Tuesday, September 14, 2010

"Picture This" Month - What If?

Prompt: Describe a battle scene in detail.

Source: None.

Response: What If?

I had heard what it was like - when they took you away and played with your mind. The ones who came back did not talk about it, but those who had never been had all heard stories. I had heard the stories of being taken and toyed with.

I had heard that they only came once when they came. I had heard they came once and they stole people - they took boys and girls - and then they were gone and everyone was safe. For a while.

They had already come that day. Taim and Rikke were gone and a few of the children that usually ran through the streets. They were the only ones who did not live under the fear. And they were gone.

I missed Taim - he was one of my best friends - and I was sad, but I was relieved. My brother and sister were safe at home - as safe as anyone ever was. I rocked my sister to sleep that night. She was warm. I hoped she was not getting sick, but she was restless and shaky.

I fell asleep by the fire and woke on my knees with my hands chained to a pipe on a wall in a room I had never seen before.

I screamed. They were all screaming. Taim was there - a few people over. I could see him, still slumped. Slumped so far that his arms looked dislocated. I screamed for him and he did not move.

There were people all along the wall. I heard a child crying somewhere close, but I could not see them.

I tugged at the chains on my wrists, then pulled. I rattled the chains and wrenched my arms against the pipe. And I cried. I slumped like Tiam. I could not hold myself up.

I knew what happened - knew from the stories. I knew they would take us away in groups, but we not know how many. They would take us to new rooms, sedated. They would chain us to the walls and give us a gun with one shot.

On the opposite wall there would be another person. Sometimes is was a dummy and sometimes it was another person. A living, breathing person. With a gun.

Turn your back and you fail - you are dead. Turn your back and your family dies. Turn your back and your village is dead.

So when the footsteps came in, I was not surprised that they screamed. I think I screamed.

I heard them unchain people. I heard them talking, saying "this one, that one, no not him."

I was not in that group. Or the next. I lost count of how many they took.

When they unchained me, they took Tiam too. He had just woken up. He had leaned against the wall and vomitted, heaving and sobbing. I could see his shoulders shaking from where I was and I cried too.

They gave me a gun, they chained me to a new wall. They did not tell me anything, but I knew - turn your back and you are dead, stare them down. And I never saw their faces.

I could hardly see the person across from me. It was cooler in the new room and my position was a little more comfortable, chained by the ankle instead of the wrists.

I listened to see if I could hear breathing. I strained my eyes to watch for movement. I did not move. If I was a dummy, I was not a threat. If I was alive, I could be dangerous.

I remembered the other parts of the stories. Some people said that if you shot and it was a person, they let you go. Some people said that was how you got back - the only way. Some people said they only let you go if you never fired your shot - if neither of you fired a shot - but most people thought it was the other way around.

Most people said that they only way to get back was to shoot.

I looked at the gun. I knew how it worked - the dangerous shiny metal. I knew I could shoot it. I knew I could hit the dark shadow on the other side of the wall.

I tried not to move. What if the other person decided to shoot first, before I made up my mind? What if I died there in the dark, holding the key to my salvation?

It could be a dummy, I told myself. It had not moved. It could be fake. It did not have to be a person - a live person, a breathing person. I squinted and for a moment I thought maybe I could see the reflection of light off of eyes.

Did it matter if it was a person, I wondered. I could shoot and they would let me go. Did I care about the dark shadow on the other side of the room. They had no identity. They were nothing to me. I could die - I would die if I did not shoot.

What if it was Tiam, I wondered. He was sick - he might be dying in the room across from me. I could not shoot Tiam. He was my friend - I could never hurt him.

What if it was a child or an elder - how could I shoot not knowing?

There were other stories, though, that said if you passed they would feed your family. Some said that life would change if you came back.

I thought about my brother - so skinny his ribs were showing. And my mother - heavy with another child, but bone-thin everywhere else. And my sister - feverish and calling out for me. If I shot - if I just pointed the gun and pulled the trigger - they could be free and I could go home.

But I could not kill someone, not knowing! I wanted to move, wanted to crane my head to see if I could get a hint, but I was afraid.

I knew on the other side of the room, the person could be having the same debate. Worse, what if the person worked for them - what if they decided to shoot because I waited too long?

I could feel sweat trickling down my back even though the room was chilly.

I squinted again. The shadow was misshapen - it could hardly be a person, could it?

I leaned forward a fraction of an inch, trying to alleviate the tingling in my legs. And then I froze. The shadow had moved - I was certain of it. It was a person then - and I had just told them that they would have to shoot me. I was a threat.

I waited, trying not to breathe. It was so quiet that my heartbeat was like thunder. I watched - perhaps it was a trick of the light and nothing more?

My fingers were slick against the smooth surface of the gun. Across the room, nothing stirred. I could not hear anyone breathing. I could not see movement.

I wondered what would happen if I shot myself instead. But I could not think of dying - it left a cold hole in my stomach.

I had to live - if I had nothing else I would have my life.

I twitched my arm to raise the gun and stopped.

I would be taking away the life of another. If they came from my village too, it was probably the only thing they had - their life and their starving family.

But I did not know that! It was my family I had to worry about. I had to save my life.

So I raised the gun and I saw the shadow move and I heard the shot ring out. My arm rang with the recoil. And I cried, I could feel it.

Then the lights came on - blinding whiteness. Across the room I saw a girl my age. A girl I had seen before, perhaps in the market. She was crying and she screamed when the light came on - or at least she looked like she was screaming. Her gun was raised.

Between us was a barrier, reflective as glass. And I could see my own faint reflection. It sat right next to her. And we looked just the same.

Notes: In case you couldn't tell, I have a cord now XD

This actually began as a dream I had. It was pretty intense . . .

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