Drops in the Sky

One foot in front of the other. That's all I knew. Just keep walking. Get water when you can. Get food when you can. Just keep walking. For 92 days, that's all I knew. And then, I met Amber Jeffries. And, by God, that girl became all I knew. All I wanted to know. But the War was all that mattered. Fighting is all that matters.

In World War Four, 10 billion people were killed. I'm one of the lucky two billion that survived. So was Amber Jeffries. Unfortunately, 1.9 billion people live in Europe. Mostly France, and a couple areas just outside of it. I'm in the hundred million left in what used to be the United States, which is currently in the midst of a Civil War. And I'm right in the middle of it.

We're kind of a mess. My life's messy. But Amber... She keeps everything together.

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28. twenty eight

The sound that came from Justin's mouth as he watched Amber fall to the ground was simply not human. An animal-like shriek of desperation rang throughout the field, the sound waves traveling over hundreds of fallen soldiers. Amber ran through the field of bodies, oblivious to the fact that she was the lone standing, moving target, in her vain attempt at reaching the boy with the disheveled brown hair and the eyes that contained oceans. She ran until a bullet pierced her body; her momentum kept carrying her forward. Her golden eyes that held the light of the sun widened as she clapped her hand over the hole in her chest; blood dripped down her arms and watered the ground below as she sank to her knees. Drip, drip, drip. She sank to her knees, her eyes still locked on Justin's, and collapsed in a heap on the dry, brittle ground. 

Her blood pooled around her. 

~.~.~

A surge of soldiers exploded from the main door, thousands of fighters rushing towards the field and towards the woods, guns firing round after round. Soon, the trees were destroyed and the gunfire sounding from the forest were diminished, and soldiers began rushing to the aid of those on the field. 

Suddenly, all pain of mine is numbed and I conjure whatever strength I can spare that will allow me to pull myself to my feet. Once standing, I nearly collapse again because, oh, something's not right in my head, something's fuzzy... but I grab onto someone's arm and regain my balance. I place my hand to my temple and it comes away bloody, but I stumble towards the girl on the ground nonetheless. 

I fall to my knees by her side; her blood wets my jeans and stains my hands but I don't care, I don't feel it. 

Her eyes are closed gently, her lips are parted slightly. Like she's sleeping. Her chest rises and falls laboriously, and I press my fingers to her wrist. There's still a heartbeat, however faint it may be. She's still alive. 

I pull off my jacket and press it onto the source of blood on her chest; her white tank top is stained, but this time it's not corn syrup. It's not fake. Her hand isn't clasped to her chest to hide the lack of a bullet hole; it's there in a vain attempt to stop the river of blood pouring from somewhere near her heart. I feel the jacket beginning to feel damp from the blood, but I hold it still. 

After several minutes that felt like days, two soldiers with a stretcher come and ease Amber onto it, rushing her inside. I walk with them, ignoring the blood dripping down my cheekbone from a cut somewhere on my temple, ignoring the blood streaming down my arm from the multiple wounds on my shoulder. I clutch my chest with my right arm, trying to numb the pain from my injured ribs. 

I trudge alongside the stretcher, entering the walls that mark the borders of the base. 

There's chaos, everywhere. 

The ground everywhere has become a place where injured soldiers are being tended to. The two soldiers carrying Amber bring her into a tent; the tents have apparently been marked as (more) sterile areas than outside, and are being used for people with more serious injuries. 

I stand, woozy, in the corner and watch with a pounding head and heartache as a team of three soldiers strip off Amber's shirt to see the wound. 

I look away; she would have wanted me to. 

"Someone cross and type her," one of the doctors calls out. 

A few seconds later, someone responds that she's "AB." Seconds after that, a blood bag has been hung, and attached to her via IV. 

The doctors keep saying things that sound like a foreign language; from what I can gauge of the situation, she's bleeding a lot but I don't think any major organs are in trouble. Then again, I know next to nothing about the human body, so I could be very wrong. 

I've been standing so silently that I'm not sure the doctors realized I was there; once I'm noticed, I'm quickly ushered out of the curtained-off area, despite my protesting. 

