“Bailey “Chase” Graves is going into junior year at Lincoln East High School, writes a lot of science fiction, has been working on a dystopian novel for the past 2-4 years(depending on what you count as ‘working'”.
“If We Go to War Again”
The floor is unreliable, unsteady and buckling beneath my feet. It rises and falls with the breath of the waves, silver and shining. It matches the sky, and it matches the ocean, which meet in oblivion, a blended horizon that has no end. It’s like we almost don’t exist, if not for the soldiers’ pale, sea-sick faces, and the spray of mostly-salt-mist on my cheeks as a reminder. The others look worried that they’ll be swallowed whole by the vastness, by the emptiness, but I feel utterly full; it brings me peace.
Peace is hard to come by these days.
Even back on the farm, in fields of gold and aegean, under warm sky and sun. It was peace only on the surface, but in secret, it was deciding who gets water today: the kids or the cows? I’d skip my showers to give the crisping plants something to drink, until I was so sweat-and-dirt covered that you couldn’t tell the difference between us. The cute boys down the road would comment how I looked rattier than my little brothers..
Why did I conscript myself for them?
I still see their faces in every man on this boat, and all the soldiers are men. I can hear the whapping of the flags overhead, smell the smoke of the engines off the water. Little did we know back then how badly that smoke would tear, tear a hole in the foundation, in everything that is known. The clouds overcast have grown darker, and look so angry at what we’ve done that they’ve furrowed their silked brows and turned to black. They growl at us, threatening, but they’re more apt to discharge ash than they are to release rainwater.
When the first droughts came, no one back home knew anything about what was going on. All we cared was that crops were going to be hard to grow, and profits would be slow to come. It’s like we were slipped from the grasp of time. While the big countries prowled along the sea borders like angry black cats, hissing and not daring a step into the water, we hustled around like ants, keeping our eyes on our hands, and on our dirt, and on our families.
We rejoiced with the rationing of the water because, hey, they directed most of the excess at us, the providers for our land. No more green lawns for the rich dogs, my father thought. And with renewed hope, we began normal life again. Until water basins ran dry again.
I conscripted for the money, for any penny I could count on to be sent back to my family.
No matter how desperate, my presence is a soft one. Like the kind that falls from grace without a sound. All these boys square their shoulders like they’re rooted to the earth, like they are as essential to it as oxygen and water – but those things are disappearing too. Their faces are hardened with lines made by the stresses they hide. They try to look like they have thick skin and big opinions, like their souls are unafraid. They have eyes that reflect the shadows of wanted glory.
But they are no older that the small-voiced, sweet-hearted boys from my town, are they?
Over us, a cast of seagulls tread, their bellies blooming slate from the overwhelming shadows the storms throw over the sun . . . which is odd, seeing how far we are from land. Maybe they hail from a new island founded by the slow evaporation of our earth.
At first, they thought that we’d drown as the arctic began to melt. But the Warmth was taking water from the equator just as fast as the poles gave it, so they thought, it would all balance out in the end. But the ice caps only ever held so much.
The disenchanted tone of a superior shouts for our attention, and I stand, I stand with the rest of them. On command, guns are passed down the lines, the three rows of us down the center of the deck. They are big, and thick, painted with complex cream and turquoise to try and make them look delicate, not dangerous, with barrels the size of my face and a grip that fits so perfectly into my small hands. Then silence, as we wait.
I cannot see, I am a foot below every other soldiers head, and they block me, but they cannot see, as one soldier with dark hair hanging in his face blabs to another, talking out of turn, “What is it?” The other doesn’t respond. The superiors can see something we can’t.
No one tells him to shut up.
The weapon shivers in my grip. Sweat plasters brown hair into my eyes, but I don’t flinch to move it away. No one else does either. We just sway to the rocking of the waves, and the frantic beating of our hearts.
What do the commanders see?
To answer my question, the sky splits open. Pressing through the clouds, the black ocean above, are bright, dawning waves of light, colored sapphire and chartreuse, sage and viridian. It turns the clouds a sickening shade of raisin purple, and paints our silvery uniforms ash. I wonder where those seagulls went. The colors shake my heart.
So does the sound.
As the aurora falls from the sky, it crashes on top of us, like a star falling to earth. It bends the center of the ship in two, like a soft twig, too wet and willowy to break, but the sound it makes – it popped my ears almost immediately, screeching like death and mayhem. The distortion of the ship launches the passengers aboard in two directions. I try to scream before I hit the water, head-on, somersaulting, but there is no sound. The vocal chords in my throat nearly rip apart, but any air I could use to cry is knocked out of me as my back hits the ocean like cement.
I wonder how much money my mom will get for my life.
