Short Story: Sorciere

Every so often I have a dream that is so amazing, so intersting or so real that I make notes about it, and if I can, I turn it into a story. Rarely, it's a ready-made short story; usually it's longer and so takes much more time to turn into something readable, and shareable.

This one, called Sorciere, for lack of a better title, came to me one night, and when I awoke, I was thrilled. What a fantastic story I'd told myself in my dreams, and it made me wonder if I could expand it later to something else. For now, it's a short story, and I'd like to share it with you all here. It's set in a future time, here in Tucson, and the southwest. Maybe one day I'll write more of it, but right now it feels done, or at least "finished for now". I'll admit, the hardest part of short stories, for me, is figuring out where the end can be. Not where the end is, but where it can be. I don't know if this is a thing for everyone who writes shorts, but it is for me. This makes them extra challenging, and this is another reason that I was so thrilled with the way this one came together.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed dreaming it.

Gathering them into the bullet was a pain in the ass, always a pain. Frightened people, terrified for their mums, dads, kids, babies especially—they acted more like a mob of terrified sheep than human beings. Eiobhan could understand, to a point, but would freely admit that she was not the best person to feel empathy when others are panicking. Evie was the kind of person who would smack you, or shake you to make you snap out of it. Later, when it’s safe, she would willingly hold your hand, let you cry it out, but in the middle of things, she was too busy keeping you alive to let you fuck it all up by shrieking at her.

One after another, “is there still room?” their eyes begged, and they always say, “Come, sit, there’s room”. And there was. Room for all 250 people who were waiting for the transport team at that desolate landing dock. The dozen or so “facilitators”, people like them, who located, gathered and protect these refugees while the transport team came for them helped try to keep them all calm. But it was always the same. Someone heard there was room only for one hundred; another heard that the team only wanted only their children under 8, another thought the elderly would be given up to the Chassuers, or Familiares, in order to buy the rest of them time. So again and again they explained that “yes, we had room for you all, to please come in, sit down and let us get everyone settled”.
Evie had to go back into the bullet itself, and let the rest of her team finish the loading. With the triage team being down a person—poor Erik, got himself roasted the other day—they asked her to help with basic stuff like suturing; most of the refugees were injured in one way or another. Better a vet who can work on animals, I guess, Evie thought, than someone who never saw a suture kit in their lives, or only saw one on the tee-vee back, Before.

She washed up in their little ER station, grabbed the tablet and went to her station. The triage nurse, like a calm breeze during a hurricane, ushered people in to see her. This one needed one butterfly bandage over her eye; that one needed his eyes washed to get the desert sand out so they could evaluate his eyesight. It went on for about twenty minutes; each case was quick, she used her tablet to make short notes for the doctors, and went to the next.

She was stitching up an elderly lady; one of the Familiares had attacked her family that morning, on their way to the loading zone. She told me, as I carefully stitched her arm and her shoulder, that They, the facilitators, had protected her family, even as the Familiares had threatened that we would eat them, use them to fuel our bullet, carry off their babies to be sacrificed to some Dark Gods.
“Did you believe them?” Evie asked.

“No!” She snapped, eyes flashing. “That’s stupid! My granddaughter is a Strega, like you, and she would never hurt anyone!” She snickered, making Evie pause the suturing, “Eating babies, isn’t that what we used to claim Satanists did? Before? Even then we knew it was a lie.”

“Thank you,” Evie said softly, covering the rows of tiny stitches with gauze and tape. “We really aren’t all bad. But how did you know? That I’m a sorcière?

“You have that fierce look in your eyes,” she smiled. “I know that look, my mother had it, and she fought in world war 2, back when we thought that was the end of war… but she had a look, half-lioness, half-lover. You, and my granddaughter, have it too. Oh, am I done? Thank you!”

She kissed Evie’s cheeks and went to take her seat. It wasn’t very often she got that treatment; many people were still so afraid of sorcières; as if they were Satan’s children—even though no one believed in the Devil any more—or almost no one. The nurse came back to let her know they were loaded, and everyone was settled in, except for a few very hard cases. Evie could take her place at the rear of the bullet. Phase one was done, now came the hard part.

She pulled off her gloves and overalls, stuffing them into the bin with the other medical waste. Even now, people were so careful about germs and contamination; Before, she remembered, it was like this, too. Glad to see we didn’t forget that, she sadly thought.

