There’s nothing in the world that brings out the boy in a man more than playing in the deep mud, but the brightest of man feels the overwhelming anxiety swell inside them when they’re in that mud with bullets flying overhead. I felt a million miles away from home before I knew my day would go from bad to worse. Then, it did, and I remembered what a bad acid trip felt like.
When I woke up, I checked my head for a knife, half expecting to pull one from my skull. I looked at my hand, seeing the smeared blood that once resided in my skull. There was dried blood that trickled from my ears, and the pain in my noggin made death seem inviting. I was alive, so I rolled over in the thick grey muck alongside a body of water.
The last thing I remembered was the firefight in the mountains outside Denver. After six years of fighting, we’d never seen fighting so intense. Right before the final push into Denver and our chance at taking back the city, a massive wave of energy erupted in the sky. I watched the two Apache gunships go down, exploding in the distance. Three drones were soon to follow.
I looked around the area. It was daytime, even though the skies were dark and hazy. I was along a river somewhere, but where?
After crawling out of the water and checking myself over, I looked around and picked up my gear. I held onto my M4, sidearm, K-bar, and pack. I could survive, presuming I could find my way to civilization.
Jesus John, I thought to myself. I signed up to fight when our East Coast got hit. What was I thinking? Action movies and first-person shooter games don’t prepare anyone for the insanity of war.
From the bottom of the canyon, I scanned the area with binocs. It looked easier to follow the riverbed than climb out, and as sore as I felt, climbing out wasn’t a real option. I started walking along the cliffsides, trying to stay out of sight.
I walked for a couple of hours, and the canyon seemed endless. My head still felt like I had a steel spike driven through my brain. About two hours after I regained consciousness, I found myself near a small cave. The water wasn’t deep, so I stopped to quench my thirst and decided to catch a fish.
Handfishing was a failure. The fish were visible and in waters only a foot or two deep. Putting a silencer on my sidearm, I cheated. It took two shots to nail one of the bigger ones. Before long, I realized I should have done more fishing. Pulling my prey out of the water, I stared at it, bewildered. Of all the fish I’d ever seen, I had no clue what I shot.
Starting a fire in the wilderness was something I learned as a child. I wasn’t a scout, but my dad was a survivalist. After sharpening a stick, I rammed it through the center of the fish and cooked it over a fire. As ugly and odd as that fish was, it tasted even worse as it filled my empty stomach.
As I enjoyed my slightly sour fish and leaves, I was attracted to a noise outside the cave. I crept toward the entrance, crawling on my belly alongside the cave wall. From the opening, I could hear a strange mechanical hum. Staying low, I scanned the area. The sound at one point was right over the top of the river in front of me, yet I couldn’t see the source.
What the hell, I asked myself. I knew that adaptive camouflage tech wasn’t on the market. Even the brightest minds at DARPA experienced limited success with the experimental phases. But there it was. There was a drone flying the riverbed under a cloak of invisibility.
Scurrying backward, I stayed out of sight until the sound dissipated. When it did, it was dark out. Traveling unfamiliar territory is risky at night, but it seemed like the time to pull out. I hoped to make it a few more miles before having to hide out.
The journey wasn’t without issues. I had to stay close to the cliffside as aircraft flew overhead. They weren’t fighters or choppers. I couldn’t make out their configuration.
I stayed on the side of the cliffs until I found a path to higher ground. I was surprised to see a structure at the foot of the trail. Someone built a stone entry. It must have been there for hundreds of years, and judging by the inscriptions, I suspected it was Native American. The strangely shaped sculpture of a skull wasn’t at all daunting.
“Johnny Traeger,” I said aloud, “What have you gotten yourself into?”
The canopy of tree growth would hide me from aerial recon, so I felt safe proceeding. I hiked up the mountainside, working to where the trees thinned. It was a long way from where I was to the next opening, and I thought about how far from home I was.
A firefighter. I chuckled when I remembered how much simpler life was when my biggest concern was running into burning buildings. The transition from being a firefighter to a gunfighter wasn’t my idea of a career change. There I was with an M4 and enough ammo to take on a small army.
