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The Mission Was Compromised

by yanina maysonet 7 months ago in Short Story
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one-line inspired story

The mission was compromised. A simple reconnaissance order had shifted to an impossible escape. Yet there was no cavalry that would come and save Curt and Maxwell. They were on their own and they ran for their lives. The trees in the woods were packed close together and Curt found himself hurling himself between them to get through. He couldn’t move fast enough. Though his feet barely touched upon the ground beneath him, he could feel the snatchers behind him breathing down his neck. They would grab him soon and it would all be over-

Maxwell had been running alongside him but now he was gone. Curt slid to a stop, his back to the nearest tree he could find. His lungs felt hollowed out and he needed to catch his breath or else he would give himself away. The snatchers would hear him and then he’d be useless to Maxwell. In...out, in...out. Taking out his gun he checked the barrel; only two shots remained. He’d never been a very good shot.

Curt leaned over slowly, peering over the edge of the tree. The bark was thick and he had to expose most of his head out there to see beyond it. Sweat dripped down his forehead as he watched the snatchers surround Maxwell. There were three of them. Maxwell had been hit and he was on the ground spitting up blood. The protocol was to leave him behind.

Instead, Curt aimed his pistol and with as much precision as possible, his shaky hands took the shots. The first landed between the snatchers and Maxwell. All four were blinded by the light of the shot. Curt moved in and shot another at the closest snatcher.

“What are you doing?!” Maxwell screamed as Curt scooped him up and ran off deeper into the forest with him.

Curt wasn’t sure what he was doing. He was just reacting. The snatchers were surely behind them now closer than before. With Maxwell hurt and bleeding Curt knew they would not be able to get very far. He was losing a lot of blood. Curt already felt like it was a mistake but he put Maxwell down to tend to the wound on his chest. The snatchers had stabbed him.

“It didn’t hit anything important,” he mumbled out as he pressed a dirty rag to the wound.

“You have to go,” Maxwell said, his voice a whisper. His brown eyes were dilated and glazing over. He would pass out soon enough. Curt did not get a chance to say anything else. The dark tendrils of a snatcher wrapped around his wrists and yanked him back hard.

He hit the ground on his back and tried to use his feet to stop the dragging but to no avail. He was left coughing in a cloud of dirt. He couldn't see anything at first, not Maxwell or the Snatcher that had just dragged him away. As the dirt settled Curt’s irritated eyes met the Snatcher’s who stood above him. It peered down almost curiously, its large ruby red eyes unblinking.

He’d never seen one this close before. Its inky black shape was almost opaque. It looked to Curt more like a giant mantis ray than a "pillow" as his comrades had described them before. Its ends were frayed and always moving as if every end of it was alive and alert. As mesmerized as Curt was he was also terrified. He pointed his pistol at the creature. It might not have had any bullets left but the creature did not know that.

He had to hope that the Snatcher before him did not know, “you know what happens to your kind when you get hit by the light of this pistol. If you wish to continue existing-” At an unnatural speed the creature flew over him.

Curt only had enough time to sit up before he watched it fly right into Maxwell’s chest wound, “NOOOOOO!” The scream escaped him and Curt was on his feet running towards Maxwell. Though his rational mind analyzed that it was too late he still ran over to him.

Inches from Maxwell, Curt stopped, his hands right over the man’s face and neck. He knew what happened to humans that got snatched yet he still needed to see Maxwell’s eyes, only then would this nightmare be real.

“For a terrible shot,” Maxwell’s mouth said, “you sure work well under pressure.”

It opened its eyes. Curt had once thought his favorite thing about Maxwell was his deep and rich voice. Now that his natural brown eyes were surrounded by a red eyeball instead of a white one he knew that his favorite thing about him had been his eyes.

Curt backed off immediately feeling his own eyes sting with the incoming tears threatening to burst out. Maxwell had been snatched. This wasn’t happening, this wasn’t happening. The creature had the gall to smile at him with Maxwell’s mouth, “Aren’t you going to run?” it asked.

“...That’s my husband you are holding prisoner…” Curt managed to say.

“I am aware,” the creature said stretching out Maxwell’s arms. The wound on his chest had completely healed though the blood on Maxwell's clothes had yet to dry. “I know all he has ever known and see all he has ever seen. I know you will not leave him. So I believe that means….you are coming with me.”

Curt found a small comfort in counting the steps he took. The creature couldn’t fly anymore in Maxwell’s body so it had tied Curt up and blindfolded him to walk him to its base. Counting the steps calmed him. If he would remember how many steps it took to get to the base then he would know what radius he was working with. He had every intention to escape. No human survived going into the camp of the snatchers. He would not die here, not now, not after all he had been through.

