Sumerian Sandstorm

This week’s flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig involved a list of pretty unusual story settings, and although I was hoping for Starbucks during the apocalypse, a random number generator gave me #13: Ancient Sumer.

Where is Sumer? I had to Google it to. Turns it out it’s not so much where, but when:

Wikipedia: Sumer was an ancient civilization and historical region in southern Mesopotamia, modern Iraq, during the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age … modern historians have asserted that Sumer was first settled between ca. 4500 and 4000 BC by a non-Semitic people who may or may not have spoken the Sumerian language. These conjectured, prehistoric people are now called “proto-Euphrateans” or “Ubaidians“, and are theorized to have evolved from the Samarra culture of northern Mesopotamia (Assyria). The Ubaidians were the first civilizing force in Sumer, draining the marshes for agriculture, developing trade, and establishing industries, including weaving, leatherwork, metalwork, masonry, and pottery.

Another fun story to write!

Sumerian Sandstorm

Sergeant Jackson leaned forward, trying to see through the windshield.

“Can you see anything, Sparky?”

“Nothing Sarge,” his driver replied. “We’re blind.”

“Alright, pull over,” said Jackson. “We’ll wait it out.”

Corporal Brad “Sparky” Sparkes pulled the Humvee to where he thought the side of the road might be. “Let it idle Sarge?”

“No, shut it off,” said Sergeant Jackson. “We don’t have a lot of fuel left and we don’t know how long this sandstorm will last.”

Sparkes turned the ignition switch and the vehicle went quiet. Wind whistled through the door cracks. “I’ve never seen a sandstorm like this, Sarge,” said Sparky.

Jackson leaned forward, still looking through the armoured windscreen. “Me neither,” he said. “Try to get that radio working would you?”

“Sure thing, Sarge.” Sparkes reached behind the seat for the toolkit, took out a screwdriver and popped the cover plate off the radio. Soon he was lost in the tangle of wires and electronic parts. The Sergeant turned around in his seat.

“Grey, Williams, how you two doing?”

“Just fine Sarge,” answered Private Grey. “Wish I knew where we were.”

“We’ll wait it out,” said the Sergeant. “ You know how these storms go, die down as fast as they blow up.”

“Yeah I know Sarge,” said Grey. “But I’ve never seen one this bad before.”

Sergeant Jackson looked over at Williams. “How are you, Private?”

Williams was looking out through the three-inch thick armoured glass. Jackson noted he was still holding his weapon at the ready position, muzzle by the gun port, ready to slide the metal door open at a moment’s notice. Sand had sifted softly into a tiny dune at the bottom of the gun port.

“Private!” the Sergeant said, more sternly. “You OK?”

Private Williams turned to him. “OK Sarge.”

“You sure?”

“It’s just … something feels wrong.”

“It’s just a sandstorm, Private.”

“Yeah Sarge,” said Private Williams. “But that flash, that bang … I thought for sure we hit an IED.”

“We didn’t,” said Sergeant Jackson.

“I know Sarge,” said Williams. “But with no visibility, the radio going out – how do we know one of the other vehicles didn’t get hit, right behind us?”

“We can’t worry about that,” said the Sergeant. “Right now we just worry about ourselves.”

Williams turned back to his window. “I don’t like just sitting here, Sarge.”

“Me neither.”

*

The sandstorm vanished as quickly as it had appeared. In a matter of minutes, the wind died down, the solid wall of brown they had stared at for the last hour disappeared, and they were once again looking at the blue skies over Iraq.

“Alright,” said the Sergeant. “Williams, Grey, with me.” He opened his door, pushing drifted sand away from the vehicle, and got out, holding his weapon warily, scanning the horizon for 360 degrees.

“Fifty metres out,” he instructed the two privates. “Circle around us and take a look, see if there’s anything close by. Once you’re sure we’re secure clear the sand away from the Humvee.”

“Yes Sarge,” they said, and trotted off.

Jackson stuck his head back inside the Humvee. “Any luck with that radio, Sparky?”

Sparkes shook his head. “There’s nothing wrong with this radio Sarge. It’s got juice, all the components test active. We’re just not getting through.”

“Keep trying. We’ll get moving soon.”

“Sarge, it’s not just that…”

“What is it?”

“Well, we’re not receiving … anything. At all.”

“What do you mean?”

“Even if we can’t talk to base, or our unit, or anybody else, I should be picking up static across the dial, local radio stations, whatever. But there’s nothing.”

“Nothing at all?”

“Not a thing.” Corporal Sparky paused. “It’s like there just aren’t any transmissions to pick up. Anywhere.”

“Must be the radio, Sparky. Don’t worry about it, we’ll figure it out when we get back to base.”

“Right Sarge,” said Sparkes. He didn’t look convinced.

Jackson looked up over the vehicle where the two privates were approaching.

“All clear sir,” said Grey. “Nothing in sight.”

“Good,” said Sergeant Jackson. “Last thing I want is a surprise out here. Where’s the road?”

“I meant nothing, Sarge,” said Williams, “At all. Not even the road.”

“What do you mean? We were on the road when the storm blew in, we stopped barely thirty seconds later. The road has to be here somewhere.”

“Yes sir,” said Grey. “Only, it’s not.”

“It’s not?”

“No sir.”

“Buried by the sand, probably.”

“Maybe sir,” said Williams. “But we’ve seen roads after sandstorms before. You can always see the shape of the road. But there’s nothing.”

“OK. We’ll find it. Get the sand cleared away from the vehicle. I’ll get a GPS fix and a heading back to base.”

Grey and Williams pulled shovels from their mounts on the back of the Humvee and slung their weapons over their backs. Jackson watched them bend to their work for a moment, then climbed back inside the vehicle and shut the door.

“Pass me the GPS unit, Sparky,” he said. “Apparently we’ve lost the road.”

“Yeah Sarge,” said Sparkes. “About that.”

Jackson looked at him. “What now?”

“I turned the GPS on when I knew the radio was out.”

“And?”

Sparkes handed it over. Jackson turned it in his hands and looked at the screen.

Unable to acquire satellite signal.

“We’ve got a clear sky. How long has it been looking?”

“Almost half an hour now.”

“Well, we’ll give it some more time. You know how reliable these things are.”

He heard Williams and Grey put the shovels back in their mounts, and they climbed into the vehicle.

“OK, fire her up Sparkey,” said Jackson. He looked at his watch. “It’s just after 1800 hours now, so we’ll put the sun at our backs and head east. We’ll either see the outskirts of Baghdad or hit the highway.”

“Yes sir,” said Sparkes. He started the vehicle and turned away from the lowering sun, driving across the desert sand.

The next hour was tense, silent. Jackson kept fiddling with the dials on the radio but got nothing. He checked the GPS every few minutes.

Unable to acquire satellite signal.

Finally Sparkes broke the silence. “Got some buildings up ahead Sarge,” he said, and Jackson looked up from the GPS unit to see a small cluster of low mud-brick buildings.

“Any signs of life?”

“Thought I saw someone duck into one of the buildings when they saw us,” said Sparkes.

“OK,” said Jackson. “Someone should be able to tell us where we are.”

As they approached the low buildings a person came out and looked at them, and was shortly joined by two more. Another couple came from a different building. All five people stared in their direction.

Then suddenly all five people took off running in the opposite direction, their flowing clothing trailing behind them.

“Jesus, they took off fast,” said Sergeant Jackson.

“Yeah,” said Sparkes, as he pulled the vehicle to a halt near the closest building. “You’d think they’d never seen a Humvee before.”

© Copyright Keith Collier 2013

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