November 2, 2008 § Leave a comment
Hello, nanowrimo. Are we going to be friends this year?
The only thing he perceived upon opening his eyes was the blinding white light. It bored into his retinas and seemed to continue its burning path through the optic nerve and into, no through, his brain to pin the back of his head to the…floor? Ceiling? Every nerve ending was commandeered to ensure he was aware of nothing except the light. He could not distinguish the texture beneath his hands nor the smell of the air. Every memory was crowded into a damp dark corner of his mind so as not to distract him with trivialities like his name.
Seconds, hours, days seemed to pass through his eyes until, as though using the muscles for the first time, he forced his eyelids together, slamming a door on the uninvited light. Abruptly the world came back into focus. This time it was not a single sensation that paralyzed him, but thousands.
A harsh buzzing filled his ears, although he could not be sure if it was from outside or in his own head. He lay outstretched on a bed of dirt, he clenched his fingers around the warm clay, though the gritty texture could not tell him any more than that.
Memories emerged hesitantly, wondering if it was safe to come out. Names and faces floated briefly in front of his closed eyes. Which one was his? At this point his involuntary functions peered around the corner to remind him that he needed oxygen, no rush but sooner would be better than later. He took a deep breath which turned into a hacking cough as the layer of dust that had accumulated on his lips flooded his lungs.
He rolled over on his side and nearly vomited as he tried to move his leg. The rush of pain ripped warm and cold from toe to head and back again, knocking the dusty air from his lungs. He was barely aware of a hand gently but firmly guiding him back to his prone position while something damp wiped the grime from his face. He didn’t dare open his eyes, but gagged and chocked and tried to find his voice.
“Don’t move,” a muffled voice commanded. “Don’t talk, and for god’s sake don’t be a baby and open your eyes.”
He squeezed his eyes shut even tighter; aware he was being as petulant as a child. The hand hadn’t seemed unkind, and he slowly allowed one eye to open. Only darkness met his squinting gaze, and he cautiously opened his other eye to take in his surroundings.
At first he could see nothing and he wondered which was worse, the blinding light or the utter blackness. He could hear nothing except his own ragged breathing, which was only now coming under control. Then slowly, so at first he thought he may have imagined it, shadows began to disconnect from the blackness and float ghostlike across his vision. Soon he could make out the flicker of distant candles. The shadows resolved into the hunched shoulders of the figure bent over him, who had presumably been the one who had spoken.
“Here, take this.” The voice was still unclear, and about the only thing he could tell was that the person was a woman. A thin rough fabric covered his nose and mouth; he tried to turn his head away to avoid being smothered, but ceased when he discovered that his breath was coming easier, the thick dust in the air no longer clogging his airway. He reached up a hand to hold the cloth to his face and his fingers briefly brushed against the stranger’s as she pulled away. It felt comforting somehow to feel something as real as flesh.
He could make out a little more of the space beyond where the two of them sat; the wavering candlelight illuminated four dirty walls covered in large smeared stains. The ceiling curved down towards him, and for a moment he thought he might be able to touch it if he reached out a hand. He tried to think how that was possible, when he was distracted by a tug on the leg of his pants. He winced, and a strangled cry escaped his throat before he could stop it.
“Don’t.” he growled, finding his voice at last. He reached out a hand to try and swat the offender away from his leg, but the woman took his hand and firmly placed it back by his side.
“It’s okay, I’m a nurse. I just have to have a look at it.” He reluctantly lay back and tried to ignore the probing fingers, each one finding a different pain receptor until it was all he could do not to shake her off. He contented himself with cursing through gritted teeth, and could hear her chuckle periodically at his inventive phrases. “I don’t think it’s broken…” He frowned at the hesitation in her voice.
“You don’t think? I want you to be pretty damn sure.”
“Well, nothing is sticking out through the skin–” she pulled his pant leg down authoritatively.
“What kind of nurse are you?”
“I’m not, actually, but I knew you wouldn’t let me look at it if I didn’t say something like that.” She had turned her head slightly, and part of her face was now visible in the dim light. She did not appear particularly young or old, but fit into that age group whose ages he could never guess. Her dark hair was pulled back, but several strands had come loose, which she was now absently tucking behind her ears. Her brow furrowed in concentration while her mouth was turned down at the corners in a grimace, not of pain or anger but of worry perhaps.
“Do I know you?” His mind was beginning to clear along with his vision, but it brought with it memories of a barracks, a firing range, a courtroom, a jail cell, and more recently a naked terror that transcended physical pain and the uncertainty of sight. His memories were confusing, but he knew that something had happened, something bad.
“No, we’ve never met. My name is Emelie. You have a name?”
“T—” The syllables sound heavy and unfamiliar, but he knows it’s his name.
“Do you remember what happened?” the last sentence was spoken in a low voice, a strange thing to do since he was fairly sure they were the only two in the room. Now that he thought about it, it looked more like a tent, thick canvas moving slightly in a breeze. It’s fear, a voice inside his head tells him. She’s afraid but pretending not to be. She’s hoping you remember so that she doesn’t have to remind you.
“I remember,” the memories untangle as he speaks, falling into place and creating a black pit in his gut. He has trouble swallowing, it feels as though he’s looking over the edge of a cliff while someone stands behind him ready to push. He looks at the woman who now looks like a young frightened girl. He wonders if his expression mirrors hers. “I remember that the world ended.”
He could see the city clearly in his mind. He had lived there once, haunting the downtown bars in the early hours of the morning while on leave. He would drink until the neon lights hurt his eyes and the pictures started sliding around on the walls. Often he found himself spending as much time on his knees in the bathroom with his forehead against the cool porcelain throne as he did sitting on the unsteady bar stools, waving a class at the bartender.
The next day he would wake up in an unfamiliar house, the sunlight streaming through strange blinds and bringing him roughly back to consciousness with a hangover from hell. He would pull on his shoes and stumble into the bright sunlight, cursing the day and returning to the laughter of whichever recruits had seen him the night before.
“Welcome back stranger, glad you could join us.”
“Wish we were all as lucky as him. Did you get the guy’s name?”
“Fuck you,” he would snarl, as their faces smeared together into one and their voices became a single incessant whine.
It seemed so long ago now. He hadn’t set foot in the city limits in years. He became used to the sounds of the woods outside his windows instead of traffic and sirens. Sometimes he would walk until he lost sight of his house, deep into the dappled forest until he could imagine that he was the only person left in the world. He’d never imagined it could ever happen.
They studied each other in the light of the fire. Relief had been replaced with suspicion [as each one realized how little they know about the other. Sparks leap from the embers as the woman stokes the dying flames in a miniature fireworks display. Shadows pass like dark thoughts over each of their faces. She tucks her hair behind her ears self-consciously; it hasn’t been washed in weeks and now lays limp and flat against her head. He rests his chin on his hand, acutely aware of the prickle of a beard he doesn’t remember growing.]
Words: 1456 (1537)