PART 1: WE BURY WITH WORDS
The war is odd. It has been around for so long that it has become easy to ignore it. My brother tells me of a time when there was no war, and never fails to remind me that we will surely see days when is no war. All of this seems like wishful thinking to me. A place where there is no bloodshed seems like a paradise that we will never be able to reach, like glittering water of an oasis that tempts a traveler in the desert.
The Truth Seekers are odd people. They insist they are saviors and revolutionaries when actually they are murderers and killers. I sometimes wonder if they take us for fools. The best words to describe them are religious extremists. When we talk about God, we walk about an entity which is kind, merciful and loving. Their god is cruel, unpitying and has given his believers the right to kill others.
They are powerful. Only someone who is deaf and dumb or has been living under a rock for many years would refuse to acknowledge that. Their promise for merits, medals and paradise that is far beyond Human imagination is enticing. They are warriors and scholars alike. Their cardinal principle is; kill those who refuse to see reason. That is all we are to them; unreasonable fools who are a hindrance to purifying the land.
The war has made us cold. When a death toll lower than a hundred is observed we sigh out of relief and thank God because it could have been much greater and terrifyingly drastic. When a few foreigners die their companions weep for days and we sneer and regard them as weak. Compassion of this degree is regarded as weakness, what have those brutes done to us? We have been forced to become blithe and apathetic because if we let all these things affect us we would not be sane anymore. Humans are made to adapt after all.
The schools are still open, the telephone lines still work and the Wifi is as fast as ever. If this is so, then how is this war? That is the only name I can give to this Hell. There have been small battles over battles dragged on through the years, carving their scars onto all our generations. Actual battles are quiet rare. The Truth Seekers are scum with a warped sense of right and wrong. Trying to land a blow on them is trying to pin down a shadow. How can you fight something you can't see?
Those beasts have killed many women, men and children alike. Little customs and traditions have trickled into our daily life to honor these martyrs. There is a new, popular one. When the unfortunate news reaches you, you go to that person's Facebook wall and write whatever you wish to in their memory. You can throw back old pictures or retell long forgotten moments. No one says outright that he or she has died, they just start writing and everyone understands.
I am so ridiculously lucky because I am yet to write even one of these things.
I walk to school on Monday morning, twirling the handle of my umbrella between my fingers as my boots slosh on the damp pavement. Rain continues to fall all around me with renewed vigor and water sneaks into my shoes, making my feet cold.
"Macy!" someone calls out from behind me "oi Macy!"
I turn around to find Acacia pelting towards me at top speed. I suppress a groan and patiently prepare myself for the inevitable impact. She crashes into me, damp clothes and all, and envelops me into a bone crushing hug. I wince as I feel the dampness slip into the front of my shirt but refrain from complaining.
"Good morning" she grins brightly.
"Morning" I say dubiously in a low voice, contrary to her high tone. I silently adjust my umbrella so that it shades both of us and begin brushing wet droplets out of her long, brunette locks. She says nothing, just smiles and lets me do as I please. "You should have brought your umbrella" I chide softly as I wrap her scarf tighter around her neck and brush her hair away from her shoulders, "you will catch a cold."
"I will remember it for next time Mum" she beams, the last part accompanied by a sneer and a teasing tone.
I smile into my scarf.
Acacia is my best friend. She is like a bright ray of light in this world where the skies always weep. She has long brunette hair which she lets loose and allows to cascade down her shoulders. She is thin and kind of short but that just makes the amount of attention she manages to draw to herself even more ludicrous. She has a sharp chin with a thin nose and full cheeks, accompanied by hazel eyes. She is pretty and carefree so all the boys like her.
I am tall with ebony black hair that is cropped short like a boy's. I have a small round face with my Dad's sharp nose and my Mom's eyes. People tell me that I have beautiful eyes but I never allow myself to dwell on it or give it much thought. My Mom used to say that the outside doesn't matter; the inside is where the real treasure is. I guess she was right. After all treasure boxes are not praised for their sturdy wood that stood the test of time and if I person is beautiful looking but horrible in nature they will be like a bad gift in handsome packaging.
As we turn to enter the main boulevard, we halt. All the houses that line the main road stand as peaceful as ever, save for one. The windows seem to be cracked, the glass falling into the once gorgeous garden. The walls used to be glaringly white, a little unpleasant, but now they are blackened with soot. The roof seems to have caved in and a small crowd gathers around the house whilst men in uniform sort through the rubble in search for survivors.
This is a familiar sight and I was not even curious anymore. Still, I hold the umbrella over her head and follow her as Acacia runs towards the crowd to find out what has happened. I do not want her to become sick. I would never say this to her but I become very nervous and ridiculously close to tears on the days when she does not show up at school. I stare at the door for the whole hour, desperately wishing that she will show up. When she does, I would turn away and pretend that I haven't noticed because I don't want to seem like a clingy, petulant brat.
"There was a fire" an elderly man explains with a weary sigh. "This house belonged to a young couple and their son. The bodies of the husband and wife have been recovered but we can't find the poor, little boy anywhere. He must have wandered off into the night, or so I hope. Too young to die…."
"Why would anyone do this?" Amanda frowns. I turn to her. She rarely frowns and that was why I love her but she was far from cruel and unfeeling.
"He was a doctor" a woman says sadly.
That was answer enough.
"I am sorry" Amanda says morosely as we walk away "I probably brought up bad memories…"
She has. My mother was a doctor and the Truth Seekers are notorious for not letting people escape from their path of destruction. My mother aided others to escape an untimely death so she became a hindrance and they saw it prudent to dispose of her. I turn towards Acacia to look her in the eyes, because she will become suspicious if I do not, and shake my head. It is not her fault and I am alright. I suppose my blitheness is showing through. No one would remain insipid at the mention of their mother's death but I value my sanity.
"Do you think we should continue on our way to school" I muse out loud as I cast an anxious glance over my shoulder.
"Of course!" Acacia declares ardently "we shall not be afraid of death! We shall greet it like an old friend!"