Putting her headset on, she turned it to channel 1, and listened to her driver and navigator going through the check list. While this wasn’t just her team, she shared it with another sorcière, he was always busy with security and planning offense, leaving her to the actual “people wrangling”. Channel two was security, Neal was directing his two boys, and making sure the rifles were loaded and ready. Over and over she could hear him saying, “If this safety isn’t on, I’m shooting you in the knee with it, and we’ll let the Fam take you!” Evie laughed softly, the security team was top-notch, and she knew it was just his script, used primarily to calm the nerves of the refugees who were asked if they could help defend the bullet if it came down to it.

She turned to channel 3 and listened to her partner speaking with the facilitators are the zone. Vasily was certain they were running late, and wanted to wrap things up as quickly as they could. The longer the bullet sat, the larger a target it would make and the better the chances that the facilitators wouldn’t make it back to safety themselves.

“If you’re sure, then let’s go, I don’t want to be waiting here for the Fam to get us. We heard Chasseur were also heading this way in their expansion efforts, and that’s all we need is to be in the middle of that fucking disaster,” he said.

Evie couldn’t hear the response, but knew it would include lots of good wishes, good lucks, even a “see you there”. The facilitators would head off on their bikes and trucks, making a large loop before heading back to old Tucson. It was their job to gather the refugees, protect them and then make certain there were no stragglers. If anyone was left behind, they would hitch a ride with them, and meet everyone back at HQ. Evie picked up her handgun, making sure her spare clips were loaded and she was ready. Carefully holstering it, she walked out the door of the bullet and scanned the horizon.
Taking her place at the entrance of the bullet, Evie shook her hands, loosening her shoulders and arms, bouncing lightly on her toes, trying to calm her breathing. This part of every transport was nerve-wracking, they were all so vulnerable.

Vasily nodded as he quickly climbed the small stairs onto the platform. “We’re ready,” he switched the com over and let the driver know. Evie could hear Jonathan’s acknowledgement, and Alira chimed in with a “navigation set and ready”.

The sorcières waved to the facilitators as the bullet’s engine cycled up; the windows automatically closed, bullet-proof metal protecting the cargo; the security team was stationing themselves at the loopholes in the back and sides of the bullet. “It feels like that old Mad Max film,” Evie said; watching the sky. She always said it, it was tradition, and traditions were important, necessary, without them who knew what would happen.

Vasily grabbed a smoke, shaking out his shoulders; the right one always gave him trouble, but Evie knew he was ready for anything. “Head Fak told me that they’d seen the Fam earlier today; chased them off, but they might come back. Long as we’re ahead, we should be good, but…” he looked at Evie’s hands, and she felt them ignite.

“We’ll be ready,” she looked at her hands, covered in flames, and took a deep breath, forcing the flames to die back. 

Jonathan announced to the bullet’s passengers as well as the transport team, “We’re ready to go, everyone please stay seated, let the team do what we need to do to get you home. If you have questions, flag Nicole or Anna, and they can help you.” As he closed the com-link, Evie and Vasily swayed as the bullet took off; slowly at first, but within moments it was gaining speed. They hooked into their harnesses, and waited; the bullet would travel at over 200kph once it got going, but it could take twenty minutes for the large land-train to get to full speed. 

“Terrain isn’t good here,” Alira said to the sorcières guarding their rear. “We won’t get up to full speed for about an hour. This route is the safest one, though.”

“It’s fine,” Evie said to the navigator. “I know you plotted the best one for us, and we’ll be fine. If the Fam or Chasseurs come, we’ll be ready. Just let us know if he has to change gears quickly, or if we have to detour.”

The first hour passed without remark. Evie and Vasily constantly scanned their horizon, watching for tell-tale dirt plumes, and saw nothing. They were heading through a valley soon, weaving their way through the New Catalina Mountains, erupted since Before, adding even more mountains to the crazy quilt of ranges in Arizona. More were growing, almost daily the navigation maps had to be reworked, readjusted and plotted. Evie hated the valleys; this made them easier targets, but this valley wasn’t supposed to be very deep, or narrow, which mitigated that risk somewhat. 

