The Girl Who Cried War
Author: coritherien

Chapter 8
Perplexity

March 8th, 2008

Chicken!  That’s what I smelled.  For the past hour and a half, my mind analyzed the delicious scent wafting through my nose. 

Now that the word presented itself to me, it seemed outrageous that I had forgotten in the first place.  So ordinary a scent, so ordinary a word! 

The next task was presented to me when I tried to open my eyes and found that they wouldn’t budge.  Surely, something must be covering them, right? 

Yes!  Something like gauze was wrapped around them.  Gauze was traditionally used for medical purposes, if I was thinking of the right material.  So that must have meant that my eyes had been injured.

I was getting so good at this detective stuff, I was sure Sherlock Holmes would’ve been impressed.

I reached my right hand up in an attempt to remove the gauze, only to find it heavy, puffy, stiff.  With the finger tips of my left hand, I probed my palm gently.

What I found was more gauze.  When I pushed a little harder, I felt the first twinges of pain.  Apparently, not only my eyes had been injured.  Gingerly, my finger tips gripped the gauze over my eyes and pulled it up and away, letting it rest on my forehead. 

As soon as I opened my eyes, I was forced to close them.  Wherever I was shone so brightly, it hurt to look at.  Cautiously this time, I opened one eye and then the other to the white light of what appeared to be a hospital room.

No, that wasn’t right.  When the word hospital came to my mind, it brought with it an image of small rooms housing four occupants at the most, but most commonly two.  No, this wasn’t a hospital room.  Glancing around, the word that popped into my mind was ‘ward’. 

A group of us men, twenty at the least, were situated in rows in a long, cathedral-like hall.  Old-fashioned nurses and doctors, all donning white, buzzed through the rows hurriedly. 

Also unlike my idea of a hospital, patients weren’t separated by the severity of their injuries.  Directly across from me, a man lay groaning, clutching his chest which was oozing blood.  Next to him, a man sat complaining of a toothache.

The white-washed, but stained, walls were high, culminating in steep, chapel-like windows.  The ceilings were high, arching, with fans hanging from them spinning meagerly. 

My observations of the ward complete, I turned my attention to my own bodily injuries.  For the little amount of pain I was feeling, they seemed dangerously extensive.

I flicked the thin and predictably white sheet off my lower half and found my legs to be more or less covered in bandages.  Patches of tan skin peeked through here and there, but mostly they were wrapped tight.  Lifting the sheet again to cover up to my hip bones, I hiked up my Johnny to survey as much of the damage to my torso as I could see. 

Here, the nurses seemed to have skimped with the bandages.  I wasn’t a doctor, nor would I ever be, but I saw what I concluded to be burns covering the length of my stomach in jagged slashes.  They were red and angry and one cut clear through my bellybutton.  Surveying more closely, my arms seemed to have slashes corresponding to those on my belly and I could only imagine my chest looked the same. 

Huh.  I had apparently been caught in a fire somehow.  That seemed like it would be a fairly scarring experience.  So how was it that I couldn’t recall a single memory?

“Ah-hah!” screeched a voice from beside me, startling me so that I jumped nearly a foot in the air.  “He’s alive!” 

I turned my head sharply, searching for the source of such a disturbance.  I discovered it to have come from a large, jovial man with long ginger hair and a matching beard to my immediate right.  He had jumped up from his bed and now peered at me as though he’d never seen a man before.

“Been more than a month since they brought you in, boy, unconscious and all but stark naked and this here’s the first time you’ve woken!”  His voice was booming; it was like having your ear next to a stereo turned up all the way.  I glanced around hurriedly, expecting a few sour faces to be glaring our way but found none.

He followed my gaze around and barked a laugh.  “Don’t you worry ‘bout them,” he assured.  “Can’t be bothered with anything that doesn’t concern them.  ‘Sides, half of ‘em can’t understand us, anyway!”

He guffawed again before reaching beneath his pillow and extracting a silver flask that I’d be willing to bet held something a bit stronger than ginger ale.  He glugged it back, grimaced as it burned its way down, and offered it to me.

I shook me head.  “Thanks, though,” I muttered.  My voice sounded deep and gruff, like I hadn’t used it in a while.

He shrugged, chugged it again and threw it back beneath his pillow.

“What did you mean before,” I ventured, “when you said they brought me in ‘all but stark naked’?”

He bark-laughed again, clutching at his sides as though they were splitting.  “Alls you had on was them boxers and one sock.  Just one!”  He collapsed into a fit of giggles.

I cracked a smile despite myself.  I didn’t think I’d ever met a man so care free.

“So what happened to me, then?”

He sobered slightly, but his mouth still lifted in a sideways grin.  “You mean, you don’t know?”

I shook my head, my curiosity peaking.

“Well, I’ll be damned, boy!  You musta hit your head a right bit harder than I thought,” he exclaimed, an eyebrow cocked.  “Now, I don’t know for sure, but rumor has it that you got caught up in that market explosion a little over a month ago.”

He studied me for signs of recognition, but I only felt more confused.  He shook his head but he had moved on before it even came back to rest.

“Name’s Billy, by the way,” he muttered as an after thought.

I nodded.  “Say, Billy, can I ask you something?”

He nodded, fishing for his flask once again.

“Is my face burned real badly?”

He glanced at me before responding, “Not half as bad as the rest of you.  Here, take a look.”

He tossed his flask my way but my bandaged hands made catching impossible; it fell to my lap limply.

I retrieved it, and what I saw was staggering.  He was right when he said my injuries weren’t bad—they weren’t.  What shocked me was my face.

Or, more accurately, how I didn’t recognize an inch of it.

Staring back at me was a man, 18 or 19, with dark—maybe black—eyes, tanned skin, a buzz cut that was quickly growing out, and quite a bit of scruff.  And nothing looked familiar.

“So what do they call you, then?”

Broken out of my reprieve, I glanced at him.  “Huh?”

He chuckled.  “You’re a funny little guy.  You got a name, I said?”

I opened my mouth, and then closed it when I realized I had nothing to say.  Frantically, I wracked my brain but came up empty.  Horrified, I looked up only to see that Billy had completely lost interest.  I tossed his flask back and closed my eyes, feigning sleep.

But in reality, my heart was pounding a mile a minute.

Who the hell was I?

 

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