Something I wrote on YouTube. Don't take it too seriously. Some violence.
|"Woah," he says, touching my ex machina arm. "Did you see that, Liz? Something just fell from the sky.”
I hadn't been paying attention, staring at my feet trying to get over the awkwardness of being up on this mountain with him. "No. What was it?" I inquire, though not really caring the answer.
"It looked like a rocket re-entering Earth's atmosphere. Way off in the horizon over there," he says, gesturing towards the great beyond.
"Wonderful," I reply, actually interested now, because it has been my dream since I was a little girl to travel the stars.
He sits down. "Well, too bad you missed it Liz." He yawns. "It's great being up here with you," he tells me. "You're a really nice girl."
"Uh, thanks," I reply, only adding to the awkwardness. I try to sit down, my ex machina arm grinding as I do, but I lose my footing and slip, and I start sliding down the hill. I try to kick out my feet but the heel of my boot hits a sharp rock and I go rolling headfirst downward. James starts running after me, but he's too late to help. I roll straight into the stream. I immediately start shivering. Winter water is unforgiving.
He offers me a hand. I reach for it. Our hands meet, mine metal, his flesh. Then I remember something, but it's too late.
Our hands are frozen together.
This has only happened once before, back when the war was still going. I had recently lost my arm at the time. It had to be amputated after getting shot, twice. Of course, I was sent home once they had fitted me with my ex machina arm, given six months' leave to get used to using it before returning to battle. There at home, less than a week after returning, I was convinced by my still very young brother to come build a snowman with him. I decided that I needed to exercise using it, anyway, so I agreed. But walking outside, my hat blew off and landed on the ice of the frozen lake and I stupidly went to retrieve it without thinking that I might break through. Long story short, I fell in, and my little brother jumped in after me trying to be a hero. But the lake was shallow enough that I was able to touch... it was he that was in danger. I grabbed him and began running back to our house... I held my hand against his unconscious face, forgetting that it wasn't a regular arm, and, well, when I rushed through the door and set him down, my hand was frozen to his cheek. I was mortified at what I had done; but when he woke up and asked why he had a hand-shaped mark across his face, he thought it was funny.
That is sort of how James responds now.
"Uh, Liz, your hand is really cold," he says, laughing.
"I know," I respond. "James, we need to get back up to the fire," I tell him. "It's dangerous on your part. Your skin could... come off."
We begin to awkwardly walk our way back towards our camp, and James has to walk backwards because of the way our hands are connected. After a while of trying, we finally reach the top. James grabs his bottle of water and sets it by the fire, and after less than a minute the water is warm enough and he holds the bottle over our hands. "I've always wanted to hold hands with you," he flirts, and then pour the water over our hands. I can't feel a thing, but he winces in pain. I guess it was too hot.
Our hands come loose. I snap my ex machina arm back to my side, glad that this embarrassment is over. My clothes were waterproof, thankfully, but I still must change because now they have become stiff. Out of all the places to be stationed, why'd it have to be here? I run into our tent and quickly change into new, warm clothes, leaving James outside still tending the fire.
I walk back outside the tent. He turns around and looks into my eyes.
"What are we up here for anyway, Liz? What reason would the military have for stationing us together as lookouts way up on the Melody Mountains?"
"Do you remember that rocket you saw? Maybe that is why. Perhaps we should radio back about that."
"That doesn't answer my question though. You know that they told us to watch for potential ambushes on the camp, not for missiles miles away."
"Well, James, maybe it's their way of discarding us. Showing that we don't matter to them anymore." That answer surprises him. He looks away.
"Eh, maybe you're right, Liz. But at least we're still doing what we can," he responds.
I sit down next to him, and put my dry ex machina arm around his shoulder.
After a while, he asks another question. "Hey Liz... why don't you ever leave? Ever since you lost your arm, you've been treated more as an expendable," he tells me with a sadness in his voice. "The war is over. Haven't you ever wanted to live a normal life? Get a job, get married, have kids, grow old in peace...?" he asks me.
I think about it for a moment, then respond. "I feel like I've lost that purpose. I've been fighting so long, now that the war is over, I don't know what to do. So I just do nothing," I say.
"Why do you stay here, though? You've got more of a chance at having that life than me."
"Why... do you think? I've... got someone that's keeping me here," he responds.
And I think it was at this moment that it truly dawned on me that James... well, he loved me.
Of course, it was obvious, but I hadn't thought much of it before. I suddenly felt terrible. He stays for me, I thought. He continues to risk his life, for me.
