Someone suddenly knocks roughly on the door. “Yes!” I shouted.
“General White wants to see Private White at 06:30.”
“Fine.” I let out a sigh of misery. “Okay, Michelle, it’s a new day. Get it together.”
During the mornings, I always had to prep myself for the worst. Because being a military brat was hard enough. But having your father as General was harder. My mother died at birth. I never knew much about her and I’m not looking for answers. She left me and that’s the end of the tale. Since young, I’ve been living in army dorms. This one consisting of thirty men, excluding me.
I had to shower and get ready to see the General. And unfortunately for me, living in an army dorm at a young age didn’t change the fact I still had to shower with the men. Seeing naked men isn’t something little girls should have to bear when they are more aware of gender anatomy.
I’ve always believed children shouldn’t be in the army. Children should be children. Loved and cared for. But my father pulled strings with his rank and war records. And as long as I make him look good, then he won’t punish me in highly cruel ways. But the scariest part was realizing the better I made him look, the better a solider I became… And I didn’t want that.
After my shower, I put on my army issued clothes. The jacket for a Private is bare and not impressive in the least. The lack of insignias is basically a constant reminder of how far you’ve got to go.
My uniform was a smoky gray jacket with four gold buttons and one additional button on my jacket shoulders. The collar was sharply pressed from my neck, to the top of my chest. My pants matched with my gray jacket’s color, tucked neatly in my black boots. Once dressed, I left the dorm to go see my fathe-the General.
I reluctantly walk toward the main building. It was the largest building on the base with five floors, excluding the basement. This pale grain colored building always gave me chills. For the fact that if you’re ever called here, you can bet it’s usually bad news. Ironically, it was a gloomy day with the smell of rain filling the air. I always found it bittersweet when the weather is reflecting how I am feeling inside.
I reached his office and knocked lightly. “Come in,” he calmly said. I opened the door and stood firmly with my hands to my side. Standing at the room’s windows with hands behind their back, tight lipping their cigar is the army General and his large desk of chastisement. “Close the door and have a seat.” I closed the door and sat down, trying to hide my nervous habits, occasionally looking to his mantle over the fireplace, bookshelves, or just staring down at the blue carpet.
The General was a fifty-six-year old man with a full head of gray hair. He has a muscular build to go with his thick neck and broad face. His skin was a bit red from years of screaming and pushing himself physically.
As General, he wore a special jacket to match his navy blue uniform. Underneath his jacket was a white collared shirt with a blue tie. On his epaulet were four silver stars on both his shoulders to distinguish his ranked honor. Metals, pins, ribbons, you name it. The man was a legend in the army.
“How may I help you, sir?” I asked.
He takes a few puffs before putting out his cigar. “I hear you’re failing the drill courses.”
“It’s complicated, sir. There’s this guy who sabotages me on the courses. And it’s not just—”
He turned to me and slammed his fist on his cluttered table. “Damn it, Michelle! What did I tell you!? I don’t want your damn excuses! Just results! When you let me down you ruin my credibility. I did a lot to get an eight-year-old girl in as a Private. In order for you to maintain a slot in the army you need to be flawless.”
“Don’t call me, dad! You address me as General White!” He glared at me as he leans up and fixes his jacket before sitting down. “I’ve trained you since the day you were born. When babies are born they tend to grip their parent’s fingers. That’s how I trained your grip before you even knew how to talk. You had to grip my finger for thirty seconds at a time. If not, I would pop you on your arm or flick your nose.”
My eyes shift toward his mantel of trophies, pictures of soldiers, and my mother. The man never smiled in those pictures. But at least those soldiers and my mother got to take a picture with him. I’m not even up there. “I know,” I said before looking to him. “I’ve been in training as long as I can remember. Will that be all, General White sir?”
“Hmph.” He stood up and stepped toward his window. “It’s going to rain today. I plan to have the troops train indoors.”
“Then I shall get ready for the 07:00 training.”
“No. You know the deal when you make me look bad. You’re with me today.”
At 07:30 we went out in the rain. He was well protected from the rain in his dark blue rain poncho. I on the other hand was in my white tank top, green camouflage pants, and combat boots. He had me stand in the freezing rain for thirty minutes just to get things started.
