‘We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Gun’ (Part Three) by Kareem Mahfouz
This is a story that, if you read past the first paragraph, you will soon realise does not take itself very seriously. I wrote it pretty much two years ago to the day, and it came about when I was stressing over my main WIP. I wanted something I could let my hair down with, something that was just… fun. Every single one of the characters is a close personal friend, bar Bill, who is my brother. And you’re going to have to trust me when I say they all maintain their real life characteristics. The story is basically Gears of War (which most of the real life characters worship) meets Skyrim. If more than one person reads all four parts and actually enjoys them, then I would very much like to write a follow up, one wherein even dumber shit happens.
And remember, the right path is always the right one. The other one is the left path.
– Kareem Mahfouz
Bill looked down at Boner. His friend. Hell, he was more than that. You didn’t go through the shit they did and not become family. He looked at the stillness of his brother’s face and thought about what could have been if Bill stayed on watch. Or if he had put two on patrol, or if he hadn’t told the squad to get some sleep. All these what-ifs; the curse of leadership.
Stop being fucking selfish. Boner’s dead, and you’re worrying about how you’re gonna sleep!
“It’s done, boss,” Liam said.
Bill removed Boner’s dog tags, and without instruction everyone helped lift him up. Toby and Kris collected Boner’s arm before they joined the squad. Together, they lowered him into the ground.
They filled the hole in with their bare hands, and when it was done they shared a moment of quiet.
An hour later they were all hunkered down in the ditch. No one said much, least of all Bill. He heard footsteps approaching and everyone jumped up, armed and ready.
The shape emerged slowly, hands and rifle held high. “It’s me,” Az said.
Bill breathed a sigh of relief.
Az caught on quick. He didn’t say anything, just looked inside the ditch. His gaze lingered on James’ sleeping form a moment, then he looked about the squad. “Boner?” he said. Bill nodded. “Where?” he asked.
Kris stood and pointed to the mound of piled earth.
Az stalked over to the grave and sat down on his haunches beside it. He pulled out a dented hip flask and took a sip. Bill heard him talking but couldn’t make out the words. Then he poured a drop of his spiced rum onto the mound.
Bill gave him a minute before heading over. Az unstrapped Bill’s rifle and handed it back.
“Any need for it?” Bill asked.
Az shook his head.
“What did you find?”
“All the hot gobs have gone. There’s no one around here but us.”
“So we have a clear path to the F.O.B?”
“Not quite, Bill.”
Bill always shat himself when his second called him by name. He let the moment stretch.
“There’s hundreds of them,” Az finally said. “Over a thousand, maybe, all on the north side of Tiffany.”
“What? Scabs don’t gather in those kinds of numbers!”
“That’s what I thought. But that’s what I saw.”
“Bollocks,” Bill cursed. “I thought this fifty was strange. What the hell are they doing?”
“Climbing,” Az said.
“No idea, boss. That’s when I came back.”
Is that why Echo haven’t reported in? Did Anna and her girls run into this horde? Or is that what the distress call was for? Over a thousand…
“Ash!” Bill yelled. “Wake James up. Boys, dig up camp. We’re off.”
Minutes later, everyone was ready. After James thanked everyone, he begged a minute at the grave. When he came back Bill handed him Boner’s tags. A tear shimmered in James’ undamaged eye when he hung the tags around his neck.
“You gonna be okay, big lad?” Bill asked.
“Lead the way,” James said.
A couple hours later, Bill and the boys stood on the fringes of the charred forest looking up at the scene Az described earlier. Hundreds of scabs of every kind made their slow, lumbering way up to the volcano’s crater. The rumbling had grown from intermittent to constant.
“What. The. Actual. Fuck,” Sam said as the squad took in the sight.
“Plucap will sort ‘em out,” Kris ventured.
“Go anywhere near the plucap and I’ll make you swallow it,” Az said, saving Bill the effort.
“Just saying. It would work,” Kris continued.
“And set Tiffany off, tit,” Toby snapped. “It’s a nuclear fucking capsule. You might want to kill yourself, but you’re not taking us with you.”
“Quiet,” Bill said. “Look.” He pointed up to where the scabs were throwing themselves into the heart of the volcano.