I close my eyes and smile into my scarf. I do not know why I had bothered to ask.
I tiredly rest my head on my desk, my scarf still wrapped around my neck. Our economy is shot and proper heating is a leisure that only our leaders, who spend more time abroad then in the country they swore to protect, can enjoy. Acacia slips into the seat beside me and I sigh contently as I feel the warmth of her side seep into me. I close my eyes as I feel her dig her hands into my book bag. I crack on eye open to find her copying down the Mathematics homework at top speed. I let my eyelid slide back into place and smile into my arms, because being with her makes me feel warm.
The room is quiet. Not many people have arrived yet, not that many bother to attend. My eyelids feel heavy. I guess I deserve some sleep after last night which I spent devotedly glaring at the Mathematics problems. The room is uncomfortable, but I let Acacia's systematic breathing and the occasional shuffles of papers lull me to sleep.
"She fell asleep?" someone says as they poke me, rather rudely, in the shoulder. I hear Acacia make a noise of disagreement as she swats the hand away and a soft slapping noise proves that she was not gentle about it. I silently thank her as I raise my head to give the intruder a bleary glare.
I used to think that Acacia's smile was blinding, until I met Kaitlin. She is a tall (taller than me) tough girl with tan skin and broad shoulders. Her chin is oddly angular which gives her slight resemblance to a boy and the thin scar that stretches from the right side of her lip to the edge of her chin does not help. She has a hooked nose and dark eyes along with black hair that is always tied into two signature braids slung over each of her shoulders. She is a close friend with an unhealthy fetish for picking fights with boys and taking up crazy dares. When I first met her I was not very fond of her, mostly because of my dislike of being manhandled, but in time she grew on me.
Faye stands beside her with a small smile etched on her face. She has pin straight blond hair that is always pinned back with two identical silver pins which she tells me were a gift from a deceased aunt. Her eyes, like the pins that hold her hair back, are a beautiful grey. She has a small, thin face and a petite frame. When I first met her I had thought that we would get along well, but in the end it turned out that she was as innocent inside as she was outside. I could never understand why she chose to hang out with Kaitlin; it is like the lamb choosing to befriend the wild lion.
I force a smile onto my lips because, as my mother used to say, it is impolite to greet people with a frown. The only exception to this rule is Acacia. I do not have to force myself to smile for her.
"You guys woke her up" Acacia groans "Mama Hen shall kill you! Do you have any idea how hard it is to make her go to sleep?"
I shoot her an incredulous smile just as Faye asks, "did you stay up till late again last night?"
"Mathematics" I say simply. Everyone understands.
"It is a curse from hell!" Kaitlin declares dramatically "the teachers give it to us and then laugh about it as they drink tea with the devil and his minions!"
We all laugh as Faye and Kaitlin begin settling down into the vacant seats behind us. The room is a lot fuller now, which means it is also a lot warmer now. Still, everyone is bundled up in scarves and woolen coats. I turn my bleary eyes to the clock. The teacher would be here any moment now. I sigh and tiredly rub my stinging eyes as I let my eyes drop back to staring intently at my gloved hands. "I knew I should have stayed at home" I mutter miserably "it's so cold."
My head is downcast as I walk home. The rain continues to fall around me. My body aches from the long day I had spent in the cold and I regret not having copied my brother and stayed in my warm bed. I console myself that my house is only a few blocks away so I should stop whining as I force myself to place one foot in front of the other because sleeping on a sodden pavement is not the wisest thing to do. I pull my scarf up till it lightly touches the tip of my nose in order to shield my face from the harsh cold.
As I slip into the house I sigh in pleasure at the warmth and immediately loosen my scarf before tossing it onto the sofa. I slump onto it and bury my face into my scarf. I don't bother to take off my shoes or coat. I am so tired!
"Rough day?" Edan laughs as he sets aside his laptop and crouches down to playfully ruffle my hair.
"Cold day" I correct with a groan as I turn my face into his warm hand. He strokes my cheek for a while, a soft smile working its way onto his lips.
I and my brother look a lot alike because we both have Mom's hair and eyes coupled with Dad's sharp nose. His face on the other is long and thin whilst mine is round and small. He has stubble and his hair is slightly less thick than mine so that it looks elegantly wavy instead of unmanageably curly. He is a lot older than me, ten years to be more exact. He is working in a telecommunication firm whilst I go through high school. He has been around for way longer then I have and knows a lot more than me. He never fails to squeeze up some time for me and with Dad always cooped up in the Military Headquarters he has been there for me for the oddest of things. I can't say that he took up the role of a parent after Mum passed away and Dad got tangled in Militaristic matters but he is a good brother.
"Get changed" He says as he grabs my arm and pulls me into a sitting position.
I sigh and make my unsteady way to my bedroom as I mutter, "wanna sleep."
Edan resumes his video game.
I wake up at seven in the evening but my eyes are still heavy with sleep. I yawn drowsily as I throw off the sheets and pull my pillow into my lap as I sit up. I rest my elbows on the pillow and prop up my chin using the palm of my right hand. I frown. It is dark. This should not be an odd thing since I have been sleeping but I can make out the faint outline of my bedroom door the leads into the living room. Why are the lights not on? I dismiss it as a power failure or Edan's laziness as I stumble into the living room, scratching my neck and blinking sleep out of my eyes. Edan sits in the darkness, his laptop sitting on his thighs. I sigh and felt a fond smile tug at my lips.
"I know the game tends to get intense but there is no need to hurt your eyes" I scold him as reach for the electric switch.
"No wait!" Edan calls out, his voice laced with poorly concealed panic.
I stop and my frown deepens. "What's wrong?" I inquire anxiously.
His lips mirror my frown as he sets his laptop aside and pats the empty space beside him. I cast him a dubious look as I do what he asks. Something is definitely amiss. There is a reason I cannot say that Edan has taken up the role of a parent in my life. He is too lenient and light hearted. If he was being this serious something is unquestionably wrong. As I settle down beside him he grabs my small hands into his own and I take a moment to reflect on how big they are compared to mine.