I stand just outside of the curtain, seeing if I can listen in. Once I realize that listening in will do me know good, since I can't even understand their medical jargon, I decide to find Thomas. Amber will be happy if, once she wakes up, her brother is there to greet her. Or, at the very least, if I can tell her he's alive. 

I find a doctor. "Hey, do you know where the guys that were brought in from LA are?" He likely won't know Thomas's name. The guy glances around. 

"Not sure. Which guy?"

"The most injured one."

The guy looks around again. "Sorry, kid. Not sure. Try tent three?"

I nod gratefully, and trudge towards the tent marked with a large three, painted on the canvas. 

I find a doctor stationed outside of that tent. 

"Hey, do you know where I could find the guys that were brought in from LA?" 

My head is throbbing. 

"One of 'em is inside," the guy offers. My eyes widen. 

"Can I see him?" I ask. 

"Need to question him?" The doctor asks skeptically. 

"Uh... Yeah," I lie quickly, unsure if the doctor would allow regular visitors. 

He holds back the tent flap, and I crouch under the low door. The action of crouching sends a shock of pain through my torso. 

There are three beds in the tent; I go to each one individually. In the first one is a girl, so I immediately move on. The next one is someone that I vaguely recognize as one of the Elites. In the third bed, I find a pale, brown eyed and blonde haired boy. 

Pale, shaky, sweaty, but Thomas. 

A grin spreads from ear to ear on my face. 

"Thomas," I say gently, placing a hand on his arm. His other arm has an IV. He turns his head to face me. It takes a second for him to recognize me, but when he does, he grins. 

"Hey, dude," he says. Of course, always the casual attitude. 

"Hey," I say with a smile. "Good to see you alive." 

"Ditto to you, man." He glances behind me. "Where's my sister?" 

I gulp. "She... Uh, she got shot," I say. His eyes widen, the fear obvious. 

"She's alive!" I say quickly. "They're working on her now, but last time I saw her she was alive." 

He breathes a sigh of relief, but his face is still stricken with worry. 

"Can you wait for her? Make sure she's okay?" 

I nod. "I just came to find you so I could tell her if you were okay when she woke up," I explain. He smiles, and places his hand on my arm. 

"Thanks, Justin." 

I nod. "Anytime, man." 

"Could you, uh... Go back to her? And let me know when you know she's okay?" 

I nod again. "I'll see you soon, Thomas. Rest up," I order him as I leave the tent. 

Crouching back out hurts. My head hurts. My shoulder hurts. 

I ignore it all and go back to the tent where they were working on Amber. 

I attempt to slip inside again as silently as possible without being noticed, but one of the doctors kicks me out again. 

"Okay, fine," I mutter. "But I'll be outside. Could you let me know when you're done if she'll be okay?" The doctor nods, shooing me away with his gloved hand. 

I slip back outside, my ribs hurting as I crouch under the low door. I sink to the ground outside, leaning back against some sort of medical cart. I rest my aching head on my knees; a fresh bloody patch is left on my already bloody jeans. I touch my fingers to my bleeding temple; it doesn't seem to be bleeding much anymore, simply oozing a little bit of blood. I touch my fingers, now, to the shrapnel injury on my shoulder. It's tender and sore, and the shard of wood is still in there. I bring my fingers to the bullet wound on the top of my shoulder; just a graze, through-and-through. Again, sore, but doesn't seem like much concern. 

My ribs ache, but broken ribs are easy to fix. I'll be in pain for a while, but as long as Amber's okay, I'll be okay. 

I rest my head on my knees and attempt to drown out the constant half-silence, the chaotic buzz of energy and yelling that never seems to go away. I manage to dull it to a minor background noise. The noise is like the pain; it's certainly there, and it's certainly bothersome, but just for the moment it can be ignored. 

I close my eyes. 

You know those times when you don't realize that you'd fallen asleep until something wakes you up, and you have no orientation on how much time has passed? 

I jerk my head up as I feel a hand on my shoulder. The sudden movement brings light flashing before my eyes, and brings the dull throb in my head to a full-blown attack. The woman who put her hand on my shoulder, seeing my grimace, sits down next to me rather than asking me to stand. 

"What's the girl's name?" She asks, nodding towards Amber's tent. 

"Amber. Amber Jeffries," I croak. My voice doesn't sound like my own; it sounds like the voice of a broken man-- someone foreign to me. 