James and I had grown up together. We both hailed from the same small town, the one that was perched where the Snake River met the valley. We were neighbors; we went to school together, we lived in cottages only a minute's walk apart, and, when the war came, we fought together, as comrades. He was an awkward kid, honestly. Never seemed to get along with the other boys, and it wasn't quite customary for a boy to hang out with the girls... so he was virtually friendless, alone. I, at the time, didn't give much thought to him, and neither did the other children in our town. He was a forgotten soul.
That all changed when the war came. At just 12 years old, we got recruited, both boys and girls. This was completely unconventional and utterly barbaric, many felt, but our homeland was in such grave danger that it was a necessary evil, the politicians said. Our government was accused of creating a weapon capable of poisoning an entire town with a single aerial drop—and then using it on their main water source. Denying this, a skirmish broke out between our military and theirs, along the border between countries. However, this was a country to reckon with: Garaxalor. Less than a century ago, it was a great empire but it had shrunk due to rebellions and political corruption. Many citizens wished to restore Garaxalor to its former greatness, and it appears that they used blaming us for a chemical weapon attack to justify invading us: Vielle. Quickly, this skirmish escalated beyond repair and soon enough, almost all of Vielle was under Garaxalorian control. Except for the far northwest, where my town was. The remaining Viellan military and the citizen's militia fought relentlessly, but we were outnumbered greatly.
That was when they began to recruit children. Many of my classmates died; I lost more than a few friends. But James, he shone on the battlefield like no other. An incredible strategist and a determined fighter, he became a legend among the other child soldiers. The classmates of mine who were still surviving were completely amazed that the person they had neglected was now among the most celebrated.
No child should have had to go through this, though. 12-year-olds should never have to see their friends die in front of their eyes, or see classmates literally have their brains blown out. Nor should we have to kill. I killed so many, pulled the trigger and ended their life. I am still mortified by what I saw and what I did on that battlefield, still angry that we were forced into that. I may never be healed.
Near the end of the war, 3 years after I got recruited, I was terribly injured. Since the beginning, other countries had joined Vielle in the fight, and we had nearly driven Garaxalor out of our country. We were fighting now in a battle to liberate a town near what used to be the border between Garaxalor and Vielle. I had risen the ranks over the years as a sniper; it seemed to be my best skill on the battlefield, being a sharpshooter. I was perched in a belltower killing Garaxalorian soldiers below, when another sniper shot at me. Luckily, it hit my scope, which probably saved me, but glass exploded in my face leaving a few scars here and there to this day. Unable to see because blood had gotten in my eyes, I stumbled down the stairs. One of my friends that I had made through this fighting, an adult named Cassie, was a medic, and she ran up to treat me. She wiped the blood off my face and quickly adhered bandages. We heard gunfire further down the stairs but she continued working on wrapping a tie-on bandage around the biggest cut that was across my forehead, still streaming blood. She quickly finished and we ran up the stairs to go and hide at the top of the belltower. There were few options, but there was a large stack of firewood that she went and got behind. She motioned for me to come over, but they were already very close so I ran behind the door instead. Several Garaxalorian soldiers came through, one of them dragging a boy from our battalion. I couldn't tell if he was unconscious or dead.
They looked around. I held my breath, praying they wouldn't find us. But Cassie hadn't hidden well enough. They grabbed her violently, pushed her to the ground, and began tying her up. She was going to be taken hostage. However, she resisted. Reaching for her belt, she grabbed a pair of medical scissors and stabbed the man in the leg, his blood spurting on her face. Another man shot her then and there, and as she went limp on the floor, blood spilling from the hole in her neck, I let loose a scream of anguish and came out whirling with my bayonet, slashing two soldiers fatally before getting shot twice in the arm. In desperation to keep myself alive, I then hurled myself over the edge of the belltower. Hitting the ground was the last I remembered.
James had been the one that had saved me that day.
I woke up in a dark room lit by lanterns. A nurse nearby saw me open my eyes. I tried to sit up... but something was missing. I couldn't tell what. There was an immense pain in my chest so I lay back down.
"You're lucky to be alive. A miracle of God, if you ask me," she said. She was an old woman, with a softness in her eyes. I tried to reach out to her, to touch her hand. I felt I needed to feel that touch of another human, in this horrific time. That was when I realized what was missing, and I couldn't believe that I hadn't realized it before.
My arm was gone.
"You will be fitted with an ex machina arm soon. We were hoping that you wouldn't wake up before, though... it's usually quite painful, I'm afraid to say."
