The Truth Behind the Flames. - *Movella of the Year 2016*

Before you judge me and tell me that it was all worth it in the end, ask yourself one question, one question only before you read on: what was it all for?

They say that we are judged by the choices we make. They are what define us and on June the 25th, 2414, I chose wrong.

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6. The Pain of Healing.

 

Barely ten minutes later, the door swung open once again and a figure stepped through – into the blazing light.  It took a few moments for my eyes to adjust, but when they did, hope began to spread through me like poison in my veins.

“Evan.”

“Helena.”

He let his lips curl into a soft smile before his speech continued. He no longer had blood streaked across his arms and had changed his uniform into the camouflage colours of the True Military.

“I’ve been told to escort you to your room.”

A sigh of relief escaped my lips as the weight was lifted from my shoulders. I stood, casting a final glance around my prison before following Evan out of the room with my head held high and with my hands slightly shaking.  Blinking the spots out of my vision, I followed him into the maze of corridors and towards my new home.

With each step, I began to question my actions but it was too late to turn back. The choice had already been made and now I simply had to follow along with my decision. As difficult as it was, I had to continue, because if I stopped – I would have time to remember and that would break me.

Evan led me past a series of rooms, packed with beds and filled with what little belongings the soldiers had kept. There were books, lockets from loved ones and other such memorabilia of a time with family and a time without the burden of war.

Less than a minute later, we reached another set of rooms but this time Evan open the door and guided me through –placing a hand on my back.

Inside of the room were two single beds, cramped into the tiny space with barely enough room to walk between them. Next to each sat a bedside table and a chair.

“Sorry about the size – this is all we have left.”

“It’s fine.”

One of the beds looked crumpled and used whereas the other still had folded sheets lying on top of the mattress.  I sat down next to the fabric and took a deep breath. The room had no windows and was lit by a strip of bulbs which hung down from the ceiling. It felt clinical but then again, it would never be my home because that had already been buried. Home is where the heart is and my heart was shattered – broken, never to be fixed again.

Losing myself in the memory, my hand tightened against the edge of the mattress as my muscles tensed beneath my rage.

“Helena, are you okay?”

“Yes.” My answer was firm but short.

“Do you… Do you want me to stay until the medic gets here?”

All that I could do was nod.

My old life was slipping away beneath my finger tips and now I was being pushed into a new life. And it was so dark.

“Do you ever- Do you ever feel like the world is ending?”

“All the time.” His words were brutally honest but that was what I needed to hear – the truth.

“And what do you do?”

Evan moved to sit down next to me before draping his arm around my shoulders. I was grateful for the comfort.

“I hold to what I have and look towards the future. The past will only drag us down – the future will make us rise.”

“How can I go on?”

“Because you have to.”

“Why can’t I just give in? Why can’t I just give up?”

“Because you have a duty to your parents and to yourself – you have to survive this and live on in their memory.”

“Why can’t I-”

The sentence was cut short by the sound of a door creeping open. A young woman dressed in a dark green top and black trousers stepped through the doorway and into the room. She looked around the age of sixteen but like so many others, I could see the damage beneath her smile.

“Evan.”

“Rebecca.”

“It’s just Becca.” They laughed as if it was an old joke but then her attention turned towards me.

“And this is?”

“Helena Coleman. She’s the new recruit and your roommate.”

“Good. It was getting lonely around here anyway.”

Becca smiled at me whilst lifting out her hand to shake mine. She paused as she saw the fresh burns which littered my skin and turned to face Evan with accusation burning in her eyes.

 “She’s hurt.”

“Aren’t you the medic?”

Dropping my hand, Becca rolled her eyes at Evan before moving over to her pull her medical kit out from under her bed. The green plastic seemed faded and scarred but Becca didn’t seem to notice as she placed the case on her bed and undid the latches which held it closed.

As Becca tore open the white packet, I prepared myself for the stinging that seemed almost inevitable. I had burnt myself once before – in my workshop, back in the ashes. I already knew that not all scars faded and that not all damage could be healed. The irony of that didn’t escape me but there was nothing that I could do but accept it. Evan let me rest my hand on his shoulder as I held my arm out for Becca to clean.

“This is going to hurt.”

The moment that the cloth touched my skin, I let out a hiss of pain as the acid seeped into my open wounds. Focusing on my breaths, I tried to block out the pain which raced across the surface of my skin.

“I know. I know. I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine. It has to be done.”

Becca quickly finished up on my arms as Evan handed me a towel to wipe the blood and soot off my face. My fingers lifted up to the cut on the side of my face as Becca pulled out a large plaster. I let my eyes slip closed as she pressed the plaster against the flesh of my cheek.

