We reached the third day of our journey and, to be honest, things were not going well. The General told us this mission would be treacherous, never attempted by a group of Greenies before. Greenies got drafted before reaching maturity, the ideal soldier age for stamina. My mom cried when the General came to our door. I suppose if I stopped long enough to consider my plight, I might cry too. There was no time to ponder such frivolous things when the draft lottery drew your name. The adults trained us to jump forward in obedience. Deep inside, I knew I would never hug my mother again.
I marched with expectations that my end would come sooner than later. Considering I only had another two months to live, I prepared for the draft weeks ago. Besides, life became boring and monotonous, just working and waiting to die. I was ready for a new challenge.
I digress. Our journey started outside of the town hill and we marched endlessly over rough terrain toward the mountain range, avoiding the rushing rivers caused by torrential downpours. We marched on the weather-beaten ground, cracked wide open from the rain and sun. On the second day, we huddled in an embankment under the mountains, taking refuge. The rain poured down, swelling the earth and creating the occasional geyser, washing some of us away. Once the rains ceased and the sun came out, the earth cracked wider. A few of the Greenies wandered off, only to get swept away in the waters. No one bothered to stop or help. The wanderers were defectors not worth saving. We resumed our march in silence, with reverence for the troops and lost soldiers that went before us.
I kept pace with the long line of Greenies, thousands forging ahead. I had no clue who I marched beside. We got drawn from multiple communities in our vast region. We had no allegiance to each other. We received no supplies and no weapons to protect ourselves. Our mission, the guards told us, would be simple: follow behind the General. Instructed not to deviate from the soldier’s path, and not to consider reaching out to save anyone, or there would be consequences. They warned us to follow orders and not ask questions. The smart ones did, I was a smart one.
A fallen comrade tugged at my leg. I shook off her grip, noticing one of her legs got caught in a deep crevice. Another Greenie stepped on her, squashing her head down into the crack. No-one stopped for fear of repercussions but stepping on her head, that was uncalled for. My head slammed into someone in front of me when I was looking back. She cursed me out for not paying attention. Our line stopped, murmuring among the thousands became a loud conversation. The one beside me rubbed her legs together, talking to the others, relaying the General’s message.
We hit a gully with rising waters rushing and threatening to sweep us all away. We needed to form a chain so most of the troops could gain safe passage across the gully. We assembled, holding each other’s feet, and created a bridge. I stayed near the back, thankfully. Finally, my turn came to scramble over my comrade’s bridge to safety on the other side. We lost three more Greenies, who fell into the gully when the earth crumbled away.
We marched on, not saying anything about the lost ones. Day three and I counted at least a hundred of us had already perished. Was this how my sisters died? Everybody drafted for the missions was cursed, the ones who can’t procreate. Our life spans shortened, we get tossed out from the rest of society to work the fields. Not being able to bear children, society considered us faulty and only good for fieldwork, eventually to join the brigade if we lived long enough. We didn’t have a choice and I know our society sounds macabre, but they depended on us to keep everyone fed. The ones who can procreate lived in the city and worked higher-level jobs. Some might think this sounds unfair, but we developed an efficient system and understood how we contribute to society, even if only for a short while.
A bull horn went off, distant screams came from the front of the line. Suddenly the troops started running and separating, everyone in different directions. Some of them headed back to the gully, trying to leap across, only to fall into the rushing waters. What was going on? I stood still, frozen, watching panic seize everyone around me. I climbed the side of a hill, spotting a cavern at the top. Out of breath, I squatted in the cavern. Two more Greenies joined me in my hiding spot.
“What’s going on?” I whispered.
“The General and her guards are gone!” one girl shrieked.
“Shhhhh, or you will draw attention to us.” the other admonished.
Both girls trembled, terrified, tears running down their cheeks.
“I…I….they….they all got taken, some eaten!” she cried out.
Oh dear God, she can’t be yet fifteen. Why was she drafted so young? “Hey. We are safe in here and once the mayhem stops, we will find the others,” I reassured her. “Tell me what you saw. Who attacked us?” She shook her head, disbelieving, as more tears swelled and toppled over, splashing to the ground.
We remained huddled in the cavern, waiting and jumping at every sound. Eventually, the screeching of the troops stopped. My legs cramped, sending spears of pain through them from squatting too long. I rose to stretch, the other two had fallen asleep. I left the safety of the cavern under the cover of the dark to scout for any survivors. I scooted down the hillside, looking back up at the cavern for movement. They appeared to still be asleep and I continued to quietly pick my way through the debris. I had difficulty maneuvering over the rocks, nearly getting my legs snared as I descended to the bottom. One foot kicked something soft. I peered down at the face of a fallen Greenie, her eyes staring blankly to the sky. Her body lay limp, lifeless. I reached down and closed her eyes before continuing on. Several hundred bodies laid half covered in rocks and wood. Something tromped through here, burying their troops. A shudder ran down my back. Arms, feet, body parts and severed heads lay all around me. Faces I didn’t recognize and names I would never learn.
A screech from the cavern bellowed in the stillness, the other two running down the hillside, stumbling and tumbling. I ran toward them, meeting them at the bottom.
“What’s wrong?” I called out.
“Som..som…something we’ve never seen before! The rumors are true and not myths! Hairy spiders exist!”
I craned my neck around them and peered up to the cavern. “I don’t see anything. Are you sure?”
“Yes, it came to us in our sleep! The monster brushed my foot when he walked by. We held our breath and waited for him to kill us but I think it’s too dark and he didn’t spot us,” the other girl said, her voice trembling.
“This is what we need to do. We need to leave here and start making our way back. Are you both with me?” The two girls nodded in sync, their tears drying. “We need to find another way down the mountain. We can’t cross the gully without the others so we need to stay on this side and hope we can get back home from here.” I looked back and forth between the other two, who stood there staring at me but said nothing. Sighing, I turned from them and started leading the path toward a thicket of trees ahead. Not hearing anyone following I turned around. The girls clutched each other, not moving.
“Come on, before that thing sees us and comes down the hill!” The words were not yet out of my mouth when the hairy spider jumped over a boulder, grabbing both girls. I ran for the thicket, not stopping until I was hiding under a leaf. One of my legs got ripped off in the run. I looked down where my leg used to be. It didn’t hurt at all and I knew I still had five so I would be fine. I laid down, dreaming of returning to my colony. Maybe the Queen will reward me before my death with a higher paying job in the colony. The only ant to return from her General’s troops, that must be worth something. If I had just one wish, I would be resurrected as a fish, swimming free in the big gullies without drowning. Shutting my eyes, I tried to think of another animal I would prefer to be. What eats spiders? I know! I would rather be a bird than a fish.
Note: this short story is a submission to the writing challenge offered in Autocrit, a platform for editing. If you are interested in learning more on how to independently edit your own work, click here.