Even though I didn’t do a whole lot, today, (mainly correcting some things and adding a few more scenes) sometimes you just want to relax, you know. You’ve reached a point where you feel good about yourself, that’s rare enough, and it it’s even harder to keep that feeling. My writing had gone smoothly, today, and I think I’ve figured things out, but I know that if I push further, I’ll hit a roadblock eventually. Knowing this, I dreaded to continue. I wanted the feeling of accomplishment to linger for a bit more before I dive head first into the mountain of problems that is writing a novel.
Chapter 8 and 9, re-arranged
Banks met up with Hjalmar as he was exiting the dining hall and Banks told him what had been said. It didn’t tell much, but at least they knew she was real, and that she was indeed alone, with her family. They didn’t know what to do with this information and decided to keep it to themselves, there was no use in stoking the fire. But it seemed they didn’t have to as Lt. Baxter talked to them after the megaphone announcements of the war that was going brilliantly. Banks was surprised about how much information he divulged, perhaps he thought that knowing the facts would destroy the mystery, but in fact, it raised even more questions and gave it more attention. What were they doing here, all alone? Who was this woman, really. If they owned the island, did that mean they were rich?
When Baxter left them with the captain, they could hardly contain themselves and they erupted in chatter. Banks and Hjalmar looked at each other, confirming with each other that their suspicions were right. Jackson had a hard time quieting everyone down but eventually, new teams were chosen and they were sent on their way to another part of the island. This part was flatter than the other, and Banks could see large stretches of the land before they were interrupted by a hill. They were several people he hadn’t met before, and one person he rather not talk to at all. It was his bunkmate. His name was Jessy and he had been forced to go with them after Banks had told about him to the captain. Banks was surprised he didn’t get angry glances from him, though he felt a tension emanating from him, or perhaps it was all himself? Either way, Jessy didn’t seem like the kind of person to forget a slight and Banks was cautious around him. It seemed that the news of the girl had made it all too exciting to meet her and they all but forgot about their task. Though they found a few flags by pure luck, even their new team leader was excited to see her. Banks didn’t understand what made it so exciting for everyone else. He had been the only one who had seen her, after all. Banks supposed that the stories that some made, the made up ones, made her seem more exciting than she really was. Banks had a hard time understand why even he himself was excited and the realisation of this made him feel like a fool. In the end, he was the only one who wasn’t looking, and perhaps Jessy also, but he wasn’t looking in anywhere in particular, it seemed, and certainly he wasn’t looking for the flags.
Then it happened, they saw her. They had climbed a ridge and not too far away, closer than Banks had seen her before, she stood bent over, picking flowers. They threw themselves on their stomach and hushed each other, gazing at her as if she was some kind of a rare deer that was easily frightened by sound. Banks felt a bit ridiculous at first, but even he couldn’t help but gawk at her. Her hair billowed in the wind, blond yellow hair that either hid her face or revealed it, depending on the direction of the wind. She stood up and collected the flowers in her hands and it was then they saw her face. She had a kind, soft expression, and a smile on her pillowy red lips. Their breathes went quiet as they looked, only one of them breathed and heavily at that. Banks glanced at Jessy suspiciously. He had an intense unblinking gaze and he was almost shaking, for whatever reason. Banks couldn’t help but cast a nervous glance his way between stealing a glance at the young woman in front.
After a while, though they had not found all the flags, they didn’t want to be late and punished, so they reluctantly crept down the ridge and brushed their clothes and made ready to go. But Jessy, he remained. They beckoned him to come but he wouldn’t listen. Then, he stood and walked up over the ridge and disappeared from their view. Banks and the others looked at each other and then hurried over the ridge and towards Jessy. He had dropped his gun now, and was walking briskly towards the woman. They didn’t waste any time and and they stopped him just a few metres away from the woman who only now looked up, neither scared or surprised. Banks was stunned by her expressionless face. Her eyes were big and eyed them curiously as Jessy struggled with the others. “Let me go!” He cried. “Let me at her,” he said.