"There is no need for you to worry" he says slowly "but there is suspicion that the Truth Seekers got their hands on some fighter pilots and…the city is under lock down right now and the Military has requested that we cooperate with them and not turn on any lights. This area is under the most danger because this is a Military Cant but…they can't kill what they can't see right?"
I stare at his worried face, illuminated beneath the dim light of his laptop. I gulp noisily and make a conscious effort to keep my breathing in control as my heart beats erratically. I lower my head and glare at my lap and our entwined hands with wide eyes. I tell myself that I have prepared for days, no years and have always known this day would come. There was a huge chance that I will not live till tomorrow. I squeeze Edan's hands to reassure him that I was going to be okay as I stand up.
"Where are you going?" he asks immediately.
I have to suppress a bitter smile. He is my older brother. He has practically raised me. He knows how to recognize false reassurance as I offer it to him. For a moment I just stare at him as he reaches out to grab my hand and pulls me back into my seat. He lifts his hand and rests it on top of my head. He leans forward to press a kiss to my forehead.
"Don't worry" he says softly "your older brother is here."
I exhale sharply and feel like someone sucked the panic right out of me, taking my scarce energy along. My heart calms down and I remain still as his hand slips around my waist and he pulls me against himself. I am reminded of the old times, back when I was little and didn't cringe like a snail in pain when someone touched me. Mom passed away when I was so young. Like I said, Edan raised me.
"Are you scared?" he inquires kindly as he rubs my back.
"I haven't reached the inhuman and impossible to be frightened part yet" I reply shakily as I press my fist against my chin.
I lie down on the soft rug, next to Edan's feet. He pulls his laptop back into his lap and begins erratically typing away. I fetch my mobile phone and dig out my headphones. I slide them into place and turn on a random song to drown out my panic and keep myself occupied. I force myself to repeat the lyrics and not a panicked mantra. My body refuses to relax; my muscles remain taunt and my eyes wide. It doesn't really matter. It is dark and Edan can't see my face.
The cook asks for Edan's permission to stay the night since the lock down does not allow him to return to his own house. Edan gives him a mute nod and when we are asked if we want dinner he stares at me expectantly. I don't bother unplugging my headphones. I turn my face away from him and shake my head. I see the cook leave out of the corner of my eyes before clenching them shut. Lying to myself isn't helping, I am terrified.
I hate this deafening silence that the music cannot drown out. We are like sitting ducks as we sit uselessly in our houses and wait for death to sniff us out. I wish Dad had come home. He would have told us what the Military was doing about this unfortunate development and if we even had anything to worry about. Oh! I never told you. My father is a Brigadier General in our military. He did bachelors in mechanical engineering before he was inducted so when the war took a vicious turn he was quickly pushed through the ranks and made in charge of a workshop that took care of repairing the Military's equipment. I am secretly glad that he did not have to go to the front lines. I have seen soldiers who have been there, and they scarcely look like men anymore.
I feel a hand drop onto my shoulder and I jerk up into a sitting position. I wrench my headphones out of my ears and relax only when I hear Edan's nervous laughter. I shot him a tired glare as he slips his long fingers into my hair. "Don't just lie there Macy" he says softly "find something to distract yourself. Watch a movie, stalk a blog…."
I stare at him for a moment. In the end I decide that he has a point. I let him pull me to my feet before walking to my bedroom to fetch my Laptop. I chose not to comment on the fact that Edan chose to follow me into my room as I crouch down to scope it up from the rug, where I had left it last night. I follow Edan back into the living room and return to my previous location although this time I can feel Edan's toes digging into my back. It is oddly reassuring.
Humans learn to adapt to anything if it is around for long enough. The terror was gone but I was far from relaxed. My mind was blank, my body oddly tensed. I booted up the computer and rested my chin on my knee as I waited. I typed in my password and opened Google Chrome. I did what I always do with my blank mind. I logged into Facebook.
It is a habit of mine. Whenever I log in the first thing I do is check my close friends' timelines because I don't want to miss out on anything they share and because I am always waiting for the inevitable to catch up with me. I go through Acacia's but clearly she hasn't been online today because the timeline is the same as it was yesterday and she has not left a message. Kaitlin shared some jokes that only she would find funny and a video of a cat attempting to perform tap dance. I don't know why I bother with this one. Next up is Faye's….
One day, as I told her about my grandfather's funeral in a deadpanned tone, Acacia frowned and said that I shouldn't be this unfeeling. I had never given it much thought but as soon as she placed it in front of me I simply had to consider that. My grandparents live in the village and with the War raging on the roads are not as safe as they used to be. I was thirteen back then and I had only seen him thrice in all those years. Why should I feel sad about the death of a stranger?
Maybe Acacia was right after all. Faye was no stranger but my face was frozen into a blithe mask…
When Faye was really young her mother used to be really busy. She would leave Faye with me and my mother whenever she had to leave for a business trip. Faye was such a beautiful and considerate child. She would never make a racket and would silently follow me around the house as I did all my chores. She had the sweetest voice and was a curious little thing. When she first came to stay with us for the day she was as shy as a lamb and truth be told I found her oddly lethargic for a child her age but as she warmed up to us…
When I first saw Faye I was reminded of this painting of an angle I had seen in an art gallery I visited with my sister. Her hair reminded me of golden sunshine and her eyes looked like diamonds. She looked sad every day when we sat in the bus and drove our way home. I always watched her and I wish I could have gathered the courage to ask her to go out with me sooner…
I did not know Faye very well but I always thought that she was really nice. She never turned anyone down when they came to her for help and she had the kindest smile I have ever seen…
Faye was my best friend. From a very young age I was teased and made fun of because of my boyish appearance but when I met Faye on the first day of High school she smiled at me and told me that I have beautiful eyes. I felt like she had handed me heaven on a silver platter and I am pretty sure that I spent an inappropriate amount of time gaping like a goldfish. I don't know how I will make it through the day without her…
It is like someone suddenly blows panic into me as I read Kaitlin's comment. I jump away from my laptop as if the smooth keyboard has burned me and stare disbelievingly at the computer screen. With trembling hands I refresh the page but all those wretched comments were still there. I get up so fast that my head spins and clench the laptop in my hands. I turn towards Edan and swat him laptop away with trembling, panicked hands. He jumps at the rude interruption and quickly pulls his own aside to take mine from my hands and set it into his own lap. His eyes find the words. He sighs.
