I’ll never forgive Edith for dragging me away, I know that now. Watching Amelia stumble into view with no one at her side while the vibrations of bombs rip through the ground, I know.
It’s probably a good thing I can’t yell and howl. It’s probably a good thing Liliana has her arms pinned around my waist as she sobs into my shoulder blade.
Meeting Edith’s eyes, I think he understands too.
“I am so sorry,” Amelia sobs as she stumbles into Liliana and I, clutching us for support. “She was coming. I saw her. Then she tripped and she pointed her gun at me and so I...”
She starts to sob harder and Liliana joins in, louder than ever.
All I can feel inside is a dead weight, like there’s literally nothing to feel in my heart. All I can hear is the sound of crying, even with buildings collapsing around me and an inferno of fire that lights up the night’s sky.
Again, I meet Edith’s eyes over Amelia’s shoulders and put as much hate and despair into the silent communication.
“She told me to get you out,” he says quietly, dropping his eyes. “I was obeying orders.”
That’s the thing with soldiers. That don’t have a mind of their own.
Suddenly, I can’t handle the sound of cries and the pressure of tears against my skin. I break away from Liliana and Amelia, letting them collapse into each other as I grip my head between my hands, scrunching my hair up.
There’s a pressure in both temples that make me want to scream, that make me want to rip my hair out at the roots. Words... memories… thoughts... They all rush through my head right now as I start to come to grips with what happened.
I wonder if she felt it, the moment her life was taken from her. I wonder if it was quick and painless, like we always wished death would be for us. I wonder what her last thought was.
I wonder if she was scared.
Weird noises are starting to rip up my throat and I feel the device in my vocal chords humming with each sound, zaps growing stronger the louder I get.
Eventually, I can’t take it anymore. Not the pressure on my skull, the pain in my heart, the thoughts in my head. Not the waves of sadness that start to rack my body or the revelation that Alice Seeder no longer exists.
To shut it all out, I inhale sharply and scream as loudly as I possible can.
Thankfully, it’s enough.
Collapsing to the ground, the world goes black around me.
I met Alice on the first day of primary school. It was at lunch time so we were all free to wander around. I was asked to play on a swing set, but I turned down the offer. I liked the peace and quiet.
Alice was sitting under a tree, looking up at the tree’s leaves with squinted eyes. I was going to sit there myself, but since someone was there, I got scared. I was turning to walk away when she called out,
“It’s okay! Come sit with me!”
My mum and dad were always telling me of stranger danger, but somehow, I didn’t feel she was a stranger. Sucking in a deep breath, I got up the courage to wander over and sit cross-legged in front of her.
“I’m Eliza Freeway,” I had introduced myself, holding out my hand to be shaken. It’s what my mum and dad taught me.
“Alice Seeder,” she smiled widely back, but didn’t take my hand. Instead, she manipulated my fingers into a fist before bumping it with her own. “That’s better.”
There was an awkward silence for only a moment before she started telling me about her life and her family. She had two loving parents to which I quickly sad I had the same. She told me of her favourite pastimes, mainly reading and sleeping and I told her mine. By the time the bell ringed, signalling the end of break, we were talking free and easy. We were friends right from the start.
Just before we headed inside to class, Alice pulled me back urgently.
“How am I going to tell you a part from everyone else?”
I had shaken my head. I wasn’t sure.
Screwing up her brow, she soon brightened up.
“I know! Whenever we’re looking for each other, we should whistle loudly. Than, the other whistles back and raises her own hand. It’ll be like our own secret signal!”
We had time to practise it once. She whistled cold and clearly, but mine come out choked. I was an awful whistler.
She patted my arm though as we wandered into the classroom and whispered in my ear,
“Don’t worry. I’ll help you get better.”
That was the thing about Alice. She was always helping other.
When I open my eyes again, it’s not because I want to, but because of the rocking sensation that makes me want to puke. The first thing I encounter in front of my eyes is the colour green and it takes me a moment to realise what it is.
I open my mouth to beg for release, but nothing comes out except a harsh choking sound. I wince, expecting pain, but nothing comes. I try talking again and again, getting panicky with each time until I can’t stand it anymore and kick out with my legs, startling Edith and making Amelia inhale sharply.
Flipping out of his arms, I roll like I would in Tai kwon do and land without so much as a scuff mark on my palms. I’m far from caring.
Fixing my eyes on the grass, I let my lips move, trying to talk. I mouth everything from “grass” to “water” to “God just let me die”, but there’s only the awful choking sound.
“Liz,” Edith kneels in front of me and I refuse to meet his gaze, instead clutching my throat with my hand. “Liz, I don’t think you’re going to be able to talk.”
“We need to keep going,” I hear Amelia say sternly, but tiredly. “There are still soldiers.”
“Where are we going?” I want to ask and I go to say it, too. Edith’s right. There’s no sound.
“Sweetie,” Liliana kneels beside my head. “We need to keep going so why don’t you stand to your feet and walk or let Edith carry you again?”
“Like hell,” I hiss, only they can’t hear it.