“Okay, Private!” he shouted. “Drop down!” I began doing pushups in the mud till he kicked me in the stomach. “Did I tell you to start yet!? This is why you’re a failure! You don’t listen! As punishment,” He walked over to the drill course and removed a sandbag from the sandbag wall. “You will use this as motivation! Get into position and sound off till you hit a hundred!”
He drops the sandbag on my back. “One. Two. Three. Four—”
“I can’t hear you! Start over!” he said as he put his foot on my back.
“One! Two! Three! Four!”
When I finally hit a hundred, I collapsed. I was lying in the mud having chest and arm spasms while trying to hold back my tears. As I began to sink into the ground slowly drowning, my father lifts my head out the mud and screams in my ear. “Death is for quitters! You die on your own time!” He drags me by my hair and drops me in front of the drill course. I stood up exhausted, cold, and fairly dizzy. Everything was blurry. I wanted to give up.
“Daddy, I’m cold!” He back hands me to the ground without remorse.
“What’s that!? I can’t hear you when your face is in the mud!”
I stand back up with less balance than before. “General, I’m cold!”
“Good! That gives you reason enough to finish this six hundred foot course in the next one hundred eighty seconds! Move! And we won’t go inside till you can complete this fast enough!”
By 10:30 I was finally allowed to stop.
We returned to the main building where two passing soldiers salute his arrival before leaving. As cold as I clearly was, he didn’t even think of giving me a towel. It’s a miracle I didn’t catch pneumonia walking through those air-conditioned halls.
“Where are we going?” I asked as we passed his room.
“There’s someone I would like you to meet.”
I shook uncontrollably as we walked to the basement of the main building. We arrive at a small gym with weights, punching bags, speed bags, and a boxing ring in the middle.
A man comes from the side of the room wearing tan camouflage pants and a green tank top. For some reason, he had on thick sunglasses and a toothpick in his mouth while chewing tobacco like a goat.
“Private White, meet Master Sergeant Conner,” General White said.
He looks down at me while smacking his teeth. “Pleasure to meet you, Private White. I’ve heard very little about you. I hope you change that.”
“Master Sergeant Conner will be training you in hand-to-hand combat as your specialty. Do as you please, Master Sergeant. She’s all yours till 13:00.”
Conner walks General White to the door and shuts it behind him, locking me in. He puts his hands on his hips and turns his head to spit tobacco into a bucket by the door. “We’re going to have so much fun. I didn’t want to say anything in front of the General. but you do have a track record. The other Privates and higher-ups dislike you. I know, how cruel. You’re only eight after all. But that’s the problem. An eight-year-old with the right to be enlisted in the military is insulting. To make matters worse, you’re a girl. The only one in this male base. If you were older a lot of guys would probably rape you.”
“What’s rape?” I asked in a frightened tone.
“You wouldn’t understand. But if I showed you…” He ran his finger down the middle of my chest, all the way down to my pelvic bone. He then smells my wet hair, letting out an odd sound. Master Sergeant Conner smelled like crap on cigars. It was making my stomach turn. “So young, but already developing. I can’t wait till you’re sixteen. Then I could really train you.” Back then I didn’t know what he meant by that. But it still gave me chills.
He leans up from me. “Okay, Private White. I am going to teach you the basics of self-defense. If you get good enough, I will teach you foreign and forbidden fighting styles like Muay Thai and Combat Sambo.”
When the two and a half hours were up, he let me go to lunch. As much as I hated my life, it felt good to know some fighting moves to defend myself. But one day’s worth of training isn’t going to make me good enough to tackle my problems head on.
I changed into some dry clothes and went out to the lunchroom. When I got my tray and sat down to eat, one of the star Private First Class soldiers got too big for their minor title and began picking on me. “Hey, kid, give me your lunch,” he demanded.
I lean over my food. “No, this is my first meal.” Regardless, he tries taking my bread. “Get your hands away from my tray!” I swiped his hand away. But that only angered him. He retaliated by throwing my food on the floor.
“And as the dog of the military I guess you will have no problem eating off the floor. Hahaha!” This kind of thing happens all the time. But some days I just can’t take it.
I stood up. “Now you give me your lunch!”
He got up and pushed me to the floor. “Make me.”
I get up off the floor and started swinging at him without thinking. He just hopped around slapping me in the face while everyone else laughed. The second I stopped fighting wildly and focusing on his laughter, my lack of training kicked in. When he was about to slap me again, I grabbed his hand and twisted his wrist. He kneeled to the pain in his hand and tried to get out of the hold.