"What's become of my comrades?" I asked her in a hoarse voice.
Her soft eyes told me that it was alright, regardless if it actually was or not.
"14 fatalities, 52 injuries, 12 hostages, 4 unaccounted for," she told me. I wanted to cry, but no tears came.
14 murdered. 52 in agony, 12 imprisoned and tortured, 4 in danger or dead. That was the way that I heard it.
"Elizabeth," she said. "You're going home. A silver lining, I suppose. The military has given you 6 months to become accustomed to an ex machina arm."
I'll get to see my brother. I thought. He had just been born when I left. Alphonse was his name, and he was the reason my mother wasn't also in the military: she had to take care of him. However, I don't know who the father of my brother is. My father was a Chaplin on a ship that transported exotic fruits, but he and all other crew members died at sea in one of the worst storms ever recorded. People used to feel bad for me, even though I don't remember him. Now, with the war, everyone knows someone that tragically died, so people don't seem to take it as seriously. As for my brother though, I suspect him to have been born out of... prostitution. My mother is not a very responsible woman, our family is poor, and she often went out and never told me where.
"Is there anything more you need?" the nurse asked me.
"No," I said.
"Ok. Well, I have other patients to attend to. Goodbye," she told me, and began walking away. Suddenly another question popped into my head.
"Wait," I call. "Who saved me? Who carried me here?" I ask, really wishing to know the answer.
"James," she said, and then turned around and walked away. I watched as she faded into the darkness.
That was how I found out. James had been the one that had saved me, the one that had picked me up after my fall, the one that had carried me here. James, the forgotten kid, James, the boy with no friends. Guilt washed over me. I had begun to resent him, with all of his amazing success. Something within myself told me that James being successful was somehow unfair. I felt so terribly selfish for ever having such a thought.
That is how I feel now.
James loves me. I am now realizing it, and I have no idea what to say.
In an odd way, I feel like I owe him my love to repay him for all he's done. That one fateful day, when I had lost my arm, James ran from safety, grabbed my limp body, and carried me three and a half miles back to the hospital. Later he had come to visit. He was worried about me. I could see he had a kind heart.
Now, he stays, still risking his life, for me.
Why? Why does he love me? I was no different than the other girls. I was never kind to him. I don't deserve his affections, I feel. He's still an awkward person, but no one could ask for a better friend.
Why can't I feel anymore? No emotions come to me. Only guilt. Only numbness.
"James," I suddenly hear myself saying. "You don't have to stay anymore. The only person here that deserves that life... is you."
Something strange happens. It is likely imagination, but a small and warm but barely noticeable feeling seems to flow from his shoulder... into my ex machina arm.
"I'm still fighting," he says.
"For you," he says. "No more flirting. No more avoiding it," he says. "I'm just gonna come out straight and say it. I love you, Liz. Ever since that day, when I carried you through that town. When you were there in my arms, I felt this feeling flow between me and you. And all of the pain of the past—it all flowed away. All the hurt, all the terror of that god awful war, all the pain and loneliness—it was gone. The world was in balance, and I was at the center." He told me wholeheartedly. I could see the tears well in his eyes. "And ever since that day... I've wished for nothing more than for you to feel that way as well."
Again, I am speechless. What can I do? Do I love this man? That man that sacrificed his career in the military, getting himself demoted just to stay with the friends he had made in his battalion? Can a person like me, numb and scarred, still love at all?
"What did I ever do to you to make you love me, James?" I respond. "I was never kind to you. I just did my duty and lived my life."
He immediately responds. "Really? Never kind to me? You were kinder than all the others ever were. But must that be a reason for love? No, I love you because the light of the world shines through your soul. You have a smile heartfelt but full of sadness. You have been through immense pain, but still persevere through, you never lose determination. But what matters most to me: you have a beautiful heart, even though surrounded by whirlwinds of torment. I wish I could show you how wonderful you truly are."
I lean on him. I feel it, indisputably now. The feeling flowing through the metal. It's there. It flows into me. It spreads, warming the cold inside me, taming the whirlwinds of torment. Feeling. Feeling replaces the numbness.
I can feel again.
I hold nothing back. Warm, oh sweet tears come rolling down my face. It doesn't matter to me that they quickly freeze to my cheeks. Frozen tears are better than none at all.
I smile up at him, tears still wetting my eyes. But he doesn't look at me. Instead, he stares off into the great beyond.
I look, too.
A rocket's leaving Earth.
I grab his hand, mine metal, his flesh.
"Come on, James. Let's go home."