It is like the panic had worked its way into my chest and it is getting difficult to breathe. My eyes feel like someone poured acid into them and I can't stop my lower lip from trembling. I am in fight or flight mode. I do the only thing I can think of. I turn away from Edan and run. There is a small room near mine. It is supposed to be a study but we used it as a store. After my Mother's death my father cleaned it up, dragged away the cartons and painted the walls, to dedicate it to her memory. It was too painful to look at her pictures every day, but it felt like betrayal to stow them away into someplace where they would be forgotten and left to catch dust. The room was dark and isolated. It was the perfect escape and I spent an unhealthy amount of time there, staring at the many pictures of a woman who had loved me and whose face I could no longer recall.
In my panic, I forget to close the door properly. I can see Edan, peaking at me through the small crack. I ignore him as I rest my forehead against the thick mahogany frame of my parent's wedding photo. I cry.
It feels oddly reassuring. Thick tears rush down my cheeks and the sky weeps with me. I no longer want the light I am always looking for. It makes sense for the world to look so dark and evil, for my surroundings to look like they are being ripped apart. I clench my eyes shut and force myself to recall, recall all I can about her and make the tears thicker because Faye deserves this. My thoughts are a mess of words and a tangle of flashes. Soon, they mold themselves into a thin thread of memories. I sit down and my mind begins unconsciously working on what I plan to write.
Tears won't bring her back, and it won't stop the truth seekers. I sit down and lean against the wall. Edan slips into the room and I realize that he knows me well. I wouldn't want any one there to see me crying, but I was not breaking apart anymore. I had survived the blow; it was time to put the pieces together. I silently climb onto my feet and follow him into the living room. My laptop sits there, waiting.
I sit down to bury my dear friend with my words, and I feel like I am cupping sand into my hand and letting it trickle onto her coffin.
PART 2: WE DIE TO SAVE
The fan spins in a never ending circle, much like the circle of violence that I am trapped in. We move on. Years go by, winter transforms into spring, spring paves way for the summer and we learn to live with it all even if we can't forget it. Sweat trickles down my back and I feel my shirt stick to my skin. I pull at it with an agitated scowl. I attempt to rest my cheek against my propped up hand, but pull away with a cringe as it sticks to the sticky skin. I rub my hand against my shorts as I turn my eyes towards the teacher. She explains the rules for the examination and I gulp to tame my fluttering panic.
I was six years old when I ran towards my mother with a giddy smile and asked her what was her dream. We had read an essay on dreams and ambitions that day, and I had found the concept really interesting. My mother smiled her warm, gentle smile as she moved her head from one side to another and stared at the trees in our backyard with a thoughtful frown. She turned to me and smiled. "I am not allowed to go there right now but someone day I would like to go to Tam and help treat the soldiers who are fighting there. That can be counted as a dream I guess. I just want to do something for our soldiers who are fighting the Truth Seekers..."
I was nine years old when rain pelted my neck and I sat in front of her tombstone and let my tears vanish into the rain that slid off my bangs and sloshed onto my nose. My father stood behind me and asked me, "What can I do for you?" I couldn't ask him for anything short of bringing her back or letting me crawl down and join her in her slumber, so I remained quiet. Eventually, he left to go look for Edan who had run off a while ago. I rocked back and forth as I stared at my mother's name that was etched onto the gray stone. I cried as I leant my forehead against the writing. "Mommy...what can I do for you?" I whimpered. I answered myself as I vowed, "I will make your dream come true."
I will not be able to go treat those soldiers who are fighting the Truth Seekers if I am not a doctor, and I am not going to be a doctor if I don't get a good score in this entrance exam and get into a medical college. My dream, and my Mother's dream, is finally nearing completion but I do not feel satisfied by the days upon weeks I had spent studying for this. I nibble the eraser that is attached to the end of my pencil as I pretend to pay attention whilst praying to God to let me get this right.
"Don't choke on that eraser Macy" Acacia smirks from behind me "or you will fail for sure."
I take a deep breath and set the pencil onto the table. "I won't be able to erase my mistakes if I eat my eraser" I concede as I spare her a glance out of the corner of my eye.
Her long hair is pulled into a pony tail and she wears a sleeve less, knee length dress. She taps her desk with her painted nails as she casts a wistful glance at the stack of papers that innocently sit on the teacher's desk. She is an impatient person by nature and is not taking too well to not being able to see that paper and assure herself that she knows something. She has not changed much in these years and I am glad for it. She took a recent interest in makeup and boys. The interest was mutual in the latter and that makes me feel odd because all I could think of these days was books and medical school.
My hair had grown out during these years and now it is tied into a tight bun. I have a short fringe which's freedom is exclusive to the winters and right now it is pinned back to keep it away from lying a path of destruction on my forehead. My cheeks have finally lost their baby fat so that I look more like a high school final year and less like a first year that got lost. My only venture into the makeup world is eye makeup which drew a generous amount of boys towards me. My obsession with going to the front line and getting myself killed chased them away. Acacia tells me that I have changed a little during these years, and apparently for the better but her saying that makes me feel like I must have done something wrong. I am not sure.
The teacher begins moving as she begins setting the papers onto our tables. The papers sit upside down on my desk and I have to exert a lot of effort into throttling my curiosity and not turning it over before being told so. Acacia does no such thing and the teacher swats her hand away before glaring at her. I don't think she is even sorry but someone who has taught her for years won't expect her to be. The teacher moves to stand on the front of the classroom and we all stare at the wall clock that hangs on the back of the classroom.
