Fine.

Spent.

They spent me.

I’m a walking shell, echos bouncing around my paper-thin soul—echoes of the lost, the deaf ringing in the air, and the silent cries of pain as metal cuts through flesh.

They found my spent body curled in a ball, cheek resting in the mud, fist clenched around the chains of dozens of dog-tags—my brothers and sisters who never had the chance to realize they were being spent.

I sigh. Oh, quit being dramatic, Guy. The war changed a lot of people. The war changed the face of the planet. Look at all of the cheerful faces around you.

My eyes flit around. I lift the mug of coffee to my lips. I take in the smiles, the chattering, and the eyes.

Echoes. Emptiness. Meh.

No good. Like I said, I’ve been spent. Sure, they’re happy. Good for them. Safe people.

The smiles are oblivious, the chattering bounces around inside my head, doesn’t find a place to rest, and the eyes pass over me.

They don’t want me. I don’t want them. I’m useless to them. They’re useless to me.

Impotence, a wall, frustration—they flood my body. I’m stuck in a chair in a coffee shop, surrounded by blank faces. I’m invisible. Broken. Disconnected. My people, my brothers and sisters, have left this world—left me desolate.

The tinkling of bells.

Three sets of boots step through the door.

Boots, Guy. Well trodden in. Not nervous steps.

I glance up.

Fun. Soldiers. Like me.

Not like you, Guy. Look at their eyes.

The soldiers fill out the room. They take in the seated customers.

They’re taking their time—this is a power statement.

Some of the customers start glancing up. They’re slow. They have no clue what’s happening. They’re confused.

Mercs, by the look of it. They’ve got money behind them.

I nod.

One of the soldiers catches my eyes.

I don’t look away.

He moves past me.

You made him nervous, Guy. We know what happens when people in power get nervous.

The soldier finds a table with a small family. A man, his wife, their little boy, and their little girl. The man stands up, and the soldier pulls a gun pushing the man back into his seat.

Awkward silence. They don’t know what’s going on.

I’m watching the soldier with the gun. He’s nervous.

One of the other soldiers opens his mouth. “Fine. I guess someone had better break the awkward silence.”

Everyone had already been watching the soldiers. Now, they won’t be able to look away.

He smiles, and continues. “See, we live in a post war world. Honestly, it’s still chaos.” The soldier pauses, turning in a circle. “But you wouldn’t know that, would you? You’re oblivious, all safe and cozy. Your smiles happy. You’re ignorant.”

Like I said, the soldiers are just like me.

Guy.

Quiet. He’s still talking.

“In a post war world, we want to make sure you know that someone is still protecting you—even after the soldiers are all tired and broken. I promise every single one of you sees the empty shell of a soldier every single day. But you ignore him. You ignore her. What you fail to realize is those are the dangerous ones, the angry ones, the despondent ones.”

My eyes twitch.

“So. Who’ll protect you from them? Enter The Time-Bomb Defusers, a company that outsources trained groups all over the world to help keep those dangerous men and women under control. All we ask for is just enough monetary compensation to keep the operation afloat for your safe.”

My spent shell of a body has closed its eyes. Thoughts that’d been bouncing off the walls now do it with rhythm. A warmth seeps out from my heart. The voices of my brothers and sisters, from laughing to fighting, echo through my mind.

How dare he.

Two of soldiers have drawn their weapons and are walking among the tables, collecting cash. The one at the table of the small family hasn’t left. He’s arguing with the man. No money ever touched the table.

Mercs indeed, Guy. Poaching for a big tech company that got hurt by the war. It’s gotta be.

A soldier taps my table with his hand.

I don’t look up.

He does it again.

I open my eyes.

The arguing at the table of the small family is louder.

A chair scrapes against the floor.

Someone screams.

The soldier in front of me looks away from me.

Guy.

Fine.

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