It took four men to force him on the ground, but no words seemed to reach him and he continued to struggle. The team leader then stood and hit him with the side of his gun which calmed Jessy down. They looked down at him, unconscious, and then at the woman who stood their, clutching her flowers, looking curiously at them. They were surprised that she hadn’t run away and all they could say was that they were sorry and they grabbed Jessy but the arms and legs and carried him away. Banks remained for a moment longer and their eyes locked. Banks blinked and said. “Sorry,” hurrying after his comrades towards the base.
There was some commotion as they reach the base. Jessy had regain consciousness and cursed them, promised he would hurt them. He was struggling and more people came to help. They dragged him to a fridge and locked him inside. They called for Lt. Baxter and he, along with two soldiers they had never seen, carrying hand guns and cuffs, emerged. They cuffed Jessy, now cold and calm and dragged him inside the base. Everyone wanted to know what happened and Banks and the others told what they had seen, though their stories differed slightly, they were generally the same. As Banks told his story, he noticed that Hjalmar seemed to be the most upset about it. He seemed to have some sort of apprehension towards mistreating women. Banks was surprised, he hadn’t even seen or met the woman, yet he reacted so strongly about it. It made Banks feel a bit ashamed of himself as he is the one that should be furious.
It took several days before Jessy emerged again, seemingly free. He had been suspended from leaving the base. To Hjalmar, this wasn’t good enough and he called together a group of like minded people and beat the shit out of him. Nobody came to Jessy’s defence, indeed, nobody ratted them out and Jessy knew then how alone he really was. Banks didn’t see much of him after that. His bed would always be empty at night and he would rarely show himself at meals, which wasn’t knew. He was given chores to do at the base, effectively downgrading him from solider to cleaning or whatever else needed to be done. Banks found it unnerving not knowing where he was at night, but he was glad he didn’t join them at missions anymore.
The next time they went out and found her at the exact same place. Even though it was a bit far off from where they had to go, they went anyway. As they came to that place and saw her, they wondered what they should be doing. One of them, that is the most unassuming, should go up to her and apologise, then he could wave at the others when it was fine to come out. They all looked at Banks. He had conflicting feelings about it because he was excited to see her, yet he was scared. They pushed him over the ridge so that he stood in plain view of the woman. She didn’t look his way but when he glanced at his comrades they just waved him away. Banks took a deep breath and approached her. She was bending down, picking flowers just like last time. She rose only when he was close and their eyes locked. She had a kind expression and he looked silently into her eyes. Suddenly he felt cold and he shivered and blinked, realising that he had stood like a fool in silence. He cleared his throat and introduced himself. He said that he was sorry for yesterday and that the one involved had been punished. She didn’t seem to care. Suddenly, the men rose from their hiding spot without Banks giving the signal and they soon surrounded her, bombarding her with questions. The team leader made them quiet down and they asked one question at the time. Banks wasn’t sure if she was scared or not, she didn’t show much emotion other than patience and kindness. Perhaps she was frozen with fear, he wondered. Then, one of the guys touched her hair and sniffed it. Something in Banks broke and he punched the guy square in the face. He toppled over and the others held him back but they didn’t have to, Banks was too surprised of himself. The other guy rose and was about to hit back but was hindered by the others. The others agreed his behaviour was uncalled for, then they realised that she was gone. She had made use of the commotion to escape. They agreed to not speak of this to the others. But Banks was mortified what had happened and he was sure she didn’t want to see them again. If this could happen in his group it could happen in others, he thought. Would there be anyone to stop them then? His mind ran wild and he was worried for her safety. When they got back to base, he approached the captain about the issue. The captain said it was a concern, they hadn’t been expressively forbidden to approach civilians but civilians should be protected and respected, he promised to adress the issue with Lt. Baxter. It made Banks feel a little better when he went to lunch later.