Humanity had suffered its greatest challenge fourteen years ago. The invasion was quiet, submissive even. The creatures took over people by invading their wounds. They tried to shape humanity by pretending to be people. Once discovered...well, it all fell to shit. The war between the humans and the snatchers for the control of the planet had begun instantly. It had raged on for so long now that Curt had almost forgotten what the world had been like before then. He’d been a history teacher...he had not even known Maxwell back then.

Maxwell. Curt knew that logically his husband was gone, dead even. No one came back from being snatched. That was the reality and the heartbreak of this seemingly hopeless conflict. Any human could be taken and they would never return. The human forces dwindled against the onslaught of the snatchers. This was not a winnable war. Yet they had to fight. There would be no survival if they gave themselves up to the snatchers.

Curt still was not sure why he hadn’t run. Maxwell was gone and this creature speaking with his voice and moving in his body was not him. It guided Curt gently through the forest. He said nothing to it and the creature said nothing to him either. Not until they were near their destination. Curt could not help but tense a bit when the creature moved close to his ear and whispered, “...I do not understand your kind at all.”

Curt was still bound and blindfolded. He wasn’t sure what the creature expected of him.

Perhaps a response? Curt kept counting in his mind the steps they were taking, “You’ve never tried to.”

“I do not mean your incessant need to destroy this fine world, that is just a flaw in your creation. I mean...your self-sacrificing nature. You should have run. You could have run. Instead you are here...with me.” It did not sound like Maxwell. It spoke in his voice but the intonation was different, every word was said as practice. It was learning to speak with a human voice.

“You could just let me go,” Curt tried. The creature laughed and it made his skin crawl to hear his husband’s laugh used like this.

“You would try to kill me and I like this vessel. What do you call it again? Mercy kill?” the creature mused.

Almost like a mantra, Curt repeated the words beaten into his head over the time of the war, “Even if only the body remains those who loved the individual have a duty to honor them. No one should be left a puppet to the snatchers.”

“Hmmm, yes, very good,” the creature said. It was getting better at speaking. “What a proper soldier you are. I do not think you will do it. Kill your husband.”

“I don’t really care what you think, snatcher,” Curt said under his breath. The creature laughed again making Curt’s shoulders tighten.

“That word you have dubbed us. It is so curious. I expected something more akin to ‘invaders’ or ‘aliens’. Snatchers is so….rudimentary. Besides, we do not snatch anything.” They had stopped walking. Curt did not really have a plan. He supposed as soon as he could see again he would have to tackle the creature down and smash its head, Maxwell’s head, onto the ground. He hadn’t enough time for a small prayer before the blindfold was removed.

A deep gasp overtook him as he looked down upon the floor. Curt was in the sky looking down upon the ground. He backed up unconsciously onto the creature and jumped forward again only to still be above the ground.

There seemed to be some invisible force keeping him from falling. He could feel something beneath his feet much like a floor but below him he could only see clouds and the far off ground.

Wildly gazing around he noted they were not alone. There were other snatchers about, in people's bodies as well as in their natural form, staring at him...waiting to see what he would do. All he could do was stare at their red eyes. To Curt, they were all flying yet it seemed they were in something that was in the sky that was translucent.

“He turned himself in,” Maxwell’s snatcher said. The other snatchers around Curt moved their heads to the left and to the right in response. Their red eyes bored into Curt. His hands were still bound and in a moment of horror he had completely forgotten how many steps he had taken to get here. Did it matter? He was in the sky. How was he supposed to escape this without falling to his death?

Maxwell's hand was to his back and he was led towards the middle of all the snatchers. Would they feast upon him? Would they take turns slipping in and out of his wounds? He tried to keep his breath steady, to not show the fear bubbling inside, but it was impossible to face it all so bravely.

"He doesn't love you," the creature said as it turned Curt to face him. He swore he saw almost a lamented contemplation upon the face it wore. It felt sorry for him? That was rich. "You would die for him but he would not die for you."

"If I have a choice, I-I rather die quickly than have to listen to you dribble on like you understand anything about us." He tried to stand as tall as he could as he faced the creature. There would be dignity in death.

"I'm not going to kill you," the snatcher said, eyes narrowing and brows furrowing as if it was unsure of Curt. "You will be pleading for your life."

