Short Story: The Cry of Shadows by Michael Huddlestone
Samantha could hear the rifles firing, they always began sounding the moment her foot touched the pathway of Jezzine. They’re louder tonight. She was fully aware they weren’t real. Since arriving in Townsville, Samantha Peterson walked the path of Jezzine Barracks War Memorial each night. Each time she heard them.
Just your overactive imagination, playing out the soundtrack from your collection of war movies.
Samantha was drawn to Jezzine; it became part of her nightly relaxation routine. She couldn’t explain why she loved war relics. When asked, she said it was her great-grandmother, a nurse during the war that started it, and the reason why she studied nursing; but there was more to it than that. She took a deep breath. Finally, some me time.
Stretching, Samantha remembered the first time she heard them, she thought she was hearing the ghosts of soldiers who died on the site. What else could it be? On a tour she discovered it had never experienced warfare, she concluded it was just in her mind. She came to think of it as her own private symphony of the past. Whatever it was, it was her escape, a time to be alone with her thoughts.
Lacing up her running shoes, an explosion resonated in Samantha’s ears. Jolting upright she looked around for the source; an old beat-up car drove slowly past, smoke rising from its exhaust. Of course a car backfire, what else could it be?
Samantha checked her activity band was ready to count her steps. The black rubber band clung to her wrist flashed green. Ready.
She jogged along her normal route, proceeding up the dimly lit wooden boardwalk to the stone soldier sculpture at the top. Magnetic Island floated in the bay like a darkened warship waiting in silence; the dark night sky un-obscured overhead. Samantha didn’t jog as a rule, usually taking a casual stroll through the recently redeveloped barracks instead; tonight she needed something more energetic to take her focus off her university studies. The theoretical was killing her. She knew studying nursing would be tough but not this intense. It was days like this that she wished it she was in her grandmother’s era, learning on the job rather than in a classroom. Samantha despised the classroom.
Nearing the final rise, the stone cut-out soldier coming into view, she caught a glimpse of a shadow darting across the boardwalk behind her. Turning, Samantha found herself alone. Heart still racing as she surveyed the boardwalk looking for any signs she was being followed, there were none. A voice boomed out behind her; startled, she spun around; the large stone slab stood before her, the shape of a soldier excised from its centre. Embedded inside was a speaker, the recorded voice explaining the sculpture. Smiling at her edginess, she continued up the hill towards the anti-aircraft cannons.
Feet gliding over the steps, taking two at a time, Samantha reached the first landing. Bent over breathless, Samantha was impressed with her stamina. Half way there.
Her body shuddered as another blast erupted in the night. She looked down the stairs for the source, along the path to her right and behind the nearby wall. Nothing. No-one around tonight? Now this was strange. The barracks was usually full of life this early in the evening. Joggers, couples, families having picnic dinners, tonight there was no-one. The night seemed darker than usual too, and there was the scent of ignited gunpowder in the air. Uneasiness washed over her like a winter breeze.
What the hell is going on?
Fearful, Samantha ran to the top of the lookout, adrenaline coursed through her veins. Reaching the look-out, her ears were bombarded with loud rifle blasts, voices of men screaming in battle. Her gaze lifted to the flags, waving in the night sea breeze; Australian and American. The scene’s normality conflicted with her instinct, something was amiss. Samantha’s gaze flickered over to the ground below, her suspicion was confirmed. Shadows began to move over the map etched into the concrete floor depicting the advances of a historical battle.
A chill ran down her spine as the voices grew louder. Slowly, Samantha began to understand them. What are they saying? Save Me? Her heartbeat pulsated along her neck in intense waves.
“Who are you?” Samantha demanded. The shadows became clearer, pulling together, forming the shape of men, each with their hands outstretched to her, begging for aid. As she turned to run, a fireball exploded from the large anti-aircraft gun. Samantha, caught off-balance, fell hard to the ground. Silhouettes etched closer, surrounding her. One reached out, gripping Samantha’s hand. The cold touch of darkness engulfed her.
“Peterson!” Samantha’s blinked eyes open, her memory hazy. Daylight poured through the thin canvas walls of the deployable hospital tent; the crackle of rifle fire sounding in the distance. He was standing opposite the operating table, dressed in white, his clothes blood-stained. Samantha’s hands were pushing down upon something soft yet firm; warmth crept over her hands. Looking down, blood seeped between her fingers from the chest wound of the patient on the table.
“Nurse Peterson!” Looking up, his green eyes commanded her attention, his brow furrowed. He paused, his face became gentle. “Too late, he’s gone.” Releasing her pressure, she stared at the lifeless body before her, his dark green soldier’s uniform stained with blood, caked with mud.
Samantha ran to the wash basin, thrusting her hands into the bowl of water. She scrubbed without looking, desperate to remove the last specks of crimson from her skin, attempting to forget him. Beneath the water, the soap caught something on her wrists. Withdrawing her hands from the water, a black rubber band clung to her wrist.
“Interesting jewellery Nurse Peterson, but it shouldn’t be here.” The doctor’s firm voice interrupting her investigation. He was surprised that she would bring such an item into theatre. “Where did you get it?” Samantha, shaking her head in confusion replied quietly.
“I don’t know.”
Author Bio: I guess would call me a hybrid. A cross between a logical thinker and a creative dreamer; with a dark streak rippling just below the skin. By day I swim neck-deep in an ocean of numbers, data and code; by night, I write. I’m a horror writer who discovered his lost passion for writing. I am a father of two, drawing my inspiration from the world around me and adding my own dark flavour to it. Looking to answer my own constant question of What If. My tastes in literature lie in those stories that send a shiver down your spine and cause you to check under your bed at night. Those tales that keep you on the edge of your seat waiting to see what happens next.
You can read more from Michael Huddlestone on InkShares and his Website, keep up to date with his new work on Facebook. Artgaze Magazine also published Michael’s story ‘Arrival of the Ravens‘ in our re-launch issue #17!