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Prompt: using some lyrics from ‘Counting Stars’ by OneRepublic, write a story.
Sorry, I don’t know if I’m happy with this one or not…but here. :L
Their heads lay on the ground, their hands entwined, calloused fingers against smooth ones. Even her orange hair was dimmed by the darkness, but her eyes twinkled in the starlight.
“Did you know,” she said, “it takes about 8.3 minutes for the light of the nearest star to reach us?”
He turned his head and chuckled, used now to her random facts and sayings. “No,” he humoured her, “I didn’t.”
“Liar,” she muttered. “But,” she continued, just as he had opened his mouth to speak, “that’s the Sun. The next nearest star takes about 4.3 years to reach us. We’re basically just looking into the past right now.”
Cal lay in silence, his last thought forgotten, thinking about what Alice had just said. Over the past few weeks he’d been living with her, he felt like he’d known her his entire life. And, although she was being his mother figure after what had happened, she felt more like a friend. Remembering the first time her lips had touched his cheek in love, he felt a smile appear on his face. Cal was pretty sure he fancied guys, but something about Alice made his stomach flip.
He heard her yawn. “Tired?”
“No, I yawn for fun,” came her sarky reply as she wiped her eyes.
“I’m sorry,” Cal muttered hoarsely, knowing it was his fault. Nightmares woke him night after night; his screams echoing around the house. The only comfort came from Alice waking him and holding him as he sobbed in her arms.
She squeezed his hand. “For starters, I’ve been way more tired than this before now. Secondly, your nightmares stop my own.” He felt her turn her head to him, and twisted to stare into her emerald-coloured eyes.
“You have nightmares?” His voice croaked, giving away his tone of surprise. She had never seemed to have suffered from lack of sleep before.
She rolled her eyes and huffed. “Cally, of course I have nightmares. After you’ve seen what I’ve seen, well…” She shrugged; as best as she could do when she was lying down, anyway.
“What have you seen?” Alice stared at him for a few seconds, before turning back to the sky.
“When I was seven, my grandmother died. Alzheimer’s.” Her voice betrayed no emotion, but Cal thought that she was probably feeling some. Like her, his own grandmother had passed thanks to the disease, too.
Pointing to the sky, she traced a constellation – the Big Dipper. “I was upset. Naturally, I guess. Anyway, mum told me that the stars were the dead shining their light onto us – a shooting star was a blessing.” Her hand dropped; Cal heard it thump heavily on the grass. “I believed her, at the time.”
“What do you believe now?”
She sighed. “I don’t know, Cally.” Her thumb drew circles on his hand. They fell into a mutual silence, and Cal was scared to speak; it was if Alice was calculating her next words carefully.
“When I was 13,” she said, her voice thick like she was trying not to cry, “my friend Leah sacrificed herself for me. That same night, I saw a shooting star. Oscar told me it was Leah – I was too sick to say anything. To do anything, really.” She laughed darkly. Cal felt her wipe her cheek.
The silence settled again. Cal couldn’t imagine how it must feel, to have a friend do that for you. He realised how cold it was, and Alice pulled him towards her.
“Could you imagine what it would be like to kill someone? Pull a trigger and take their life?” Her voice made him jump, and the bluntness of it, as if killing was a normality, scared him.
When he replied, his voice was barely audible to his own ears, but she heard it: “No.”
“I can.” She slid her arm underneath his head, and he rested on her chest. His hand on her stomach felt it rising and falling; he could see his breath when he exhaled. “The first time I took a life, I was 9. It was an assassin, in Italy.”
She was beginning to scare him. Alice seemed to feel nothing on her conscience about killing a man. Whereas, if it were Cal, he thought he would still be feeling a heavy guilt, even six years later.
“It was the wrong thing to do. We could have just arrested them, sentenced them to life in jail. The death we gave them was too fast for what they had done – what they were going to do. They’d been hired to kill this guy’s wife and kid. Don’t worry,” she reassured him, although he didn’t want to be reassured. “We got that guy, too.
“But you know, Cal, it felt like it was the completely right thing to do. How can the wrong thing be so right? And then, now, we sit in an office and send out commands, to people fighting in other wars around the world, we practically sentence them to death!” Her voice rose an octave, and he prayed that she wouldn’t be crying, even though he understood how unfair it was.
Her hand found his hair, her fingers tangling in his curls. “People tell me that that’s the right thing to do. I’m the ‘soldier of the century’, but I have to keep myself alive, send other people to die for me. How can the supposed right thing feel so wrong?”
Speechless, Cal just lay on her chest. He wondered how she kept going, day in, day out, laughing, joking, comforting him at night – when she was living in her own personal hell.
“I want to fight, Cal.” Her voice sounded so longing, so broken that Cal wanted to cry. He knew that what she really meant was ‘I don’t want people to die for me – I want to die for me’. She coughed, and continued: “Oscar thinks I’m mad. Scott would rather go in for me. But here, I just train and train and train – I don’t get to go into the field, they’re so scared of me getting killed, and they don’t seem to understand that going out to fight is what I want to do. It makes me feel alive, you know – about to be getting killed.” She laughed. “Oh, the irony.”
After a few moments, he heard her sigh. “Imagine if none of this had happened. If I wasn’t who I was. We’d just be normal kids in school, not having to do any of this stuff.”
Their hands tangled, waving in the air. “’Normal kids’,” he scoffed. “Screw normal, I have you.”
Alice fell silent – only for a moment. “I can’t tell whether I should feel offended or not.”
Cal sat up, twisting so he leant over her with his elbow resting on one side of her head, his weight on her chest. He stroked her hair back from her forehead. Her eyes seemed sad, like they had a wasted hope behind them. “Of course you shouldn’t feel offended,” he whispered, “you’re perfect. I would have no one else to stand by me.”
Chuckling, she mussed up his hair. “You’re so adorable, Cally.”
He stared at her blankly, and said, dryly, “Thanks.”
“Pleasure,” she grinned, pulling him down for a cuddle.
As always, feedback is appreciated! Thanks for reading