A young man tries his best to not open his eyes. Did he make the right decision?
|“Slacking again as usual, eh, brother?”|
The young man heard a very familiar voice inside his head–one that was obviously younger and full of life–as he lay spread-eagled on the emerald grass, his eyes closed in relaxation. His hands were groping the grass-blades as if he was afraid they might slip away at any moment, and thus were wet from morning dewdrops. His mouth cracked open and he started talking with a lax tone, “Brother, huh? That’s quite rare for you to call me that, Jon. ‘Sides I am not slacking. I am merely taking a break.”
“Taking a break, huh?” said Jon in a laudable way, “You, the almighty Gwyn, the fearless one, the conqueror of hearts and pitchforks, the whisper below the skirts?”
Gwyn could clearly tell his young brother was making fun of him. He could imagine a very wide grin on Jon’s baby face. Instead, he heard him giving a deep sigh. Now he was getting tempted to open his eyes. But he bested the itch to do so. He kept those eyes shut.
“Early in the morning of this fine day? I understand, kind of. After all, you’re older than me. So, I wouldn’t be surprised if old age is catching up to you. Looks like you’re going to beat pa or ma to it first!”
The older brother quickly got the urge to jump to his feet after hearing what his nosy little brother said. Luckily, he managed to control himself, his eyes still firmly closed and his back stayed true against the grass. He simply mumbled a few curses the young boy wouldn’t understand. Again, he heard him sighing. An opportunity arose. He smirked and said, “If you keep sighing like that, you’ll be wrinkly before I do.” He laughed. After a moment, he took notice of a few growls from his little brother. He nodded to himself. He won the duel.
“Fine, you win for now. I’ll leave you alone. Enjoy your grass. I’ll see you later then.” And then his young brother left. Before long, Gwyn returned to his dreamless world.
“Oi, so that’s where you’ve been, you snot-nosed runt!”
Gwyn returned from the darkness and back to the world of consciousness without opening an eye after hearing a throaty, rusty voice of an old man. His hair stood up on the back of his head, seemingly frightened and anxious. He expected him to be the last person to find him.
“Now-now, dear, calm down. Let him sleep if he wants to. Our son deserves it.”
The young man heard another and it was a dry and flat yet worried voice of an old woman. He was relieved to hear her. The two voices were very familiar. After all, both were their parents. This time he was the one doing the sighing instead of his young brother. Without opening his eyes and rising from his grassy bed, he opened his mouth and respectfully–as much as he could muster–said, “Come on, pa. I’ve been working nonstop. I deserve a break. You should listen to ma. Ma's words a wisdom.”
“You useless piece of flesh and blood, get back to work this instant or else!”
Their eldest son tried as hard as he could not to open his eyes and get up to his feet and obey his father to go back to the farm and work like a drone. This time he completely made up his mind and refused to submit to his command. “Give me a break, pa. I’ll get back to work as soon as I can, if I can. Right now, I want to be left alone. And reflect upon my life choices.”
“Why you little, I should have skinned you alive and fed you to the dogs if it weren’t for the fact I’m too old and your brother’s too young to handle all the farm work!”
Gwyn ate his words bit by bit. He didn’t say anything as he was too busy digesting and reflecting on his father’s words. He was beginning to have a second thought. Did he make the right decision? Without warning, he heard his mother coughing a few coughs. They knew what that meant. Father’s in big trouble as he said something he shouldn’t have, especially in front of his wife who happened to be Gwyn’s mother as well. His father stopped whatever he was doing. But it was too late. Gwyn could imagine her now in a foul mood, crossing her arms and looking at her husband with an angry stare that could burn a straw hut to ash. He wanted to laugh but that would only make things worse. Good thing his eyes were still shut. He started hearing his father yelping in pain like a pup after swallowing a bitter medicine.
“Not the ear! Not the ear! Anything but the ear! No, not that one! The ear is fine! The ear is fine!”
“Gwyn, hon, you can sleep as long as you want. Don’t worry about us. They’re in great care since I’m here to make sure they don’t do anything out of the ordinary, especially this one.”
“I’m not sure about that, sweetheart.”
The young man heard his unfortunate father squealed louder in pain again. All their son could do was smile. He smiled his biggest smile ever and said, “Thanks, ma, I’ll get back as soon as I’m able to.” As much as he wanted to release his eyes and see them off, he didn’t. He simply listened to the grass being stepped upon as they walked away towards home. A breeze blew by. Did he make the right decision? And then they were gone to leave him alone. Gwyn shortly plunged back into the darkness.
