, don’t you tell me what to do, you yank! Bloody hell, would it kill you to be polite?” The microphone squeaked back to life in his ear.

A shrill screech pierced the night air, the sound of nails being drawn across hundreds of chalkboards. The Banshee twisted in the air and dived, zeroing in on the electrical signals, towards the lone figure lying on the ground.

“Damn it, I think it just might!” Shadow leapt up, slung his rifle, and sprinted, dashing towards the side of the valley. The creature’s form slipped through the air, wings spread out, gliding towards its prey. Black eyes flashing, it dived, screaming its piercing shriek.
*

Sentinel lay prone on a ridge in the side of the valley, peering through the Leupold 4.5x14 Mark 4 scope on his M107 Barrett. He slowly scanned the valley for any signs of the ever elusive Shadow. But, there were no shadows to see in the dead of night, no movement. Two feet behind him sat Arctic, spotter and support, calmly scanning for signs of life on the cold and unforgiving valley through a pair of high magnification binoculars. Nothing. Shadow hid himself well.

That’s ace, Shadow, Sentinel thought to himself. You have successfully blown your cover to the whole valley except to the two blokes here to help you.
“Damn it, where the hell are you two?” Shadow’s voice roared through Sentinel’s ears, nearly deafening him. “I need backup and I need it now! Seeing as how you’re the one who got me into this, Sentinel, you sure as hell better get me out!”

“What did you get yourself into this time?” Sentinel sighed, exasperated.

“I thought you said you were following me! Can’t you see me wherever the hell you are?”

“No, I can’t, Mr. Shadow. I’m not that good at seeing shadows in the middle of the bleeding night.”

“Well then find me already, you-” Shadow’s voice was cut off, and the creature’s roar rang out, echoing and gradually fading into the night.
Silence.
“Come in, do you read? Shadow? Bollocks! Shadow, can you hear me?” Sentinel whispered into his throat mike. Nothing. “Arctic, do you see anything?”
“No.”

“Err, command? This is Sentinel. We have a situation.”

“Go ahead, Sentinel.”

“We have lost all contact with Shadow. Visible and radio.”

“Copy, Shadow MIA. Prepare for pickup at ORP Bravo via Ospreys.”

“But what about Shadow? We can’t just leave him.”

“He can take care of himself. It’s an order.”

“Yes, sir.”

Sentinel picked himself up and tapped Arctic from his reverie staring into the Leupold

“Arctic, I’m peeling off. We’re Oscar Mike.”

“Hooyah.”

Just as Arctic turned to follow Sentinel, a series of rapid, bright bursts of light flashed in the distant valley floor, catching his eye. He pointed this out to Sentinel.

“Command? Scratch that last. We have contact.”
*

Shadow glided effortlessly across the valley despite his forty pound field pack, weaving in and out of the crumbling ruins, with his heart beating gently, his breathing relaxed while moving at a pace that had been born of experience running for his life, a pace of the Olympic racers from an ancient, forgotten world.
The banshee flew silently through the night air, right on his heels, pitch eyes flashing. It drew closer and closer to Shadow, nearly in range to deploy its brutal instinct of slaying prey. Shadow could feel its hot, moist breath crawling up his neck; it was less than three feet from him and gaining ground. He began to pick up his speed, forcing his arms and legs to work overtime.
“Damn it, where the hell are you two?” Shadow bellowed into his throat mike. “I need backup and I need it now! Seeing as how you’re the one who got me into this, Sentinel, you sure as hell better get me out!”

“What did you get yourself into this time?” Sentinel sighed.

“I thought you said you were following me! Can’t you see me wherever the hell you are?”

“No, I can’t, Mr. Shadow. I’m not that good at seeing shadows in the middle of the bleeding night.”

