The Unfinished Battlefield

By Jon Hillenbrand In Dreamscape Series, Stories

East Africa, the plains of Eritrea.  I am bouncing around in the jump seat of the Zil truck with Maggie the dog in the seat in front of me groggy, laying on her side half asleep.  I can’t tell if she is injured or just sleeping through the most violent truck ride ever.  Dr. Kendra Phillips, a white English Doctors-Without-Borders volunteer, is across from me looking terrified.  Our local translator and fixer is in the drivers seat going over the roughest field most of us have ever experienced with speed which seems downright abusive to the vehicle and passengers inside.  I look out the aircraft-sized porthole windows and see the local villagers scrambling in every direction.  Word has spread that the violent tribe controlled by one of the largest African drug kingpins is coming, and when they come, everyone will die or be recruited into their army against their will.  We are heading to the idling twin prop DC-3 aircraft hoping that it doesn’t leave before we arrive.

Dr. Phillips stars to audibly worry asking what they will do with us when we are caught.

“They won’t do anything to Maggie.  Look at her.  She’s beautiful,” I reply.  I mean it too.  Everywhere we go, people remark at how beautiful Maggie is with her purebred looks and subtle shades of gray.  She’s also calm and slightly fearful with strangers, despite the ferocious reputation of her breed.  Dr. Phillips doesn’t look reassured as I’ve said nothing about the rest of us.  “Let’s get to that plane.”

The Zil bounces to a skidding stop, we all pile out and I carry Maggie.  Distant gunshots echo closer.  Are we too late?  Dirt kicks up at me like a large stone dropped into a lake, except much smaller and much more quickly.  The props of the DC-3 are already rotating, her engines spitting out sparks and black smoke as they light off.  I have my backpack and my dog and we’re running to the cargo doors where there’s a small ladder set up which could be easily kicked if we aren’t careful.  A hiss flies past me like an angry fly, then another and another.  The closer they get to me, the more they snap like someone breaking a medium-sized dry stick over their knee.  I fall to the ground and the snaps go over my head and then away.

Maggie bounces out of my arms and she’s suddenly awake.  I crawl to my feet through the dust and she shies away from the noise and people running all around us.  With her short hair, she’s difficult to grab but I do it trying hard not to press against her ribs where I think she’s been injured the worst.  I run to the plane forgetting everything else and I loft her up over the rail to the stainless steel floor inside.  Her nails scratch for traction on the smooth surface.  I try to hold her as I reposition the small ladder underneath me so I can climb in.  My chest is pressed hard into the bottom of the door as it vibrates the wind out of me.  I feel the noise and heat of the port engine to my left like an undrownable silence.  I scramble inside.

The door closes and it’s extremely dark inside.  We rise up vertically in the air like a helicopter and I adjust in my seat, the artificial gravity preventing me from needing any seat belt.  We are quickly over the ocean as our commander mans the controls.

The commander, played by Leonardo DiCaprio with very long hair that juts out to the sides, asks, “What do you see?” The tall vertical slits that serve as windows gives us only fragments of the battlefield.  So far, we don’t see the enemy, only the vast ocean to the port and the tall cliffs to the starboard.  There is a busy indigenous culture below us preparing for war.  Below the cliffs, they have small cities half-submerged in the breakwaters.  The extremely blue ocean and white caps contrast with their purple and brown houses.  They have ropes and smoke leading to the tops of the cliffs and people are transporting boxes and people from the water up to the safety of the natural rock formations.  We pass a large cut in the cliff, like a man-made gun port, but larger than our ship.

Our commander looks at the controls and calls back to us, “Do you see a pass?  Some kind of cut in the rocks that might house a cruiser?”  We say yes as we look back, having passed it.  “I’m turning around to take a closer look,” he says.

We sweep around in a long arc losing altitude and skimming the water so close that we are just above mast height for a schooner.  I see something in the water, a technology, white with black rubber rings.  It looks like a giant camera lens, or maybe we are all tiny compared to the cameras.  We are flying around in models.  I’m not sure until I see EOS on the lens and I know they are lenses that weren’t painted out of the final release of the film.  I laugh and try to point it out to the commander who’s watching the movie with me in the shuttle.  He looks unamused.  A man rises up out of the water lifesize compared to our model ship that we are flying in.  But he rises up at regular speed, not slow motion.  So he doesn’t look like a giant compared to the small boats and ships around him, he just looks like a mistake, like he’s supposed to be replaced by a monster or something but they were in such a hurry to release the movie that they forgot to go over this part of the film.  I laugh riotously when I see that it’s Russell Crowe.

“Russell Crowe just came out of the water, but they forgot to shoot him in slow motion.  He’s dressed like Robin Hood and he looks pissed that he’s all wet.  How could they miss that?”  Our commander is angry but mostly at my comments.  He lands the ship on the top of a spire that’s jutting up 200 feet out of the water.  We exit the front of the shuttle and survey the battlefield.  Russell is to our left.  He walks slowly to the cliff face where all of the boats and ropes and smoke are waiting.  I can kind of see triangles of greenscreen popping in and out as the movie runs.  I apologize to my commander who says it’s a rough cut.  But I don’t understand how it was released.  I apologize again wanting to be in his favor.  The three of us look toward the west at the setting sun.

What do you think?