“’Be safe, both of you.’ The guard said. His tone was somber, not worried, and I knew he knew something I didn’t.” — Pet Project (not an actual title)
A while back, I posted an excerpt from this thing I’ve been working on since April. I’d like to say that I’ve made a lot of progress, but the truth is, all I’ve done is write an 8,000-ish word chapter (maybe that’s the thing to call it) that I don’t even know that I’ll be able to use. I’ve only just finished the first hard-copy edit, and there’s a long way to go.
But, I have done some considerable work to the little scene I posted last time, so I wanted to update with the newest version, extended a bit so as to provide some more context.
Outside, he was silent again, and his speed was steady, but not rushed. He only missed engaging the transmission once more before he figured out what he was doing. He didn’t stall it, and I had a hard time thinking he didn’t know how to drive stick, so I guessed that his problem was an unsynchronized transmission. I didn’t say anything. I knew that we weren’t heading back into battle, and in that case, the noise didn’t really matter. There was only one other option, then, and I didn’t want to think about it, but that wasn’t a choice. I thought I’d prepared myself, but I saw the scene unfold from down the tracks and I couldn’t help but cry. She was dead.
It had been so long since I’d seen someone I knew splayed across the ground like that that it immediately brought back a stream of unpleasant memories, and I thought about her girlfriend, and how devastated she would be. I didn’t let myself sob outright, something for which I was thankful once we got closer. The fletching on the arrow through her skull was the same as the ones he used. My heart dropped to imagine what kind of guilt he must be feeling, even though I knew none of it was actually his fault. It couldn’t be.
I stopped at her feet, and he knelt by her head to remove the arrow. He took it a few feet down the track and burned it, and I could see him shaking, just slightly, from where I stood. I surveyed the surrounding area, and saw the bodies of several men strewn across the gravel and dirt on the other side of the tracks. The pieces fell into place. Whoever had stolen his things was one of them, then, and there were more of them than we’d anticipated, and that was why he was angry, and that was why he felt guilty. But seeing it brought up as many questions as it answered.
If this was what had happened the first time he’d tried to bring people in, why did he go through the trouble for me? Was this why he had kept tabs on me to start, and then cut all ties later? Did he really believe I was going to work out with his people, or was he just trying to prove something to himself? If he was trying to prove something, had he done it? Or was I some kind of failed experiment? There were more I couldn’t articulate, and several I just didn’t want to entertain the idea of at all.
Together, we wrapped our friend’s body in the sheet and rope he had brought. He started to pick her up, but I put a hand on his shoulder. He stopped, but didn’t look up at me.
“This isn’t on you.” My voice was shaky through the tears that had bubbled up again. “You don’t have to carry it. You don’t have to carry her.”
He sniffed, and I knew he wasn’t looking at me because he was trying not to cry. My breath hitched in a sob I couldn’t keep down as I wondered who had ever told him that it wasn’t okay to do so. Whoever it was, they were full of shit. He stood up, then, and turned away from me. I knew he wanted space to grieve, to be guilty and angry and probably self-deprecating, but I also knew that wasn’t what he needed, that it wouldn’t fix anything. If it were, if it would, he wouldn’t have let me come with him. I stood up, too.
“You don’t have to tell me anything, but you have got to feel it.” I said. He still wouldn’t look at me. “It will eat you alive if you don’t. Trust me.”
He swallowed hard. “Why’d you come out here?”
“You asked me to.” Just not in so many words.
He finally looked at me, then, just for a second, before the façade broke, and he turned again and took a few steps down the track. I saw the shaking return and I couldn’t – or maybe just didn’t – help myself. I went back around to face him again and wrapped my arms around him. He didn’t return the gesture, but he didn’t fight it, and wept quietly into my shoulder. I put a hand through his hair and I cried, too.
I felt sort of bad that I’d never told her the truth about anything, that I’d never really let her in any time she’d tried. She’d only ever had genuine interest and concern. She’d only ever wanted to help. I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it because I was scared. Hell, the only genuine friend I’d made in six weeks was a kid, and only because he wouldn’t let me wallow in my own bullshit. Everyone else was just friendly. Most everyone.
I was relatively sure I didn’t want to know what he was feeling, but that didn’t stop me from thinking about it. Just when I thought I started to understand him, he’d come up with something out of left field and throw me off again. This was one of those left field things. But this was also left field for me. I couldn’t think of the last time I’d cried in front of someone else, and grief, loss, creates its own kind of kinship.
Eventually, he put a tentative hand on the back of my shoulder as he pulled away. We loaded her body into the back of the truck and drove back home in silence, and I knew we’d probably never talk about this again. I left him alone to bury her, since it was the last thing he’d be able to do for her, and returned to my shift at the gate.
I’m still really proud of this. I’ve put in a lot of effort to make this read with some degree of humanism that I sometimes find difficult to achieve in these sorts of scenes. In my head, of course, this plays out like a live-action film, and the narration is replaced by just raw emotion, which I think makes it much more relatable, especially since I have the luxury of seeing how the relationship between these two characters has evolved.
(I won’t be posting any of that anytime soon, but let’s just say that their first interaction involves a shotgun in someone’s face. And later, a warning shot from a .45 inside a relatively small room that could probably easily have killed someone.)
Unfortunately, these events take place in storyline only a short time (not more than 36 hours) before I had to stop writing. I’m excited to continue, though, and see how these two continue to grow together.