We were all given keys when we first reported to our latest base, what we would consider to be our temporary home for the day before we headed off tomorrow, and given a lecture of what keys are. Of how to find the right door at the right time, and that we will soon see what he meant, whatever that would mean. A strong believer in superstition, I attached my own to a necklace and let it hang loosely around my neck while most others simply shrugged and/or discarded it after we were sent to our camps.
I had time to write home before falling asleep. Being drafted to war when I was about to enter Harvard was an obstacle, and I knew that by the time I would come back I would be a different man. Tomorrow was to be my first day on the battlefield, and I was anxious, just being a new face in one of the most dangerous places one could ever be in. Shooting myself in the foot was always an option, but what kind of justice could possibly be gained from it? There would only be humiliation and ridicule, perhaps even less of a chance to get into a college. I knew that I had to tough it out, as much of a pacifist I was. After we assembled for a head count the next morning, we went off towards our destination to set up a camp elsewhere. The morning fog settled in. If there was one thing I feared more about the enemy in the jungle rough and bushes was the fog. Our platoon feared nothing more. We can survive anything but the fog. And soon, there was only the fog, blinding our eyes. The fog was a war in itself, but it does not matter anyways. We were almost there, after all.
Being near the front, I had started to walk towards a clearing when I heard a click on the ground below. I didn’t have time to look down before there was a flash of light at my feet. For a few minutes, I only felt numb. I did a comical hop on my good leg when I lost the other. But then the pain started to set in, and quickly, no less. It was a sheering, spiteful pain. I fell to the ground, clutching my limb in agony. All that was left was a stump and bone marrow sticking outwards from what used to be a foot.
Blood was being lost, and fast. All I could do is try to keep myself calm as me body unwillingly deposits the contents of my veins. No need to panic at a time like this. Panicking was the worst possible decision to make, but the pain. The pain was tremendous! Consciousness was abandoning me, and I started to go mad with pain. I began to become delirious. I hallucinated that the whole forest was ablaze, the ground littered with the bodies and screaming of the deceased. All of them were numbered in numeral order.
In reality, there was an ambush. Men came out of their hiding places and shot at our platoon. The wounded and dead started to pile up, keeping everybody else occupied as I screamed on. I felt the fire of the forest drawing closer and closer. The medic came a little too late, as most of my lifeblood had been leaked already by the time he arrived. The mental inferno had gotten to me, it was mostly in my leg; I started to become part of the chorus of the envisioned damned. My parents would be getting a letter home, describing that their son lost his leg and bled to death in a sudden ambush. I failed them. I failed all of them. It was too late for me. I let the fire consume my body, and I closed my eyes, clutching the key tightly in my hand.
After an hour of these horrible dreams of more flame and caskets, my mind awoke somewhere else. My vision was blinded by what appeared to be sunlight, but there was not a visible star in the sky. It was just an awfully empty sky, devoid of any sort of dust or cloud. I sat up slowly, my hand looking for and finding the key. I sighed in relief. I felt safer with it around. But I felt something at my chest. As if someone was writing on it. I took off my army vest (this place did not seem to feel either warm or cold) and saw a number scratched into my skin. 235
I simply stared at it for a while in confusion, but I just shrugged it off and started to walk. Wherever I was, it appeared to be massive. Although there were no wildlife present, the abundance of vegetation was quite alarming. I held my necklace in my arm, the little key at the end dangling out of my hand. The key to Paradise is for the poor, as it is rumored. All I have to do is find the doors that will unlock my soul.
I started to travel high and low, utterly lost in this enchanted forest when I suddenly walked into a hand suspended above me. I drew back in quick alarm. I could have sworn it had tried to grab me before I noticed how mangled it was. The remains of flesh were sheered black, covered in blisters and boils. I followed the arm across the body attached to it, the damp clothing it wore. There was dark hair on its shoulders. That peaceful grin stretched across that face.
It was a dead man hanging from a tree.
Prequel: Hanging Gardens