My Hero

March 17, 2011
“See you later.” Such simple words uttered by my father, only to be heard as a farewell in the ears of the men in uniform. But no, I quickly decided. The words produced hope, a feeling of pride in his apparent tone only audible to a daughter of his. You see, the words did not mean goodbye in any way, but they meant that I needed to try. And with my efforts, he had faith I could survive. With that thought, a tear formed in the pit of my eye.

I spoke nothing back as he disappeared into the distant mist. But as they pulled him away, widening the distance between us, he nodded. And in that moment, there was a hushed understanding that spoke everything I needed to hear.

He loved me.

He knew I was strong.

And of course, he knew the love was mutual.

Violent screams shake the earth below my bare and trembling toes, waking me from my dream and returning me to the nightmare that is my reality. Though my mind is corrupted by the emptiness of my stomach, the look in my father’s eyes will remain with me. As long as I will live, he will be the one by my side when I know there is nothing but sorrow to accompany me.

Music interrupts the unbearable silence that seems to envelop the entire camp. It plays with a pulsating frequency; ambient keyboards and thunderous percussion seep through the work yard. I begin to feel the beating of the drum mimic my own heartbeat, as I clash my wrench to the metal with all the invisible strength I could never seem to come across anywhere else.

My chin tucks into the crook of my neck, shielding my broken expression from the passing man. Tears softly glide down my cheek, leaving a trail of salt stains behind the droplet. My wrench shimmers in the small amount of sun in the sky, even under that thick layer of rust and tarnish. My eyes advert to the wooden legs of my worktable. While continuously striking my metal strip with the wrench, I watch the streaks of melting snow cascade down, revealing the icy surroundings of our pressing extremity. I recall winter before this tragedy. It was lovely with the crimson cardinals in the air and the haze I could see that was my own breath. Magical, I recall.

So happy, so perfect before. My mind filled with smiling friends, smiles seemed so foreign now, but that was my life before. Before the torture, before I feared today was my last day, and before I was alone. So very alone. The music grows louder like the squeal of my old teapot with water boiling over the top. My mind dims the image of the smiles, wishing not to taunt me any longer. My head tilts to the sky, finally seeing ambiguous hints of an approaching dawn. Dawn means another day.

“Save me or kill me, God. I leave the choice to you.” My mumbles turn the heads of few, as not a soul has so much as uttered a damn syllable in the last forever. Nor have we all stopped shaking with chilled fingers and toes. My voice echoes, but I was not searching for a response. And yet it pierces the tranquil air of our comatose movements. The cadence pours through my heart, leaking and dripping as I begin to lose myself in the melody.

I shut my eyes for a bit longer than a customary blink, casting out the harsh world and its grievance for just a moment. For merely one flawless moment. Our shaking breath becomes part of the music, as the pounding harmony overtakes the air once more. The skyline glows faintly as the light bursts through the curtains of darkness. Before my eyes return to my fatigued wrist, sore and bruised from the relentless beating of the metal with the dulled tool, a man dressed in his dirtied uniform stops at my side, pausing with a scowl stained to his expression.

“Work, child. Work to the death, or you will be killed.” His whisper is barely perceptible with the constant bashings of mallets and the equally deafening yells, as one by one, the people begin to lose their troubled minds. When my gaze rises to find his, the man has vanished. His words remain with me, repeating in my mind and blending with the ongoing music in the background. The quiet mutter ceases my seclusion, as if opening my eyes and peeling back the black and white smog shielding the hope I once owned.

My eyes lift, examining my curious surroundings. Time has not been counted; the seconds that go by stay lost in the stir of the sadistic wind. It has felt like an eternity of hell, but spring had yet to arrive. My time in torture has been less than three months. Or perhaps this particular district of misery does not receive spring, but remains cold, wet, and without flower blossoms for all of time. That would be more of a personal hell though.

Next to me, a boy not past the age of thirteen works with quivering palms, tilting his head slightly and staring at my vacant expression gawking at the distant beyond. Our eyes meet and he smiles, a sense of happiness in his beam I could not understand. But I smile back nevertheless.

“You don’t remember.” More or less is it a question. His voice mirrors his grin, happy –though somehow in a subtle way- and bright even while deep in the belly of the forever hungry beast. The smile I force to my expression disappears and a look of confusion replaces it within the instant.

“The man with the club told you to die.” Another statement, simply recalling a horrid memory. “He sent you to the flames. He told you to burn with the rest.” And with this, I nod without emotion. Seems like so long ago, I had nearly forgotten that recollection was more than a fabricated vision. Everything from my short nightmares to my actual certainties has blended together, as if to form a collage of torment and misery.

“But you told Lady Fate she wasn’t the boss of you. And when you decided to live, you took me with you.” The notorious taste of tears waters my cracked lips as they continue to stream down with paths blemishing my courage with each streak.

“Me, just a stranger. Nothing more than another to the crowd.” There is a pause, as if this young boy is choking back tears. “I owe you my life. You are the sole reason I am alive. So thank you.” And the tears do not stop, but they increase, dripping off my chin and onto the snow-covered ground. His smile remains, his hazel eyes meet mine with gratitude. I know he owes me nothing more than the happiness that seems to glow off his pallid flesh.

I have not paid any attention to the flowing melody of the music, but once it stops, my head turns in wonder. The work assembly notices in unison, each facing the now open doors of the camp. Men stand dressed in uniform, carrying their guns in strong steady hands. Here arrive my heroes. My liberators have come to free us all, save us from the evil and the pain.

“No need to thank me. Now they are your saviors.” They march towards our unit, cutting through the innocence of the night to stop at our feet. One in front, hair cut just like the rest, looks us over. I will remember this face, I think to myself. He will save us tonight. I will never forget. The boy and I look to each other, our grins now radiant and bright as ever before.

Guards rush to their positions, grasping their weapons not with sturdy and coarse palms, but with fearing expression and sweat dripping down their chests. Our division leader, the one who had whispered to me just minutes before, picks up his gun, a rather large one at that. The man in the front of my army of angels shoots through the crowd, multiple bullets flying through the dead air. And the target falls to the earth, drenching the snow below him with crimson blood.

“How bizarre, you have blood on your shirt.” The voice comes from the boy. It is spoken with nothing more than curiosity and pride. I look to my clothes to see small splatters of red staining my tattered blouse. In an instant, my eyes rise, seeing this stranger, the one that suddenly meant so damn much to me topple over and fall to the ground. His blood stains my clothing.

His blood.

His blood.

My hero’s gun shot him. My hero’s stray bullet pierced his once throbbing heart. My hero killed an innocent man.

I never thought a boy, not past the age of thirteen to be a man. Things have truly changed, I suppose.

My hero lowers his gun as the shells jump through the smoke and lands on the snow, where another puddle of blood soaks the white. I fall to my knees, my smile disappearing for good and my tears filling rivers. The men in uniform show no sign of remorse, nor do the others around me. I cry out, but I am alone in grief. Everyone has lost someone, what is another corpse?

“You are my lone hero. But you will not be remembered.”

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