Thrashing until I find direction, my head breaks the surface – I gasp, and I hear the screams. The screams of drowning, burning men. Water crashes against my ears, fills my mouth and nose. My lungs choke on the air. The buzzing of new age planes wander overhead. The ship is taking on water – as are some of the men – but a few soldiers cling to it regardless, but others thrash, helpless like I do. I see my brothers in their faces. It is chaos, it is agony.
Peace is hard to come by these days.
As my uniform, built thick like an astronaut suit to protect my fragile body from blast waves and bullet holes, fills up full of water. My fingers grasp for the zipper, but my gloves are too bulky, too swelled up with ocean, to grasp anything. Only for so long can I wade with this weight on my arms before my mouth can no longer taste the surface, before my eyes are stinging with seafoam. Before I am swallowed by the vastness, as I once did not fear, the sky lights up with the dawn of more aerial missiles.
Well, maybe we’ll get them next time.
“Wait For Spring To Come”
I always get lost in the crop circles. Not like “oh, alien magic crop circle technology invasion” crop circles, but the kinds my grandfathers would make with their bare hands. The kind that now are made with hulking machinery that kick up all kinds of dust, that are reminiscent in their growling of the dinosaurs that use to roam here. The kind you get lost in. I wander-lust for those crop circles.
During winter, I sat in the dust and waited for them like I would for the soldier coming home. All the yellow turned to grey, the trees’ green turned to silver, frost hanging to the delicate eyelashes of their branches.
During spring, I rode around in the red pickup truck with my brothers, almost trying to give them whiplash in a crazy parade like my father once did, chasing cows and dogs and rain. I was making my own crop circles in the middle of gravel roads that were now abandoned by the farmers.
During summer, we make a fort out in the fields. I forged giant tents with our bed sheets strung across signposts, hung up our clothes to dry on hay bales and said, “Yes mom, we’re gonna live out here!” I start a fire in the dirt every evening while my brothers got lost in the crop circles. I “steal” the cans of food my mom leaves on the counter for us and cook them over the fire just for the three of us. I can always see my mother watching through the window before she goes to bed. I hope she’s looking for us this time, and not our dad.
During fall, my butt will be glued to my saddle, my dad’s horse will remember nothing but those crop circles, the dirt trails, the empty rodeos, and all I’ll remember is how to ride her. I’ll still be sleeping in that fortress by myself, my brothers’ having caved for mom’s cooking months ago. I’ll be watching the stars every night.
During winter, I’ll wait for the soldiers to come home. They won’t.
During spring, the crop circles will be waiting for me, but I’ll be gone.
My legs shaking, ready to buckle, my lungs shuddering, losing air, I am forced to realize that running was not a good idea. Can’t stop to see what lurks behind, can’t deviate to find a place to hide, can’t hesitate to change my mind – just run. I sweat, droplets running down my face, my arms drooling blood as grasses and weeds lash at my arms with angry nails, trying to grab me and hold me back. Make me their sacrifice to their glutted God.
As a hillside with jutting rocks comes into view, wanders into my path, I’m forced to turn a corner, and dive behind thick leaves, between a pair of rocks. My knees press into my chest, and my lungs heave. My tongue lolls out of my mouth and I pant hard, desperately. The breathing of a man clinging to life.
In the Jurassic period, am I still a man?
The shadows shake, the leaves crumble, and I curl into the rocks ever further. I can feel it’s steps reverberate in my pounding heart. It makes me feel like a rabbit – small, vulnerable, breath coming fast, burrowing in the dirt. Around me, the ancient plants that once cut my skin as I run now touch my wounds softly. Can an Allosaurus smell blood?
Yes, I think when like the Red Sea, the jungle growth parts, effortless, for the massive carnivore. My teeth grind down on my tongue to try and not make a sound – for a minute, I don’t breathe. It’s brown and red like the mud, green and rough like the forest, and taller than a bus. It’s spine curls, holding a posture that looms and a presence that dominates. It’s eyes meet mine, and they twinkle green like a cat, while it flexes it’s hands – curls it’s claws.
It looks right at me. It’s nostrils flare.
It can smell me.
Blood drips onto my knees, my teeth pressing hard into my lips. Involuntarily, a whine escapes my throat.
Well, that’s it for me. It looks nearly like I gave it permission – it smiles, practically, showing of rows of sharpened teeth bigger than my fingers, sharpened precariously like saws. I swear I can see flecks of bloodied flesh in its yellowed fangs. It takes a step, whipping it’s tail behind it, claws scraping through the dirt beneath it. It takes another. It gets so close to me, that I can smell its stinking breath. It’s mouth opens before me carefully, like I just wanna step in for it, make things a little easier for the both of us.
It screams when I do.
Both screams stop once those teeth slam shut.