Somewhere, past the edge of nightmare lies a land called...
by Erin Halfelven
Chapter 3 - Under the Cedar Bush
I don’t know how long I sat there, trying to stroke my missing mustache, bemused by the discovery that I seemed to have been turned into a young girl. Eventually, I became aware of sounds and voices. It took a while to penetrate with the mental shock and all, but I’d been trained to hear anger and respond. In fact, I rather appreciated the distraction and turned my attention to the noise and not without a bit of conscious relief. I’d had that mustache for years.
I couldn’t make out words but somewhere not too far away people were shouting at each other. Angry voices went with the other sounds; I heard a metallic banging and thumping. I moved around in my refuge, trying to locate where exactly the sounds were coming from. Doing something, anything, was better than sitting there thinking about what I was sitting on.
The cedar bush did not cooperate completely, the branches all seemed to be turned the wrong way to let me say inside its protection and look out in the direction I wanted to see at the same time. I kept clambering around, this way and that with the occasional icy stream dislodged to run down my neck or the back of my bare legs.
My knee came down on something hard and angular, and I fumbled in the dim light under the tree to see what it might be. My fingers traced a shape that seemed halfway familiar. The meager light coming through the branches showed me the outline of my service weapon, a 9mm Glock 17 automatic, still in its holster and attached to my uniform belt.
“Glory, hallelujah,” I said quietly, then I sat back on my heels and stared. All of the cloth I had been struggling with suddenly resolved itself into the khaki and green uniform I had been wearing when I started to step over the railing into the dry fountain back in Los Perdidos. The gun itself looked enormous; I must be truly tiny now, I realized, to have been so thoroughly trapped in my uniform shirt, kevlar vest, and cotton undershirt.
And here were my dark green pants with black belts and all the equipment I had been wearing attached to them. “Better and better,” I said. I temporarily forgot about trying to see what was going on outside my tree; this was more important. I took the weapon out of its holster and hefted it in my new smaller hands.
As light as a Glock 17 is, I immediately put it back in the holster and started looking for my boots. The damned gun was nearly as long as my new forearm, and my hand did not fit around the grip. I had had a G26 in a boot rig when… when whatever happened had happened. Carrying a boot gun was not regulation in the Sheriff’s Office but prudent peace officers everywhere like to have a spare. The sub-compact G26 9mm was twenty percent lighter than the full-size G17 and would fit my smaller hands better.
That was such an odd thought that it caused me to pause for a moment.
The most surprising thing I supposed was that I wasn’t continuing to freak out. Had the lady in the dream had something to do with that? She had put my bones back where they belonged.
The noise of clanging and banging and what sounded like the scream of someone being impaled on a sharp object brought me back to myself. My new self. The local gang bangers seemed to be having a rumble and I needed that weapon.
I found a boot. Wrong one, the left, but the two spare California magazines in that hideout held ten rounds each in the same 9mm used by either pistol. The right boot was not far away, and now I had both Glocks. Even the little G26 felt monstrous in my hand, but the idea that I could defend myself from whatever sort of murderous mayhem might spill over onto me was wonderfully heartening.
I needed it. Whatever warmth I had acquired from my dream seemed to have been overcome by wet snow. My teeth chattered incessantly, and my frozen hands had trouble holding onto the pistol. I’d dropped the belt holding the bigger G17 in its holster somewhere without noticing. Not my usual care when handling a firearm and losing track of the weapon made me feel like an idiot.
I had the little G26 in both hands, but the spare magazines from my first boot had also disappeared. Not to panic, they were just buried in the snow with lots of my other gear. If you put something down on snow, it is likely to vanish and if you drop it, even more certain. Freaking out would not do me any good at all.
I tried to take a deep breath, but it shuddered when I released it, threatening to turn into a high-pitched girly-sounding scream, no doubt. I smiled, shakily.
A hard shiver almost shook the Glock from my hands and I gripped it tighter. So cold. I needed to do something about that, first.
I wedged the G26 in the bush I had found myself under and dug into the snow, looking for my uniform shirt and maybe the t-shirt I had worn under my bulletproof vest. I wouldn’t be able to wear the vest, too rigid and probably too heavy for me now, but I could roll up the sleeves on the shirt and wear it like a dress. I made a face but… but unless I found a way back to being my own self, I might be wearing dresses for real, soon.
