Well, I officially do not like this story one iota. Not one iota. Lol. I've spent days trying to get it right, but am just going to treat it as a flop and post it, as is. Spoiler Alert: Contains mild swearing and sexual connotations.
The Chrysalis Experiment's prompt fourteen was "Come to me to feel my protection. Countdown to my revelation."
I was born to a woman who came from the mighty Mississippi, on the flat crest of green land sticking out of the river just west of Memphis where the hawks like to hunt, the seventh of a line of brothers. When I was a youngun I got in heaps of trouble, right and left. Time was, I was always chasing one thing and killing another. Snakes, wild hogs, deer. Nothing in life was too fast for me. Nothing could stay live if I wanted it dead.
My daddy said that if I lived I might come to be an even better man than him. He was a hard working railroad man; had hands so wide, wide and sun-browned like the river, that they cracked across the stretched and tired knuckles and when he sweat the water brought forth from his flesh looked like mud. He worked at the railroad till the day he died, I heard tell. Mamma was a good woman too, but off; difficult. She tried, I can say that. Sang in the choir on Sundays and later, taught piano to the rich folks who drove out from the city. For a while there everybody said she taught the best gospel west of the Mississippi. Her sweet warbles slipped out the open door in the steamy summers, full of both the dust of the earth and the thick humid air blown over from the river, so well mixed together that that air would be heavy with a sweet goodness as tangible as molasses. Course, she left not long after I was about knee-high. Said she was thirsty, and that nothing Daddy could give her could quench that thirst. At the time I thought she’d been making to say something about God, and so I run outside to avoid a talking-to. Later I figured out she meant the river. But I don’t hold it against her none. Because pretty soon I left too. One day I was there, and the next I was gone. And that was such a long time ago. Long time.
Before the wars.
“I know why you left,” she said to me, leaning back from the table so to hide her face in shadows. “It is the same story you hear, from all over.” Her English sounded better than mine, but that accent. That French accent. Europe. Europe, again. Because one Great War wasn’t enough. “In times such as these, you are no different than the next man. There is nothing left that is original; we have seen it all and heard it all.”
“Oui. All of us.” The way she moved her hand through the air I could tell she didn’t have nothing on the girls back home. But still. There were things to be done. Men to kill.One in particular. I just wasn't sure I wanted to kill no more.
“Well, I reckon you ain’t seen nothin’ compared to what I seen.” It come out as a spat. “Them naked Jews kissed my boots at Auschwitz when we marched in.” I didn't tell her any other details, like of the men I'd seen. The men, the men in the trenches, this war and that. “And I guarantee you I’m different from any man you’ve ever knowed.” The first time round I’d barely been tall as a corn stalk, had lied about my age to get in and go to war. Those heaps of men laying atop one another in the mud, country after country … that whole first year I throwed up every night outside the barracks. By now they just look like ants. Little, crawling, muddy ants. Soldier ants, ready to die. “Ready to die,” I felt my mouth say.
“Pardon?” Her deep red mouth clamped one last drag out of her cigarette, and then she smashed it against the ice in her highball glass. She had a way of lingering her voice on certain parts of words that made her even more intoxicating than the pale green, licorice-flavored drink I had in front of me. The glass it was in was dusty, anyway. Seemed everything was covered in dirt and dust these days.
“Nothin,’” I told her. “You ready?”
“But of course.”
We stood. I paid the bill, and we left for my hotel room.
Her hair, now lit by the low moon shining through the window in my room, was a mess of red-black curls across my chest as she slept. She was a liar, a cheat. Traitor. Turncoat. Whore, maybe. Not that she wouldn’t’ve been somebody else entirely, had the war not blowed through Europe. I was willing to bet she was some sort of spy, maybe in the underground. But I wasn’t sure, and it wasn’t none of my business. Just like my business wasn’t none of hers. I liked that about her; she didn’t ask questions, just made little statements with meanings hidden in shadows. “Platitudes,” she called them. I didn’t know the word.
I needed to wash. I needed to do lots of things. Carefully I shifted her off me and got up, going to the one chair in the room, where our clothes were thrown.
“You are leaving,” she murmured. I pulled on my wool socks. They needed darning something fierce.
“Oui. You will return then, mon ami.”
“I dunno ‘bout that.” Next, my uniform.
“Oui,” she said again. She stretched like a cat in the almost dawn coming into the room. “You will return. And you will kill many men. It is practically written in stone.” I could hear her waking up by the tone of her voice. She pulled herself to a sitting position, wrapping the sheet around her bare breasts the way all women seem to. I said nothing. Continued getting dressed.