“What are they doing?” Liam asked.
“Looks like they’re doing our job for us,” Sam said.
Bill didn’t like it. If today had revealed anything it was that they knew nothing about the hot gobs.
“So what, then? We just wait for ‘em all to jump in and move ahead?” Lee asked.
More and more were pouring into Tiffany’s smouldering crater, willingly throwing themselves in.
“I don’t like it. What are they doing?” Liam asked again.
“Could be recharging — y’know, like batteries. How else do they fire so much lava?” Dan said, stunning everyone with a credible explanation.
“We’ll wait for now,” Bill said. “Toby, is there a less exposed route to the F.O.B?”
“Could go through the mountains.”
“What are you on about? There’s no mountain pass.”
“You never listen, do you? I said through the mountain. Take the old mining tunnels.”
“I don’t like the sound of that.”
“Look, they’ve stopped.” Lee pointed.
“Come on, lads! There’s only a couple hundred left! Let’s cut our way through the ugly fuckers!” Kris suggested.
“Do you even hear yourself?” Liam asked. “A couple of hundred!”
“There’s eight of us!”
“They’re all swaying like they’re pissed,” Ashman observed.
Bill was about to reply when the ground shook beneath them. He grabbed onto one of the charred and gnarled trees while the world rocked. The others all had the same idea.
“She’s popping!” Toby yelled as lava lapped over the crater’s rim. It lacked the pressure of a normal eruption, but it was there for all to see.
Then everything grew still.
Bill and the others looked on in puzzlement. The deafening silence kept everyone, man and scab, frozen in place. And then the volcano roared.
It was a primal, blood-curdling roar. Bill and the rest of Charlie squad looked on, slack-jawed.
A second roar filled the night, even louder than the first, and then it fell quiet once more.
“What the fuck was th—”
Bill was stunned to silence when a creature — the biggest fucking creature he’d ever seen — shot out the crater like a missile from a silo. It beat its powerful wings, sounding like a bass drum with its whump, whump, whump as it soared ever higher, twirling as it climbed and spraying burning-hot rain onto the volcano and the scabs below.
Its ascent slowed until gravity dragged it back towards the earth, its long neck and massive horned head aiming for the slope at Tiffany’s base. It smashed into the ground beside the volcano, crushing scabs under titan-sized talons.
It stood three storeys high with skin identical to the scabs’, except this beast had glowing veins lighting it up like illuminated rivers on a map. It would have no trouble fitting a military jeep in its mouth, and its wings could cast a shadow over most of a football field. It waved its tail like a cat — a great big fucking terrifying cat that flew straight out of the earth’s core.
“What the fuck did you put in my tea, Sam?” Toby whispered.
Sam took a dry swallow. Trying, Bill suspected, to believe what he was seeing. Trying, like Bill was, to process this myth made flesh before him.
It’s a fucking dragon.
Almost as if it heard Bill’s thoughts, and despite the distance and the cover of the forest, the dragon craned its neck around and looked directly at them. Its nostrils expanded; the inhalation could be heard from the squad’s position. The beast turned its bulk to face them, pulled its head back and glowed bright, turning night into false day. Bill and every other man knew what glowing scabs meant.
He didn’t know who said it, but Bill thought it sound advice.
He dared a glance over his shoulder and saw, flying through the air, a ball of lava that made a beach ball seem like a fucking pea. It looked as if the sun was descending upon the charred forest.
They ran hard and fast through thick brush, and must have cleared two hundred metres since the beast started glowing. Even so, as the inferno landed, the squad were thrown into the air by the shock wave.
Bill bounced off a tree, his arse taking the brunt of the impact, and landed hard on his shoulder. He spat hot earth, its texture gravelly on his tongue, and looked through the trees at the approaching dragon. He swore he could see it grinning.
Don’t be ridiculous, he thought, pondering the merits of realism whilst staring at a dragon.
“Up ya get, boss,” Sam said. He hauled him up, rubbing his own shoulder. One by one, they all rose.
“All here?” Bill asked.
He was rewarded with a chorus of “Ayes.”
Az was staring at the beast through his scope. “We’re gonna need a bigger gun.”
END OF PART THREE
Read part four HERE