Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.
What is that noise?
The smell hit me next. My face was being assaulted by…it smelled like oxygen. Not natural oxygen. The artificial stuff. It was clean and breathable. It wasn’t going to kill me, but it still smelled and tasted fake.
The taste was not improved by the salt water that was stuck in the back of my throat. It wasn’t ocean salt water. Again, it was unnatural and chemically, and it was hanging there in the back of my throat, irritating my gag reflex.
As the rest of my senses started to wake up, I could feel the discomfort that cocooned me. Whatever I was lying on was stiff and hot, a horribly uncomfortable mattress. The circular pressure surrounding my nose and mouth was itchy and a little sweaty. There was a stinging burn on the back of my right hand that made me afraid to move it. The tiniest flex felt like a needle was puncturing my vein. Then there was the intermittent, moist grip on my left biceps. It would be relaxed, and then out of nowhere, it would start getting tighter and tighter and tighter. Right when it was about to cut off my circulation, the grip would pause for a long moment before releasing back to a relaxed state. But the worst was the flashing pain in my right leg. It felt like I was being electrocuted every ten seconds or so.
Against my will, my eyes blinked open. The blinding light forced them shut again. Even opening my eyes a crack made them burn in my skull. What hell was this?
Finally, my sensitive eyes were able to open long enough for the blurry sleep crust to fall away from them. Fuck. I feel like I’ve been asleep for a year. Harsh fluorescent lights with purple tinges blinded me. The pure white walls, ceilings, and floors made it all the worse. I stayed on my back as I used my peripheral vision to get my bearings. I was surrounded by wires and tubes on both sides. Everything started at some part of my body and ran to blocky, clunky electrical equipment whirring with motors and beeping screens. To my right, a black screen displayed a green line going across its horizon. In two seconds or so, that green line would shoot up into peaks in time with the steady beeping. To my left was a blood pressure reader that was connected to the cuff velcroed around my arm.
Hospital. Even as the thought crossed my mind, I reached my non-stinging hand up to my face, feeling for the source of the pressure around my mouth. My fingers slapped against hard plastic; an oxygen mask. My right hand was draped across my body, giving me the ability to look down and see the IV tube coming out of it.
What the hell happened to me? Wait. Who is me? The plastic bracelet around the wrist of my IV-bearing hand pulled my attention. It was difficult for my tired vision not to get distracted by the barcode dominating the bracelet, but I managed to focus on the tiny font beneath the code. ZERVAS, ADDISON.
Having one question answered, I fought to get the oxygen mask off my face. The elastic was so tight around my head it took three times for my weak muscles to get it off, and it got tangled in my hair in the process.
Once the artificial oxygen wasn’t assaulting my sense of taste and smell, the true scent of the room overwhelmed me. Even though the area had been scrubbed hard with rubbing alcohol and water diluted bleach, I could still smell my own stench. I had been caked in sweat. I clearly hadn’t had a bath in who-knew-how-long. My hair was frizzed, tangled, and oily from growing wild and not being washed. My own body odor was unbelievable.
How long have I been here? The answer was long enough for my muscles to atrophy to the point of infantile weakness. It was impossible to push myself to a sitting position with just my left arm. The right was out of commission due to the burning IV in my hand. I was forced to roll onto my left side, which wasn’t easy in the twin-sized hospital bed, and use the bars on the side of the bed to pull myself up.
That movement alone was enough to send sharp shocks down my right leg. Fuck! What the…
Wait. Two hands, with five fingers each. Two arms. Two legs and two feet? The sheet covering my lower limbs raised and bumped unevenly, showing the lack of symmetry beneath my torso. I threw the covers back, wanting to know what was wrong with my leg.
It wasn’t there. That’s what was wrong with it. The only evidence that I even used to have a right leg was the mid-thigh stump showing signs of healed trauma, like suture scars.
All of my senses left me as a scream escaped my throat. I didn’t hear the nurses slam my door open as they ran into the room. I couldn’t feel them as they tried to gently restrain me. I couldn’t hear them telling me I was okay and that I needed to calm down. I couldn’t even see their faces. I couldn’t take my eyes away from my missing limb.
Just as quickly as the panicking energy surged through me, it abandoned me, leaving me weak and tired. I collapsed in the arms of the nurses, and they gently lowered me back to the bed, their faces riddled with worry. The kinder ones were looking me in the eye, brushing my hair back, and cooing comforting words I still couldn’t hear. Eventually, my world fell to darkness again.
“You have some visitors,” the nurse quietly told me.
I eventually woke up to the same surroundings. This time, I remembered enough to avoid hysterical panic, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t weep. Nurses checked on me every thirty minutes to ask if I was hungry or thirsty. Most of the time, I didn’t even acknowledge their presence and kept crying. Graciously, they left me alone out of pity.
The only reason I turned to look at the door instead of staring off into space, like I had done all day, was because I still had questions. Maybe these visitors had the answers.
Two people walked in. A man sporting a military uniform, complete with the high and tight haircut, and a woman in a business suit. The man tried to look at me with an unphased, familiar smile while the woman wore a more tactful, sympathetic smile.
“Hey, kiddo,” the man said in a gruff voice as he held his hand out. I didn’t take the offer of a shake. Instead, I just kept staring at these two strangers, wondering how they knew me.
The woman in the suit cleared her throat, and the man sheepishly lowered his hand in embarrassment. “Uh,” he struggled to find the words, “you remember me?”
I roamed my eyes over him, looking for anything that was familiar. I think I’d remember those impish green eyes. Nothing about this man’s fatherly face or tall stature rang any bells. My eyes fell to the silver oak leaf that adorned his uniform next to his name tag. B. ARNOLD. “Lieutenant Colonel Arnold,” I mumbled, putting the pieces together in my head with knowledge I didn’t know I had.