"Amber? And your name?" 

"Justin Sky." 

"Okay, Justin. So, Amber's just resting up, but we've finished with her. She's going to be moved to a recovery area to make room for the next person." 

I look up from my boot and meet the doctor's eyes. "She's going to be okay?" 

The doctor nods. She reminds me of my mother, with wrinkles caused by smiles surrounding her lips. "She'll be alright. She'll need some time to recover, and she may not wake up for a while, but she'll be fine." 

I let out a breath I didn't know I was holding. "Promise?"

The doctor chuckles and nods. "I promise." 

Just this once, I don't care that it's not a keepable promise. Amber's going to be all right; that's all I choose to believe. 

"Would you like to come see her?" I nod eagerly, ignoring the pain in my head despite the throbbing growing exponentially more painful by the second. 

The doctor stands and offers me a hand, pulling me to my feet. I stand up, and immediately collapse into the doctor's arms. 

"Oh, shit!" The doctor groans, her knees threatening to buckle under my weight. "Guys, I need some help over here!" 

Someone brings over a stretcher and lies it on the ground; the doctor and another soldier help ease me onto it. 

"You all right there, hon?" The female doctor asks, her eyes laced with concern. 

I nod, though by now I'm not sure. As the adrenaline's worn off, I think the pain's gotten worse. 

"Where does it hurt?"

"Uh... My head," I admit. "And my chest. Can I see Amber, now?"

The doctor frowns. "Honey, how close were you to the big blast? The most recent one?" 

I scrunch my brow, trying to remember. The details were fuzzy. I was in the trees, and then I saw Amber so I ran out onto the field, and then the bomb went off. I flew through the air. "Uh... I was maybe a few yards from the tree line? I can't really remember." 

The doctor pulls on a pair of new gloves and starts poking at the cut on my head. 

"Ow!" I mutter through gritted teeth. 

"Justin, I think I'm gonna check you out real quick, okay?"

I shake my head quickly. Stars dance around my eyes. "I need to see Amber, first." 

The doctor motions two soldiers to come over and pushes me down so I'm laying flat on the stretcher. "You'll see her after, okay? I promise." 

I nod. For some reason, I trust this promise. 

"Okay," I concede. The two soldiers pick up the stretcher, and the motion sends stabbing pain through my torso. I grimace and clutch my arm tightly to my chest. 

I'm carried in the stretcher to another tent. The doctor starts shining a light in my eyes. The sudden flash sends pain flaring through my head, so I squint and look away. This seems to concern the doctor. 

"Follow my finger with your eyes," she instructs me, moving her finger to the left and right of my face. I watch it, but it's blurry. That can't be a good sign. As if to assert my assumption, the doctor's brow furrows in worry. 

"Be right back, dear," she says, stepping outside. I watch her with mild disinterest as she pulls another doctor aside and whisper something in his ear. They both look towards me, and then the other doctor nods and walks away. 

She smiles as she returns to me. The smile is one I've seen before; it's the I-have-bad-news smile people give you when they don't want you to worry. 

"What's wrong with me?" I ask, my voice still not my own. It's too scratchy. 

She smiles, placing her hand on my arm. "Nothing's wrong with you, hon. You've just hit your head, that's all." 

Brain damage

I nod gently, wary of my aching skull. "Okay," I say, pretending I believe her. 

She rubs my arm gently. Just like my mother. "You said your chest hurt, too, dear?" 

I nod again. "I think I cracked some ribs when I landed." 

"Landed?" 

"The explosion threw me up a bit," I say, downplaying the incident. Her smile disappears and the creases on her forehead reappear. 

She turns and grabs a pair of medical scissors from a tray behind her. "I'm going to cut off your shirt to see what's going on, okay?" I nod, though I'd rather stay clothed. 

I intentionally look away as I feel cool air on my aching chest; I know if I see how bad I look, physically, the pain will only get worse. It's like as a kid, when you'd think your scraped knee was fine until you saw the blood. I don't want to see the blood. 

"Lie down still, hon," the doctor instructs. There's something undetectable in her voice; some emotion. Fear. Worry. Sympathy. A mix of all three, and more. 