The room went silent for a moment. Then he pulled me into him and puts me in the full nelson. I was screaming so loud for anyone to help me. But instead, others joined in to punch me and slap me around. No one tried to help. All the higher-ups watched and laughed till Brigadier General Hank came through.
“Enough!” he shouted. The six men stopped and stood at attention. Even though I was beaten badly, I did the same out of respect. Brigadier General Hank wore a similar jacket to the General, except with less honors and one silver star on the shoulders of his epaulet. “Private White, come with me to my office.” We walked out the lunchroom and went to his office. I sat across from him while he just stared at my bruised face.
“I hear you’ve finally completed the drill course and are now receiving specialty training from Master Sergeant Conner. Congratulations. That deserves a promotion.” I was speechless at my sudden promotion. There was even a bit of pride I felt for it. “You will now be referred to as Private First Class. Who knows, maybe if you keep up the good work you could become a specialist in the next few months. Continue to rise through the ranks and become your father’s number two.”
“Thank you, Brigadier General. I will head back to lunch now.”
“I don’t think so, Private. By changing your clothes, it made you late for lunch. It’s 13:30, time to do paintball training in the fields with Sergeant Ron.”
“Yes, sir,” I saluted before turning to leave.
As I open the door, he calls me. “Private? Try ducking next time,” he said while pointing to his eye.
I lightly touch my bruise. “Yes, sir.” I walked out the room and down the hall to practice. This was routine. Get beat up and get back to training. But I still had six hours to go before I have momentary relief.
The day finally came to an end after my second round with Master Sergeant Conner. I felt so weak and sore when I returned to my dorm. I took a shower and got ready for bed. We lined up at the foot of our beds till one of the higher-ups would come by and yell, “lights out!” and flip the switch.
I fell into my bed feeling so tired. The second I started to close my eyes, I was pummeled by pillowcases filled with bars of soap. “Goodnight, General’s daughter. Hahaha!” One of the men said.
They all laughed and walked back to their beds cracking jokes and throwing stuff at me. When they finally started to settle down, I turned over and quietly cried myself to sleep… like most nights.
My alarm goes off the next morning at the same time as always. I’m over a week into my training and I was progressing quickly. Master Sergeant Conner was now teaching me forbidden techniques. But I was sadly having a hard time with my Aikido. “Come on! We’ve been at this for over an hour already and you still don’t got it,” Master Sergeant Conner said. “Get it together, worm!”
“I’m sorry!” I shouted.
“Stop saying sorry and flip me!”
“But you’re too big to flip like you’re flipping me.”
“Worm! Aikido is all about self-defense while using your opponent’s movements against them. One more time! When I throw my punch, you catch my arm and pull me down to your height. Then you grip the back of my collar and swing me to the ground without letting go. After that, you lift me halfway back onto my feet and smash your forearm into my neck. Then finish by flipping me onto my side. If done right, you could make your opponent dizzy, stunned, or knock them unconscious. Now, are you ready?”
This was a more violent variation of Aikido then I’ve once read. And I had no confidence in that long combo he asked of me. He ran toward me throwing a single punch. I was scared to do anything, so he hit me in the face, dropping me to the mat. “Pathetic worm! Get your stuff and get out!”
I grabbed my bag and left the basement with my head held low.
On my way back to my dorm, one of my bunkmates tripped me. “Nice black and blue, grunt.”
“Why? Why? Why do you guys keep doing this to me? I’m only eight years old!” I said while lying on the ground getting ready to cry again.
He picks me up by my neck and pokes me in the chest. “Exactly. It’s because you’re ten years younger than some of us and yet the General thinks it’s okay to have a child, his child be in the army. You will never be respected by us. You’re just a little girl. But you know what? When you get older try becoming a stress reducing specialist.” He takes me and mushes his crotch in my face.
He drops me to the ground and walks away laughing. Always with the laughing. They would always mock me, insult me, then beat me. And the damn laughing. That was the last straw. I was completely fed up with the cruelty they kept pushing on me. At that moment, something came over me. And for the second time, I attempted to stand my ground. “Fuck you, shithead.”
He turned around with a look of confused anger. “What did you say?”
I stumbled to my feet, shaking out of fear and adrenaline. “I said—fuck you shithead!”