Walking, I heard the sound of limbs crackling to my right. I stopped and took cover behind a tree. Switching my scope to infrared, I scanned the area, seeing only one heat signature. Someone was with me on that mountain.
Switching paths, I moved alongside the mystery guest and flanked their position. Raising my rifle, I aimed at the target and flipped the view switch. Standing there, aiming at the woman’s head, I watched her looking around where she stood. It reminded me of when I woke up confused and alone.
Carefully, I approached. When I got close enough to make my presence known, I saw the woman was unarmed.
“Hey, don’t move,” I ordered.
She froze in fear, seeing the rifle aimed at her chest. Slowly, the woman put her hands in the air. When I told her slowly to turn around, she did as instructed. She wore a black shirt, khaki pants, and boots. What was she doing in the middle of the wilderness, I wondered.
“Who are you? What are you doing out here?” I asked.
She hesitated and asked if I minded pointing “that thing” away from her.
“Okay,” I said, aiming at the ground, “Who are you?”
She told me she was Doctor Elizabeth Reimers and had no idea where she was. That fit with my day, so I relaxed. I asked her what she remembered. Her story rivaled my own.
“Where were you before this?”
“I was in traffic in Chicago. I was on the expressway when a bright flash of light stopped traffic. It was as if every car suddenly broke down at the same time. A blue wave of energy struck and I awoke here.”
“That tracks,” I sighed.
The doctor’s presence was as mysterious as my own. We were both lost.
“So what about you? You got a name?” she asked.
“John Traeger,” I answered.
“And what are you doing here?” she asked.
“I wish I knew. I was in a gunfight at the front. There was a strange explosion. We lost electronics and air support, and then the energy wave struck. After that, I woke up alongside the river,” I explained.
Confused and scared, we sat there until she asked if I had a plan. Until now, my idea was simple. I knew I had to get off the mountain and back to the front. Taking along a straggler wasn’t something I expected, but I couldn’t leave her there. So, we headed off together.
The mountaintop stretched farther than I remembered. Of course, I wasn’t one hundred percent certain of which mountain we were on.
“Doc, you said you have no idea where we are? If I told you we were in Colorado, near Denver, what would you say?”
“There’s no way,” she told me.
The good doctor was a highly educated woman. She’d also traveled the country before the war. Elizabeth knew the rivers, the topography, and the vegetation indigenous to the American southwest. She was sure it wasn’t Colorado.
“You’re a surprise, Doc. I didn’t expect you to be so outdoorsy,” I commented.
“My dad wanted a little girl that could do everything. He taught me everything there was to know about camping, hunting, fishing, cars, how to fend off boys,” she explained.
We reached a fracture in the mountain that stopped us cold. We had a choice of going around it or climbing. Neither of us were free climbers. We started to the right, hoping this didn’t drag as long as the mountain. It took an hour before we found the end of the fracture.
“What do you think caused that?”
We were fighting in Colorado. The area was rife with changes to the geology and topography from the constant bombing runs. Since we weren’t in Colorado, I admitted I had no clue.
“Mother Nature, I guess,” I told her as we continued walking.
Before daybreak, we started to see daylight and an old stone structure. Someone, once upon a time, lived there. It was a sturdy shelter, complete with an old stone fire pit. There were engravings on the outer walls. The ominous runes depicted men in strange masks carrying spears and hunting something.
“How’s your Native American,” I asked Elizabeth.
The Doc looked at the images, her eyes as wide as a child at Christmas, and she didn’t think they were Native American. They appeared, at least to her, to have similarities with the Egyptians, the Mayans, and the Toltecs. I knew two of the three. They couldn’t have built the place.
“They are similar but not the same. They’d have had no contact, but their warriors seemed to take on similar characteristics.”
Looking around, I heard a sound I did recognize. The lightning striking in the distance warned that a storm was coming. In seconds, a heavy rainfall plummeted into the earth beneath our feet. I grabbed Doc, and we got into the shelter.