"Please begin" the teacher says curtly. The crackle of pages being turned echoes through the room as we do so.
Half way through the exam the fans stop but no one even reacts to this. Our economy stands trembling at its feet and we are thankful for the little electricity we do have. Our leaders still scarcely care for the plight that their people are facing and the first ray of hope we had in years, a young politician Alfred Lanchester, was killed about three months ago. Our country is not one for the sincere or someone who wants to keep their heart beating. This is a suicide ground and we all acknowledge the fact that we might not come back when we leave our homes.
The teacher takes the paper from my hands and I stand up with a soft sigh. I turn my head, gesture Acacia to follow and together we walk out of the classroom. I pull my bag off the ground and slide the strap onto my shoulder before tucking a lock of my hair back into place.
"That was...okay" Acacia frowns as we begin walking.
I smile before saying, "mine went fine."
"Of course it did" she laughs as she playfully bumps into me, "you could not have given it more time unless you managed to steal Hermione's time turner."
My smile grows a little wider as we turn to enter the main hallway that leads to the main doors. "Did you hear from Kaitlin lately?" I ask her "I haven't talked to her in a long while..."
Acacia grins. "She has a boyfriend" she says in a sing song voice "and her sister had her period. Her neighbor's grandmother came to a visit and apparently that old woman never shuts up, her brother finally got onto the basketball team, her mother is learning how to knit, she went on this strife where they tried to work against animal cruelty like seriously we are having trouble with handling human cruelty and she keeps drilling me about these dogs who were mistreated at a fur factory and frankly speaking no one..."
Kaitlin moved away last year. The war is forcing many people to leave and settle elsewhere. There are some people who chide these people for their cowardice and think of this as betrayal but I never thought that. Everyone deserves to live and over here we aren't getting what we deserve. We will all die someday but we deserve to live before we die. Living and surviving are as much alike as a square and a circle. Living in fear is not really living; it is hanging on and trying to race away from the inevitable. Not everyone has to foolishly chase after the inevitable like I do.
"When did you ask your driver to come pick you up?" I ask Acacia to stop her rambling.
"-and she cut the tie of this nosy boy in her class...oh? I told him twelve so he should be here..."
I hum in agreement as I wrap my fingers around the doorknob. I am about to turn it when it explodes out of my reach.
Bright sunlight streams into my eyes and I wince before raising my hand to shield my stinging eyes. Figures jump in, wrapped in blank clothing that seems to suck the light in and leave it feeling dark and cold instead of warm and welcoming. They stand silhouetted against the light, their guns sending a wholly of sirens blaring through my mind. The Truth Seekers have always been pictures in newspapers and demons that gave me nightmares but now they were standing in front of me in the very flesh. The barrel of one of their guns is resting against my temple before I can bat an eyelash.
I wince as I feel the cold of the metal seep into my body. My knees feel weak and my head light. I gasp in an uneasy breath and take a step backwards just as I hear Acacia's cry of indignation. I stand very still as I let my eyes slide to a side to find her. She is standing with her fists raised, glaring at the man who holds the gun that is dangerously close to my temple and foolishly forgetting about the one who is holding one against her exposed neck. Here is my sun, trying to blow them all away.
"Please step back and take us to where the other students are" one of them says in a gruff voice, "it is not god's will for you to be judged today so please do not force us."
Anger rises within me, leaving little room for fear. I swallow painfully as I clamp my lips together and take a hasty step backwards whilst trying to stem the urge to wrestle his gun out of his hands and shoot him with it. The gun disappears from where it leant against my temple but it does nothing to release the tension building up in my chest. I swallow thickly as I take another step backwards. Another gun still rests under Acacia's chin. I will be the one leading them, and Acacia is the leverage to make me do so.
There were hard moments in my life when the world is crumbling around me but I can't cry. I feel like I am screaming and no one can hear. People see the sturdy outer structure, and not the chaos inside. Acacia was never much good at concealing. The Truth Seekers see fight in Acacia, but nothing more than cowardice and fear on my face. My eyes move from left to right and I begin counting. Two of the Truth Seekers have taken guarding posts on either side of the main doors and there are probably more outside. There are three Truth Seekers who will be coming with our procession.
My mind begins weaving a plan. Our swimming pool is notorious for causing the most accidents. It is really congested. You take two steps into the room and you are falling into the deep waters. The armor they wear looks heavy. If I lead them to the swimming pool and trip one of them in there is no way that person will be able to make their way up. If I wrestle the gun out of the one holding Acacia under and shoot...
Plans have an unfortunate knack for not going the way we want them to. My mind sticks to Acacia. If it were just me I would gladly try to dispose of them before they can reach the other students and even sacrifice myself if I have to but who am I to make that decision for Acacia? I have always been a dull girl waiting for death to come. Acacia is bright with high hopes for the future. She wants to study literature, get married and have a million children. I can't let her die!
"Okay" I say in a trembling voice "I will take you to the classroom."
"NO!" Acacia screams "WHAT THE SHIT IS WRONG WITH YOU!"
I ignore her and so do the Truth Seekers. I turn around and stop walking, my breaths coming in sharp bursts that make my chest ache. I turn the corner and I can see all the students piling out of the classroom and into the hallway. I clench my eyes shut as screams echo through the hallway. I can hear the Truth Seekers ordering them to go back into the room and the sound of running footsteps thunders in my ears.
The tension is so thick it could be cut with a knife. I sit with my back against the wall and my legs pulled into my chest. Acacia sits beside me and watches them out of the corner of her eyes as she attempts to get a few words into me.
"What is wrong with you" she whispers furiously "you should have fought them! Isn't that what you always wanted to do?"
"And let you die?" I snap.
She rears back, maybe because I rarely get angry and almost never snap. I take a deep breath as I hide my face in my hands. I can see the three Truth Seekers pacing back and forth from between my fingers. There are about six students to each Truth Seeker but no one dares attack. Even Acacia who sits fuming beside me does not move. I hide my face. I don't want to see this. I want to wake up from this nightmare.