The Lieutenant Colonel gave a sad, mirthless laugh. “It’s okay, kid. I don’t blame you for not remembering me. Not after what you’ve been through.”
I didn’t have to ask the question. It was written all over my face. What have I been through?
“Uh.” There was that sheepish embarrassment. It didn’t suit a man of the Lieutenant Colonel’s rank and stature. “This is Kimmika Witherspoon, former Captain of the US Army and Therapist for Veterans and Military Personnel.”
Kimmika gave a gentle smile. “It’s nice to meet you, Addison. We’re here to help you.”
“How?” my hoarse voice asked.
The Lieutenant Colonel looked at Ms. Witherspoon, unsure of what to say. “We’re here to answer your questions and help you take the next step in your life. Do you mind if we sit down and talk to you for a bit?”
I could tell that I wasn’t going to like this conversation, but there were too many blanks that needed to be filled. “No.” I nodded, giving Lieutenant Colonel Arnold and Ms. Witherspoon leave to pull up some chairs to my bedside.
“Boy, we really hit the nail on the head when we called you the Iron Lady,” the Lieutenant Colonel jested.
“We?” I asked.
“What do you remember? Let’s start there,” Ms. Witherspoon interrupted.
I cast my eyes down to the sheets over my lap. What did I remember? There were some faces that flashed in my head, a cute girl with short blond hair and a beaming smile. I was with her in the same location with a bunch of other people, but I couldn’t see their faces as clearly. Nor could I make out my surroundings. “Not much,” I admitted.
“Alright,” Ms. Witherspoon nodded sympathetically, her braids bouncing around her face. “Let’s start at the beginning.” With that, she pulled a file out of her purse and cracked it open. “Your name is Addison Zarvos. You’re nineteen years old, and you’re a Private first class in the United States Army.” I’m a soldier. That should have been obvious, now that I think about it.
“Right now, you are in Keller Army Community Hospital in New York, but you were stationed in Massachusetts. You joined the Army a little over a year ago after you graduated from high school. Lieutenant Colonel Arnold, here was your Commanding Officer.” Lieutenant Colonel Arnold tipped his hat in pride.
“What happened to my leg?” I knew Ms. Witherspoon was well-intentioned with reminding me of the basics of my life, and even as she said these things, flashes of history came to me. I saw my high school graduation, where I wore my new uniform under my gown. I saw the difficult basic training I went through and the friends I made along the way. Suddenly, those faces of the people around me and the cute blond became clearer. There was a six-foot-tall, baby-faced boy with curly dark brown hair. An image of a petite girl with freckles with light brown hair. And a person with a head shaved smooth.
But none of these were the important questions in my head at that moment. There were more important things to discuss.
Mr. Witherspoon sighed deeply before leaning forward in her chair, an earnest look on her face. “The base you were stationed at came under attack. A bomb was planted inside the barracks where you and your squad were assigned. It went off right as you were leaving for guard duty.”
Well, that answers the question. But it also leads to more questions. “Who attacked us? Why?”
“I’m afraid no one’s been able to figure that out, kiddo.” Lieutenant Colonel Arnold perked up, leaning forward in his chair. “We’ve gotten every piece of evidence that we could possibly find, but there just wasn’t much to find. Whoever did this, sadly, knew what they were doing.”
“What about the others?” The grim looks returned to the Lieutenant’s and Ms. Witherspoon’s faces. “You said I was part of a squad. Where are they?”
I knew the answer long before Ms. Witherspoon had worked up the courage to speak it. “I’m afraid you’re the only one who survived. Everyone else either died at the scene, by the time they arrived at the hospital, or later on due to their injuries.”
Why did you monsters make me remember these people only to take them away from me? That was the thought I didn’t speak, though judging from how they shirked away from me, I didn’t have to say it.
“I know it doesn’t feel this way right now. It may not feel this way for a long time, Addison, but the fact you are here, and we are able to have this conversation is a miracle.” I couldn’t stop the scoff from flying out of my mouth. “It’s true. You’ve been in a coma for over a month. We were afraid we were going to have to make a very difficult call since you don’t have family to make that call for you. But by some divinity, you are still here. You’re alive, and we can speak to you. And we are going to do everything we can to help you.”
“How could you possibly help me?” I croaked, my voice laced with angry venom. What do these stupid people know? How could they possibly understand—
My thoughts were interrupted by Ms. Witherspoon raising her pant leg. Her artificial leg shined with sleek black metal under the fluorescent lighting of the hospital room. She balanced her foot on her heel and turned her leg a little, giving me a full view of her prosthetic. “I’ve been here too, Addison. I know how hard it is. And I know you want to give up right now. But will you at least give me a chance to help you?”
I looked away from Ms. Witherspoon’s leg and into her deep brown eyes. The empathy was still there, but there was also strength and determination. As gentle as this woman was, she was not going to take no for an answer. She was going to fight for me. Even if I didn’t want her to.
After a long pause, I gently nodded, casting my eyes away. “Good. I have a gift for you,” Ms. Witherspoon said with gentle enthusiasm as she lowered her pant leg. “I’m hoping he’ll help you along the way.” Reaching back into her enormous black purse, Ms. Witherspoon produced a soft, golden-brown, plush lion. Most of his body was made out of a shaggy, velvety material, while his mane had more structured, coarse hair. “After what you’ve been through, I think you need a friend.”
I stared at the lion plushie, and a brief spark of joy filled my heart. It was confusing. How could I be happy about anything in this situation? And why was a child’s toy such a source of happiness for me? I didn’t understand, but I reached towards the lion plushie all the same. Ms. Witherspoon passed it to me, saying, “His name is Ares.”
God of War, I thought as I stared down at the lion’s cartoonish face. That was all I could think before the tears started to flow.