Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Listener

C.L. Scarr

Chill winds rolled off the tundra to steal each puff of Semyon's labored breath as he clamped the heavy collar onto the bit. He and Boris stepped back from the drillstring as it started rotating. Like a dog in heat, it plunged back into the hole.

"Do you think there's anything left?" Boris asked.

Viktor, their boss, hawked a wad of phlegm from the back of his throat and spat onto the barren ground. "You're not paid to ask questions about the meteorite. You're paid to drill."

They watched and waited while the drill retraced its path through the rock it had already bored. They smoked cigarettes, stamping their feet, hunching their shoulders against the cold.

“More slurry!” Boris shouted when the drill slowed as it bit deep into undrilled rock. Semyon turned to fetch another bag and pain filled his head. Sharp shrieking noises rose from the earth with the plume of fine grey silt. Violation. Anguish. He clutched the sides of his head. Through tear-filled eyes he looked to his drill crew for confirmation. They hadn’t moved.

It wasn’t until he sagged to his knees that the other crewmembers gathered around him. They carried him to the small tent where their six cots crowded together and laid him on his bed. As darkness battled the pain in his skull for control, voices mixed within and without. "... finally cracked", "... hearing things ...". Darkness finally won, and he slipped gratefully into its embrace.

Semyon woke in utter darkness and tried to gauge whether the pain from earlier in the day was gone. He sensed an uncomfortable remnant of it in the back recesses of his brain, slowly drifting away from him like the resistant tendrils of a dream. Soft snoring surrounded him like a comforter, the crew resting after a hard day’s work. It would take an explosion or the morning chow bell to wake them. He sat up and found his boots, then stepped carefully outside. A vague sense of unease, a balled rock of doubt in his stomach, told him that all was not as it should be.

He picked up the sledgehammer next to the drill rig and hefted it in his hands. The weight was comforting, solid. A voice whispered in his head, Yes.

He turned back to the tent. Semyon tried to stop, but his body refused to obey. Sweat beaded his brow in the chill night air as he struggled to control his body’s actions without success. He watched like the passenger in the back of a car as he opened the tent flaps and secured them to let in the moonlight. He stepped inside.

Semyon's hands gripped the sledgehammer, his knuckles white against the sun-stained brown of his skin, then his feet carried him to stand over Viktor's cot. The arms raised up and brought the hammer down with a thud and a squelch on Viktor's head. Next it was on to Boris, and Pavel and Yuri and Mikhail.

The shaft of the hammer slipped from his grasp, sliding easily from his fingers due to the lubrication provided by blood and brain matter. Semyon stepped from the now quiet tent. He listened very hard. Over the sound of his pounding heart and panting breath came the memory song of the one trapped in the meteorite, disturbed by their drilling after so many years.

Primitive and victorious, it rang stronger and stronger from deep within. Semyon smiled.


C. L. Scarr currently lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, penning short fiction across a wide variety of genres, and is also a freelance editor with credits such as the wildly popular Secret Service Agent series by Stephen Templin and the soon-to-be-released Blade Red Press Anthology, Dark Pages Volume 1.

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