Refusing both their support, I carefully climb back to my feet and survey my surroundings with barely a flicker of thought. I just want to go back to my memories of Alice, but, going off of the grim lines set in all three’s faces, I don’t think that’ll happen for a while.
We’re standing in the middle of the old bitumen that would lead out the city and on both sides, there’s nothing but open fields and little hills. The road is climbing up a hill, slowly, but steep nevertheless. I want to ask what the point in all of this is, but obviously, I can’t. As if sensing my confusion though, Liliana says quietly,
“You don’t understand what you were really doing or saying on the stage, right?”
Thinking of the stage just brings up Alice and now my heads hurting again and I stumble a little to the left as I clamp my eyes tightly shut.
No. I wasn’t exactly paying attention to “my” speech. I was to be busy wondering when the right time to shoot Margaret would be. Than Amelia appeared followed by crazy Alice and all this lead up to…
I shake my head at Liliana and she exchanges a look with Amelia.
“Want me to tell you everything?”
Not really, but I know if I let myself to fall into silence, I’ll be thinking of Alice again. Just her name makes me want to scream. At least I can cry if I want to now. As if they were waiting permission, tears prickle the back of my eyes and I find myself crying as I pay attention to Liliana.
“First things first, back at the hospital, while we were searching the place, Alice,” she winces, as does everyone else, “broke into a nurse station where a live stream of Margaret was playing. She was speaking to the soldiers that had gotten in and killed us, saying how safe they were in the city. It turns out; this place is like a last resort for all the soldiers and officials.”
I raise my eyes in question.
“We didn’t believe it at first, not until your speech, but she was talking about rebels that waited outside our city, that had pretty much chased the soldiers here in the first place.”
My eyes widen more as bits of my speech come to mind. I remember, as if in a distant memory, being confused of the speech to rebels. I mean, surely they killed most of us and really, the only ones left I had seen were Liliana, Amelia, Collin and... The speech was constructed like I was warning against another rebellion. I thought it was just a stupid joke of Margaret’s since really, how on earth could four people rebel against hundreds? Maybe thousands? Now it all makes sense though.
“We believe there’s an entire army of rebel’s right outside the city’s borders, waiting to launch an attack,” Liliana continues. “However, apparently there’s some obstacle blocking them from the city according to her highness. If we can help get it done, they’ll be able to flood the city.”
I can just imagine how excited Alice would be a part of all this. Being a rebel since the day we met, she would have led them into the city herself, waving a gun above her head as she did some warrior dance.
I can’t help but be realise that the day started off with four of us, followed by a fifth, Collin. Now, after a short course of 18 hours or so, there are three. Odds are that, by the end of another day, there might only be one.
As if sensing my thoughts, Amelia turns her puffy eyes on me with a sad smile.
“Today didn’t go as planned, did it?”
I shrug. Obviously not.
I’m the one that’s meant to be dead. Not Alice.
“Eliza,” Edith clears his throat. “We believe when you screamed before… we believe the device in your throat ripped your vocal chords a part.”
I feel my mouth drop and I stare at them, refusing to move, even when Liliana tugs on my arm.
I try to tell them they’re wrong, that I’m perfectly okay, but there’s only that cracking sound. Dry, hoarse... dead. My hands go to my throat again and I inhale sharply, holding back tears.
Funny. I can barely cry over the death of my best friend, but as soon as I find out I can’t talk, bring on the waterworks.
I am such an awful person.
After a moment, a succumb to Liliana and let her tug me further up the hill, trying to stay calm as yet another scream builds up inside my chest.
Will any noise come out?
“Blood came out of your mouth when you collapsed,” Edith says quietly in my ear. “It looked like you were going to suffocate from the sheer amount of it. Your body was heaving and... And you made these awful whirring sounds, like we could hear the speaker ripping you a part.”
I wince at his words, massaging my neck again. I wonder why it didn’t just rip my throat out all together. I’d far rather be dead and alive. I should be with Alice.
Edith reaches into his shirt pocket, shaking his hair away from his eyes. The city behind us seems to be completely on fire, hence why I can see his facial features so clearly.
Any hopes of finding Alice and saying my last goodbyes disappear.
“Here,” he holds up a little silver ball. “You coughed it up.”
Cautiously taking it into my hands, I roll it back and fourth, wondering how such a small ball can cause the loss of my voice. I give it a small squeeze and hiss loudly when it zaps and whirs, somehow slicing three perfect lines into my palm.
“Oh damn,” Edith takes my hand in his. “Sorry. Should have warned you it would do that.”
As if to prove something, he holds up his left hand for my inspection.
There’s a series of slices all over his hand.
Ripping my own hand free, I jog to catch up to Amelia. I don’t like the way Edith’s looking at me right now and I certainly do not like the fact my hate for him is already dwindling away.
Exchanging sad smiles, we turn our full attention to climbing the hill.
Nothing could prepare me for what we found. The sky was just turning a shade of pink when we first saw them.