“At least we’ll be dry,” she said, looking outside.
I had bagged the rest of the fish from my last meal. There was still a couple of pounds of it. It was edible despite how it tasted.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“I’m going to start a fire and warm up some food,” I told her.
“Thank god,” she exclaimed. “I’m starving.”
“I’m warning you, it’s not exactly the best thing you’ll eat, but I had some earlier and it hasn’t killed me,” I admitted, still trying to fathom what it was I’d killed in the river.
While I warmed up the meat from the bizarre fish, I sat and got to know the good doctor. Elizabeth was an accomplished woman. In the firelight, she was also a stunning woman. In the flickering glow of the fire, she was radiant and captivating with her long, glossy black hair, shimmering like strands of onyx kissed by dancing flames. Her facial features were a tapestry of beauty, adorned with warm, inviting eyes that reflected the fire’s golden hues. In the ambient glow of the fire, Elizabeth emanated a timeless beauty that blended an ethereal allure of the flames with her innate grace.
Being lost isn’t on anyone’s to-do list, but if it had to happen, being lost with the doctor wasn’t an undesirable way to spend my time.
“So, what about you? What’s your story?” she asked.
I explained that I was a fireman before the fighting broke out on the eastern seaboard. I got involved in the fight because things devolved so quickly. My brother was stuck somewhere behind the line if he was alive. I hoped to find him and get him back to friendly territory.
“I’m sorry,” she told me. “I hope you get the chance to see him again.
More than anything, I wanted to change the subject. I asked about Elizabeth, and the Doc continued to impress me. At 35, Doc was a surgeon and volunteered to work in Israel during the conflict. She was in Chicago, headed to the hospital, before waking up on a mountain in the middle of nowhere.
We didn’t sleep. Not that either of us could. We talked through the night as the world around us stood still. Whatever was going on, and however we’d come to be there, everything stood still as we gathered our bearings and started to come up with ideas.
When daylight hit, Doc and I started toward the rising sun over the horizon. A strange mist clung over the treetops, allowing beams of warmth to stream to the ground. A sudden noise attracted us both. It was hard to see from the thick canopy of growth, but something was crashing from the skies above.
“Should we…” I started to ask.
“I’m with you,” she responded.
We picked up the pace as we crossed the wooden area. I followed the flames and smoke as an aircraft plummeted two or three hundred yards from our location. From the sound and the size, I expected it to be a bomber or stealth craft. My feet started to move faster across the rocky terrain, and the doctor outpaced me.
We got to the end of the mountaintop, looking into an open expanse of forest below. Elizabeth got there first and was surveying the crash site. The carnage below would be visible from the space station if they were looking. The crash cut a quarter of a mile through the woods, leaving everything in its wake ablaze.
“Jesus, whatever that was, it was enormous,” she said.
I took out my binoculars and started looking toward the end of the trench left behind the crash. When I saw what was there, my heart skipped a beat. The craft was heavily damaged and unlike anything I’d ever seen. I gave my binoculars to Elizabeth, pointing to where she should look closer.
“We’ve got to get down there,” she told me as she looked at the wreckage.
“Slow down, Doc,” I insisted. “We have no idea where we are, if the crew of that thing are friendlies, or who else might be in the area.”
“But, I can help. There are going to be injured…” Elizabeth paused, still staring at the disaster below.
I convinced her to hold for a few minutes and watch the wreck. While she wanted to offer assistance, we didn’t know enough to be sure it was safe. While she continued to check for survivors coming out of the crash, I rolled onto my back, and it suddenly hit me in the face. In one quick moment, I knew why the crashed airship didn’t fit anything I’d ever seen.
“Um,” I mumbled. “Doc, look up.”
That was when we both lay there, staring at the sky as the clouds slowly cleared. That was when we knew we were in the most unfathomable situation either of us could imagine.
“Where the hell are we?”
About the Creator
I have always enjoyed writing and exploring new ideas, new beliefs, and the dreams that rattle around inside my head. I have enjoyed the current state of science, human progress, fantasy and existence and write about them when I can.