The Rebel King After the War – Part Two
Serial Short Story
She was thinner than I remembered, her hair braided and laced with dirt and leaves. She knelt beside me and pressed something cold to my head.
“Hi,” she whispered. I only stared up at her. She wasn’t real. I hit my head and was dreaming her, but still, she was beautiful. It had been so long.
“You’ve really done a number on yourself here.” Her hand slid to my cheek and I clasped it tightly in my own.
“You left,” I managed to croak out. Her eyes fell away from me.
“I couldn’t go back there with everyone after… what I did.”
“What we did.” I’d planned out this conversation so many times in the past months. I never imagined I’d be having it with a hallucination. “Everyone thinks you’re dead.”
I felt a tear snake down my cheek and slip beneath our hands. I squeezed hers tighter as if I could pull her out of my subconscious and into reality, out of my dreams and into my arms.
“I’m not,” she whispered as if she truly wished she were.
“You left me.”
Her eyes met mine and were swimming with tears. Her mouth dropped open, ready for words that would never come. Suddenly, her body went rigid and her head snapped to the left.
“Someone’s coming,” she said.
I clenched her hand. She couldn’t leave yet. I wasn’t finished with this dream, the first happy one I’d had in months. She looked back to me. Her brow furrowed and a tear trailed through the dirt on her face.
“Please take better care of yourself. Please sleep. You look like hell.”
I laughed darkly. Another request, another promise I’d have to keep for her in her absence. I vaguely heard far off shouts.
“Don’t go,” I whispered to my vision. My head pulsed violently and my words sounded far away from us.
“I have to. Be good to yourself… for me.” She stood and she vanished into the woods.
I woke a day later in the Med tent with a gash in my forehead and a furious sister at my bedside. She went on and on about how irresponsible it had been for me to go gallivanting off alone at night. She said it was a good thing I managed to staunch the blood before the search party found me. I didn’t tell her I had imagined someone else with me in the forest.
I did once again as she had asked me. I joined the others for dinner and pushed through the nightmares and tried to laugh again. I would do anything she asked. It had been that way for a long time, longer than I’d ever admit to anyone, even back when I pretended to hate her a lifetime ago.
When she marched up to the gate three months later looking brighter, I was convinced I was the only one who could see her. She was lighter somehow, as if she’d shed some unseen lead coat while she was in the forest. I didn’t understand that she was real until the others began to call her name and run to her. She all but ignored their advances and made a beeline for me. Stopping just before my chest, she was only a breath away. She placed her hand on my cheek.
“You’re alive,” I whispered.
“I told you I was.”
previous: The Rebel King After the War – Part One
more by NOELLE CURRIE
photograph by Jay Wennington