As Curt understood it, this was a trial to live. The creatures were surely toying with him. How was he supposed to convince them that he had a right to his own life? Some looked at any scratch upon him hungrily as if assessing what kind of "vessel" he would be. Others simply looked at him, waiting for Curt to speak for himself.

"Surely you will say something," the snatcher wearing Maxwell spoke as it looked at its own nails. It kept stretching and curling its fingers, stretching out its arms and legs, as if the sensation of appendages was a curious one. "You will not...'go gentle into that good night'. Hmm."

"Maxwell was not one for reading so you must have had to dig deep for that reference." To Curt's surprise, the creature smiled at him as if he found him amusing.

"You still cling to this man like a lifeline. Your commitment is admirable." The tone shifted and Curt knew that it understood what was so wrong with the word. It was odd to feel a sliver of shame rise beyond the fear and the panic. What did it matter what these creatures knew of his failed relationship? Curt supposed that it being said out loud, that it had been long over between him and Maxwell, would make it all too real. "Why did you not abandon him?"

"What do you care?" Curt whispered, the fear creeping back over his skin in a slick film of sweat. Again the silence as if he was expected to keep speaking. Curt took in a shaky breath, "I couldn't live with myself if I had left him behind to die...and now I won't rest till you are out of him."

He watched in a mix of horror and fascination as the creatures moved their heads from left to right. Were they disagreeing, agreeing, acknowledging something? It was such a foreign gesture to him. They did not move in unison. Some went left while others went right. Some moved faster while others took their time. What did it mean?

"Yet he is dead now and you must live knowing it. You saved him only seconds of his life and damned your own in the process. What difference does it make if you destroy this body? Will that bring you closure?" the snatcher asked.

It occurred to Curt that before the creatures had been communicating. Only the snatcher with Maxwell's body spoke but it was as if it was speaking for them all.

"...Maxwell is my life-"

"Was...he was your life. If you do live, what will you live for now?"

Curt was silent for a moment. Perhaps it would be better to make a run for it. He'd find the edge of this see-through platform and hurl himself down into the earth. Maybe the creatures would catch him before he slammed into the ground or maybe not. At least the action would be his own choice.

"It is my life. It is not for you to judge it worthy to live or not. You invade our planet and make yourselves gods upon the world, dictating who lives and who dies. You are the monsters! It doesn't matter whether he loved me still or not...he was alive, he had a life, and I won't let you wear him around like a trophy."

The creature wrapped Maxwell's hands around Curt's face, held him still and left him speechless. Then again, he'd had nothing else left to say. How long had it been since Maxwell had touched him so gently?

"Is love truly so blind to survival?" it asked, a softness to its voice as if it needed to know.

"...You say you see all and know all of the lives you take over. You must have felt their sorrow, their regret, their love when saving others. You must have felt it." Curt's voice shook with his fear. What did these creatures feel when they settled into a person's body? What did they find when they rummaged through their memories?

"All this emotion...your heart," the creature said, its hand slipping down past Curt's neck, "it will beat right out of your chest." His reaction was involuntary. A ghost of Maxwell's touch it was, but enough to send shivers down Curt's spine. The heads turned from right to left. Curt's wild gaze moved from one creature to the other, wondering in vain what they were deciding now.

Maxwell's snatcher spoke, the face neutral of any discernable feeling, "You have earned yourself a day among the clouds." He was pushed backwards and his back hit what felt like a wall. He couldn't see it but he could feel that he was surrounded, as if in a mime's cell. It would have been funny if it was not all so terrifying.

He sunk down to his knees and let his head fall into his hands. The sobs escaped him and he felt the heaviness of the doom all at once. His husband was dead and soon he would be too once he stopped being entertaining to these creatures.

He'd cried till there was nothing left in him to lament. Now he sat crumpled upon the transparent floor watching as the sun set upon the far-off clouds. This must have been what the birds saw. No wonder they never wanted to come back down to earth. The orange faded to a pinkish violet, only little bits of white cloud to break the bright swirl of colors. If this was to be his last sunset then at least it would have been the most beautiful.

"You have not argued well for your life," Maxwell's snatcher spoke. The others had long since left, off to kill more people Curt supposed, but this one had remained by his side.

"You are a very opinionated jailer." Curt responded. The creature had not spoken to him till now and Curt had been almost grateful for the quiet.

"...We want to feel it." Curt turned his gaze to the creature, taking in the way its red eyes shined with the dying of the sun's light. "Emotion is not a weakness but it is a curiosity. We can mimic and we can pretend. Yet this heartache...it shapes your world."

