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Chapter 23

It’s weird how sometimes you wake up but you’re not really awake. In your mind you’re debating whether this is a dream or if it’s actually real. Your vision is blurry, just like a dream, and everything seems to go wrong, just like a dream.

But there’s one difference between dreams and reality that proves which is real.

It’s pain.

I had dreamt once that I had cut myself with a butcher’s knife, but of course I was dreaming so all I felt was nothing. No pain.

But in the strange dream I was having now was not like that at all. When I cracked my eyes open, the first thing I saw were flames in the reflection of a small pond. I watched them swirl through the ripples in the water and debated whether I was asleep or not. I couldn’t hear anything, just the sound of my own breathing, and my heart beating like none other.

I thought about that until my eyes started stinging from the blinding pain searing from my head. My hand instinctively wanted to reach up press against it, but I found that I couldn’t. I tried to spread my arms but my wrists were too tightly bound. I pushed my shoulder against the ground, trying to push myself up, but I was too weak. My muscles felt like rubber.

There was a rock near my head, smeared with a bit of blood. But I couldn’t see straight. Everything was spinning and pounding. My stomach curled.

My ears started to ring, and then the ringing was followed by the rushing wind of sound. I had to get up. I had to find West.

Against my body screaming for me not to, I pushed against the ground and managed to stand with my legs still shaking. They felt so weak and useless at the moment, like I wouldn’t be able to walk. My head spun but I hadn’t vomited yet, which was a good sign. Vomiting meant concussion. I swayed as I straighten myself, and I had to stand there for a moment before my head stopped spinning enough to get my bearings. It was like getting off a roller-coaster that you had ridden three times continuously.

I flexed my hands to test the rope around my wrists, but it did no good. It was just as tight as before. I looked around me and was astonished at what I saw, finally able to see what happened.

We had crashed in another field, just like the one we had taken off from. The sun had disappeared below the horizon but the sky was still light. The grass was a bit taller here, and the small bumps of hills made it hard to see very far.

The helicopter I’d been riding in was off to the right, about two hundred yards away. The tail had been blown off and there were flames licking the metal of where it once was. If I hadn’t jumped, I didn’t know if I would’ve survived. Off in the distance there were more fires, probably other aircrafts that had been shot down too.

Then I realized the noise. Something I didn’t notice before. Guns were being fired to the right of me and people were yelling somewhere straight ahead. My heart was still pounding and my mind was at a blank of what to do. But I did know I would feel better if my hands were loose.

If someone found me like this, I couldn’t fight.

I quickly looked for something to use to cut the rope, but there was nothing but grass and dirt. I felt so hopeless that I wanted to scream. I looked over the grass, almost hoping that I would see West walking towards me, but I had no idea where he was right now. It was just me, so I just had to deal with it.

At the sound of running footsteps behind me, I spun around, not knowing what to do. I backed up to the edge of the little pond and waited for whoever was coming, ready to tackle them if I needed to. My breathing was coming faster as the person’s feet brought them closer. I caught a glimpse of a head over the long grass that was growing around the pond before they burst into the same clearing.

I sighed a relief, but not allowing myself to relax yet. The soldier was dressed in his green and brown cargo pants with a black shirt with a shotgun strap coming across his chest. He was from the US side. He studied me for a fraction of a second before sweeping his eyes across the area and lowering his rifle.

“Are you—” he hesitated, “Reese?”

I was taken back by him knowing my name.

“Uh . . . yes,” I answered, unsure.

His chest dropped as he breathed in relief. “I’m sorry, it’s just . . . we didn’t plan on all of this to happen this way. I wasn’t sure if anyone was going to survive the crash. Things kinda got out of control fast, as you can probably guess.”

The solider laughed nervously.

He reached around and pulled a knife from his boot, and I suddenly thought maybe he wasn’t who he was made out to be. Maybe he actually wanted to gut me like a fish, and I wouldn’t know it until the last minute.

I backed up another step, almost making my heels touch the water.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

He paused in mid-step and raised his hands. “I just thought you would appreciate it if your hands were free.”

“Oh.” I felt extremely stupid. “Thanks.”

He smiled and took another step forward while I turned my back to expose my hands. I felt a tug at the rope and then they were free. I turned around but my body instinctively jumped at the sound of a loud crack that exploded in the air around us.

The soldier standing before me brought his hands to his chest, trying to holding in the blood that was pouring over them, his face already going pale. I reached out to grab him but he fell to the ground, hitting the soft dirt with a thud, his eyes staring blankly at the sky.

Mia stood fifty feet away, still holding her weapon and staring at me like she wanted to kill me. She wasn’t like the Mia I had first met, she was in soldier mode and it caught me off guard.

She had killed the solider who helped me, and now she was going to kill me.

Before she could get another shot off, I dashed out of the small clearing. After I had gone five steps I wanted to slap myself in the face for forgetting to grab the soldier’s gun. But it was too late now. I ran through the long grass and listened to her footsteps behind me, following me like a hound dog. The thick blades tugged at my feet, threatening to trip me, dooming me to being caught again.

My foot caught on a rock and I actually caught myself before going down, but my bad knee buckled and I rolled into the long grass. I was about to push myself up but Mia was already sprinting through the grass right behind me. She stopped, trying to hear my footsteps. I saw her shadow through the thick grass and my heart pounded with anticipation.

