By Kaitlyn Emery
Green was her favorite color. Linzi used to call it the color of life. She was such an unusual child; she’d even begged to have the house shutters painted in Island Palm.
Now when I see green, it just reminds me of her death.
I sit next to the rain-splattered window, catching a glimpse of the dark circles marring my features in the reflection. The liquid in my mug burns, the heat tethering my mind to reality. Barely. I contemplate calling my doctor for another round of Prozac as memories crowd my brain again, threatening my mental blocks.
They call me a hero.
The sight outside my window is bleak—toxic trees and crumbling buildings in a grassless wasteland. Still, lights twinkle through the dreary fog that engulfs my city, a reminder of the living. Those houses hold parents and their children—children I helped protect from issue 564.
I barely remember life before the Malvada slashed open our sky, battering the clouds and reigning down bullets, terror, and green gases. They brought with them death and months of chaos. What I do remember is watching the ships leave and longing for them to take my emptiness with them.
Hero. That’s what they call me. A preserver of humanity’s future. But how can I be a hero when the one person I wanted to save didn’t survive?
Some preservation. The sickly green haze hanging in the mist doesn’t look like salvation to me.
The phone rings, startling me.
I want to ignore it, but I know if I don’t answer someone will come make sure I’m still alive. I hate seeing people these days. “Hello?”
My heart lurches like a hummingbird beating its torn, fragile wings against my ribcage. I clear my throat. “Elora.” A long silent pause.
“How are you?” She sounds like she’s been crying.
“Why are you calling me?” The words cut like razors as they come out of my mouth, but I have to ask. I’m no good to her.
“The doctor says you aren’t improving. Maybe it’s time to come home?”
“It’s true. I’m not.”
When my doctors first suggested the Restoration and Rehabilitation Program, Elora resisted the idea. She thought I would do better at home. But I couldn’t stand the sight of myself, let alone have her look at me, so I’d convinced her the relocation would help. Everything was kept private and out of the media, and the government was paying for my stay.
I knew all along it wouldn’t change anything. I’m broken.
“Jarak, please come home. I spoke to the General. He said—”
“I can’t. Not after what I’ve done.”
“Love, you don’t have to do this alone. I know you’re hurting, but please come home to me. We can try to heal together.”
“You can’t fix this, hun.” The term of endearment slips from my lips before I can catch it.
I lean heavily against the doorframe, my gaze shifting to the medals decorating the wall and then the distant lights through trailing raindrops on my windowpanes. Each light represents a child I helped save, but so many lights went out after the invasion, including the one I most wanted to keep ablaze.
Linzi looked up to me and called me her hero long before my country burdened me with the title. She’s the one who would always greet me at the door when I returned from duty. The one who called me Daddy…
I clench my fist, trying to contain my raging emotions. “Take care of yourself, Elora.”
“Wait! Please, don’t go yet!” Her desperation mirrors my own. I hesitate for a moment. When she speaks again, her voice is soft, dripping with need and pain. “I know you’re hurting, but so am I. We lost Linzi that day, but I lost both of you… Please come home. Please be my hero this time, Jarak.”
The distant pattering of rain is the only sound between us.
She must realize I’m not going to answer. “I love you,” Elora whispers, close to tears. “Remember that.”
The click of the phone is one of the weightiest sounds I’ve ever heard.
I pick up my mug and raise it to my lips, the liquid cold.
They say we won because we survived. My superiors still herald proclamations of victory, saying that though the Malvada tried to take everything, we remain strong. They could not take our memories from us, or the will to live. Perhaps they’re right, but sometimes I wish they had taken the memories.
I remember the cost of being a hero—the burn of gas on the back of my tongue despite the mask I wore as I manned the surface-to-air platform. The gas was bioengineered to target children… to take away humanity’s hope. The taste was as bitter as my desperation, praying it hadn’t reached my home.
Please be my hero this time, Jarak.
How could Elora say that after what happened?
I lost both of you.
Her words haunt me.
I try to shut out the green fog permeating my thoughts. What was it the doctor told me again? Focus on something else? Something calming? But all I can think of is green.
As I close my eyes, trying to control my breathing, Linzi’s face floods my vision. Her glowing smile. Her sparkling gaze so open and hopeful.
Green! Her eyes were green! Beautiful and full of life, like her mother’s. How had I forgotten?
A tear slides past my defenses, breaking open the soul I thought died with my child.
She loved green…
I snatch up the phone and call the number burned into my brain.
“Hello?” This time I know Elora has been crying.
“Are the shutters on the house still green?”
“Y-yes. I was going to paint over them before you came home.”
I breathe a shallow sigh of relief. “I’ll… I’ll come home, but don’t paint over the shutters. Linzi loved those green shutters…”