By JENNY BARDWELL
“When did I lose my individuality?” she thought to herself as she marched steadily forward.
“When did I become nothing more than a hand for the powerful to use as they wished?” Those like her were submissive to the authority of others, she decided. The decisions of those in power shook the entire earth, and she was just one of the many pebbles moved by the tremors. She continued to walk forward, her feet slamming against the earth’s withered surface. The thick vegetation that had once covered the land had molded into the same worn out and cracked landscape. She had stepped in nothing but dust for days. Her sight, like that of the other dazed walkers, was fixed blankly straight ahead. The steady rhythm of feet pounding against the layer of death had slowly beaten the emotions out of them.
A familiar call gurgled from the front of the pack and echoed through the rows of walking corpses. The weary travelers all shifted their bags off their shoulders and began to assemble their weapons as the message crawled slowly through their ears. A fight was upon them. Another sound reverberated through their bodies, and the chaos began. The lines began to condense, clinging to each other for protection. Her surroundings began to melt away as the different colors of uniforms swirled in her eyes. She could not distinguish the hostiles from her own people; everything had all collapsed into one convulsing wall of color. She stood calmly, occasionally knocking an attacker back, waiting as the colors danced around her. The pattern was always constant. They would repel the danger and continue the march. But something was different this time. The stream was becoming more concentrated. Figures began to emerge as her comrades peeled away from the confrontation and began to dart over the harsh, uneven ground. The front row had fallen, and they were retreating.
Fear soured her blood, and she began to run, trying to focus on a small gap in the twisting fog. It took her a few seconds to realize she was staggering, falling to her knees every few steps and slowly clambering back to her feet. She could not move faster. She needed to move faster. Sweat began to cement her uniform to her skin; the thick material was twisting around her body, strangling her.
Her knees gave way again, and she plummeted to the harsh, brittle ground. Unfamiliar outlines were slicing through the mist. They had noticed her flee. Even the noise had abandoned her; the unfamiliar silence seemed to clot the air. She choked on the dust, as she tried to pull herself away from her pursuers. She was not going to make it.
She cursed her companions as she struggled. They had all left, scattering in fear of death, as if by running they would eventually meet another fate.
“But I am here,” she realized, “I am running as well, except I will not escape.” She had always reprimanded herself for becoming a repetition of those before her, but she had never been the same. She could not run. The enemy had reached her. A harsh order was hurled in her direction. The meaning of the demand was lost in the words soaked with malice. She regained her footing and turned to face the attacker, her hand gliding steadily toward her weapon. They had chosen to run but she could not.