The man carrying the AR-15, custom painted with a dessert tan pattern, more stumbled than walked out of the tree line. The tip of the weapon dipped into the dirt as the man tried to catch himself before he fell. No soldier would use the end of their rifle to catch themselves. The joy inside Drake dwindled as the man’s behavior looked too drunken to trust. A snap and a break from another set of trees drew Drake’s attention away from the man. A soft hand on Drake’s shoulder told him that Charley joined to watch.
Most days, Charley showed no interest in watching the emptiness of the forest through the dugout window, but Drake wouldn’t blame her for wanting to see what was making all of the noise out there. If it had just been animals, like usual, then Charley wouldn’t have stayed much longer than to identify the creatures. Another crash and then a round discharged, barely missing the drunken man and hitting the tree right behind his head. The man stumbled towards the post in the middle of the opening. A body rolled out from the tree line to show a woman with a similarly equipped AR-15, though it looked more like the military version, an M-4. The mounting guards and shorter barrel set it apart from the civilian or older model. Drake couldn’t say for sure.
“They don’t look like people we want to bring into our safe house, Drake,” Charley said. She didn’t sound scared but confident.
“No, you’re right,” Drake said, trying to ignore the fact that she hadn’t used her pet name for him in days. “They seem sick, but one of us needs to keep watching them.”
Drake motioned for Charley to continue watching and then turned to shut off the light in the room. Even in daylight, a light in a dark corner of the forest could stand out like the sun. Charley reached an arm back. The room was narrow enough that they didn’t need to move far to touch each other. Drake turned to find Charley pointing in the direction of the woman
“What’s happening to her?” Charley asked.
The woman’s body contorted so that she almost looked to be doing a neck bridge for a moment before she toppled to the side and pulled into the fetal position. Wet dirt caked the woman’s skin and clothes, though it looked fresher than not. The woman dropped her weapon and clutched her head with her fingers. Drake picked up his scope, though they weren’t more than fifty meters away, and saw blood start dripping through her hair. I can’t see any skin blistering on either of them, but they don’t even seem to recognize what they’re doing. The woman’s body stopped moving, and the sun reflected oddly off her pale skin.
The man stumbled a few more feet before he reached the pole in the opening. The AR-15 barrel swung out, drenched with mud, but the man seemed sane enough to turn the weapon on himself. Drake tried to push Charley away from the window, but she fought to stay. At least she isn’t watching through the scope. Drake closed his eyes and allowed the shot that rang to tell him the truth. When Drake opened his eyes, he noticed a flicker gold light dance across the man’s tanned skin before he fell to the ground.
“Either he used a custom round,” Drake said more to himself than Charley, “or something bad is going on out there.”
“Should we go check on them?” Charley asked.
An appearance of a new visitor drew his attention. A small squirrel scurried across the field and stopped on top of the woman’s body. The creature stopped and seemed to sniff the woman’s body, and a flicker of light that Drake wouldn’t have seen if he wasn’t looking through his scope jumped between the two. The squirrel began to convulse until it too curled up in the fetal position and stopped moving.
“No,” Drake said, “Whatever affected them could be in the air. We are going to need to lockdown for a few days. “
Drake stood and shut the cover to his watch out. We can survive a few days on back up oxygen, but then we’ll need to replenish the tanks. The cover sealed and shut them into the darkness of the room. Drake hoped that Xal would be on time for the transmission because they needed answers at that moment, more than ever.