Blake was checking the perimeter, the sun having just sunk beneath the horizon. When he heard the shots, he cut into the field. Finding immediate coverage overruled his desire to go back for his gear. Instinctually, he disappeared quickly and silently.
The shots rang out from the west.
One shot every five seconds or so. He began to run, steady and measured. Several minutes later, he heard another round of gunfire, closer and clustered together coming from the southeast.
Pop pop pop pop pop.
He stopped and sank low. The stuttering noise of what sounded like automatic weapons caused his heart to sink. He only had his Beretta. However, even though he was hidden at the moment, crouching near the soft ground, a single spray of bullets would eventually find him.
He hunched low and began walking quickly north. Pop pop. He had to keep moving, only hoping he was headed in a direction away from the gunfire.
A rigid branch crunched quietly as he shouldered his way deeper into the field, soft tassels brushing his cheek.
He thought about the last time he saw Tommy; he had been coloring at their kitchen table. When Blake placed his hand on his son’s small shoulder, he looked over and saw the picture was of the American flag. It was messy and child-like, but there was no mistaking the reds, blues, and blank white spaces marking the familiar stars and stripes. He could still feel the softness of the boy’s husk-colored hair, streaks of blonde brightened in the summer, just like his mother’s.
There was a sharp pain behind his right eye pulsing with his heartbeat, his vision beginning to blur. Shaking his head and looking behind him, he saw the field went on and on with rows like black tunnels, bordering high stalks stretching high and thick.
He felt the explosions in his chest, rattling his ribcage. The early July heat was fierce and unrelenting, his undershirt soaked in sweat. The sky was now black, and the vegetation so dense and straight and unmoving in the still night air. Suddenly, there was beam of light, quick and fleeting. It was yellow and artificial, swinging back and forth quickly, searching.
He decided to run in the opposite direction, and after fifteen seconds, he heard their voices. They were yelling, high with tongues rolling. He figured they were about a hundred yards away. Because he only had his handgun, he was able to run much faster than he would have with his rifle and full body armor. But because of this nakedness, he needed to find somewhere to hide before the band arrived.
Blake cut in and out and between the high growth of the field, trying to avoid bending any stalks and branches which would leave a trail. Then he heard Sara’s voice causing him to stop.
This happened all the time. He imagined hearing his wife at the worst of times, usually deep in the middle of combat.
“Blake! Where are you!?”
It was both distracting and comforting. He pushed it away and started running. He couldn’t afford to be distracted, not when he was this vulnerable.
The gunfire sounded further now and less frequent. Feeling he was in a good position, he slowed to a walk, his shoulders hunched, his pistol raised. Suddenly, gunfire was everywhere. It was closer now, above and behind him, no more than fifty yards away. He stopped, unsure which way to run. There was a snap of a stalk broken behind him. He spun and fired once. Nothing. There was only an empty row staring blankly in front of him.
A searing pain abruptly shot behind both of his eyes followed by a wave of nausea so intense he doubled over and nearly fell to his knees. He tasted char and red meat. Five seconds. Ten seconds. He was wasting too much time. He knew he had to keep moving, they were too close, there were too many of them.
Boom. Boom. Boom.
His mouth was sour with sick, his head pounding. Every direction he ran, it seemed he was running towards a new enemy with the others right behind him.
His right eye went dark. The pain in his head was so severe he thought he was going to pass out. He stumbled half-blind, feeling a ridge on either side of his feet. He didn’t know whether to trust this path or try and fight his way through the thin trees on either side.
He wished his wife’s voice was real, feeling the tears stream down his face. Something caught his foot and tripped him to the ground, his face slamming down hard. His breath caught in his chest, and he wondered if he should just lay there, waiting for it to be over. He was so close to giving up.
He flipped over, the yellow light blinding his remaining left eye, and fired. POP.
The light swayed for a moment, slightly right then left, then fell to the earth. Blake sat up slowly, and crawled towards the body. The flashlight was pointing at the person’s feet. They were small and narrow, wearing red Keds. He followed the lean tan legs to a denim skirt, then a white tank top with an American flag, blood staining and stretching out from the dark hole in the center of the chest. He couldn’t see her face at first. Then, it glowed red. Pop. Then blue. Pop. Then green into purple, pop pop,, and with a deep and overhead boom, it glowed white. Sara’s eyes were wide, staring up from the ground of their Iowa cornfield, the fireworks scattered in the sky.