I remember my partner crawling out after the transport came to rest on its roof. He blazed like a torch while stumbling around to my side, screaming as his fatigues melted into his boiling flesh. I wanted to look away as he collapsed on his back, his fingers clenched in agony, but I couldn’t. I bore silent witness as he was consumed by fire.
Minutes ago, he was only six weeks away from rotating back home. Now, he’s nothing but a smoking piece of charred meat—a free buffet for the scavengers wheeling overhead. What a tragedy. I try to undo my seat belt, but it’s jammed. Concussions vibrate up through the ground as distant ordinance falls like rain upon this unforgiving land of rock and sand.
As I struggle to free myself, a huge raven lands on top of the burnt thing that was my partner and barks out several throaty caws. Others join it, arriving in a flurry of croaks and flapping black feathers. They squawk and screech at one another as they jockey for position, mobbing the corpse like some ghoulish band of paparazzi.
They tear into his scorched face.
A milky eyeball pops free of its socket and is viciously fought over.
They pull it in five directions at once until it tears into pieces. As they chortle and gobble down the dripping chunks, another raven lands at the edge of the circle. This one is strange.
The ground is visible through its insubstantial body as it struts around, as if it’s not all there. I must be hallucinating, but it makes me think of the old legends my grandfather told me while boating up the fjords with him one summer. He said that our distant forefathers, caught between their ancient pagan roots and the new religion of Christ, once believed that ravens were imbued with the souls of murdered men who weren’t allowed Christian burials.
The spectral bird wades into the circle of glistening black bodies, but as it nears the remains of my partner the largest among them jabs it with its beak and berates it. The not-all-there raven leaps back for a moment before trying once more, and again, the other one pokes it and squawks. The ghostly bird hops away, grumbling to itself. It seems the others have ostracized it for some unfathomable reason. It can only watch from a distance as they return to their horrid meal.
From behind me, the whoof of petrol ignites. The ruptured fuel tank has caught fire as flames crackle and plastic burns. I try again to release the seat belt, but it’s no use. All of my weight hangs against it.
My breath grows shorter.
My lungs leak air into my chest cavity. With each struggling breath, it becomes harder to draw the next.
The heat against the back of my neck tells me that I’m going to burn.
I thrash in my seat as the hairs on the back of my head begin to singe.
There’s no oxygen to breath as the fire grows more virulent.
I want to scream, but all I can do is moan.
The outsider raven hops over to the window and looks in at me. I stare into those black eyes, and the terrible burning goes away. I see my reflection in those strange eyes, and it’s a raven staring back at me. We look at each other before the others attack him, and our link is broken.
They peck at him and rip out his feathers with their claws as fire wraps around my head. I finally have the motivation to scream. It rises out of me like a mad siren as my flesh crisps and bubbles.
The ghost-raven leaps into the sky, shedding downy feather that shimmer like diamond dust in its wake. The others take to the air in a flurry of beating wings and angry croaks, chasing after it.
My life ebbs away as my head becomes a torch. My eyes burst and run down my cheeks like runny egg yolks. My tongue swells and splits open. As the fire spreads over my body, I weep for the man I was.
I am a vast agony, every disintegrating nerve ending screaming in unison, and still, my spirit won’t shake free.
Jude Mael Eriksen is a writer whose interests skew toward the dark and uncanny places that lie just beyond the realm of possibility. Most of his stories are firmly rooted within the horror genre, while others ride a fine line between horror and science fiction. Born and raised in Western Canada, he divides his time between crafting weird tales and trying to avoid various existential crises. He lives with his long-suffering wife, their teenage son, and two mildly evil cats in a house on a hill. During the winter months you’ll rarely see him stray from his habitat, but in summer he emerges once the snow has melted. When he isn’t writing horror fiction Jude enjoys reading, hiking, photography, and fiddling with the unknown.