“Okay, bitch. Here we go.”
He walks up to me and throws a punch toward my head. Without second thought, the move I had been trying to learn in training finally sunk in. I grappled his arm and slammed him to the ground. I lifted him up to his knees and smashed my knee into his nose. As he lied on his back, I grabbed his hands and snapped both his wrist. Two other men came my way and I did a double Kote-Gaeshi. A reverse wrist throw technique.
As the other men stood back, amazed at what I have accomplished, a faint clapping was heard within the crowd. To my surprise, it was Master Sergeant Conner. “Congratulations, soldier. You have successfully used advance and basic Aikido moves on your opponents. See me tomorrow and we will continue your training,” he said before walking past me.
While the other men picked up their fallen comrades, I stood there in pure amazement. I felt like a new person. No longer would I allow anyone to pick on me because of my gender or age. With this newfound confidence I would demand the respect that I deserve.
And I did.
In three and a half years, I went from Private First Class, to First Lieutenant. I was known as the fastest career advancing soldier in history. This high honor came with perks and a new standard I had to hold myself to.
My new uniform jacket was green with a silver bar on the shoulders to represent my new rank. It matches my light green overblouse that I closed up top with a green neck tab. My green pants complimented my well polished black shoes. I even grew my hair out a bit to reach a little past my shoulders. But when I am on duty I have my hair wrapped and folded at the back with a clip to hold it in place.
My days started at seven. I was now living in the main building with less restrictions and more pay. Even had my own room. Things were good.
Being a First Lieutenant meant I showed great leadership abilities. It was the first time in our army’s history that an eleven-year-old girl was First Lieutenant.
My specialty remained hand-to-hand combat. On the rare chances I was given a vacation, I would travel around to learn new fighting techniques and improve on the ones I already knew. That became my idea of vacation. Even the once obvious displeasure of being a soldier was a thing of the past. Being a good soldier became meaningful to me. It became everything. The amount of pride I held for being a First Lieutenant was my high. I was molded. Until…
My job was to lead a set group of troops on a daily bases. I was authorized to conduct combat training, drill runs, escorting practice, weapon training, and other practices. Today I was ordered by the General to train some new recruits at the outdoor endurance course.
“Okay, maggots!” I screamed. “Attention!” At my command, those boys put their hands at their sides and faced forward. I slowly walk in front of the troops with my hands behind my back. “Some of you may already know of me. But for those of you who don’t. I am First Lieutenant White. Today I am going to test your endurance and—” I was rudely interrupted by an ill-mannered soldier. “What are you laughing at, Private Wallace!?”
“No offense,” he chuckled. “But you do know you’re a little girl, right? I mean, is this some kind of joke?” He laughs a little more, gauging the reaction of his peers. They did not laugh or crack a smile. They knew better.
I walked around him and kicked him in the back of his leg. Once he collapsed, I wrapped my arm around his neck while applying pressure to his spine. “I don’t know, Private. You tell me. Let this be a lesson to all of you. You all will address me as Lieutenant, got it!? The next time any one of you address me as little girl, I will stop your fucking heart and ship your sorry ass back home in a box! And believe me. This is not a bluff.”
I began squeezing his neck more till he passed out. “Everyone who is conscious, line up behind the white line by the sandbags,” I ordered. “Good. At the sound of my gun, I want all of you to try and complete this course within six minutes.”
I fired my gun and they all raced off into the course. Six minutes in, my troops hit the third tire obstacle and the slowest, fattest soldier was knocking all the tires down the hill toward the edge of the forest. I blew my whistle.
“Hey, fat-ass! Go run laps around the base till you’re thirty pounds lighter! The rest of you go meet with Sergeant Powers! You are all great disappointments! Get out of here!” As my troops jogged away, I collected the missing tires, taking longer than I would have liked.
When I was about to retrieve the last one, I hear someone trying to get my attention. “Psst, hey.”
“What the fuck?” I hear rustling and jumped back with my gun drawn. “Who’s there!?”
A little boy came out from behind a tree with a cheesy smile. His red shorts were beyond filthy with that gross gray shirt. On his feet were holey socks and poorly constructed straw sandals. “Um, I’m Jason,” he said, messing with his scruffy brown hair. “I was watching you train those soldiers and I was amazed to see—”
“Where the hell are your parents?” I threatened.