Banks did not see her in the entire week after that and they switched groups again. Hjalmar was in his group this time, which he found pleasant. But every day Banks would return to Jackson and ask him what Baxter said but every time he said that he was too busy to be seen. This made Banks nervous again and at lunch, Hjalmar noticed Banks behaviour and Banks told him what had happened the other week. Hjalmar frowned, saying he had suspected something like this might happen. They are soldiers, after all. They won’t see a woman in years and she’s all alone… He didn’t understand what her parents were thinking but he couldn’t let anything bad happen to her. Banks saw that he was a bit jealous that he hadn’t seen her yet, even so, he was genuinely concerned. Banks thought he was a good person and they discussed what could be done. It was unavoidable that she would encounter them if she wandered around the island, but it was not a good idea for the whole group to overwhelm her with questions. She might feel uncomfortable being surrounded… Others heard what they were talking about and soon the table was full with people. They came up with an honor system and they create one which everyone has to abide to. If they don’t, they will be suspended. Everyone seemed to agree this was the best choice. Though, it conditioned everyone to meet her, even those that weren’t interested, but it was the best they could come up with and was better than nothing. Banks was just worried for certain people and hoped that the others in the group would hold them in line, just like they had done with Jessy.
Banks didn’t see her that week, but others did. One even bragged about learning her name which he refused to share with anyone. Envious, Banks went out with his new group and a new location. Banks wondered who went out and replaced the flags every time, they seemed to be switched around every day as well and it made Banks wonder how many people worked in the shadows. It could be a whole other base they didn’t know about, much less the enemy, which was the point, Banks supposed. If they caught one of them… Banks shook his head. The enemy would never find it, they didn’t even know it existed, yet, Banks couldn’t fully relieve his fear and he kept nervous glances around him, this time not to look for the woman. He didn’t expect to see her, anyhow.
They group weren’t speak much at all, in fact, unless they discussed where to go next on the map. And when they did, they did so quietly. The mist had a way of making everything seem hostile. When something is hidden, your mind fill in the blanks, and often, the mind fills it with terrifying things. The mist became clearer as they ascended the hill. They climbed and climbed until they came to a plateau. Not entirely on the top, but almost. And there, they saw her, looking distantly the other way, sitting in the grass with her dress sprawled around her. The wind was still, this time around and the hair reached almost to the ground and covered his back. The group froze where they stood and gazed, then they looked at each other, wondering if anyone would do something rash, but nobody moved and then the team leader spoke. He drew up some straws which everyone had to pick from. Banks was last he draw his straw nervously and measured by the others. He had won. Banks didn’t know if the feel frightened and or happy. Either way, his heart was beating fast and it was only the others that made him walk towards her. He walked slowly, on purpose, trying to come up with anything to say. There was no natural way this conversation could go and he suddenly had the urge to just run away, but he kept moving until he was just a few metres away from her, her back still turned to him. “Hi,” he managed to say.
She whirled around. Her eyes were kind, like last time, neither surprised nor scared. Banks wondered if she had heard him for a long while, she must’ve. He stumbled with his words, apologising again what had happened. It seemed like all he had ever done was apologising to her. She looked at him as if she didn’t seem to understand. Finally, he asked for her name and it was Lillie. He liked the name and told her so. Like the flowers you pick, he added. She seemed to like that and picked one of the ground. She said that they grow especially well on the hill, that all different kinds of wild flowers end up here, caught by the wind. She enjoys coming here during spring to see what new flowers might spring this year. He looked at her and caught himself staring. Her gaze was out to the sea and the mist lay heavily all around. Banks shivered and asked if it was like this all year long. She nodded, though, it gets worse and autumn and winter. Banks seemed to have a hard time continuing the conversation as she didn’t seem all that interested in him. He heard the others hooting, telling him to hurry up. She didn’t glance at them, as if she knew they were there already. Banks took a breath and said. I would like to know you better. Would you like to meet with me, sometime?
He held his breath as he waited for her answer and she said that they could talk at her mansion whenever he had time. Banks told he had time off this Sunday and they arranged a meeting that morning. Banks feet felt as light as air as he made his way back to his comrades who bombarded him with questions. They asked what they had been talking about as they hurried down the ridge. All Banks could tell them were, I have a date. The questions died then and Banks could feel their envy, but he didn’t care, he was too happy to care.
© Christopher Stamfors