Sunlight

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Chapter 10

My body instinctively stiffened as the soldier to my left grabbed my arm and threw me face down to the ground. My heart thumped into the earth, causing my head to pulse with every beat. He pressed his foot between my shoulder blades as another soldier tied my hands behind my back with a length of rope. It was rough against my skin and so tight that I could already feel my hands becoming numb.

Anger started to run through my veins, not believing this was really happening. I was supposed to be on my summer vacation, lying around outside, going to the lake, and going camping with my family. I wasn’t supposed to be here.

This time last year, Ethan and I went on a small road trip to our cousin’s house. Well, tried to go to our cousin’s house. We spent three days driving around in circles, sleeping in the car, almost hitting a deer, being chased by a crazy raccoon, and buying cheap food from rest stops. It was the best three days we had spent together. But now I was here . . . .

They lifted me off the ground by my arms and by this point I couldn’t stop my body from shaking uncontrollably. The rain pricked my cold skin like small flaming needles, and the blinding pain from my knee was all I could think about. If it hadn’t been raining I would have sworn that my leg was on fire.

It hurt so much I was sure I would pass out. My vision swam and my blood felt too hot. It happened all too fast. It was like a horrible dream that I couldn’t wake from. My eyes stared at everything but nothing at the same time.

A man from behind grabbed my hair, pulling my head back right next to his face as I gritted my teeth against the pain. I could smell cigar smoke coming from his clothes, and my head spun from being pulled back so quickly.

“Don’t worry about your boy,” he said. “He’ll be joining you shortly.” He laughed into my ear and I got the urge to punch him as his breath touched my skin. But of course I wasn’t able to, and how very convenient that was for him.

He pulled me around the tree with my leg dragging on the ground behind me, back to where the rest of the men were waiting. The one I had shot was laying dead on the ground. The remaining soldiers looked at me with loathing eyes. I couldn’t blame them, I lured them away from their main target, and shot their fellow soldier while doing it.

If I wasn’t in so much pain, I would’ve smiled.

The woods were quiet except for the continuous rain as my escorts walked alongside me, dragging me between them. I couldn’t so much as think about walking.

But after while they decided to let me try, suddenly letting go of my arms to see what would happen. I collapsed to the ground with their laughing echoing above me.

I was unable to break my fall and my head hit the ground hard. My body wanted to lay there forever from how tired I was, and I wasn’t going to argue. Feet shuffled around my ears and then a boot slammed into my ribs. The air left my lungs the very next moment and my mouth opened but no sound came out.

The man smelling of cigars came walking back from the front of the group and kneeled down next to me, grabbing the back of my head again so I had no choice but to look at him. I stared into his eyes, trying not to show my fear, but it was still there, no matter how hard I tried to ignore it.

I had no idea what they planned to do with me.

“If you don’t walk, I will break both of your legs the very moment we get back to the outpost.” I wasn’t afraid of his empty threats, and he saw it in my eyes and smirked.

Then a new voice came. “We’re on a tight schedule. We need to be back at the trucks as soon as possible. You got that, Jenkins? We have no time for you’re silly little games.”

“Maybe you haven’t noticed, but we’re all equals right now. The sergeant would still be alive if it wasn’t for her.” He pointed his finger directly at me. “So, don’t go ordering me around.”

“I’m not ordering you, I’ll telling you. Dersa will probably be back within the hour, and we have to be there when he does.” His voice had authority and the other soldiers seemed to take his side, staring at the man in the middle with expressionless faces, all silent over the falling rain.

He was outnumbered.

Fine.” He spat at his feet. “Keep her for yourself.”

He stalked off and the others reluctantly followed, a few dragging me along with them. It was becoming increasingly difficult. My adrenaline was still high but the pain was becoming worse with every passing minute.

My eyes kept darting around, hoping I wouldn’t see West. The men were walking in a lose formation around me, their eyes also searching the woods, hungry to find the person they wanted most. In my heart, I was desperate for him not to appear, even though I already missed him.

Two big trucks were waiting on a dirt road when we walked out of the woods about forty minutes later. The two men dropped me on the ground against one of the tires and one of them motioned another soldier over.

“Wrap her leg so she won’t bleed out. We don’t want that to happen by the time we get back.” He gave me a wink. “Not yet anyway.”

I sat in the mud while another soldier came and wrapped a cloth tightly around my knee. Blood soaked through it immediately and it became hard for me to watch. My eyes wandered up from my bleeding limb and idly watched the tree line, waiting for the man in black to make his appearance. The soldiers had said his name—Dersa, at least I thought that was it. His hour was almost up and if he reappeared by then it would mean West had been able to escape.

I tried to imagine what West had thought when he had come back and found me missing. Maybe he thought that I had finally decided to leave, figuring he was too dangerous to be around after all. I hoped he wouldn’t think that, after all this time trying to convince him I wanted to stay, just to leave when his back was turned. I wouldn’t want him thinking of me that way after everything was over; of someone who would go back on their word.