“Can you lower your gun please? You’re scaring me,” he frowned.
“Where the fuck are your parents, intruder!?” He falls to the ground and starts crying very loudly. I didn’t know what to do. All I knew is that I had to shut him up somehow. So I slapped him. “Get a hold of yourself! Men don’t cry!”
“Waaahhh, I’m not a man! I’m not a man! I’m only nine! Waaaahhhh!”
“Shut up before I take you in the woods and blow your fucking brains out!”
“Oh no, please don’t kill me! I’m sorry! I’m sorry! Waahhh!” He jumped onto me and started squeezing me tight.
For a skinny boy, he had me locked. “Let go of me!” I managed to get him off, but he already soiled me. “Ewww, you dirtied my jacket and left handprints on my ass! You perverted little brat!”
“Wait! There’s a spring not far from here. I can show you.”
“No way! I’m not going anywhere with you!”
Above the hill I can hear Captain Simmers calling me. “Lieutenant White! Lieutenant White!”
“Grr, damn loudmouth. I need some time off. Fine, prev. I will go with you. But only because I can’t be seen in a dirty uniform.”
We ran off into the forest till we reached the spring he spoke of. The surrounding area was so beautiful. It had fresh green grass everywhere with flowers of all kinds and colors. There was a half fallen tree with moss on its bark by the crystal clear spring. It looked so heavenly compared to everything else around it.
I washed my pants and placed them on a boulder to be sundried. I sat on a smaller boulder while hand scrubbing my jacket. When I looked across from me I noticed once again how dirty this boy was. His olive toned skin was being ruined by the repulsive dirt on his body. “I don’t get it. Why are you so dirty?”
“Because I’m a runaway orphan. It’s hard to stay clean when you live in the woods.”
“Oh, so you’re parentless. Even though you have no home, you have this spring. So why don’t you use it?”
“I didn’t get the chance to. This is all one day’s dirt.”
“Yuck! Boys are pigs.”
“Yeah well, girls are gross. Mehhhh!”
“You idiot. This isn’t a contest to see who has the most insults. I’ve lived with boys all my life and it’s a known fact that you’re all under kempt pigs.”
“Oh yeah!? Well uh, you smell weird.”
“If you’re talking about my perfume, then yes I do smell good. Which is more than I can say about you.” Without warning, the boy splashes water in my face. He laughed while I remained shocked and unamused. “How—how dare you!? I am a Lieutenant! You better treat me with more respect.”
“I don’t even know what that means, boogerface!” he said before sticking his tongue out at me.
“Boogerface!? I’ll have you know—” He splashes more water in my face. I threw my jacket down and started to chase him around the spring till he fell and scraped his knee.
“Owwe! My knee, my knee! I think I broke it! Owe!”
“Stop your howling it’s not broken.” I dragged him to the spring and began to thoroughly rinse out his wound. I cut off the sleeve of my overblouse with my knife and wrapped it around his knee. “There. Feels better?”
“A little. My mom used to kiss my boo-boos,” he said while sniffling.
I stand up to go get my jacket and tie it around my waist. “Well I’m not your mommy.”
“But you’re my friend! And friends help each other!”
I looked into his big brown eyes and felt something in me that I thought died long ago… happiness. “Sure… Friends help friends.” I kneeled down and softly kissed his wound. I look up and saw him blushing. “You perv! Your face is all red!”
“Huh!? No! Yours is too!”
“What!? Oh no, I must be getting sick! You and your damn water games!” Suddenly, his stomach growls. “Are you hungry?”
“I haven’t eaten in two days. I already ran out of the food I stole.”
I smiled and stood up to brush my knees. “I’ll teach you how to hunt and gather in the wild.” Several hours later, we were roasting a bunny that was stuffed with edible berries.
“You killed it, you killed it!” he cried.
“Please shut up. It was either you eating or starvation. Gosh, haven’t you ever heard of survival of the fittest? I can’t believe you’re crying because you get to eat.” While keeping the fire burning, I noticed my wristwatch. “Oh crap! It’s 15:00 hours! If the General writes me off as AWOL I’m screwed!” I jump up. “I have to go!”
I began running off till he grabbed me. “Will I ever see you again, Lieutenant?”
