The Orange Room
The orange room started off as pure chaos. Flynn dropped to the ground. He had not left the home, not to his knowledge, but the surface below him was nothing he would have expected to find inside a house. He gripped the grass between his fingers. He was sure it was real. He smelled the sourness of it and sensed the dampness from the morning dew. It was wrong though. Instead of being green, like normal, it was orange. Everything around him was orange, but it was all wrong.
He rolled over, hearing explosions from somewhere in front of him. He looked into the expanse of a bright orange sky filled with dark orange clouds. He was uneasy. What had happened? Why was he not still in the house? Had he already failed? Flynn heard another explosion, closer this time, and sat up. Memories of his past crept like fingers into undefended parts of his mind, making it hard to think.
Bits of orange dirt rained down from the surrounding sky. Flynn’s ears rang from the noise.
“Get down, soldier,” said a voice from beside him.
Flynn looked to his side, seeing a young cadet in an orange uniform, holding an orange gun at his hip.
“Are you shell shocked?” the man asked when Flynn did not reply.
Flynn stuck his pinky into his ear, wiggling it around to create some relief. It did not help. The soldier crouched down beside him.
“Get into the bunker,” he said, yelling this time.
Flynn let the man hoist him. Flynn smelled the powder of cannons and smoke. He took a moment to gather his bearings. He knew this place. In his reality, it had not been orange, but, otherwise, it was the same. He had spent two weeks of his life, here, in this death pit. Now, when he looked, he saw hundreds of bodies littering the orange ground.
“No time to mourn,” the solider beside him said.
Flynn knew he was right. The cannon balls did not care if you were sad or scared, they killed. Flynn shook the confusion from his mind. His feet followed the young soldier toward the bunker. A cannon ball slammed into the ground, sending a wall of dirt twenty feet into the air. Those gathered around it flew back to never stand again.
Flynn’s spine tingled. His breath caught in his throat.
“Why am I here?” Flynn asked.
The young soldier stopped pulling him along, allowing Flynn to take a few deep breaths; it did nothing to stop the spinning.
“Same reason we all are here, I suppose,” the soldier answered.
Why was the young man not as scared? Flynn looked for the stripes of an officer on his shoulder, but the solider was a fresh recruit, as he had been.
“We are here to serve our country and protect our families,” the soldier added.
Flynn remembered the speech well from the generals. The young soldier spilled it out as they would have.
Flynn heard another explosion followed by the familiar sound of rifle shots.
“Here is an extra gun,” the soldier said.
Flynn took the blood soaked, wooden rifle. Whoever it previously belonged to would have no further use of it. Flynn hated the touch of the stock in his hands. He was drawn back to the war. He hefted the rifle looking at it like it was some diseased limb.
“Keep your head down,” the soldier said and started off toward his left.
Flynn supposed he would follow the young man. He had no other direction to go and no other purpose. He was still trying to figure out how he got here. The soldier took him down further into the bunker. More young men crowded here. Some were injured, others sat with blank stares plastered on their faces. Flynn remembered the numb fear of battle; the kind of fear that paralyzed the body and made it impossible to think or move. At the moment, he knew real fear, the adrenaline pumping fear. He was so close to death and if he died, then he would fail. Or maybe he already failed.
He closed his eyes, blocking out the surrounding orange pressing in upon him. He saw the faces of the small children he had killed during the war. The real war had been so chaotic Flynn never focused on what he shot. He shot to stay alive. The children died by accident, but that would not make their mothers and fathers forgive him. They died with gaping holes in their tiny chests.
Flynn hunched over with stomach pain and relieved the contents of his stomach onto the ground. He coughed, wiping the spittle from his lips. The cold eyes of the children stared back at him, even with his eyes open. That was what he saw for years after the war. Those cold, staring, accusing eyes that never blinked.
Flynn was weak with exhaustion. He wanted nothing more than to curl up and rest, but the young soldier continued, and Flynn felt it was imperative to follow.
“Shoot when I do,” the soldier said.
The soldier lifted his head above the bunker line. He looked for a clear target for his rifle bullets. He ducked after a moment.
“We shoot in burst toward your two o’clock,” the soldier said.
Flynn lifted his rifle to his shoulder. It was much heavier than it should have been. The burden of death tended to weigh one down. Flynn only nodded his reply. He never wanted to return here. He would have rather been anywhere else in the entire world. Now that he was, he fell into being that young man; the young man who was told what to do and jumped to do it.
Seconds passed that were like hours and the soldier raised his gun over the lip of the bunker and shot in a burst. Flynn jumped to do the same without a thought in his mind. When the first round left his gun, it was already too late. He watched the bullets move through the air, seeing each individual one as though they’d been slowed down. He saw the smiling face of his daughter as she played with her dolls. He could do nothing to stop the bullets as they tore into her chest. Each one made her jump and jerk backward. Each one stripped her of the life she had loved.
Flynn jumped from the bunker and the soldier followed him. Flynn ran toward his little girl. She was sprawled out on the orange grass bleeding orange blood. His mind knew it was wrong. It was not her he had killed. It was not his child he killed. Flynn slid across the grass, uncaring of the explosions and bullets.
He cradled his daughter’s head, but when he looked into her eyes, it was no longer her. It was the skull of a child that had been long dead. The skull of a child he killed many years ago. Flynn dropped the corpse and scrambled back.
“Back to the bunker,” the soldier said, gripping his shoulder.
Why did this man care so much? Why not let him die? He deserved to die. He had done so many evil things, there was no way he deserved to live.
“Leave me,” Flynn yelled, pushing the man away.
The soldier did not budge. “You are coming back with me,” he demanded.
Flynn was not going back. Flynn felt paralyzed. His body was not his own anymore. Anything that happened now was happening to someone else. Flynn had died on that battlefield years ago. He left every good part of him there on the blood-stained ground.
The soldier got behind Flynn and started to pull him by the arms. He was a determined man, but Flynn did not help him. The soldier grunted and strained, but Flynn was already dead in his mind.
The explosion landing ten feet behind Flynn was enough to send shrapnel from the bunkers cache of bullets into the back of the soldier’s head. The bits of skull and flesh splattered Flynn’s face. The soldier’s body went limp and fell to the side. Flynn was still sitting on his backside and staring out into the orange abyss. He reflexively lifted his hand to wipe away the remains of the poor lad’s face. Tears streaked down Flynn’s cheek. Another death caused by him. Flynn took a few shallow breaths and dared to look behind him. The soldier’s head was no longer noticeable as a body part. The shrapnel had exploded his head like a melon dropped to the hard ground. Flynn lost the contents of his stomach for a second time. This time when he hit the ground, he did not have the hand of the soldier to lift him.
Instead, Flynn buried his face into the orange grass, and he cried. He cried for everything he had done during the war. He cried for the young men on the other side, he cried for the children, and he cried for the man beside him. Flynn did not try to stop himself from giving in to his emotions. He played that game for many years after the war. Pretending it didn’t happen never made it go away. It came in his dreams, it came during church, it always found a way to come to him.
Flynn heard the war continue around him, but, for him, it was over. He had done what he did and there was no changing it now. He rolled over to his back, opening his eyes again to the surrounding orange. This was not the war. This was the house. Flynn would not let the house win. Not like the war had won. He could not change the past. He had been a stupid boy, and he had done stupid things, but he still had a chance to change the biggest part of his life to this point. Flynn stood; he had to get what he came for. It was all that mattered.
Flynn found the yellow door behind the corpse of the child’s prone body. He did not bother looking back to the battlefield. That was the life of someone else.