by Tabitha Grimshaw
photo by oriontrail
I just won’t die. I want to. I want it to all be over—no more weapons, no more fighting, no more pain. I yearn for quiet… a peaceful surrender to oblivion. Hidden under the remnants of a once-bustling city, I watch the sun slip away, and then I let go. But I just won’t die.
Instead, I awaken on the battlefield. Ash falls like snow. Explosions shake the ground. Screams pierce the air. The reek of burning flesh singes the wind. Streams of hot blood ebb from my body with each throb of my pulse, but my heart keeps pumping. My lungs keep expanding and contracting. Somehow, I am still alive.
Fully conscious, every nerve in my body proclaims its existence. Scraping already open wounds against the gravel, I pull myself from beneath the debris. One leg, dark and swollen, drags behind me. The last two fingers on my right hand, too charred for use, curl into my palm. Radiation burns chew away bits of my skin. Yet I have escaped my tomb.
With my one remaining eye, I scan the devastation—flattened buildings, mangled vehicles, smoldering human remains. Smoke hangs like a gray veil in the sky, making noon appear as dusk. Soot obscures every surface. The tinny stench of blood invades my nose. Other than the humming of their ships and the occasional rattle of collapsing metal, a stillness falls over the city.
I search the field for a weapon. As long as I have breath in me, I will keep fighting. Maybe I can take a few more out before I succumb to my injuries. Sure, destroying a single invader or even a whole squadron is futile considering the overwhelming size of their fleet, but a principle is at stake. Mankind matters, and this is our planet, not theirs.
The first few weapons I recover are useless, but I find an M-4 combat assault rifle safely tucked under some poor soldier’s torso. He hadn’t even gotten a shot off. Locked and loaded, the circulation and sensation having returned to my leg, I kneel, waiting for the gray-armored form creeping over the rubble to get close enough that there’s no way I’ll miss. Cloaked in ash, I am rendered imperceptible against the landscape. Adrenalin surges through my veins. My muscles tense with the eruption of energy. As my finger twitches, I hear a whimper.
I dismiss it at first, believing it to be a hallucination from my pain-addled brain. But the sound persists, and it quickly becomes clear: I am not alone on the battlefield. Slinging the M-4 over my shoulder, I dig through the debris until I find the source of the cries—a young girl, maybe eleven, sitting cross-legged, clutching a shallow, marble planter. A single blue orchid protrudes from its cradle.
Somehow, by some statistical anomaly, the building collapsed in on itself in such a way that it had formed a protective dome around her. Besides being frightened and dirty, she survived unscathed. Her long dark pigtails askew, she gazes up at me, tears tracing lines of soot down her cheeks, hugs the flowerpot, and squeaks, “This is all I have left.”
“Yeah,” I murmur, a knot tightening my throat. It is a magnificent sight, a burst of life and color amidst a slate palette of destruction—so is the kid, for that matter. Seeing her stare up at me with those bright-green, almond-shaped eyes renews my vigor and strengthens my resolve. I am determined to save her…if just for another day.
I inhale deeply and, preparing for the load, grasp the beam hanging precariously over her head and lift. It flies fifty feet and crashes to the ground. With my mouth agape, I gawk at my hands, clenching and unclenching. Bits of charring flake off revealing unmarred skin. I blink hard a few times, rub my eyes… My eyes! I run my fingertips over my face. No bones are crushed.
“Whoa,” she whispers, a rosy glow rising on her cheeks. “Who are you?”
I touch the hole in my uniform where my nametag used to be. I have spent most of my life virtually invisible to the general population, from underachieving student to uninspired soldier. The night they slaughtered my sister and nephew, I lost what identity I had. “No one,” I mumble.
The young girl’s eyes widen, and she releases a high-pitched scream. The noise tears into my brain. Slapping my palms over my ears, I turn to see an alien foot soldier with his weapon pointed directly at her. I throw myself in front of the blast as the plasma discharges. The force pushes me back a yard, my feet sliding across the gravel. Looking down, my shirt is in scorched tatters, but my body is untouched.
Before it can get off another shot, I rip the weapon from its scaly grip and drive my fist into its chest. Airborne for several seconds, the creature slams into debris and crumples to the ground in a broken heap. My heart pounds wildly. Something…is happening…to me.
I spin back around to see the little blue orchid girl, safe but awestruck, beneath a dome of dazzling blue light. After a brief pause of admiration and wonder, I toss a pebble at it. A few sparks crackle as the stone is deflected. “Who are you?” I can’t help but smile. It’s been so long, the sensation so surreal, I touch my lips.
The bubble dissipates as she sighs, “Just a kid… a regular kid.” With a weak smile, she relaxes her shoulders. “I couldn’t do that yesterday. It…happened… the first time… last night. Th-there was a big flash. Then it got real hot. Everyone started screaming.” Her mouth tightens, puckering into a frown. “The building… broke.” She bows her head. “I didn’t save anyone except myself. I didn’t know how.”
Words escape me, my own guilt squirming in my chest. I lay my hand gently on her head.
Lifting her chin, with a look of fierce determination, she stares directly into my eyes. “I know now. I’ve been practicing all night. You’re changing too, aren’t you, mister?”
Nodding, I surrender to the influx of energy, wondering if it’s the radiation combined with some unique biochemical idiosyncrasy the two of us possess. I don’t know. I’m no scientist. I’m just a human, hovering on the dark edge of existence, steeling himself for the battle churning on the horizon—thousands of alien troops marching in formation.
Rising to her feet, she interlocks her fingers with mine. “There’s no one left who knows us, is there?”
Shaking my head, I give her hand a squeeze. “It’s probably better that way.”
She furrows her brow and curls her lip. “Yeah.”
The young girl giggles as she manifests a marble-sized ball of pure energy and launches it into the middle of the advancing forces, obliterating at least thirty and blowing a massive hole in the line. Her expression quickly turns solemn. “That’s for my family, you assholes.”
With a chuckle, I give her a pat on the back. “Nice shot.”
Another odd but invigorating sensation washes over me. I feel the pull of the Earth, the tug of the Sun. I am aware of my position on this planet relative to the deepest sea and the tallest mountain.
Blue Orchid points to the sky. I look up. Slivers of golden sunlight break through the thick gray clouds. Bits of flickering silver descend. The humming grows louder as the ships approach.
“Hey, mister, do you think you can fly?”
We exchange restrained but self-satisfied smiles.
“Yeah, kid. I think I can.”
Tabitha Grimshaw developed a passion for writing while still in elementary school. A Financial Systems Analyst by day, she delves into the dark and creepy at night, in search of twisted and enchanted tales worth telling. She published her first novel, The Reckoning, in December, 2013, and is currently working on her next book, The Dragonslayer.