Evie felt her mind wander, as it often did when she had quiet moments. She could remember Before; she was small, not even ten, when it happened, and no one really knew what it was. Suddenly the earth shook, new ranges growing through Gaia’s crust like a human growing hair, and just as fast. Hurricanes swept the oceans, depositing megatons of plastic and refuse on the shores, crushing homes and washing islands clean of vegetation. Children and adults, about one in a million, suddenly shooting fire from their hands, controlling the flames around them, or making heat from cold. But even scientists had no idea what caused this upheaval. Science could tell everyone how sorcières worked, what mutated in them, and how their bodies weren’t much different from anyone else; geologists could explain the faults, and thought that they were the cause of the mountains growing inches daily, but what caused all of It wasn’t something anyone could say. 

She didn’t even know why the label she was slapped with as a girl of 14 was French, why no one used the English word: witch; instead, they were called Strega, bruja, even wizards, but never witches. The only people who called them witches were the Familiares Tradicionles, traditional families, people her father told her were very conservative, very anti-change, and dedicated to returning the world to the time Before. Instead of hating people because they were black or brown, the Fam hated people who weren’t the right kind of religious, those who believed that mutations were normal, natural and acceptable, and being a sorcière was the same as being a blue-eyed person, or having blonde hair.

Evie shook herself from her reverie, now was not the time. She scanned the south and west, while Vasily scanned north and east. They were entering the valley now, and she could see the hills gaining elevation; if anything was going to happen, she knew it would happen soon.

Sure enough, Vasily cleared his throat and nudged her. He pointed with his chin, shaking his hands as they ignited and the flames from within covered them, climbing like vines to his elbows. She saw the dust plumes, and ducked into the bullet to let the security team know what they had seen.

Vasily broke into the conversation, using the com to tell the entire team, “Looks like the Fam was ready for us this time. Might be a hundred of them, lots of bikes, and a handful of trucks. Be ready.”
Evie quickly unhooked her harness and dashed back to the triage team; she wanted to make certain they heard, as not all of them wore their earpieces when they were working. She knew her hands were lit, covered in a pale orange flame, but that she would not light anything she didn’t intend to. The refugees saw her hands and some of them gasped in fear. She waved at them to calm them down, smiling, as she made her way to the front of the bullet. She was used to acting as the “mouse”, the half of the sorcière team that had to run back and forth. She always joked that Vasily would have to do it “next time”.

“We see them,” Evie told Jonathan and Alira when she popped into the cockpit. “You probably heard. How much longer before we’re at full speed? Will we have to slow down further in this valley?”

Alira let her know that they didn’t have to slow down, but it would be at least another half hour before they could go flat out. Jonathan was wired into the bullet, fully integrated into the machine, his mind sharing space with the engine and electronics, and so wasn’t able to speak aloud. Evie kissed his forehead, in that inch of space between his mask and his head-gear. “I love you,” she whispered to her husband, and as she exited the cockpit she head Alira whisper the same thing to Vasily on a private channel. They had fought through so much, but each time could be the last. As Evie closed the cockpit door she heard Jonathan’s voice in her ear, modulated by the machine he was cradled in, “I love you too, Babe. Give them hell!”

As she made her way back down to the platform where Vasily waited, Evie paused to let the curious children touch her hands. They marveled that she wasn’t hot, or burning, that her hands felt like hands. She told them that her fire was special, that it only unleashed to protect people like them, and that she would show them some tricks when they got “home”. Their mothers and father, grandparents and other family nodded in agreement, relieved that Evie wasn’t bothered, and knowing home was a long way from there. Too many things could happen in the meantime, but they understood.

Adjusting her com, she switched to the bullet’s channel, “Just a reminder, everyone please stay put, things will get a little bumpy soon, and we’ll be speeding up again. We’re still at least four hours from home, and we don’t want anyone getting concussion before we arrive!” The titters let her know she’d been heard, and that the adults at least understood her little joke. Many of them also looked stern, and in ones and twos began to make their way back to the security section. These were the men and women who would help fight off the Fam if they were needed, and concussion was their code.

“So, I’m wanting some pho for dinner when we get home,” Vasily said to her offhandedly as she came back out onto the platform.

“Yeah? I want low mein,” Evie settled into their well-established pre-trouble banter.

“I don’t want to cook two dinners.”

“You won’t have to; Jonathan will want a slab of meat, you know how he gets after these things. The bullet’s fighting him pretty hard, trying to cycle up, when it’s too dangerous.”

“Yeah, the engine never likes being less than flat out,” Vasily flicked his cigarette butt off into the dirt. Evie reconnected her harness and stepped through the automatic door out onto the platform. She could hear the blast windows opening their loopholes all over the bullet, and nodded to Vasily.

