“No, Nike, don’t go in there!” screamed Mini-me.
But I wanted to know what was behind the red door, so I opened it. A great wind hurled me forward. It smelled of sulfur and rotting flesh. There was a fire ahead as I came to a stop.
“Nike, we need to burn the bodies,” a man said, standing in front of me.
“No, leave them. They are not our problem,” I saw myself saying to a tall, broad-shouldered man whose back was to me.
“What? They fought against us.”
“They fought valiantly.”
“I don’t care. They fought against the Father. He sent us to defend him, no matter the cost. The dead are dead.” The warrior pushed past the man. She walked right past me like I was invisible.
“My lord, what shall we do?” a man asked.
“You heard her, leave them. We have others to tend to.” He turned and went the other way.
I tried to get the man’s attention. “Wait, excuse me? Might I ask you a question?” But the man didn’t hear me. He walked on and faded into the mist that formed around the bodies as they lay there.
“What is this place?” I said aloud.
As I looked around, a hand reached up and touched my leg. I glanced down and saw a bloody face staring up at me.
“Help us. Won’t you help us?”
A shudder went through me. I kicked at the hand and ran after the man, but I lost him. It seemed like there were miles and miles of dead things, burnt-out buildings, and a stench so strong I doubted anything would get this stink off my clothes. I stopped and tried to get my bearings.
Come on, Ni, you got this. If I could only see the sky, I thought as I looked up at the red sun, darkened by the smoke from the fires.
The sky was a burnt orange now. What happened here, and why was my warrior self here? I saw the sun setting and called to it, but his name did not come out of my mouth. I called again. What’s happening here? Why won’t he answer me? “Apollo!” I called again when I heard someone behind me.
The crack of a twig caused me to turn. Instinctively, I ducked as an arrow hurtled at me. A man burst from the mist, swinging a sword at my head. I dodged him, but he came at me again and again until I fell to the ground, where I rolled onto a dead body with a sword sticking out of it. I jumped to my feet and pulled the sword from the body, preparing for the man to continue his attack.
I parried and blocked him, shoving him away with my shoulder. “Why are you…” he slashed at me again, “why are you attacking me?” I asked.
A grunt and growl was his response. He lunged at me again, but I was swift with a sword and impaled him deep in his heart. No sooner had I dispatched this man when two more came at me.
“I see you chaps don’t know who I am.” One came at me with his arms spread wide. I tossed him off into the fog. The other managed to cut me on my arm before I tore into him. I rammed my shoulder into his stomach and lifted him from his feet, slamming him to the ground and breaking his back. I stepped back and spun around to see if anyone else was going to attack me, but it got eerily quiet. The only sound was from the small fires cracking near me.
“Where am I?” I panted. “Can anybody hear me? Warrior-me, Mini-me, where are you?” I shouted. I looked down at my now bleeding arm. “Ouch! Wait, I can feel this.” I stretched my arm forward to see how bad the cut was. A flesh wound for certain. I leaned down to the man I had just broken and tore off a piece of his shirt to wrap around my arm.
I took a deep breath,and knowing the sunset was in the west, followed him. I don’t know why Apollo didn’t answer me, but I intended to find out. As I went along, I saw torn flags sticking out of the ground and battlements from many campaigns. There was one from Alexander the Great. The once vibrant blues and golds of his flag had faded. As I thought about my friend, sadness fell over me. I had blessed him with many victories. However, his life was taken before I could get to him. It was hard to face those memories.
I turned from the tattered flag and wiped a tear from my face. I rolled my shoulders and continued on my way. Slowly, I approached the long length of a giant’s body. I walked along the length of its torso and rounded its shoulders. I jumped back as a gasp escaped my lips, shuddering as the face came into full view. My heart raced, and I turned, running the other way. No, I didn’t want to see this. I didn’t want to remember this.
It was my father. I shook my head, but in front of me stood Athena with her shield and sandals made from my father’s flesh. She stood there, proud and unapologetic. She saw me and frowned slightly.
“Nike, it had to be done. You do, understand, don’t you?” she said to me.
I turned and ran the other way again. Why was I remembering this? Why? Was I mad at her or pissed at what he tried to do to her? Athena was…I mean, is my sister. Yes, adopted as she is the daughter of Zeus, but Pallas was still my father. I felt anguish come over me. I stumbled over a soldier dressed in an SS uniform and fell to my knees. He wore my victory cross around his neck. No, no, this wasn’t happening.