I knew I shouldn’t have. But I couldn’t resist. For the first time in my life I was actually having fun. “Sure thing, Jason. And please, call me, Michelle. Meet me every day at the edge of the woods, okay? Bye,” I said before running off.
I made it back to the base unseen. But in the end, I put myself in trouble. “Lieutenant!” I was spotted by Captain Simmers. “The General requested your presence hours ago! It was announced on the horn!”
“Relax, Captain Simmers. I’ll go later.”
“This is an order, First Lieutenant White.”
It was then that I knew my father was pissed. I went to his office right away. When I opened the door, there he was. Standing by his window puffing his cigar. “Have a seat, Lieutenant.” I calmly take a seat. “We missed you today. We had to welcome in the new troops.”
“That was today?”
“Yes. You also neglected to finish drilling your squad. Master Sergeant Conner found a half dead fat kid at the edges of the base. When he came to, he said you told him to jog till he was thirty pounds lighter?”
“Well, I figured he would stop if he didn’t hear from me within the hour.”
“He was following orders, Lieutenant. What’s wrong with you? It’s not like you to neglect your duties and almost get written up.”
“General White, you have my deepest apologize. I ensure you it won’t happen again. Will that be all, sir?”
“Take your leave.”
When I left his office, I realized something. I really wasn’t all that concerned about how I messed up today. The only thing on my mind was how great it was to finally go a day without doing as I’m told.
A week later, I was still visiting Jason whenever I could. I even started getting up at six in the morning again so I could spend more time with him. Even though we were just kids, I was still falling for him in a childish manner.
It was one of my rare days off and I was wearing something no one in the army has ever seen me wear before. It was a red and white striped sundress I got long ago because I thought it was cute. That morning, I was walking around the base carrying an army bag.
Just before I reached the drill courses, I ran into Sergeant Arnolds. “Whoa! If it isn’t First Lieutenant White in a dress. What’s the occasion?”
“No occasion. Just leaving the base for a little. I’ll be back before sundown.”
“Okay, so long.” I thought I was careful. I even watched him turn the corner before I went into the woods. But I wasn’t careful enough. It turned out he saw me enter the woods and got on his communicator. “Captain Simmers. Come in, Captain Simmers.”
“What is it, Sergeant?”
“Didn’t the General want to know why Lieutenant White was neglecting her duties? I think I’m on to something. Come to the training grounds with the General. Over and out. Heh, you should have behaved yourself little girl,” he chuckled.
I made my way through the forest and reached the clearing. But I didn’t see Jason by the spring. “Jason! Jason! Jason, where are you?” He leaps out from behind a rock, scaring me half to death. “Ahhh! What the hell are you doing!?”
“I missed you,” he chuckled. “So I wanted to surprise you.”
“That’s not how you surprise a lady, you clown! Anyway, I brought you something.”
As I put down the bag, he smiles at me. “What?”
“You look very pretty today.”
I looked down and felt my face become flushed. “Thank you,” I said under my breath. “Umm, I brought you something.” I opened the bag to show him socks, boots, and camouflage pants with a dark green tank top.
“Cool! Thank you, Michelle!”
“You’re welcome. Go wash up and put them on.”
“Uh, maybe later. Like after you leave.”
“Oh, come on. What are you so worried about?”
“You’re a girl! You might see my wee-wee.”
“Stop being a baby! I’ve seen hundreds of penises. Now get clean for me because I came clean for you.” I chased him for a while till I managed to remove his dirty old shirt and socks. “Stop running! You’re acting like a child!”
“I am a child! I’m nine, remember!? Besides, you’re a child too, so what’s your point!?” I stopped and fell to my knees gazing at the grass. “Michelle? Michelle, are you okay? I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to hurt your feelings… Michelle?” When he came near me, I jumped up and tackled him into the spring.
“Now I’m going to clean you good!” He screamed through the whole bath. As for me? I laughed. I had actually laughed. I laughed the whole time with sheer joy in my heart.
After his bath, we played a few games of tag, tic-tac-toe, and leap frog. He had to teach me how to play all three since I never played any of those games before. The sun was starting to go down while we lay in the grass to watch the clouds pass us by. “Before—you called me a child. But you said it to me as us being equals. You didn’t say it to hurt me. It was nice, Jason. Thank you.”
He smiles at me then frowns a little. “Michelle, how come you don’t know any kid games and act so grown up?”