Out of the blue, something dragged him back from the dreamless slumber. He returned to consciousness once again without unsealing his eyes to the open world. He didn't have to since what woke him up was a lovely fragrance of flowers, of crystal lakes, and of snow-capped mountains. The scent was all too familiar. He let out a tiny whimper. But it was loud enough for her to hear.
“I’m sorry. Did I wake you up, Gwyn?”
The young man heard a melodic voice with a little mountain accent from a young woman. He was right. It was her–the flower girl from the nearby town. He doesn’t know what to do or say to her. He was nervous. He really had no problem talking to young women or flinging their skirts, but not her. No, she was different–completely different. Whenever she was near or around, he doesn’t think clearly. She may not be the most beautiful woman out there, but, at least to him, she was. After his father, she was the last thing he needed right now. Or, perhaps, it was for the best. In any case, they were alone. He found it strange that he was all too happy to be alone with her. All he could say was, “Hi, Katya.” Great going, Gwyn, great going, he mocked himself.
“Greeting me without looking at me? That’s rude. Are you snubbing me?”
Gwyn covered his pink-colored face with one of his hands, his heart beating faster. He didn't know what to think or do next. He struggled to decide whether he should open his eyes or not. His eyelids were shaking. Then he heard her laugh. He realized he was being made fun of. He pouted and sighed. At least, he settled down. His face was now free from his palm. He tried to get up and sit straight, with his eyes still shut tight. Surprisingly, Katya stopped him from rising any further.
“Just lie down. I know you’re tired from all those work. So just keep your eyes close and rest a good one.”
The young man didn’t utter a single word as he was too conscious about her hand gently pushing him back to the grass. Shortly, he noticed his arm being grabbed by hers and straightened outwards. Without a hint of warning from her, she lay down her head on his shoulder. His heart was racing faster than ever before. He could only gulp and clear his throat at that moment. He didn't know whether he should be thankful or not that his eyes were sealed by a thin layer of skin and that he could still feel her .
There was only silence. Too late to ask, don’t you think? Gwyn thought in his mind.
“I’ll take that as a yes then. Say, do you remember that time when we first met?”
Strangely, Gwyn remembered their first meeting down to every detail as if it was etched into his mind permanently. He took a deep breath and opened his mouth and said softly, “Of course, I remember it clearly. I would never forget that first day I met you.” He gave a pause after realizing what he just said. He heard her laughing again. His face was completely pink in embarrassment.
“I was really delighted when you bought all my flowers that day. The same goes for the other days. Thank you very much. You made my pa and ma and brothers and sisters happy.”
“Yeah, and because of those days, my pa tripled my workload and reduced my rations to a minimum as punishments.” He sighed. A little more and he might get wrinkly before Jon does.
“And yet you didn’t stop buying.”
After hearing her laugh for the third time, Gwyn whispered, “Katya, I…“ However, before he could finish his sentence, he was cut off as she pressed a finger against his lips. He thought only of embracing her, slowly positioning his arms around her. Midway, however, he stopped the attempt and lowered his them where they should be–to the grassy bed. Did he make the right decision? Instead, he clutched some grass-blades in frustration so tight he uprooted most of them, only to free his hold, letting them fall to the ground like failed dreams.
“Thank you, Gwyn. I’ll be waiting for you to buy my flowers again, okay?”
The young man was disheartened when the flower girl removed her head from him, her hair brushing against his shoulder. Once again, without warning from her, she gave him a kiss on his pink cheek.
“I’ll be waiting. Someday.”
Gwyn’s eyes opened wide in surprise. His back was leaning on something made of blackened metal he couldn’t clearly recall what it was. He tasted something unpleasant and then he coughed and spit. His hearing started to come back. The noises he could make out were completely different from the serene landscape he could remember back home. Despite his eyes still blurry, he surveyed what’s in front of him. He gasped and coughed as he struggled to rise.
All Gwyn could taste was dirt and mud and smoke and blood. All he could smell was burnt flesh and the stench of death. All he could hear was gun fire and groans and cries and explosions and engines. All he could see was dead bodies of multiple races and severed limbs and smokes and explosions and wrecks and landships and golems and soldiers and airships and biplanes fighting all over no man’s land. The land was completely ravaged and torn apart by a war that had been going on for years. He didn't realize his hand was unconsciously groping his own bloody breastplate until now and noticed there was a hole the size of a bullet, much to his horror. Then he finally remembered all. “Jon, pa, ma, Katya,” he paused and struggled, “Did I make the right decision?” And all he could do was laugh as he got hold of his rifle.