“Well,” she said, a cigarette now clamped between her lips, “c’est la vie, no? Such a silly platitude, that. Of course,” she continued to my silence, “you and I … non … Non.” She shook her head.
“What?” Again, it came out as a spat. The rubber soles of my boots looked like they were going rotten. Too damned long in this war. Too many men that I’d killed and then stomped on.
“Well,” and then there was a long pause, filled with the burning sound of cigarette paper, “we could slip away, together. Slip away from this war. Entirely. I know ways,” she added “and people both, who could ensure our safe passage. We would be here one moment,” then she waved at the swirls of smoke, “and then gone, gone to freedom and to new lives, with each other, somewhere far from here.”
Now that, that stopped me.
“You…” and then I stopped. Swallowed. Started over. “You know how to do that?”
“Oui. It is not simple or safe, but” she shrugged, “what is, in these times? C’est possible, of that you can be sure.”
“And you would go, what, with,” and I left the sentence hang in the gray air.
“With you. Oui. Anywhere you wish, away from here. Oui.”
I felt myself blinking at her. Looked like dawn was coming early today.
“You do that,” I said. “You get everything ready. I’ll be coming back round nightfall. I’ve got to be tying up loose ends.”
“Non, mon ami. Non. Do not go. I know these expressions, these ‘loose ends’ of which you speak. Do not leave to kill a man. Do not leave for anything. Stay here, stay where it is safe, and together we will arrange to leave to an even better safety.”
“I’ve got to go,” I told her. “Can you have it all ready when I get back?”
“Oui.” She dropped her head, that soft, blood colored hair falling in curls over her face. I’d never known any woman could have hair like that.
She lifted her face. I thought I saw a tear maybe, but I tried not to look too close.
“I’ll be back,” I said.
Well, at least he’s dead and gone now, I thought to myself. Mud. Mud to my left, mud to my right, and a stinking haze of road dust and war scent above me, blue sky somewheres above that. I was on my back, in a ditch of a road at the edge of the town I’d said I’d come back to, so I could meet her and we could slip away. But his guard--looked like his brother--got me; got me good. The only man to’ve ever got me, and even that was in the ankles. Shot in the ankles, I thought. Who the hell dies of that?
Course, he hadn’t stopped when he got me in the ankles. Like a good soldier he’d done the rest of the work, but since I’m so strong and hardy, just like my daddy only maybe a little better, I seemed to be hanging round longer than ordinary men. Barely felt the blood coming out of my gut, and the pains in my ankles had done went dull a long time back. Everything here was getting dull, but other parts seemed to be getting clearer. All this time I been lying here, memories keep popping up clear as the day they’d happened.
“Sure thing, honey. You go to that war and do what you were meant to do.” That’s what my mamma had said, when I sneaked out the house and hitched my way to the river to ask her advice. I knew I’d find her in the river. There, north of Memphis, was a thick spot where the river was slow and the land creeped down to meet it. My mother had floated upright in the water, in a dress colored muddy river gray and brown. “But you can stay here,” she’d told me, letting herself fall back into the water, swimming face-up, feet toward the opposite bank, her hair floating towards me. “Here is protection. The river’s protection. You can count down the days until your death much quieter here. ”
I don’t remember now what I said back.
“But if you go to the war,” she’d continued, “you’ll kill dead more men than you even knew there ever was. And one of those men will be infamous, all 'round the world. And you’ll be ‘membered as the man who killed him. But then you’ll die too.”
That memory kept sneaking up on me. Sneaking. Sneaking.
… Footsteps …
“La, mon ami!” How’d she find me? Tell her you love her. Tell her. Tell her. “What has happened to you?” And she knelt to my left, placing her hands on my body. Suddenly I felt the ripping pressure of her hands, the leaking blood. Tried to speak.
“Non,” she said, kohl marks running down her cheeks from her eyes. “Non. Je ‘taime. Do not go. Do not go.”
Tried to speak.
“Non,” she said again. “Do not trouble to speak. I will know by your face.” She pulled a hand from me to wipe her face. It was covered in blood. My blood. “Just tell me — is he dead? Did you kill ... him?”
But how the hell did she know? Ah, she’d known all along. But she hadn’t wanted me to, so’s to keep me safe.
Tried to speak. Tried to tell her "yes." Tried to tell her everything.
“Oui,” she muttered. I couldn’t hardly see her no more. “It is done. You did well. You will be remembered for it.”
So this is what it is, I thought, to die. She watched me, and then I went.