I used to think that there was only one sort of pain in the world. The pain you feel when you step on a nail or the pain of being shot. I thought pain was only a physical thing, but it turns out, it’s also a mental.
I can hear Eliza calling after me, but I can’t stop. I have to go see him now before they drag him away and dump him somewhere without a backwards thought. Earlier in the centre, they were discussing where to set up a mass grave for those killed by the soldiers and tunnel collapse. Toby will be in there.
It’s a far distance from the centre to the tunnel entrance, but I sprint the whole way, trying not to let the mental pain affect me physically.
How to describe it?
My chest is on fire, consuming itself like it’s preparing to explode, leaving a complete and huddled mess. It hurts to the point where I don’t think I can keep breathing, where I want to just stop cry and die. My heart doesn’t seem to be there, I think it was already consumed by the fire. Either way, with each pound of blood, I feel weaker and more bruised and battered than before.
Reaching out while still sprinting, I sling myself down the alley, not caring when the bricks scrape off the skin of my fingers. It doesn’t matter anymore though. Why should I complain over a scraped finger while Toby can’t complain at all about a hole in his head?
I don’t stop sprinting until I’m practically on top of them; Amelia, Liliana and Toby. They looked up when they heard the pounding of my feet and Amelia scooted away, but now they avert their eyes as I kneel besides him.
I haven’t started crying yet and I’m not entirely sure I will. I do feel sick to the stomach though when I smooth back his hair and encounter the head wound, an almost perfect circle dented in his skull.
I’m reminded of that time he first took me out shopping for supplies, when I slipped and fell onto my back, cracking my head against the concrete of the tunnel. If that dazed and confused me, I can only imagine what this did to me.
“Toby,” the name comes out all confused and weird, but I don’t care. “Toby.”
I repeat his name a good few times as I set about memorising his body with my eyes and fingers. He isn’t wearing any shoes so I let my fingers dance over his feet, reminded of the time I woke up and tickled him there, making him giggle and nearly kick my face in his attempt to escape my grasp.
That ended in him tackling me and tickling my sides until I begged for him to stop. Unlike the rest of his body, Toby’s legs are actually quite muscly, firm and strong. Even his knees are pretty sturdy and remind me of Olympic runners.
The world doesn’t hold the Olympic’s anymore, but I have seen old videos in school.
He was wearing a button down shirt, not even done up. When I left him, he must have gotten dressed without a thought of them so I take the time now to do them up slowly, one at a time until I reach his neck.
I kiss his Adams apple, letting myself inhale his smell. I don’t know how he does it, but shower or not, the guy always smells amazing.
“I love you,” I whisper, leaning my head against his bruised and battered one. “I love you.”
“Alice!” I hear Eliza call, but I don’t look up.
“She’s down here,” Amelia clears her throat and calls back.
I more so feel than see Eliza kneel beside me, wrapping her arms around my shoulders.
“Alice, are you okay?”
“Funny joke,” I snort a little.
I try kissing him, but it’s too weird not having him kiss me back. Still, I let my lips linger, enjoying the final taste of him before I pull back, taking his hand in mine.
We all stay quiet except for the occasional sob from Liliana. I want to cry, I really do, but the tears won’t form. When I peek at Eliza and Amelia out of the corner of my eye, I can see they too are crying.
Why not me? I was the one who loved him. They didn’t love him in the same way as me.
“He’ll be buried in the mass grave,” I say loud enough for all to hear and they all jerk their attention to me.
“What?” Amelia frowns.
“The rebels are going to dig a mass grave for those killed in the battle and the tunnel collapse. Toby will be one of them.”
“No,” Liliana shakes her head, shoving her dark hair away from her tearstained face. “He gets his own grave.”
“Wars don’t work like that,” I snap and Eliza grabs my arm.
“Hey. Calm down.”
“Don’t tell me to calm down,” I pull free, crawling closer to Toby so she can’t touch me without moving herself. “My boyfriend just died.”