“No Phoenix,” Evie warned him. “Our speed is too erratic, you’ll overshoot and we’ll run over you.”

“I know, I know. You either. I know how you get.”

“Fuckers,” she nodded to the encroaching bikes. She could feel the heat building around her arms, and knew she was more than ready. With a glance at one another, they began flicking fire at their pursuers, watching the small sparks grow and gain destructive power the further they went. Soon they would hear the security team begin picking off the riders as they got closer, but for now, the Fam was too far away to guarantee a good hit. 

Making sure the flames hit and watching them explode were part of their training, but not something Evie often did. She knew that if she hit her target, the petrol in the bike would ignite, she didn’t need to watch it like a newb. Turning her eyes to another target, she felt the fire wind its way up her arms, and across her shoulders. Soon she’d be completely covered, looking like a fiery angel, and burning brightly, even in the early afternoon sunshine of the desert. 

Vasily had a better vantage for most of their targets, so when he put his hands out to her, Evie let her heat drip down to his hands, feeling the warmth transfer to him, along with a lot of her own fire. He could add the flames to his own, allowing him to create much larger explosions with less effort. 

She heard shouting from behind her, and turned to see several motorcycles trying to ambush them on the north. She grinned, turning to them, sweeping her arms out, she let fly several large fireballs right at the bikes. Some hit, and some didn’t; she knew they could dodge out of the way, and let them. She would get them on the second pass. 

Within moments, she wasn’t able to pay attention to her partner’s struggle any more. She knew that if he needed help, he’d shout out, but she expected he would finish beating back the mob on his sides before she did. They were well trained, and had worked hard at this ambush, attacking her flank, and trying to strafe the bullet as it tore through the valley. 

In the fire and chaos over the next few minutes, she didn’t think, only reacted. Evie would steal glances at Vasily, making sure he wasn’t hurt, and then turn back to her own fight. Throwing fireballs wasn’t tiring, just repetitive—nothing about using her fire was tiring, she knew she could throw fire all day, hitting her targets and actually deterring the ambushers was. 

Shaking her head to clear her hair from her eyes, she noticed a truck hanging back and to her left. She kept an eye on it while she continued to flick fire at the bikes, throwing the riders off, and destroying the machines. She didn’t care if the riders lived or died; as long as they couldn’t follow the bullet, she felt her job was done. The truck, however, continued to keep pace, never coming closer, or falling back. They were just out of her range, and seemed to merely be watching the fight. 

Vasily turned to her and asked, “What’s up with that one?”

“I don’t know, they’re just following, but I can’t reach them,” Evie took out the final motorcycle on her side of the ambush, and shrugged her shoulders.  “They’ve been pacing us for the whole time, I think. But I noticed them five minutes ago, maybe.”

The two sorcières watched the truck, wondering if the driver was one of the facilitators, a friend, someone in distress, or just more trouble. Finally they got their answer. 

As the bullet shot out of the valley, it began to pick up speed, and Evie knew they’d be up to 200kph soon. The truck following them knew it, too, and started to speed up as well. Evie knew she still couldn’t hit the truck, it was just outside her range, so she nudged Vasily. When he cupped his hands, she began pouring all of her energy into her partner. She gave him everything she had ready, and they could feel the air cooling around them as she took heat from the air around them to give Vasily, too.
When his eyes began to flash and glow, she knew he had all he could take. She stepped back, leaned against the bullet and crouched down to let him do the rest. Vasily stood tall, raising both of his arms and slowly breathed out.  He shifted his feet, and leaned against Evie, using her as extra stabilization; so she braced him the best she could while he started rolling the fire into one of the biggest conflagrations they had used yet. When Vasily had poured the heat into his fireball, he let it go; it looked to the security team as if he just lightly tossed it into the air. 

The flames grew more as the bonfire flew toward the truck; it was large enough that the driver couldn’t dodge in time, and the fire engulfed the engine, flowing through the cab like a living thing, lighting everything and growing as it went.

The shock wave that the truck made when it exploded, knocked Vasily to his knees. Evie felt the thump in her chest, taking her breath away. She took a shuddering breath and wiped the tears from her eyes. The two sorcières crouched further, ducking the debris that pelted the bullet. Evie could feel the bullet shifting into top gear and knew they would be safe soon.