“Well… hmm. This is tough. Uh, as you know I’m from the military base not far from here. My dad is the General of that base. I’ve been living there for as long as I can remember. I’ve never realized it till now but I have spent my entire childhood around adults. I never truly had the chance to be a kid. My father’s idea of a good time was me running laps around the base while having a sandbag strapped to my back. Jason, it means a lot to me that you taught me something I thought I would never experience in my life. And that’s being a kid.”
I looked him in the eyes. He looked so adorable. He only understood some of what I said. That cute confused puppy stare he was giving me was not something I could turn from. I innocently gave him a quick peak on the lips. We turned so red! I got up feeling so happy and embarrassed before impulsively darting into the woods. “See you tomorrow morning!” I shouted as I blended into the trees.
I reached the edge of the woods and looked around. I thought no one was in the area, so I ran up the hill to the main building. Little did I know, the General, the Captain, and the Sergeant were watching me return. “And there is your answer, General White,” Sergeant Arnolds said. “There’s something in those woods that keeps her distracted.”
General White takes a breath. “You two go back to work. I will handle this. And neither of you breathe a word of this to anyone.”
The next morning, I was called to do so many things for my father that I was over four hours late for meeting Jason. I had very little time since I was ordered to retrain all the failed troops. I didn’t even have time to pretty it up for him like I usually do.
I went to the training site and looked around for any passing soldiers before slipping into the woods unseen. When I reached the clearing, I saw Jason dressed in my military’s army uniform. He was dressed like a Private with his hair combed neatly to the side. “Jason? Why are you wearing that?”
He faces me. “Great, you’re just in time. Ahem. Michelle, in these past few weeks I’ve spent with you I’ve realized you are nothing more than—a child!” I was startled and hurt beyond belief. Devastation was shaking me to my very core.
“Jason… Why are you talking to me like this?”
“Shut up, kid! If I wanted your opinions I would beat it out of you!”
“Stop it, you're making me cry!”
“Soldiers don’t cry! Now drop down and give me fifty!” I just stood there, unable to respond. “You refuse? Then I will have to make you eat dirt, maggot!” He picked up a rock and threw it at me. It hits the corner of my forehead and I drop to the ground.
I shakily lifted my head off the ground when I feel blood coming down. I touched it with my trembling fingers. “Oh,” I said in a whimper. “Jason, how—?” I hear him step closer. Out of anger and fear, I jumped up and pulled out my gun. “Jason, stop it! Why are you hurting me like this! I just wanted a friend! Why!? Why!? Why!?” I shouted tearfully.
“Stop your damn screaming before I rip your throat out! For your disobedience, you owe me thirty laps. Now come here!”
He began speed walking toward me as I creep away with my gun pointed at him. My hands were so shaky I could barely maintain my aim. “Jason, stay back! Stop! Or I’ll—I’ll. I’ll shoot!”
“Little girls can’t use guns! This is how you use a gun!” He digs inside of his coat, reaching for his gun.
“Jason! Nooooo!” I fired mines before he could shoot his. I was so upset by his actions, I shot him with my eyes closed. When the echoing shot faded with the flapping of fleeing birds, I slowly opened my eyes.
He stood there with eyes filled shock and pain. “Michelle—why would you—do that?” He falls to the ground and I rush to his side. I look over him, crying, as we cried together. He continued to go through his coat and pulls out a bundle of snapdragon flowers.
“I just wanted to show you how much I cherished our time together.”
“Jason, why!? Why did you do all those awful things!?”
“Your dad came by. He said you were an actress that always stayed in character. He said you would be—so happy if I acted out a scene with you.”
“But I was crying and bleeding and begging you to stop!”
“He said if you cried or bleed that it was special effects. Like he showed me—during practice.” He looked up at me with his big eyes and quivering lips. “Michelle, I’m cold. You really shot me? Why did you use a real—?” His body slowly slouches to one side.
“Jason… Jason, no!” I begged while shaking him. “Jason, hang on! I can get you help!” I shook him harder with each failed attempt to get his attention. “Jason! Jason, please don’t die! Jason, please, Jason, don’t leave me alone! Arrgghhhhahaha!” I began to cry uncontrollably in his dead chest, screaming for him to come back.