I found the clothing and stripped the white t-shirt out of the vest and pulled it on, after shaking out as much snow as I could. The neck hole almost swallowed my shoulders. “Good God,” I muttered, “I must be tiny!”
I’d forgotten that my uniform shirt was short sleeved, so it ended up fitting about as well as the t-shirt after I pulled it over my head also. My fingers were too frozen to unbutton it and wrap it more tightly around me, but then I didn’t have anything to fasten it in place either. The chest pockets held a notepad and a phone charger…
“Fuck,” I whispered. As usual, I had taken my personal phone out of my pocket and had been using it as a music machine, plugged into the civilian-style speakers in the cruiser. So it must still be in the console box, back wherever I had left the Ford Interceptor parked… in Los Perdidos, in the California desert. I looked around wildly for a moment, hoping against hope that I would see the comforting presence of the big white vehicle parked under a tree somewhere.
Another strangled-sounding cry from beyond the bushes snapped me out of my daze.
I continued searching. If I could find my uniform belt again, I would have my police communicator handset which served as radio and had smartphone-like functions, too. Maybe I could call for help….
Maybe not. How far from Los Perdidos was I? Would the communicator work? Would anyone answer? It was a snazzy device, capable of both cellular and radio telephony, but it still needed someone on the other end to talk to. I tried not to imagine how such a conversation might go but before I could put any plan into action, the fight I had been hearing came through the screen of bushes about twenty yards away.
I knelt on my uniform pants and peered through the shrubbery. Four men, fighting with… swords? Well, two of them had swords, and the other two had clubs that looked like armored baseball bats. And the fight was three against one. I scrambled back into the snow under the bush where I had left the G26, hoping not to be noticed.
“Hotyee! Gantow, vey dense!” The tall blond man shouted, swinging his sword in wide arcs to keep the other three off him. He wore an armored coat and had something like a large pot lid in his left hand. He had no helmet, and I saw his face clearly. He couldn’t be much more than a teenager, despite his bulk, with a downy beard and cleanly chiseled features.
The others all had helmets, or maybe armored caps would be a better description. They wore heavy leather coats with metal strips riveted to them, too, like the one the blond wore but less elaborate and not painted in bright colors. The leader seemed to be the huge fellow with the other sword, a bigger man than even the blond defender.
Blondie’s coat was blue with a gold eagle on his chest. It made me think a little of some old comic strip character. The others’ coats were all dark brown with three diagonal white stripes and they looked like henchmen from central casting. They shouted back at him in the same, not-quite-understandable gibberish that sounded as if they might think they were speaking English.
The biggest of the three attackers slashed with his sword, leaving a bloody gash in Blondie’s left arm and knocking the pot lid from his grip. “Nay earn gripe hease chafe!” the larger man screamed, redoubling his attack. Blondie retreated, stabbing with the point of his sword at the faces of the other two, quick as a snake striking, and he nearly got one of them.
They fell back a little, leaving a bit of room around him.
I had the little 9mm in my hands; I don’t know how. I’d been thinking about it but I didn’t remember retrieving it from the branch where I had wedged it in against the trunk of the bush. I braced myself with a two-hand firing range grip and aimed at the biggest man in brown. Before pulling the trigger, I moved my aiming point above the man’s head, intending to give a warning.
The pistol bucked in my hand when I squeezed off my shot, about eight times as much recoil as I expected. I nearly hit myself in the forehead with the barrel.
The noise and the flash cleared the field. When I pulled down to aim again, only one figure remained, and he lay unmoving in the snow. The big man with the sword, the leader of the three…the one I had been aiming at but planning to miss.
I knew I had killed him. In my mind’s eye, I saw the bullet strike him in the ear, and blood and brains blow out the other side of his head, as vivid as old-style Kodachrome. I’d been in the military besides being a cop and death and dying were not things I had never seen.
But I’d never shot and killed anyone before. The smell of the cordite from the barrel of my weapon seared my nose and burned my eyes. I blinked. I sniffed. I felt as if I would begin crying. I tried to take a deep breath but there didn’t seem to be any air under the cedar bush.
Then I fainted.
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