“Well then find me already, you-” Shadow felt a rough jerk in his shoulders as the Banshee clamped its jaws onto his field pack, tearing it off him along with his transmitter and hurling him head over heels into the air. He fell, smacking the ground hard with the wind knocked out of him. The Banshee landed and threw Shadow’s mutilated pack down next to him and roared in anticipation of its feast to come. Shadow watched all this with a cold sense of purpose. The Banshee stared down at him while savoring the feast to come, its cold black eyes mirroring Shadow’s image as he stared straight back, shouldering his rifle and picking himself off the ground. He chambered a round and flicked the safety off of his HK417, peering down its iron sights.
The creature lowered itself onto its muscular forelimbs, claws digging into the dead earth; the Banshee lowered its head to face Shadow, coiling its neck as a snake prepares to strike its terrified prey. Four feet separated Shadow’s emotionless eyes from the beast’s black orbs, which stared out from amid numerous bony ridges along its snout lined with pores and spike teeth. Huge wings folded into its sides covered by a hide lined with rigged feathers and quills the size and composition of wooden daggers. A long, thin, and feathery tail whipped around its body, the headless body of a gigantic feathered python, thrashing side to side and clearing away several ruins with a single sweep. Still staring down its prey, still savoring the feast to come, it snorted, flaring its nostrils and opening its maw lined with railroad spikes, releasing a low growl along with a foul stench of decaying flesh. Its eyes flashed pitch. The beast from hell itself, brought to life on earth by mankind’s burning the world in a white hot forge as an attempt to shape the world into a more pleasing shape.
Shadow calmed his breathing. He squinted down his sights and exhaled slowly, finger tightening slowly. Exhaling slowly. Tightening slowly. Suddenly, the loud rapid crackle of gunfire roared to life. Firing at six hundred rounds per minute, the HKM417 emptied seven 7.62 by 51 millimeter rounds into the Banshee’s snout in just over half a second. All seven penetrated its tough hide. All seven stopped dead on impact with its bony skull. The Banshee snarled and lunged forward, faster than lightning towards Shadow, maw agape, and clamped down its jaws with a slick; a loud crack resounded in the air.
Its eyelids slid open, revealing large black orbs devoid of emotion, to find the broken morsel between its teeth. Shadow was not there. Its eyes flicked towards the surroundings in front of it, searching. Nothing. Its gaze turned and met a lone figure standing at its right side. Shadow.
“Eat this,” he whispered. Rounds hammered themselves into the Banshee’s cheek, liquidizing the right eye as Shadow emptied the rest of the twenty round clip in little over a second. Blood and shattered cheekbones splattered across Shadow’s face and the beast wailed, lashing out at its enemy and throwing its head from side to side. Shadow flew twenty feet through the air and slammed against a wall. Dazed, he slumped to the ground. Blood streamed from numerous cuts he had received, adding to the hundreds of scars he had received over the past four years.
The Banshee stalked towards him, its huge claws silently sending up small puffs of dust into the air.
*

Sentinel squinted through the Leupold scope on his rifle.

“Spotter ready,” Arctic whispered.

“Shooter ready,” replied Sentinel.

“Send it.”

“Firing: fire, fire, fire.”
*

The Banshee came upon Shadow’s unmoving body and roared in triumph, savoring the feast to come. Horrific jaws opened and closed, forked tongue flickering in and out, tasting the air. It lowered its head towards Shadow.
Suddenly, a blood-red rose of vapor blossomed out of the back of the Banshee’s skull. A split second later, the roaring echo of the M107 reached the valley floor. The creature screamed in agony and spread its wings, taking off into the darkness. Before it had ascended more than fifty yards into the darkness, its right wing ripped itself apart from the rest of its body, followed by a second crack in the distance.
Shadow jolted from his unconsciousness and took in the scene of the Banshee falling, flailing, in the sky before him. He lifted his rifle, and squeezed the trigger. A dull thump whooshed out of his rifle’s attached M203; a millisecond later a high explosive 40 mm grenade found its mark. The Banshee crashed to the ground, left wing shriveling in flames. It stared at the starry night sky, body on fire and screaming its agony to the heavens. Its black eye followed the shadow that stood up from the ground and walked to its side. The banshee attempted to lift itself off the ground away from the nightmare but its dying body refused to listen.
Shadow stared down at his foe with a cold sorrow in his heart. His hands mechanically ejected the spent clip, inserted another, and loaded a round into the chamber. He aimed at the cold emotionless eye and fired.
The last thing the Banshee saw on earth was a single blazing fire.
*
A single flare lit the night, casting light onto the shadows and shadows onto the light. Sentinel and Arctic climbed down from the mountainside and now stood in the light alone, save for the corpse of the Banshee nearby, apparently dead. They felt a presence watching them. Not a comforting thought for the veteran sniper team.
A slight rustle, barely audible, disrupted the silence. They started, tensing, as a single shadow rose up from the gray ashes of the dead earth.
“Inferno,” the team challenged.
“Silence,” it countered.
Sentinel and Arctic lowered their weapons as Shadow stepped into the light. The faint chopping of Blackhawks’ blades echoed over the terrain. The three turned, facing the carcass of the still Banshee.
“You thinking what I’m thinking?” Shadow asked.
Their eyes were all on the huge carcass of meat as the Blackhawk grew nearer. Shadow 01 licked their lips, savoring the meal to come.





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Khai D. said...
Feb. 9, 2011 at 9:59 pm
um. please read and give your honest opinion... thanx
 
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