I must have laid there for hours. Snuggled close to his dead body, unable to accept what took place. After a while, it began to rain. I stayed there for the rest of the day to dig a grave for him with my bare hands. I was still unable to stop my tears. Every time my cries would slow, my face would heat up and I’d fall apart all over again.
By the time I was done, night had fallen and my pain still dug into me like a fishhook. Even the angels were crying for me. Before I left, I placed the once-white but now blood drenched snapdragons on his grave. I placed my army jacket neatly over the dirt mound and wiped my face. I tucked my gun into the back waist of my pants and slowly began walking out the woods, traumatized as could be.
When I got out and stood at the top of the hill, all I could think about was the pain and how my father caused all of it. I walked at a slow pace through that heavy rainfall and the muffled sounds of army men. My feet took me where I wanted to be. The General’s building.
The lights shined so brightly on such a hideous place. I entered the building and went straight to my father’s office. I turn into his office to find him not there. I stood over his desk to see if he scheduled where he would be. While reading through the dripping wet blinds of my hair, I overheard a couple soldiers talking about my father’s location.
I left that den of nightmares and walked lifelessly to the basement. I went down those flights of stairs and I saw him working out with most of the lights off. He was jump roping in the ring with his back to the door, wearing his workout gear. I stopped at the doorway just watching him before I spoke out. “Father—why?”
He stops jumping and turns his head halfway to me. “It’s good to see you, First Lieutenant White. Where have you been all day?”
“Why what? Don’t you mean when?”
“Yes. When. Like, when did I get suspicious that something has changed my soldier? Or should I say, when did I find out about little Jason?”
“You told him lies. You made him… You lied to him father.”
“Lieutenant White, didn’t you find it odd I had you so busy this morning that you could barely think without being interrupted? You should have. I used that time to go into the woods where I saw you leave from last night. And guess what I found? A little orphan boy who went by the name, Jason. After I introduced myself, he put together I was your father. He innocently told me about all the fun you’ve been having and all the things you told him. But the fact my own daughter would betray me like this required immediate action.”
My father’s reasons were only fueling the silent storm in me. “So I told little Jason a story,” he continued. “A story about you being an actress that never likes to get out of character until her role was complete. I told him, anytime you weren’t acting like you were from the military, you were sad at heart. He decided he wanted to help you become a big star. So I gave him lines he could read to you off the top of his head while you improvised. He questioned what if you got mad or cried. I told him it’s all part of the act. Like this.”
He pulls out a small red tube of food coloring and flicks it at my forehead. “So if the boy saw any blood from you he would easily assume you’re still acting.” He folds the rope in his hands. “I told him I would inform you ahead of time so you wouldn’t be surprised. I even told him you would come dressed in uniform while using a toy gun to enhance the role. It had to be done, Lieutenant.”
“Father? Because of your cruel joke I thought he was serious and I killed him.”
“I thought that could happen. In fact, I hoped.” He turns to me. “How dare he try to fuck up my nearly perfect war machine?”
“Is that all I am to you? Your damn war machine!? Father, he was my friend! And you tricked me into killing him!”
“I didn’t trick you. Why do you think you killed him so easily? Because it’s in you now. You’re a killer. I staged that whole encounter perfectly while foreseeing all your next moves. You think I didn’t know the pains you suffered? The loneliness and the bully you endured? I knew. And allowed it because I knew it would make you colder. Stronger. Sharper. My perfect little soldier built to fight and nothing more. How do you think I felt when I found out my machine was out there learning how to feel, to care, and to be generous? I was devastated! Devastated! You’re my machine! Mine! Mine!”
As tears rolled down my emotionless face, it was then I learned how my father truly thought of me. I wanted to know how he felt for so long… And this was the painful truth I so desperately wanted to see. I was nothing more than his battle tool.
“Father, I lost someone dear to me today. And that was the trust and true companionship of a real friend.” My hand slowly goes behind my back. “Father? Did you know once a machine develops self-awareness,” I pointed my gun at him and shot him point-blank in between the eyes. “They never go back to being someone else’s toy. Congratulations. You’ve built the ultimate fighting machine.”
I dropped my gun and took my leave. But not before I slaughtered every soldier in that place and burned that damn building to the ground. That was the day I closed my heart to others and opened my heart to darkness.
Nine years later, I was found by Derexen. He sat me down saying he seeks out dark beings like me to create a new world. And I thought to myself, what do I got to lose? But that was all before I met you… Demeseus…