She hadn’t seen me yet.

I thought back to when I was watching those movies where the main character had to fight for their life. I always wondered what it would actually feel like, to have a hand to hand fight with someone who wanted you dead. I was never able to imagine how I would feel, and if my reflexes were even fast enough to put up a good fight.

I internally sighed. I guess I was about to find out. Some things in life you just can’t turn away from. And then there are things you just have to experience for yourself.

She slowly turned her back from me, trying to spot where I was hiding, so I plucked up the courage and made my move. I quickly pushed my hair from my face and made a sprint towards her turned back.

Her hair flipped around as she spun on her heels, but I was already there. I slammed into her with all my weight, causing her to drop her pistol somewhere in the grass, and it landed with a thud. We both hit the ground and immediately rolled away from each other, like opposite sides of a magnet. I jumped to my feet at the same time she did and we face each other like it was some sort of stand off.

“Just give up now, Reese.” She said my name with disgust. “You don’t stand a chance against me. You’re a nobody.”

“I am a nobody.” A small smile was spreading across her lips at me admitting it. “But I’m a nobody who has something to fight for, and you’re not going to get in my way of doing that.”

Her eyes changed. Then she said, “West isn’t somebody worth fighting for, and you’re an idiot if you think he is.”

I was getting angry again, something that I didn’t want to control me.

“To me, West is everything worth fighting for.” Then I shrugged and said, “It’s all right to be jealous, Mia.”

“I’m not jealous!” Mia yelled.

My insides glowed at her anger. She ruined everything, and now I would make her pay.

“You brought this upon yourself, you know,” I said. “I would say I’m sorry, but I’m not.”

“Me! You should be sorry for yourself, you’re the one that thinks West actually cares about you. You’re a fool if you believe it.” Mia pulled back her face, settling with a smug smile. “He doesn’t care about anyone but himself. Trust me . . . I know better than anyone.”

Her words punched me in the stomach, but I couldn’t let myself believe they were true. She was just trying to mess with me. And she was the best at lying. That I did know.

“Well, I guess I’m a fool then.”

Her smile dropped.

The night was quiet now but I could still see the burning aircrafts in the distance; it was just the two of us. That feeling I wanted to know about when I would be in a deadly fight? It was terrifying. I did everything I had to keep my body from shaking. I didn’t know how to fight. I was just some girl who was bad at math and who liked to sleep in on Saturdays. I wasn’t cut out for this.

Mia saw my hesitation and my fist was still urging to punch her like it always had. Now I knew why I had always hated her so much, and it wasn’t me just being paranoid. She had been acting from the beginning, playing nice and so innocent, just to take us by surprise later. I was right in hating her.

I took a quick glance at the pistol that was lying in the grass and so did she. But then I did a double take. It was my pistol. My father’s pistol. I would spot that silver and black gun from anywhere. And she took it. That was my last and only connection I had with my dad, and she stole it away.

I could feel the heat rising in my face and I clenched my fists even tighter.

Mia didn’t miss a thing.

“It shoots well,” she said, curling her lip up to a smile. “Especially on that friend of yours.”

My heart stopped.

What did you say?” I gritted through my teeth.

“You heard me. The one with the long hair? Last time I saw him he was losing an awful amount of blood.” She looked out, over the grass. “But he’s probably dead by now . . .” she said thoughtfully, and without care.


That’s when I snapped. I dashed for the pistol lying in the grass but Mia was right behind me. She punched me in the jaw as I was reaching for the weapon, but by now I was surprisingly used to being punched, so I didn’t pause. My fingers wrapped around the handle as I rolled onto my feet again, this time being the one with the gun. For the first time since this war had started, I finally had the upper hand.

Mia straightened from her crouch, her smile still on her face. I realized I never had the chance to punch her, but this would have to do. She pulled a knife slowly from her pocket and held it at her side.

“Really, Reese, what are you going to do? Shoot me?” She laughed and I raised my gun higher. I saw her hand move back, getting ready to throw her knife, so I didn’t pause.

I couldn’t pause. If I did, I was dead. I gently pulled the trigger. The force made her stumble back with a shocked expression on her face as she looked up at me.

“Yes,” I answered.

She dropped back, the shot still ringing in my ears.

Now that the danger was gone, my chest started heaving for air. Did I really just do that? It was a whisper even in my head. I lowered my gun and stepped back from the person lying before me. It didn’t feel this way when I had killed the other four strangers. I hadn’t known them. Hadn’t known their names or even spoken a word to them. I didn’t like how I felt just now. Again, no tears came. This war was hardening me just like it did everyone else. It made Ethan older, Seth probably more paranoid, and it had made me feel anger towards people like I had never felt before.

I spun around and dropped to my knees, vomiting anything that was in my empty stomach. I just had to tell myself that she was going to kill me if I hadn’t done what I did. But that still didn’t make me feel any better. I had just killed someone that I had actually known. Even though I disliked her, it still left a bad taste in my mouth.

I couldn’t stop shaking. But even so, I stood and turned my face towards the fires in the distance. I had to get Mia out of my mind right now, because right now I had a friend to find.

A friend that might already be dead or needing me help.

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