“He was my brother,” Liliana sobs again.
“My friend since we were kids,” Amelia shrugs.
“He was my friend, too,” Eliza looks down at him, frowning before looking away again. “It might not seem like it, but I did like having him around.”
I feel guilty now and have to wrap my arms around myself to stop from screaming. I pull my knees to my chest so I can rest my head against them, rocking backwards and forwards to soothe myself and the pain.
“Why can’t I cry?” I ask them, hearing my voice break. “I want to cry, but I can’t.”
“Everyone was calling me an emotionless cow when I didn’t cry over my dad for more than a day,” Amelia says tiredly. “I wanted to as well, but I guess crying wasn’t my way of letting out the pain.”
I never really thought of it like that. My mum always taught me that to release pain, you would have to cry. Once in school during a physical education lecture, we were told about how people before the Society would rid themselves by drinking alcohol, taking drugs or even cutting their own wrists. I doubt that’s what Amelia meant, but I still ask.
“Did you cut yourself?”
I watch her expressions carefully to see if she’s lying when she responds, but her face remains neutral.
“No. I just became a workaholic, always exercising, working and moving around. Sitting still made my chest hurt.”
Someone who gets me.
I’m opening my mouth to say something when I’m stopped dead by the sound of stomping coming towards us; at least, I think so.
“What’s that?” Eliza hushes us and even Liliana stops crying to pause.
“Those aren’t my people,” Amelia stands slowly, face pale. “Even if it were I don’t have that many… Oh God.”
She whirls on us, shoving Eliza over and gesturing wildly.
“Down the grate NOW! Press yourselves against the tunnel walls in case they look. I need to check something.”
Suddenly she’s gone and I want to run after her, but Eliza’s grabbing my arm and pulling me back.
“Listen to her, Alice. Let’s go.”
Liliana quickly kisses her brothers cheek, whispering in his ear,
“Thank you little brother.”
She crawls over to the metal grating and yanks at it, cringing when it makes a wining noise.
Eliza goes next, letting her fingers trail down his face.
“Thanks for everything you butthead.”
I can’t help but crack a smile.’
I’d do anything to stay with him, but I know he wouldn’t want that of me. In fact, he’d probably come back from the door so he could slap me and shout,
“I never knew you could be that stupid! I thought I had a girl with some brains!”
Smiling sadly, I press one more kiss to his lips.
“I would have married you,” I declare softly when I pull away. “I would have been the one who proposed and everything.”
I meant every word.
Climbing down the ladder into the darkness, I’m again reminded of the first time I did just this. I had left Eliza on her own, waiting up there and took it upon myself to go exploring. I was fascinated by the conversation Carmen, Shane, Amelia, Jackson and Toby had. They were all so... angry. Angry at the Society and angry at the world. I can’t really blame them for that, especially now. Because as I press myself against the tunnel wall, right next to Eliza and Liliana, I feel the same hate and anger.
The pounding footsteps are louder down here, ricochets off the wall. I wonder why this area wasn’t bombed, but than I remember how I was told some of our people attacked those doing the bombing.
Through the grate, I’m able to see Eliza in the darkness, Liliana too. In sync, we all grab hands, Liliana clinging to me, me clinging to her and Eliza and Eliza gripping me and in the ladder for support.
The light is interrupted and for a second, I think we’re caught by whoever it is marching. But than, Amelia’s right next to us, having jumped down the hole. The light’s still not full like before.
Amelia yanks out her radio devise, whispering harshly into it.
“If anyone can hear me, respond immediately. This is soldier Amelia Witting and I need a response.”
“Amelia, what’s going on?” Eliza asks loudly and we all hiss at her to shut up.
Amelia repeats the message into the radio another time before bracing herself against the tunnel wall on Liliana’s other side, breathing hard.
“I knew something was wrong. This shouldn’t have been so easy.”