“Oh.My.God,” Liliana sucks in a breath and I do the same, scanning the sheer scale of what awaits quickly as my heart pounds.
In History class, we would be shown footage from wars that had taken place. There were usually only two sides going against each other, all except for the World Wars. One, Two, Three and Four. The last was what pushed the Government from developing a world of equality and peace.
I was reminded of those videos then as I took in the sea of people that lay in front of us.
There were way more than hundreds. They went as far as the eye could see.
There had to be thousands of them.
We were very lucky that they saw us before we saw them. Liliana had run forward, running down towards the open plane that separated us from them. They all in unison screamed for her to stop and she only just made it in time.
If it weren’t for them, she would have been blown into smithereens thanks to the mine field Margaret had put in place. Just like Alice.
We spent a good deal of the morning yelling news backwards and forwards. Well, Liliana and Amelia did anyway. I located a boulder to sit under as the day grew from cold to hot, letting the warmth of the boulder burn my skin. Of course Edith decided to wander over, but for what reason, I’m not sure. It’s not like I can talk to him and in reality? I don’t want him near me. If only I felt motivated enough to draw my thoughts into the dirt.
Amelia eventually works out that the coded messages Alice had found for them also contained information of this mine field. Somehow, almost funnily, that nurse’s office was more of an information booth where they plotted many things. While Amelia reads from the very papers Alice took, Liliana comes to join us.
“Remember that humming sensation in the walls of the hospital?” she asks and I nod. That was right before I got caught. “Amelia went back there before searching the tunnels for the bombs. She thought something was off about what I told her.”
I raise my eyes in question. What did she find?
“She never had to take that trip down the tunnels,” she sighs. “She managed to open the wall up and found a whole room to be stocked with live bombs. Only they were frozen on a ten minute countdown. She relocated the booth Alice found the messages and located any more she could find. That’s what she’s reading from now. Alice didn’t search properly.”
I throw her a dirty look, hating her for hating on my now dead best friend. She seems to realise what she’s done and backs off, literally raising her palms.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to... insult her memory.”
That hurts my heart a lot. She’s right though. That’s all Alice will be from now on.
Amelia takes it up herself to navigate her way around the different mimes, being careful not to step on certain patches of grass. We all watch, both sides as she does this. None of us wants her dead.
Me mostly. Amelia, who I’ve started to view as a sister, is quite literally the only person I have left.
Yet, when I look at Liliana out of the corner of my eye, I realise I love her, too. I don’t want any of them to die. Not even Edith.
There’s a massive celebration of cheers and screams when Amelia’s made it to the line of waiting rebels, all of which who have now backed up their tents and await her arrival patiently.
Liliana and I hug tightly as we watch Amelia being lifted up by a group of men and paraded backwards and forwards. Neither of us care that the other is crying, sobbing at the sheer feeling of freedom that came from the moment she stepped into their arms.
We watch as Amelia’s lowered to the ground, grinning from ear to ear. She’s asking a man something now, gesturing towards us wildly before turning her back on us.
All three of us jump when we hear her voice.
“Can you guys hear me? Pump your fists if yes, but remain normal if no.”
We swivel around, searching for the source of Amelia’s voice.
“Oh,” Edith grins with realisation and digs into his shirt pocket again. “I get it.”
He produces the little silver ball again and I realise he must have picked it up again after I had deliberately dropped it. Turns out he’s not as dumb as I thought.
We all put our heads together, peering at it to be double sure.
When Amelia repeats the question, it’s now loud and clear and all three of us immediately start thrusting our fists into the air. I don’t say it, but as I do so, I’m reminded of our signal.
And that’s what gets me thinking.
Now she’s sure she has our attention, Amelia starts giving us orders on how to unbury the bombs without setting them off. However, I’m too caught up in my own thoughts to pay that much attention.
Without really thinking about it, I raise my hand into the air again, waving it a little as I peer up at it. Sucking in a deep breath, I let out a whistle. At least I can do that much with my damaged mouth.
Liliana and Edith look up, but I ignore them and whistle again. I do this a few times until I realise I’m crying and can’t whistle anymore. Lowering my hand, I look up slowly and meet the eyes of Liliana.
There’s understanding in them. Plus determination.
I let out a small sob when she to slowly raises her hand into the air and gives a small, but loud, whistle. Holding back my tears, I do the same again and together, we whistle up at the sky. It sounds sort of beautiful when you listen closely, like two eagles exchanging songs.
I’m not doing it for me though. I’m doing it for Alice.
I’m not entirely sure when Edith joins in. Or Amelia.
Or the entire rebel army that lies before us.
When I realise though, I start laughing and crying all at once as thousands of whistles join as one, all different tunes and yet all perfect at the same time.
I don’t need her body to give her my final goodbye. She’d probably hate that idea. Alice was a fighter, a warrior. She died an honourable death that would make her parents proud, the whole rebel camp before me proud.
This is the best way to let her go, I decide. On the battle field where the victors meet, preparing for the final war that would give us back the rights that was as humans deserve.
This is my goodbye to Alice.