I closed my eyes and pictured his face the way I remembered it, and not the version I saw when he would have found me gone. Maybe he figured out what happened and had enough time to escape.

But I could only hope at this point.

Most of the men climbed into the back of the covered trucks to escape from the rain, and they left me where I was, like an animal they were no longer interested in. If I was able to run I would have tried. I would have done anything to run back into the secluded woods. To find West. To go back to the way it was. I already missed his brilliant smile.

The rain kept falling from the sky, and I couldn’t stop trembling.

Even so, a smile still itched along my lips when two men came out of the woods, but the look on Dersa’s face made my lips fall short. He stormed out of the forest and onto the road, walking straight towards me with a strict determination. The look in his eyes made me shrink back against the truck, but I had nowhere to hide.

Pick her up!” he shouted over the rain, but I could still hear the venom in his voice. My heart began to throb within my chest as he came closer.

The man closest to me grabbed my arm and yanked me to my feet. My knee screamed in protest from being under weight, but there was nothing I could do but try to stay conscious. My eyes searched franticly for a way of escape, but they only landed on a soldier whose back was turning away from me, not wanting to watch what was about to happen. And I recognized him; the same soldier who put a stop to his fellow soldier who was going have his fun with me in the woods.

It didn’t look like he was going to help again.

My sight of him was blocked just as Dersa’s fist punched my jaw, snapping my head to the side. My whole head vibrated and my eyes stung as I squeezed them shut. Tears brimmed, but I wouldn’t let them escape. I would have fallen to the ground from the blow but the soldier who was clung to my arm held me up so Dersa could do it again.

The second was worst than the first, hitting the same place over again. His fist came away bloodied after the second blow and I couldn’t seem to breathe. The hand around my arm disappeared and I slumped to the ground in a blurry haze, unable to stand on my own.

Dersa turned again towards the forest, fuming with anger. “You can blame yourself for what’s going to happen to her!” he shouted. His voice echoed through the trees but there was no response.

I shivered as I laid unmoving on the wet road. With my face pressed into the grimy earth there was no denying that I was scared of what was going to happen to me. My life was spiraling downward and I had no control over it. It was a horrible feeling. A frightening one.

Dersa turned back, facing his wide-eyed soldiers, now realizing he had acted out. He put on a placid face, hiding his sudden outbreak.

“Put her in the back and let’s move out,” he said.

One of the soldiers looked passed him into the woods and asked, “Where’s Hadenson?”

“He’s dead,” Dersa growled as he jumped into the truck cab, slamming the door behind him.

My thoughts were in a daze as the truck bounced down the road; it was as if they were trying to hit the potholes. I wouldn’t have complained if they had decided to knock me unconscious. The blood from my knee was soaking through the cloth and was making a small puddle of red on the floor. I didn’t know why I hadn’t yet.

What I thought was about twenty minutes later, the truck slowed to a stop, and two soldiers brought me back out into the rain. It didn’t make a difference because I was still shaking. We were standing in front of an old factory that they transformed into an outpost right off the main road. I felt lightheaded as I stood there looking at the building that I would probably die in. I wanted to hurl. The rope dug into my skin as I strained against my bonds as they dragged me forward.

They led me inside. I could feel warm blood running down my legs dragged behind me, leaving a crimson trail like some sort of zombie. The pain was now numbing my brain, leaving me in a dreamlike state that I wasn’t going fight against.

It was better this way . . . feeling nothing instead of everything.

We entered a big storage room with a high ceiling, now with computers set on top of crates and boxes. There were soldiers everywhere; crowded around computer screens and in dark corners smoking cigarettes. There were others cleaning their rifles and taking short naps before they had to leave again.

Dersa dismissed the soldiers still following behind us but the soldier to my right hesitated before leaving. Dersa’s eyes followed him, making sure the soldier was going to leave before taking me farther in into the building, half dragging me along, making me stumble after him.

We went into another room that was being used as a mechanics shop. Men were working on trucks and others were welding, sending sparks and fumes into the air. A few people looked as we entered, but most just ignored me. I think I liked it better that way.

He led me away past everyone, behind a few big vehicles and it made my skin crawl. We were alone behind the large trucks and I didn’t want it to be that way. My voice wanted to shout out for someone, but who would come? Nobody here cared about what happened to me.

Dersa looped another rope through my already tied hands and secured it to a pole in the center of the small room. He was forcing me to stand, but I tried to not put any weight of my leg, using the metal post behind me as support. I silently hoped he would punch me enough so I would black out. To send me to a place far away from here. But I had a feeling he wasn’t going to let me off so easily.

“I’m going to make this simple for you,” Dersa said in his rough voice. “If you don’t answer my questions, I’m going to hurt you.”

I thought about it, and figured I was already a goner.

“Well, prepare to be disappointed,” I answered, trying to smile.

He backhanded me hard across my cheek. My eyes were to the point of watering, but I held them in. I looked into his eyes again and said, “You must have made a lot of mistakes out there to allow one person to get past your radar. What a shame.”

