I had no idea where it should go after the first paragraph popped into mind, I just knew I loved it and that I had to write a story before I went insane.
This is the result. Enjoy!
Memories never leave you. Not the ones seared into your brain with the heat of emotions and the cataclysmic force those events took in shaping you. They may fade over time, you may try to drown them out, to run from them, to somehow erase them from your mind, but they never leave. They are yours forever. No matter how much you hate them.
I have learned this the hard way. There is a saying, in an ancient book of prophesies and Truth, that says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift comes from above.”
If that’s true, almost everything in my life has come from below. From the bowels of hell itself. I can’t escape them. The only way of escape is death.
But I am afraid. Afraid of death, afraid of the pain it brings. Afraid of what comes after.
Every day for the past year I have cursed my reflection in the mirror, cursed my weakness. If I were strong, I could do it. I could escape my memories by drowning them in another death—in my own—but I can’t do it. Time after time I’ve tried, only to pull back, to stop, to curl up on the ground shaking and shivering like a scared bat, mascara leaving tell-tale streaks down my cheeks.
I despise those streaks and the tears that create them.
Grey walls. Dirty grey floor and grey ceiling. Weak, grey light filtering through a narrow, grey-paned orifice. A grey blanket in the corner. A small mirror on the wall.
And I’m in black.
There is no color. Anywhere. Anywhere except for my eyes, which are green with a hint of gold, like a cat. And in my memories.
They say I’m crazy, the people here. They say I have to move on, to stabilize, before they’ll let me out, before I can learn a trade, before I can leave and become a part of “productive society.”
I no longer fit in “productive society.” The other side made sure of that fourteen years ago. They made sure of that when they turned a human into a machine, then pushed that machine until it broke.
They killed me and left me alive.
Pulling my blanket around my shoulders I curl up into the corner and try not to think. I focus on one thing: keeping the memories away.
Red creeps into the edges of my mental vision. I try to shove it away, I can’t do it again, just die already. It keeps coming, joined with the noise of screams.
My world goes black.
Pop, pop, pop, crack. The window breaks like an icicle, the house blows up like my birthday balloon, only it’s on fire, and Mommy falls like my tower of blocks. I wiggle deeper into the prickly bush like Mommy said. Mommy doesn’t stand up. I start to cry, and put my hand over my mouth. Mommy said don’t make noise.
Big men with guns run around our house and start kicking the broken pieces of my house. Fire swooshes around their boots. One runs toward my bush. I freeze. Don’t see me, bad man. I am invisible, I—
He jerks me up by the hair. I scream and kick his stomach.
“Shut up, brat,” he shouts. He throws me over his shoulder and my chin smashes against his back. My teeth bite down on my tongue and my mouth fills with nasty blood. I cry for Mommy, but she doesn’t answer.
The big man takes me to a big grey house. There are other kids at the house, and other big men and women. They put us in grey coats and yell at us, making us run and jump and climb up mountains, every day. After I have lived at the grey house for a long time they give us guns and tell us to shoot the people tied up to grey metal poles. They tell us we are soldiers now. That we will kill the bad people so the good people can be happy.
Pop, pop, pop. The people fall, like my tower of blocks, and don’t stand up. I think of Mommy and cry.
“Don’t cry,” my commander says. “Crying is weak. Soldiers don’t cry.”
I am five.
Years pass. I am a soldier, I never cry, I always kill.
I am good at killing. The commanders make me a junior officer and give me a squad of ten younger children. Together we sneak into tight places and blow things up, kill people—with guns, bare hands, it doesn’t matter—and open up the tight places for the regular army. I don’t know why I am fighting. I have never been told.
But it doesn’t matter. I am Number 676, of Division 5, Junior Officer 3. I have no name but 676. No other life than that of a soldier.
I trust nobody. I trust me, and my gun.
Survivors don’t trust.
I am a survivor.
We—the army—is moving faster now. We are growing. I am now eighteen. Victory is finally within our grasp.
Officer Morill smacks my shoulder, jerking me out of a fitful sleep. “676, we have a mission for your squad.”
I snap to attention and dust dead leaves off of my uniform. I’m glad to be awake. Memories don’t attack you when you are busy. For the past few weeks, mine haven’t left me alone. “Yes, sir.”