The sound of running footsteps reaches my ears. "They are here" a man says.
"I guess it is time to make the call" another replies.
Someone moves and a terrified yelp is heard. "I will be borrowing your phone" he says and silence follows.
"Hello Sheriff" he continues after a while "it seems we finally caught you...I want you to set our men free and if you dare come into this building there won't be any one for you to save." He cuts the line and throws the phone onto the ground. The screen cracks, the back cover comes off and the SIM slips out.
Silence. The only voices are the battered breaths of the students and the sound of the Truth Seekers' boots. I rock back and forth and breathe harshly into the space between my legs. Acacia moves closer to me and I can feel her knee digging into my hip. We can't say a word but I know I am forgiven. That does not bring me much relief. Her forgiveness is not going to help us make it through this. A part of me wants to die so that the Military can hang those scumbags without any more obstacles. Another part of me wants to live to see the next sunrise.
The sound of running footsteps reaches me once again and I clench the fabric of my shorts in anticipation. News is coming and there was not going to be any good news on this unlucky day. Someone speaks, "There is a squad of three men inside the building!"
I gasp into my legs as my eyes widen. They sent someone in! Were they stupid...?
"Sheriff" the first man is speaking on the phone again "I would have liked to return with my men without any bloodshed. It was not god's will for anyone to be judged today. Alas you leave me no choice. As his loyal messenger I shall pass judgment!"
A gun clicks as it is lifted into position. A scream ripples in my throat as my head snaps up. It freezes before it can rip out. I lifted my head to see who was going to be shot but the gun is pointing straight at us, at Acacia to be more precise. She squeaks as she jumps back into the wall, twisting away from the gun. I stare at its gapping barrel with wide, terrified eyes. I imagine her scream that will echo through the room, accompanied by the shrieks of everyone else. Her blood will surely splatter onto me and will those crimson stains ever come off...
The man is still talking on the phone, he is not even looking at the child he is about to kill. His finger moves, slowly squeezing the trigger. The scream rips out but is drowned by the bang of the bullet shooting out of the barrel. My body is moving before I can even think clearly. My left hand slams into the wall on the right side of Acacia's head, my right hand on the left side. Pain explodes in my lower back and blood splatters onto Acacia's face; not her's...my blood.
My body is sagging in pain and I take this moment to be proud of myself. Acacia is crying, not dying. I choose the lesser of the evils because that is all my country can offer me. I die to save her, because the sun is more beautiful than anything else if you ask me. Unknowingly, in that moment I snuff out its light and shroud it in darkness by splattering it with my blood.
PART 3: WE EMBRACE AN OLD FRIEND
I did not agree with my mother when she told me to stop laughing simply because the world was dying. If I am going to die tomorrow I would like to spend today smiling. When I was younger, my smile was for me alone and quiet often that made me lonely. In elementary school I moved into town and I met Macy. I noticed the way she looked at me and suddenly my smile was not mine anymore. It was her's too.
I have dreams more often than not. They always make me cry but I will never call them nightmares. I stand in a wide courtyard, on a cool spring day, in front of tall buildings and beside a busy road. I vaguely recognize it as Joseph's Avenue but the road is cleaner, the buildings taller and better conditioned. I tap my feet as I impatiently wait for her. I have always lacked patience, Macy said so.
She appears; wearing a long white coat that sways back in the gentle wind, hair that is tied into a lose bun, and glasses that are perched on her sharp nose. She is Macy the doctor, not Macy the high school student. I wear a white t-shirt with a long red skirt, my hair is short and the strands dance in the wind. There is a thick book wedged between my breast and my arm. I am Acacia the literature teacher, not...
"Miss!" someone yells "Miss!"
My eyes snap open as I lift my head up from my arms. The waitress holds a thin sheet of paper between her slender fingers. She sets the slip onto my table and my eyes move from my cup of coffee to the bill. "Expensive" I mutter stingily as I dig my hands into my purse and drop a few coins onto the table. I wait as she counts the money and nods in indication. I sigh and pick up my lab coat. I sling it over my arm and walk out. My hair is tied into a lose braid, there are dark circles under my eyes, a thin scar stretches from my cheek, onto my neck and disappears into my collar. I am Acacia the doctor.
I walk down the road and beside me car horns sound and children scream as they run across the road and to the ice-cream van. I slip the lab coat over my shoulders and slip my arms into it. I slide my hands into my coat pocket and squint against the bright of the sun. On the edge of the street, I run into Theo. Once again I think about how somewhere, as if in another world, I would have loved him. He is handsome and brave. That was all I would have wanted.
His blond hair falls casually into his eyes and a slight frown tugs at his lips. He wears an off-white shirt with full sleeves. He always wears full sleeves. He does not want anyone to see the scars that were left behind after the weeks he spent in captivity. He is a good few years older than me, but not too much. He is the leader of my squad. My squad that fights on the front lines of Jida. He smiles as he sees me.
"Enjoying your vacation?" he asks.
"It's fine" I say softly.
It is horrible. I am too used to gun shots and pain filled screams. Here children play happily with no care in the word and birds sing a soft melody. Out in the battlefield, you begin missing the bird song. He hums in understanding.
"Why didn't you go home?" he asks "these days off aren't common things..."
"I have my reasons" I say coolly.
I don't. My parents are always scared, scared for their only daughter who lives to die. Every time they have seen me in these last years all they have done is make it all harder for me. They don't want their only child to die, and I don't want Macy's sacrifice to go to waste. I never wanted to fight in the war. I hated this country. I wanted to be free, independent. I wanted to fly far away. My dreams for Macy's...the choice has been hard. No one really wants to die; it takes a reckless amount of courage to walk to your own death. I don't want to see them, looking at me as if it is the last time and they must thirstily drink the sight of me alive and breathing while it lasts.
"Of course" he says solemnly.
"You are also still here" I note "don't you have a home to go to?"