He stepped closer so he was right in front of me. He smelled of cigarettes with a mixture of aftershave, and I felt dirty just being close to him. I decided on the spot to aggravate him more. “And you just made another mistake.”

He looked at me curiously. “And what would that be?”

“Getting too close,” I answered, kneeing him in the groin with my good leg. It was almost too much pain for me to bare, leaning on my bad leg, even if it was only for a moment. But it worth it, seeing him doubled over and pounding the floor with his fist, his face contorted with rage. It was probably a stupid thing to do in my position, but I didn’t give a crap at this point.

Once he had composed himself again he stood and faced me with a knife in his hand. It seemed to appear from nowhere. The light glinted off the long blade, causing the fear in me to rise.

“If you don’t answer this next question,” he said, shrugging, “well, I’ll let your imagination decide what will happen.”

My stomach tensed and my hands started to shake. I couldn’t feel the air temperature, but I shivered without knowing if it was cold or hot. Right then, I guiltily wished West would come for me. Some things I just didn’t want to handle myself; some things I couldn’t. This was one of those couldn’t times. I knew I was being selfish and wished I wasn’t.

Dersa!” His eyes tightened and the knife disappeared into his sleeve. He turned around to face the man who had come up behind him.

“Sir?”

The older man walked up to him and surveyed the scene. His eyes narrowed as his gaze drifted over me in a not-so-friendly way.

“Maybe you could enlighten me, Dersa, to what your job description is here? If I recall, you were hired to track our targets, not to torture answers out of them. Am I correct?”

“Yes, sir.” His voice was tight.

“That’s what I thought,” he said. “Now, do us both a favor and do your job.”

Dersa bent down to pick up his jacket but as he did he threw me a glare. After he had left, the older man walked forward and studied me like something he had won in a bet. I wanted to hit him for it.

“So, you’re the one who helped our little traitor escape. How very interesting.” He didn’t sound very interested. Another soldier came around the corner and waited behind the older man.

“You did good today, Private. I’m going to make sure you are promoted to Corporal by the end of the week.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Put her in the back,” the older man said waving his hand in my direction, “and make sure you have someone look at that leg. We need her alive.”

“Yes, sir.”

He left and I was alone with the soldier. He wouldn’t look at me as he came forward and untied the rope that was holding me to the pole. He supported most of my weight as he led me to the back of the building. I felt myself becoming weaker every step of the way; my lifeline slowly draining away in drops of red.

We stopped before a single room with a heavy door, equipped with a metal latch on the outside. He set me down on the floor inside and untied my hands. I watched his face as he did and when his eyes finally glanced up they reminded me of West’s, except different. They were . . . softer somehow.

I was almost sure he was West’s brother.

“Is your name, Devon?”

He stood up unperplexed and nodded. “Yeah.”

He glanced back at the open door then shut it quietly. Devon looked similar to his brother but he was bigger, unlike West who was smaller and more slender. I was confused to why he was here. I didn’t think the army would let him anywhere near to where his brother might be, in risk he might decide to turn against them, too. Then the answer was obvious.

“They don’t know you’re related to him, do they?” He shook his head, staring at the ground again. “So why are you here?”

He smirked at me like I didn’t already know. “Do you really think I wouldn’t help my own brother?”

“Of course not, but West wasn’t sure how you would feel towards what he did. Wasn’t sure if you would support him or not.”

He shifted his weight and sighed. “I didn’t at first. I was angry that he would turn against us like that. But I wasn’t thinking about the reasons behind his actions, I was to caught up in what other people thought was right, and not my own.

“I’m sure he doesn’t know this,” he said, “but he’s changed a lot of people’s thinking about this war. I’m seeing it everywhere, soldiers disobeying orders and some even leaving. The army is trying to control it, but there are too many to handle. It’s spreading more and more each day.”

“You mean people are changing? Just from what he did?”

“He seems like he started it all. His one act against us had more of an impact than anything that has happened since. He did what he thought was right, and it’s bringing people to their senses. And now, some people are starting to believe that this war was all a mistake.”

I couldn’t help but smile after thinking of the conversation that West and I had had.

“What?” he asked.

“A few days ago West was wondering why the army was so concerned about a lone runaway soldier. But I told him maybe they thought of him more than that. I guess I was right. He had more of an impression than he had thought.”

“Well, you are right. The army wants to find him badly to make an example out of him.”

“Well, at least I’m here instead of him.” I meant it, too.

“I’m sorry about that. I really am. I hate seeing the things they’re doing to you and can’t do anything to stop it.” I knew by the tone of his voice that he really was sorry. “I had no idea that he was traveling with someone.” Devon glanced at the door. “I have to leave, they’ll become suspicious if someone sees me in here. I’ll send someone to look at your knee.”

He left and I laid against the cold wall, finally able to release my built up tears now that nobody was around to see them.

I wasn’t sure how much longer I could hold them in.

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