He hands me a map. “Take your team to this point, here,” he points. “Kill anyone over sixteen. Bring back the rest and destroy the bridge on your return trip.”
I salute and click the heels of my combat boots together before taking the map. “Yes, sir.”
Officer Morill traces my cheek with his finger. Another memory in my mind. It’s everything I can do to keep from gutting him right now. “Don’t let us down, 676.”
“I won’t, sir. I never do.”
I round up my squad, we round up our gear, and we head out. While we are on our way to our target, I fill them in on what details I possess. We don’t know how many people are there, what the terrain and area is like, or much of anything, really. That isn’t unusual. My team is the best. And because of that, we’re always given the missions where the specifics are sketchy.
We make good time. We are efficient. Machines finely tuned for the art of guerrilla warfare. Only…machines don’t have memories.
That must mean I am defective. Nobody else has memories. Not like I do. I try to shove those thoughts out of my mind. I must not think of that. I am one of the best. I will be one of the best.
My third in the chain of command—who is also my main scout—creeps up next to me. “Target is within a quarter mile. All silent ahead.”
I snap back into focus. “Good. Spread the word.”
He salutes and slinks back along down the line, his grey coat merging with the shadows.
Within ten minutes we have reached our destination, regrouped, gone into position, and attacked.
Pop, pop, pop, our guns strafe the area.
Mommy falls like my tower of blocks—
We run into the tiny cluster of houses, ducking behind vehicles and melting into shadows, the pre-dawn light revealing us only if we aren’t careful.
Crack. A grenade flashes. From inside one of the houses. I quirk an eyebrow as I flatten my back against the rusting pickup I’m using for a shield. Somebody in one of those houses is prepared.
I throw a grenade. It explodes inside the circle of people. The people are catapulted into the air, transforming into flying pieces of flesh and fabric, horrific screams dying as blood splatters my jacket like a light rain shower. I dance to the side as an arm lands next to me. A wail cuts to my heart and I look up. Not two hundred yards from me is a child maybe three years my junior. I’m ten.
“Nobody can be left alive.” The voice of my commander echoes in my ear.
The child looks at me. I look at the child. Raise my gun. Pop.
The child blinks. Gasps. Collapses into a bloody-headed heap...
I curse under my breath. No. I can’t go there.
We swoop in, taking over the area house by house until everyone is outside and we have them surrounded.
“Keep ‘em.” I gesture toward the group, nodding toward my third. “You’re in charge.” Then I point toward my second and fourth. “You two, come with me.”
Without question they follow. We scout the area, double-checking the houses and the edge of the clearing.
A soft whimper.
I pause. My two underlings don’t react. Maybe I’m just hearing thi—no, there it is again. In the bushes.
With a frown, I move toward the shrubbery, stabbing the muzzle of my gun amongst the leaves. A tiny squeak, and leaves shake. There, between the prickly branches, is a child.
Big men with guns run around our house and start kicking the broken pieces of my house. Fire swooshes around their boots. One runs toward my bush. I freeze. Don’t see me, bad man. I am invisible—
The child whimpers, hugging herself tightly. “Don’t hurt me,” she sobs, “please, don’t hurt me.”
The look on her face says more than her words ever could. She thinks I’m a monster. She stares up at me with huge eyes pooling with a mixture of fear and tears. Shivering.
Maybe I am a monster. What am I doing?
What have I already done?
Another memory joins the pile.
Something inside of me snaps. Breaks. A broken machine.
Broken machines are worthless.
Monsters need to be destroyed.
I stick the muzzle of my gun into my mouth. I taste burnt metal.
The little girl screams. Distracts me. Makes me pause.
“Hey!” My fourth’s voice.
I spin around, only to have his body smashing mine into the dirt.
“What the heck do you think you are doing, 676?” He screams into my face, pinning my wrists against the ground, pressing down harder the more I struggle.
“Get off, moron,” I spit. I twist and slam my knee into his chest, knocking the wind out of his chest and shoving him off.
My second tries to stop me. I club her with my gun.
Then I vanish into the forest.
Part 2 will be posted soon!
Red Memory (c) copyright Hannah Mills, 2012