“Tell us,” I beg. “Please.”
She takes a deep breath, turns around and leans her head against the wall, eyes closed.
“That marching? Those are all government soldiers. It seems Lady Margaret called for help and other cities responded. There’s a whole sea of them.”
“Oh my God,” I feel sick, curling over myself in case I spew. “Where… where are they marching?”
“It’s a far guess, but I’m thinking the shopping centre.”
We all go silent, looking at each other numbly.
“Where most of us have rallied,” Eliza whispers out everyone’s thoughts.
I drop to my knees than, really sure I’m going to puke.
Liliana kneels beside me, patting my back and whispering with more determination than I thought she was possible of.
“Hold yourself together. Not everyone’s in there. We might be able to get everyone out of this yet.”
“I doubt it,” Amelia sighs, voice choking in her throat. “All those people, hundreds of us, will be dead.”
As if to confirm her voice, the sound of firing guns picks up and I have to clamp my teeth into my injured arm to stop from screaming.
In anger... in frustration… and in utter defeat.
“Did you move Toby?” Eliza asks and I let myself focus on her voice. She has a really smooth a calm sound, like a bubbling river. I’d often calm down just listening to her talk so I make the conscious effort to focus.
Besides, they’re talking about Toby.
“Sort of,” Amelia mumbles. “He’s over the grate.”
I guess that explains the messed up light.
“Why did you do that?” Liliana asks, completely horrified.
“We needed to block the grate otherwise we’re all dead.”
Again, just like before, fate seems to be determined to prove whether she’s right or wrong. With the firing of the guns, we didn’t hear the others making their way down the tunnel until they were quite literally above our heads.
When their voices reach us, we all stop cold and Eliza yanks me to my fight, slamming both Liliana and I into the wall.
“Well, well,” one of them drawls, probably a man. “What do we have here?”
“Check out that head injury,” the other whistles. “The dude got hit pretty hard with something.”
“He’s definitely one of the rebels,” another declares. “His number isn’t registered.”
“Oh put that junk away, Kurt,” the whistling one snaps and we hear the sound of scuffling.
“Would you both shut up?” the first voice yells and the scuffling stops. “Thank you. Now, search the vicinity. Anyone you see, shoot dead immediately.”
“Hey boss, can we shoot him?” the Kurt guy asks and my stomach rolls again. Somehow I doubt there’s no live guy up there.
“He’s already dead you idiot,” the whistler snorts.
“I said for you both to shut up! Both of you, search the place. I’ll take care of him. If he’s alive somehow, he won’t be for much longer.”
I inhale sharply along with Liliana who grips my hand tighter and tighter, probably stopping the blood flow.
Luckily for us, both Amelia and Eliza slam their hands over our mouths in time for the “boss” to take his first shot.
I actually scream, but it comes out as a small squeak, when a spray of blood hits the tunnel, only centimetres away from us.
“Hold her tightly,” Amelia says numbly to Eliza. “Something tells me this may go on for a while.”
She’s right, yet again. There’s at least five shots, each spraying blood onto the ground and each making me scream into Eliza’s hand. I thought I couldn’t cry, but it turns out I was wrong. Each shot and squirt of blood makes the wave of tears come harder and faster, knocking the breath out of me and sending the tears streaming down my face, over Eliza’s hand and down my neck.
The men are cheering the boss on until finally, he stops. I can barely tell since there’s other shots still firing. What alerts me is the lack of blood hitting the cement.
Blood drips down though.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Amelia whisper into a shaking Liliana’s ear and than she’s leaning towards me, voice chattering.
“We’re going to start moving downwards. Tell Eliza.”
My voice, which to me doesn’t sound audible, lets me whisper to Eliza and she nods.
Than Amelia starts moving, pulling Liliana who pulls me and I pull Eliza. What a sight we would be. Four girls gripping hands and making their way away from the light.
But not just the light. Don’t forget the destroyed body of the man I love.