You were there.
But at first, I was alone.
Well, not alone. There were hundreds, thousands of us there.
We were dying.
The bombs were coming down with that cartoon whistle that seemed cartoonish until the explosive hit and churned the world into a geyser of dirt, blood, and body parts. We were all yelling, screaming, charging. I don’t know who I was fighting for, but it was world war one. I was wearing weird spats over the boots, the wool uniform was far too hot and heavy, and the Lewis gun I carried was like an anvil in my arms. I had the feeling I wasn’t supposed to have it, but when we were caught in the crossfire it didn’t matter. It caught a round in the water jacket in the front, and steam was hissing out of it as I burned through tray after tray of ammunition. But then it was gone. I reached to my partner for another and he handed it to me, then there was the boom of a gun and he was gone. Just the tray of bullets – a circular magazine – and his hand still gripping it. A fountain of dirt threw me to the side as the gigantic bullet that killed him hit an embankment thirty feet back.
It was not sleek, not fast, almost laughable in the over-designed riveted body struggled with mud and trees, but a tank. I dropped the Lewis gun and ran.
It followed like a death warrent, chewing at the ground with machinegun fire from a dozen ball turrets that jutted like demonic eyes. ahead there was a building and I made for it, weaving in and out of the trees. I got to the road and crossed it, vaulting up over the stone wall and into an unkempt garden. I hit the ground again and sat up.
I sat up. wobbled. It was quiet. I was in my room. It was dark. I touched my phone and saw it was 2 am.
I gently, gently lay back down into the sweat moistened pillows. I thought of you.
Again in France I burned with the need to escape. The tank blew a hole in the ancient stone wall behind me, but I had already moved. The castle ahead was the kind built when palace were more massive square mansions than turreted fairy tales. 1700’s? I dove in, hoping the beauty of the place would keep the devil outside at bay for minutes.
High ground. Needed high ground.
It was a mausoleum replete with dusty ghosts, sheets thrown over every bit of furniture as I blew up the stairs, bolt action rifle clapping on my back. my motioned echoed for forever against marble tiles and ceiling, woodwork glowering at me with faces stained dark but unable to hide the eye hidden in the eldritch whorls.
I made the second floor as angry knocking pounded on the front door. I ran down a hall lined with generations of stalwart, stoic paintings. I grabbed a knob and turned. I didn’t so much burst in as was sucked into the dusty gloom beyond. Mold spores burst into the air and I was coughing, coughing. I fell trough a hole in the floor. I fell, fell.
I sat up. 3am. I drank some lukewarm water and coughed. The room was pitch black. A cat was wandering down the hall outside and playing with some bit it had claimed as a toy.
I lay down, and fell, and fell.
I opened my eyes to pitch blackness and ringing silence. There was nothing. I was totally and utterly alone. I wondered if the darkness had teeth. I wondered if it needed them. I pondered how a man alone might be dissolved in utter solitary void.
And the more I thought about it. The more I became convinced of it.
Then there was a note. A sound. It was music, but it was also burning. I sat up,
But I was still asleep. and I felt the cold around me grow more intense, as if all the cold in the hall was fleeing like forest animals as far, far down the ballroom hall, there came a light.
I could barely see me, barely see anything, but the floor was a milky expanse of mirror sheen marble. The walls had two dozen fireplaces in the walls. candle holders graced every surface and massive chandeliers hid white wicked wax in mazes of crystal and silver.
At the far edge of seeing the light grew. It became more. Fireplace whispered into roaring life and candles shook off the darkness to chase it into far corners. I felt the rifle fall from my shoulder and crash discordantly to the floor. I took off the wool jacket and let it sigh from my shoulders. Tired feet took me step by step toward the light, where I saw a figure emerging from the glare.
It was you.
Your dress was blue and white, hot beyond imagining as it fluttered around you like pure silk. Your hair was the same, curled and pulled away from your beautiful face like a movie star from the 30’s. You walked upright and barefoot, towering over the whole of the world as the lights around you danced to flaming life and cast sparkling droplets of light before you like a carpet of roses.
We came close.
I touched your cheek and you nuzzled into my palm.
I watched your eyes turn blue and green and gray. you reached to my belt and felt the ridiculously long bayonet, almost a sword, handing at my hip.
You asked, mouth not moving. Must you fight?
I took a deep breath, but I did not speak the words, For what I believe in. for who I love.
Would you fight for me?
I already am.
And you kissed me.
I felt our bodies intertwine and the flame flare up around us. I could taste you: sunlight and strawberries, peaches and snowflakes. We kissed and kissed.
And then I could not breathe.
I sat up.
And my tiny room was dark. Cold. empty.
I lay back down and thought of you.
My alarm went off.