He looks uncomfortable. He and I are the only ones still here. Yami is a small town near Jida and it was our first stop when we drove out of the battlefield in a tall jeep, sending a curtain of sand flying behind us. We have been on the battlefield for months. We are now on a reluctant or eagerly awaited vacation. It all depends on the way you see it or whom you ask. He doesn't answer. Instead he says, "Do you want to have dinner tonight...we are the only ones here."
Most women would have found this scandalous. A man invites you to dinner, it is a date right? We have fought together, ran into ragging battles, sat beside the fire and got drunk on cheap beer. We are friends, but I think we both know we think of the other as something more. The battlefield is no place for romances but places and times like these can make you remember. They make you think, and they make you desire things you shouldn't. I hate this vacation.
"No" I say immediately because I don't want to desire things I let go. I sacrificed my dreams for Macy's. There is no turning back from this hell.
Some desires are hard to evade. Evening comes and I find myself standing in front of his door, a basket of fresh sandwiches clenched in my hands. It has been years since I cleaned up, put on makeup and pulled on a nice dress. It is off-white with red hemming that matches my lipstick. I sigh and bow my head slightly, I told him no but ended up coming any way. I shift my basket and knock on the front door.
His blond hair is a mess, his light brown eyes glowing like liquid gold in the dim light of the yellow electric bulb. He wears a blue shirt, a sleeveless blue shirt. There are livid burn marks near his elbows, faded over time but still as clear as day. Scars circle his forearms, probably from tightly bound ropes. He looks surprised to see me there but then again I did tell him a clear no when he asked me to accompany him tonight. He understood my slight fear of attachments. Loving someone with a dream to die on the front lines is a dangerous thing. I learnt that years ago but some people are difficult to dislike, distastefully so.
"I got lonely" I say simply.
"Of course" he smiles "come on in."
His apartment is a perfect imitation of mine. It is not neat but then again there is not much in it in the first place so it looks like an odd semblance of neat and untidy. The living room is bare save for a comfortable looking sofa accompanied by a rug and a small, circular wooden table with two seats. I catch a peek of his bedroom by chance; his bed is tall and covered in a maroon quilt. The only other room is locked, and I wonder what it holds.
I set the basket onto the table. "I made lunch" I explain to his prying eyes.
He smiles again. "Is it any good" he asks innocently as he nervously kicks a can under the sofa.
"Shut up squad leader" I mutter darkly before continuing, "you have any plates in this man hole?"
"I am afraid not" he replies morosely, shaking his head slowly for further affect.
I shoot him an incredulous look. "No plates" I repeat dubiously "does the tap of your kitchen sink spit bugs?"
He laughs outright. It is a good sound. "It is not quiet that exciting" he grins "as for the no plates part. I happen to have an unfortunate condition known as dishwashing phobia...I mostly eat out Acacia."
He calls me by my first name. He never does it on duty hours. Out in the battlefield, I am Doctor Chase. I like it. I sigh and shake my head, "tissue?"
"Got a cold?" he frowns as he goes hunting into the kitchen.
"Makeshift plates" I explain "and they are disposable so they shouldn't aggravate your phobia."
"Thank you for your insight Dr. Chase" he grins as he hands me a roll of tissue paper.
I take it from him and walk to the table. He follows, his hands buried in his pockets and his eyes following my every move. It feels odd to be scrutinized this way but I decide to deal with it. I fold a tissue paper and set it down. I place two sandwiches onto it and tap the chair in front of it. He sits down, looking slightly confused.
"Isn't there a rule called guests first" he frowns "or was it ladies first?"
"Both" I say simply as I quickly set my place, "but who cares?"
We sit in comfortable silence, in the warm glow of the fireplace. The light from the bulb makes half of his face look like molten wax, the other side like burnt bricks. It is an odd sight but he seems to wear it well. My neck tingles and I brush my hair onto my right shoulder. Year ago it used to always rest against my neck, pooling onto my shoulders. Now, I have grown too used to it being tied tight and snug. He leaves half way through our hastily put meal to get something to drink and I laugh as my eyes catch his miss matched cups.
His hand sits firm and strong, curled into a lose fist. The scars that circle his forearm look like a vague imitation of a skilled tailor's embroidery, woven out of silver and golden threads. The dim light makes things look odd, but more pleasing then darkness does. Light makes things too clear, and the darkness is too frightening. I like our dim haven.
My hands move but my mind, which seems to be lost in a place which is not mine, does not stop it. I touch the scar with my index finger. It stands harsh and rigid against his smooth skin. My hand moves upward and a part of me wonders why he has not moved it away, or stopped me. The burn marks are harsher, and they remind me of the ones that circle my leg and my abdomen.
I look up, into his eyes. Light brown...they are light brown like Macy's. Her name strikes something within me but instead of wrenching myself away from him, I lean closer. Macy was all about relentlessly chasing your dreams and doing whatever with the body and soul that was yours and yours alone. I sometimes feel like I betrayed her. He follows my lead and we both shoot up at the same moment. Our fingers grab at the others and our lips are inches apart
"Just for tonight" I whisper harshly. It feels good to dream a little dream.
The warm sand shoots up and into the humid air of the desert that is Jida. Sweat trickles down my forehead and I hastily rub it away as it disappears into my brows. I can barely keep my eyes open for more than two seconds. The harsh light of the sun beats into them and the sand tickles them. The jeep jumps as we crush some rocks under us and rush through the arid desert.
Alfred picks me up and sets me down onto the sandy street of Jida. It is a perk of being the physically weakest in the group. I am a doctor not a militant. I don't have to be stronger. I turn my attention to the dark green tents in the distance that buzz with activity despite the sluggish heat of the day. I begin walking towards our makeshift and hastily established base as the rest of my squad begins unloading supplies. A wave of wind crashes into me and I stumble slightly as I lift my arms to shield my face.
I feel hands on my lower back, steadying me. I turn to face Theo. He looks at the camps. "I talked to the superiors yesterday" he says "they reckon the cleanup is almost done."
The wind howls through the empty streets of Jida. Somewhere close by, the wind stirs wind chimes and a soft jingle sounds. It seems like a mournful lullaby. "The cleanup" I smile bitterly "a massacre."