"...Fuck off..." Curt turned away from the creature. He was tired of seeing it in Maxwell's body. Of course these creatures were apathetic. They did not mourn their dead. It had been something noticed quickly in the war. They were of a hive mind, one soldier replacing the other, without any break or remorse.

"You should ask me what you want to ask me. You may not have long in this world."

"Alright," Curt said before sitting up and facing the creature once more. "You say you don't feel emotions. That they are a human concept. Yet you can interpret them. If he didn't love me why did he tell me to leave him behind?"

"Habit," the creature spoke quickly, not thinking twice of its answer, "It is what you say in the moment. It was protocol." Curt was quiet a long time yet he did not take his eyes off the creature. The gaze was returned, and the creature smiled brightly with Maxwell's mouth. "Care to test the theory?"

As if there had been no walls between them at all the creature reached out lightning fast and grabbed Curt's shoulders. They were plummeting down to the earth, and Curt hadn't even a second to gasp or scream before the ground filled in below them.

There was not a crash but a catch in the air before they both were settled on the ground. The creature had something in its hands, and in the growing darkness, Curt could only just see it was his gun. It pressed the barell to its mouth, "No, wait!" curt called out, but the shot rang out.

The light was blinding white. Maxwell's body fell limp to the ground, and curt could just make the outline as he rushed over to it. He'd expected something grisly but instead it looked like the body was simply dead. That was until it shot up, breath gasping, and grabbed Curt's arms in an iron grip.

"Curt!" he knew that voice. He knew this man.

"Maxwell?!"

He'd never seen Maxwell cry like this. He'd always been such a stoic man. It had been the initial attraction, that he had seemed someone steady to Curt in the shit storm of the end of the world, but he seemed more like a child now to him.

"I don't really remember it. It was like a nightmare I could not wake myself from." They walked their way back to the base. The creatures could be expelled. A person could be saved after being snatched. It was news they had to share with the others.

"What do you remember?" Curt asked. It was crucial to get as much detail down before they would give a joint report. That, and a part of Curt was curious if Maxwell had heard him.

His hope dashed when he noticed Maxwell's wonder fade into a familiar snarl, "...You didn't kill me. It thought you wanted it to stay in my body." Curt was not sure how to respond. He felt like this was some sort of accusation. "Well, did you?"

"Are you fucking kidding me?" He stopped walking and turned to face Maxwell.

"You had a chance to do it. You let it speak instead. You let it use me like a puppet-"

"You are unbelievable!" Curt walked on, each step more furious than the last as Maxwell followed closely behind. "I didn't let anything happen! I was in shock and then I was taken against my will."

"All you cared about was if I loved you or not!"

"Well, do you?" Curt asked, exasperation coloring his voice. "Do you still love me?"

Maxwell rolled his eyes and walked past Curt. The camp was on the horizon and soon they would have to present their findings. All the hope left in Curt was dashed. The creature had been right and he suddenly felt more alone than ever before.

They were heralded like heroes upon their return. People were enraptured by the story and they were made to tell it over and over. There was hope again in the eyes of the survivors though Curt felt emptier and emptier every time he was made to speak.

Maxwell on the other hand soaked in the limelight. He was back in his lover's arms before the day was done and Curt was left alone in the tent they had once shared. He sat outside of it, his eyes upon the skies, as he took in the sun rising. It was still beautiful, and there was relief in seeing it come up once more, but it was nothing like it had been from the view up among clouds.

When Maxwell stumbled in, smelling of someone else, curt spoke clearly and directly to him, "I want a divorce. I packed your things. You should go live with Adam-" He hadn't expected the swift punch to the side of his face. He was knocked down harshly, head hitting the ground with the impact, and he struggled to get his bearings as Maxwell fell over him.

His breath was stopped in his throat as Maxwell wrapped his hands around it and squeezed, "You will not ruin this for me!" Maxwell said. Curt struggled to try to pry Maxwell's fingers off his burning throat but it was pointless. He'd die...so the man he loved but did not love him could go on playing hero to the others. The creature had been right...and it had all been for nothing.

The red seeped back into the whites of Maxwell's eyes, like ink in water at first but then completely overcoming the lighter color. Maxwell's hands were removed from his throat and Curt took in a shivering breath.

He felt the creature reach down, its touch gentle as it caressed his gasping face, "You are the one that deserves to live, Curt, and now you will."

Short Story

About the author

yanina maysonet

I love to write fiction stories of the supernatural, romance, high fantasy, or science fiction variety. A bit of a baby, a bit of a rolling stone, just doing my best to avoid getting arrested. @ziggyer5 on the instagram.

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