Evie moved over sitting on her bum as the bullet travelled toward home. Vasily sat next to her, and comm-ed to the rest of the team the all-clear. When asked, he let the team know they were fine, and didn’t need any medical attention. Evie knew he was lying, as they both had several bullet grazes and burns from the shrapnel, but neither of them wanted the refugees to know how large the ambush really was. 

Turning her com to mute, she turned to Vasily, “Here, hold still, I’ll fix you up.” She gently used her heat and flames to cause Vasily’s cells to divide, growing and closing his wounds. Science couldn’t figure out exactly how it worked, but about half of all sorcières could heal. Most people preferred the medical care they knew.

After Vasily was healed, he went into the bullet to get them some water, letting Evie meditate and heal herself. Self-healing was harder, as no sorcière could burn themselves with their own flames; it was hard enough to burn off the wounds of someone the sorcière knew. Evie would meditate and let the flame engulf her, almost letting herself Phoenix; this would kick-start the healing process and she could feel the shrapnel being pushed out of her body as her wounds were healing. Shuddering with revulsion, she had to smile to herself; nothing felt as bizarre as feeling sharp, metal bits sliding out of her body.

Vasily handed her a bottle of water and a cigarette, lighting it from his thumb for her. “You ok?”

Evie nodded, “Yeah, all the foreign bits are gone, little tired, but ok. You?”

“Yep. Jonathan said we’re only three hours from home,” Vasily stretched his legs toward the edge of the platform, feet touching the railing.

“Three? So we’re making good time, and that ambush took forever!” Evie drank half her water in one gulp. 

“We’re up to full speed, so we shouldn’t have to worry about another one, though.”

Evie and her partner leaned against the side of the bullet, still scanning for ambushes, still looking for attackers, but letting themselves relax a little as the kilometres ticked down, and they got closer to their HQ.

The bullet arrived as the sun was setting, rolling into old Tucson, along a river that had returned with the upheaval. The refugees tumbled from the bullet into the arms of their new family; they were led to warm food, tea or coffee, sweets for the children, and soon would be settled into a new safe place to sleep. Many of the elderly men and women kissed the faces of the transport team, thanking them for getting them so far, so fast.

Evie let the triage team answer questions and give the report to their superiors. Usually the sorcières were required to debrief after a transport, and she knew that she and Vasily would have to sit down with their bosses soon. She made her way to the cockpit. As the bullet’s engine was cooling she knew Jonathan would be disconnecting himself. His first few minutes away from the bullet’s interface made him disoriented, and she wanted to be there.

Alira was helping Jonathan disconnect his head gear, and he was slowly unplugging his various physical connections when Evie opened the cockpit door. Alira pulled the final plugs and lifted off the head gear, as Jonathan blinked slowly, rubbing his eyes.

“You guys did good,” Evie said, smiling. She plugged her com into the charging station and pulled the jump seat down, sitting with them as Jonathan came back to reality, and Alira stretched out the kinks in her body.

“How bad was it back there?” Alira asked.

“It wasn’t too bad, I think,” Evie shrugged. “The truck at the end was loaded with explosive, probably on a ramming mission, but we torched it.”

“I felt the shrapnel,” Jonathan’s voice croaked with disuse. Taking a sip of water, he went on, “They were shooting at us too, but I don’t think they actually got a good hit. Felt grazing.”

Evie nodded, “That’s what we thought, too. The worst was the shrapnel from that truck, and the boom was pretty damned big.”

They chatted for a few minutes as the navigator and driver prepared to disembark. As they stepped off the bullet, Vasily caught them up, and Evie heard a voice calling her name. She looked up to see her father, there to welcome them home.

He swept all four of them into an awkward hug, and asked if they were all well. Although Jonathan, Vasily and Alira all had parents, Evie’s dad had adopted all three of them and treated them like his own kids. “We have to debrief you kids,” he said, moustache twitching. “I know you’re hungry, so we’ll hurry.”

The rest of the team was waiting, and within the hour all questions were asked and answered. Evie breathed a sigh of relief, but knew that they’d have to do it all over again, very soon.

“So, how about some of that pho?” Vasily asked, as they headed to their little quarters. 

“Rock, paper, scissors? You lose, you cook low mein?” Evie held her right fist over her left palm, determined not to lose.

(c) 2016 Emma Crawford, all rights reserved


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