Theo frowns, "they started it. This was inevitable."
I hum as I resume walking towards the tents. Theo follows me, heaving a hefty bag onto his broad shoulder. Our footsteps remain etched into the grainy sand until the wind blows them away. The tents draw closer and out of the corner of my eyes I see Theo park himself next to a few others. I continue onwards, making my way towards the medical tents. It is time to report back to duty.
"Damn I can't believe I missed the vacation" Jason groans "I wanted to see my fiancée again!"
"You are in no condition to be moving" I chide sternly as I change his dressing.
I wince. Jason's left eye has been burned close, burns and bandages obscuring most of his face. A single green eye stares at me, unblinkingly. It seems like a waste. Jason was quiet handsome. I clamp my lips and stare fixedly at his ruined body. My hands move flawlessly, almost involuntarily. I silently wind and unwind the bandages, carelessly throwing the dirty ones into the trash can. It is my duty to tell him about his fate. I am his squad's doctor,
"You fiancée" I begin softly "you should be seeing her real soon."
He frowns and my heart tightens. He lost his brother to this war, I recall, and now that we have dragged the Truth Seekers out of our shadows he wants to help put him down. Vengeance is one of the greatest drives.
"What do you mean Chase?" he laughs nervously, "We have been restored to active duty. I gotta go out with you guys as soon as I get back on my feet..."
"You have been released active duty" I say gently. "Your body can't take such strains anymore."
He splutters and attempts to sit up, "b-but..."
'You have done enough for this country" I reply softly as I cautiously push him back into bed "It's time to rest soldier."
I leave him, staring stiffly at the ceiling with a clenched jaw and a lone tear tracing its path down his single green eye. I move onto the next patient and kneel down. He is asleep. I silently pick up the clipboard that hangs on the stand next to his bed. I don't recall seeing him before. He must have been brought in when I was away. My eyes quickly rush over the words written in hasty print. Everything is done at a hasty pace during a war...
My eyes widen. The ground under me trembles and the rocks bounce up and down. The tools set on a dingy iron table beside me tremble and clang. The electric bulb dims, sparks, shatters and the only light in the tent dies away. People scream, alarms rip through the initially stagnant air and the sound of gunshots rains on my ears. They are here, The Truth Seekers are attacking.
I am running before I even know it. I pull a bullet proof jacket over my head and trip my way out of the tent, my heart beating its way to my throat. My eyes whiz through the area, surveying it in a panicked whirl. I can't find my squad. I see a shape in the darkness, clad in black armor, heading straight towards me and the medical tent. There is a dead body pressed against my feet, a sentry whom I recognize by face but not by name. Rage bubbles within me and I knell down. In a flash I am heaving his gun onto my shoulders, and shooting.
The Truth Seeker crumbles like a porcelain doll, his blood ripping through the air like threads of red silk. I feel like a beast for enjoying the kill.
I heave a deep breath. A medic must always be calm. It is my duty to keep the injured safe and alive. I widen my stance, increasing the space between my legs. I adjust my grip on the gun and stand guard. The battle rages in front of me. Some of the tents are ablaze, the flames licking the cool night air. Gun shots are insistent. People won't stop screaming. Bodies won't stop falling; staining the ground and pristine white sheets of the tents a sinful crimson. I kill three people that night.
Another explosion rips through the night. I grab onto a wooden post to keep my guarding stance. The explosion jumps sky high, like a flower opening its fiery red petals in full bloom. I can almost feel the heat kissing my face, and see the blood that rains onto our base. There doesn't seem much difference between the droplet that fall from the clouds and the blood that hits my face. They both remind me of home.
I see the next one coming. The red light of the remote control winks at me from a dark crevice and I can see the man crouched down beside it, silhouetted against the darkness. I shout a warning but it is lost in the thunder of the battle. I run towards him, intending to rip his hands apart and stop him from killing all my comrades. I part of me hits a hitch at the word comrades. Where is my squad? Is it there blood that I wear like a cape of bravery?
My hand gropes through thin air, desperately reaching for him. His thumb comes down on the button and the red light begins blinking rapidly. The world is silent. I watch with wide eyes as the plumes of fire rush forward to embrace me. I laugh at their face and stretch my arms out wide. "I told you" I gasp, "I told you I would greet it like an old friend...Macy!"
PART 4: WE MISS THE SOIL OF HOME
"What are you going to get out of that place" My mother screams over the phone. "Come home Kaitlin!"
"Come home to what!" I seethe as I smack my foot into the snowy street with more force than needed "death? I like living."
"What a selfish girl you have grown up to be" my mother gasps and I can almost see her clutching her chest over her dirty apron, "your country needs you!"
"I have nothing to give" I hiss through clenched teeth.
"Yes you do" my mother insists "you are educated aren't you? The war is almost over and it is time to..."
"The war is almost over" I laugh derisively "that is what they have been saying for the last three years!"
"Kaitlin what are you going to get out..."
"Get off my case!" I scream before she can get started on her tirade again. A few people stop to look at me curiously. I glare heatedly at them and they go on their merry way, albeit a little nervously. I am notorious for my wicked ways and a refuge from a violent country.
"You just wait" she screeches "when you die you will miss the soil of home!"
I snap the phone shut and force it into my pocket with trembling hands. I stop on my way to work on a snowy Monday morning and stare fixedly at my brown boots. I know. I don't need to be on death's bed to miss home. The people here are not the same. They will never treat me as their equal. To them I am just a refugee and all they have for me is pity. Friends are rare and there is nothing but an empty house waiting for me at the end of the long, tiring day. Still, I am alive.
"I know I will miss it" I whisper softly.
I walk down the cold, smoky road of Manhattan without the slightest intention of heading back home.
(Levy rambles because she can) ohaio folks! Sheesh that was long! It took me two months ya know! Though….that probably has more to do with the fact that I happen to be obnoxiously lazy haha.
Enjoy and Review!?