“That’s going to scar, you know?”

“Not the first time.”

I ignored the questioning looks that were sent my way and focused my attention back to my injuries. Somethings were better left in the past because they were too painful to remember and deserved to be forgotten. It was the loss that hurt the most. It was the contrast – having everything in one moment and losing it in the next.

The silence seemed to move in around us as Becca finished her job and sealed her case. Taking a look at my roommate, I could see the sadness that lay beneath her shining exterior – I knew because I wore the mask myself.

“So,” I finally asked, “What’s your story?”

Becca sat back and let a grimace crawl over her features as she met my gaze and let the truth come flowing out in waves. The tension drained from her shoulders as she let go – her mask fell as she recounted the days lost to warfare.

“When I was eleven, my parents joined the war effort and brought me along with them.  My dad is currently fighting on the front lines and my mother… Well, we don’t talk about her anymore. She- She joined the other side and became the enemy.”

Becca let her hand trail up to her bracelet as a pained smile lit up her face.

“The last I heard, she was injured. That was four years ago – I haven’t heard anything since. I’m training to be a medic and when I’m eighteen, I’m going to the front lines to save lives and to find my dad. ”

She turned towards me, lips forming the question that I dreaded most. It was too soon, my life was progressing too quickly and now my emotions were being left behind as my mind and body moved forwards. My heart would forever be in the ashes of the place that I would always call home.

“So, when did you decide to become a soldier?”

I swallowed down the anger that tore through me like a wildfire.

“I am not a soldier.”

After taking a moment to calm myself down, I lowered my voice and answered the question. It was hard to keep my voice flat but I’d had enough practice to pull of my pretence without raising suspicion.

“I’m an engineer. I build things – not break them.”

“What kind of things?” Evan asked, leaning forwards with interest lighting up his eyes.

“Radios. Interceptors. Trackers. Anything I can put my mind to. Back home… Home… I had a work shop with my dad and we built things together. You see this burn?” I rolled up my sleeve. “This was the work of a soldering iron. I was ten.”

I was proud of myself; that was the most words I had forced together all day. Becca was making the effort to be honest with me and so I could at least try to make some effort back.

“How did you get here?”

Evan and I shared a glance but neither of us spoke – unwilling to bring up the demons of the past. Because that was what it was now – the past and nothing more. At that moment, I wanted nothing more than to close my eyes and sleep away my worries.

“Things happened and times changed.” I turned to face Evan. “You can tell her when I’m not around.”

I didn’t want to relive those hours again; I refused to.

In response, Evan nodded before pushing himself to his feet and turning to face me. His eyes glistened with unshed emotion as he let a soft smile tug at his lips.

 “So,” I asked quietly. “What now?”

“You can do whatever you need to. You should rest – it’s late.”

He looked down at the watch on his wrist before correcting himself.

“Well, early. But still…”

Swallowing back what remained of my anxiety, I looked up – meeting Evan’s gaze and forcing my mask back into place.  My face may have been neutral and my heart may have been stone but underneath I was chipped and tainted. My outer shell may have been strong but now, the paint was slowly fading away into nothing. I was simply a shadow of who I used to be.

“I think I-” I let out a breath. “I think I want some time alone. Just to think and to-” my voice dropped. “To recover.”

“Okay. We can do that.”

Becca stood, following Evan’s example and towering above me. Biting my lip, I fought the urge to scream out into the darkness around me. I wanted nothing more than to give in but I clung on – for the future, not the past.

“There are spare clothes in the wardrobe and some paper in the draws if you want. If you need anything, just let us know. I’ll be back later.”

“Thank you, Becca.”

As the two of them retreated into the corridor, I lay back, staring at the ceiling whilst fighting back the tears that threatened to drown me. Within the space of a moment, it dawned on me that there was no going back and that I had effectively pledged my life to the war. Each breath seemed to clear my mind and lessen the pain that ran through my blood.

Stripping off my jacket and my shoes, I lay down on the mattress and recounted the day’s events in the darkness of my mind. So much had happened – too much but yet I simply had to follow along with the tide and follow the current out into the unknown.

Mum. Dad. Evan. Becca.

My old life and my new life had a clear split down the middle. My life would forever be categorised as before and after the flames.

As I let exhaustion take its hold, sleep greeted me with open arms. For a few hours, I could get away and for a few hours, I could rest. At least sleep provided an escape – out of reality and out of the flames.

 

But then the nightmares came.

And everything went to hell.

 

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