I lie down with my eyes screwed shut and my fists clenched as she places her fingertips on my chest, right underneath my ribcage where my stomach is. Shutting my eyes causes light to dance underneath my eyelids, but I ignore it. I don't want to see the blood. 

At first, her fingertips add nothing to the pain I'm already feeling, which is still getting worse. As she starts pressing down, however, sharp daggers of burning pain run through my entire body. 

"Ah!" I exclaim as she presses down particularly hard on a painful spot. 

"Sorry, hon," she mutters, though she's so focused I wouldn't imagine she's sorry at all. She's too busy trying to figure out what's wrong with me. Her fingertips move from my ribs to my stomach. Why's she feeling my stomach? The pain's in my chest. 

"Let's get an ultrasound in here," she calls out to someone outside of the tent. A small machine is wheeled into the room, and a cool jelly is smoothed out over my abdomen. 

"Jesus Christ," the doctor who brought the machine into the room mutters under his breath. 

"Let's get some blood," the female doctor says. I feel a sharp prick on my left arm, right at the crease of my elbow. 

"What's wrong with me?" I ask again. "Are my ribs broken?" 

Please don't be internal. Please don't be internal. 

"Seems like you got hit pretty hard by the blast of that explosion," the doctor says. Her voice is soothing; again, the sympathetic trying-too-hard-to-be-nice voice. Something's wrong with me. "Don't worry, hon. We'll take care of you." 

I nod, opening my eyes to meet hers. In doing so, I glance down at my torso. I can't see much from my position, because looking down hurts my brain, but what I can see isn't pretty. The side of my chest that I landed on is red and purple; one big bruise. There's also an awkward lump over my ribcage; broken ribs. I knew it. 

The most disconcerting part? My stomach is swollen and round. Not my stomach as in where food goes, but my entire abdomen. It looks like I've gained thirty pounds overnight. 

"What happened to my stomach?" I mumble, pain coursing through me. Something about all this pain isn't letting me think straight. I keep talking like a child. 

"You're bleeding a little bit, honey. It's okay, we're going to take care of you, though," she says. Why does she keep saying that? "We're going to put you to sleep now, okay?" 

My eyes snap up from my stomach to her eyes. "No," I state firmly. "I don't want to go under." 

"It'll be okay," she tries to reassure me. "I know it's scary, bu-"

"I don't want to go under," I say again. "I can't. I need to wait for Amber. Can't we at least wait until she wakes up?" 

The doctor shakes her head; the sympathetic smile has returned. 

"We can't wait, hon." 

"But I've lasted, like, three hours! I'll be fine! Just let me wait for her," I beg. 

She shakes her head again. "Hon, you've made it this long because the adrenaline hasn't let you feel the full extent of your injuries. We've got to fix it, as soon as possible." 

"Please, let me wait," I beg again, feeling tears beginning to pool in my eyes. I wipe them away roughly, using the back of my hand. 

"'Fraid I can't do that," she says. "Ready?" 

I shake my head. "Amber-"

"Amber is going to fine, honey." I feel another sharp pain in my other arm, and feel a burning liquid get pushed in. Immediately, my eyelids start to droop. My brain feels fuzzy. 

"Thomas," I mutter. 

"Who's Thomas?" 

"Amber's brother," I say. The stars in the sky are dancing just for me... No, they're not. We're in a tent. "She has to know he's alive. He's in..." I rack my brain for the memory; it's right there, but I can't recall. "Tent three." 

"Go to sleep, Justin," the doctor urges me. "Let yourself fall asleep. It's just a nap." 

I shake my head. "Amber... tell her I love her," I mumble with garbled speech. My brain isn't working right. I want to go to sleep. I can't. "Tell her she's my best friend. Tell her I'm sorry," I beg. "Promise me you'll tell her." 

"You'll tell her yourself," the doctor says. 

"Promise me anyways," I plead. 

She nods. She knows I know. She knows I've recognized the few-too-many sympathetic smiles sent my way. I know what "going to sleep" means. It means surgery. Surgery I won't wake up from. 

"I promise, dear. But you will tell her yourself, you hear me?"

I finally allow my heavy eyelids to flutter shut. 

The last thing I hear before all sight is replaced with blackness and all pain is numbed are the doctor's final words to me: "You'll tell her." 

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