“Make it stop, make it stop!” I screamed.
I scrambled away from his dead body. Then people in striped pajamas surrounded me, their hollowed-out cheeks starved. I could see their bones showing through the skin.
“No! No! I’m so sorry! I didn’t know…. I didn’t know….”
I closed my eyes as they seemed to overwhelm me. I panted for air, their loss weighing on me. I curled into myself. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” I kept saying.
A hand touched my shoulder. Afraid, I covered my face. But a soothing voice said, “Nike, it’s alright now.”
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t know,” I said in a panic.
“We know. No one did. This wasn’t your fault,” the voice said.
Another hand was on my shoulder. “Please, Nike, please open your eyes. It’s just us,” said a smaller voice.
I opened my eyes slowly, relieved to see Warrior-me and Mini-me. “It’s you.” I tried to control my breathing. “Where were you guys?” I sniffled as they helped me stand.
Mini wrapped her arms around my waist. “We are together now.”
“We were looking for you. We were standing in front of you, calling your name, but you kept running away from us.”
“Wait, you were?”
“Yeah, you looked terrified.” Mini squeezed me tighter.
“I was. I saw my father after he was killed and then Athena…” I drifted off, the weight of the pain too heavy.
“We know. We were there too, remember?”
“Can we go now? I don’t like it here,” Mini said.
“We should get out of here. She won’t like it that you are in here,” Warrior agreed.
“She, who? I thought you were she?” I pointed to Warrior.
“Funny story about the word she, you don’t want to piss her off. Let’s get out of here, okay?”
Mini clenched my hand. I looked down at her. “What is it, Mini?”
“This place hurts me. The memories feel like they are crushing my heart,” she answered as she pointed to her chest.
“Yes, I feel it too,” I agreed with her.
“We all feel it. It’s part of who we all are. These were painful memories.” I could see the agony on Warrior’s face.
“It feels like I betrayed people. It is against my inner fiber,” I said to them.
“That’s why it hurts so much. It wasn’t who we were meant to be. We were used so many times that I’ve lost count. Our genuineness to want to help any and all that asked was used against us and so many that needed us.”
We all nodded in agreement. We knew the importance of trust.
All three of us walked on in silence for a while. We were caught up in our thoughts, remembering these horrid things that I couldn’t fix or do over. I felt defeated, even more now that I saw all I could have prevented. It was a shame I would forever carry. I looked up as something caught a ray of sunlight. “What’s that?” I asked the girls.
“That? That’s not supposed to be here,” Mini said.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“It came here recently. But I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Warrior said.
I walked over to it. I could see a scene playing out. A woman was running near the docks shouting at someone. There were gunshots and a speeding car and helicopters, but the woman continued to run. She stopped at the pier and there was a man there.
“No, no, no, Jacob!” she screamed.
I tried to stop her. I shouted at her, but she didn’t hear me. I ran toward her but slammed into a glass wall. Wait, what is this? I got up, pounding on the glass with all my strength. “No, no, please no! Stop!”
The woman couldn’t hear me. She held the dying man in her arms. I began to cry, just like her. My knees gave out. I could still remember what he said to me.
“I love you, my Angel.”
The pain of her heartbreaking…the feeling overwhelmed me. “Nooooo!” I screamed, and the glass wall shook. The whole room shook. Warrior and Mini were at my side. I cried as I watched her hold his head to her chest and saw the blood from his wounds spill onto the dock, pooling around her.
“I’m so sorry, my love. This wasn’t supposed to happen,” she cried out. “I’ll fix it! I promise I’ll make this right.”
I watched and sobbed right along with her.
“Nike! Nike! Girls, come out of there this instant,” a voice echoed throughout the room.
“Oh, bloody hell, now she’s here,” Warrior said.
“Uh-oh, Nike. Come on, we gotta go,” Mini said.
“But it’s my fault…how can I fix this?” I whimpered. “I can fix it, right? We can fix it, right? How can I make this right?” I mumbled.
“Girls, if you don’t come out of this room right now! Don’t make me come in there and get you!”“Coming, Mitera,” the three of us said in unison.