Please be noted that this is the 5th chapter of my ongoing novel Disparities. If you haven’t read the first four chapters, you can find the other parts here.
Trigger warning: there are severe injuries and amputated limbs (even the graphic description of the procedure) waiting ahead, so if you my be triggered by contents like this, proceed with caution.
Later Henry couldn’t say when did he lose it. But by the time the red haze which descended on his brain upon hearing the news about the rescue team – and Lilly and Davies -, he found himself restrained by Mark. There were shouts, blurry shadows of his fellow soldiers, orders to stand down he ignored. Then a blow from an unpredictable direction followed by darkness.
When he jolted awake Mark was sitting on a wobbly chair beside his bed. It was an exaggeration to call this thing a bed, it was more of a cot than anything else. But in was in a room with windows intact, protected from the elements. So Henry continued to call that as a bed in his head.
Henry blinked, tried to remember why they were in that room, and how did he get there. They were in a derelict room of the newly established hospital. It was an office building having all the facilities, the medics, doctors and injured would need. So the army confiscated it, as it became natural during the years of the war.
But of course Henry couldn’t care less. Not after the day’s events came back to him with a force almost crushing his skull. As far as he knew, Captain Baxter could have ordered the MPs to throw him in the brig. Why didn’t he do so was a mystery. Even if he regained consciousness in the brig, it wouldn’t matter in the face of his loss. When the clouds of unconsciousness had receded, his throat was sore, and he felt the helplessness as a physical pain throbbing through his body.
Henry’s knuckles were sore, bloodied and full of gushes, it hurt like a bitch but was nothing compared to the ache of losing Lilly. Mark was extremely careful with his injuries when he got Henry’s hands in his calloused one, and lightly brushed his fingers over his skin.
„I’m okay” he sobbed when he felt like making eligible words, trying to free his fingers from Mark’s unmoving hand. „You can leave me now, I won’t make any fuss. Fuck this hurts” he added when he tried to relax his fingers to open up his fist of his free hand.
„Yeah… you quite tore down a brick-wall bare-handed. I was afraid you’d broken all your fingers. Let me see. Can you move them?” Mark took Henry’s other hand too in his palm with the intention to check all his fingers.
„What the hell are you doing? You’re not even a medic” Henry mused following Mark’s uncertain touches over his bones with his gaze.
„No. But I know well enough how broken bones feel like. Or how you will sound like if I accidentally pressed down on one.” Henry shuddered by his exploratory touches, sometimes winced but otherwise stayed silent. „I think you’re all right. Nothing’s broken.” Mark summarized finally his examinations.
„Yeah. Nothing’s broken.” Henry repeated sounding heartbroken at best. „You think they’re dead? Lilly and Davies, I mean…”
„I don’t know, but Captain Baxter put a recce team together to send out and try to find out what had happened.”
„A recce team?” Henry gaped. „Not a rescue team?”
„I hate to say this to you… but there might be nobody to rescue, Henry. I don’t want you to get your hopes up.”
„Wait! He said that he would send out a team?” Henry exclaimed as what Mark had told him sunk in. „I have to go with them!”
„Henry, calm down. You can’t go with them. They already left.”
„What? But you said…”
„You really don’t remember, do you?” At Henry’s confused gaze Mark sighed and tried to explain. „You flew off the rails when you heard that the team had left without you. I thought you would kill someone you lost your shit so badly… Baxter told that this time he would turn a blind eye. But nobody can guarantee that he won’t throw you in the brig if you continue to blow off your chances…”
„So what, Mark? Did you knock me out to get rid of the nuisance?” Henry bit back with a bitter tone and poison in his words.
„No. Baxter punched your lights out, before you could further compromise yourself getting your stupid arse court-martialed. And you know what? I would have done the same if he wasn’t the faster one to act. So get your bearings and start to behave like someone we could count on.”
Henry was too bull-headed to apologize, so he just stared at Mark, fury burning bright through his eyes. Mark swallowed and continued in a conciliatory voice. „If the recce team finds them, they might need medical attention. You are the only one Lilly would allow to touch her. So you’d better be prepared and stay out of jail. Because I won’t explain her why you’re arrested.”
Mark’s words managed to get through Henry’s anger, and it was like cold water into his face. Finally and excruciatingly slowly Henry’s eyes met Mark’s. Regret was evident on his face along with the resignation he felt upon Lilly’s presumed death.
„You’re right.” He breathed. „I’m sorry… for all the troubles…”
„No worries. I’ve got you. Anytime” Mark smiled and kissed him sweetly to assure him that there weren’t any hard feelings between them. He snaked his arms around Henry, and hugged him, pulling him against his chest.
„It’s just…” his voice broke „it’s just… she can’t be dead.”
Mark couldn’t say anything, nothing comforting came onto his lips. So he just held Henry close, and pleaded without words with any Gods or entities to keep Lilly alive for his Henry’s sake. Henry shuddered then wiped the corse material of his sleeve over his eyes.
„You know… She’s the only family I have.” He whispered. „She’s the only one who gave a damn after my family disowned me. She’s a lot like me and despite she has her father she’s alone in a world hostile to her. No wonder we became so important to each other.”
„I know.” Mark did not dare to hug him too long in a makeshift hospital room where anyone anytime could walk in on them. „But Baxter won’t give a rat’s ass for your heart ache. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a good Captain, he just doesn’t know how to deal with people falling apart in this madness. But he sure as hell wants his medic back. We all need him, Henry. Please…”
Henry gave him a watery smile. Of course Mark was right. If Lilly and Davies were really gone, they were two man down which could have deadly effect on the injured.
„I won’t let you down, I promise” Henry briefly squeezed Mark’s hand, then let it go standing up. „I think I have to apologize to the Captain.”
„You’ll do that” Mark motioned to the door.
Lilly woke up to something heavy pushing down on her chest making breathing difficult. At first she thought that she was stuck under a great boulder. She was groggy, every movement an agony, and along with that her memory was foggy at best. She could recall the uncomfortable ride in the back of a military truck to Versailles where the troupes were attacked, then she and Davies helping the injured left to dead by the Germans. Davies wandered off a bit far from Lilly. She remembered wondering about where he did go… Then all the hell broke lose.
Davies came back running to her, smashing into her, cupping the back of her head to diminish the impact when they were hitting the wall of a ruined building. There were explosions and the rifles and guns barked at each other, and the wall behind their back gave way, and they were falling. All the air was pushed out of her lungs the minute they landed among the debris. Despite Davies’ best efforts, Lilly hit her head on the rocks and the world flickered out around her.
Now that she was conscious enough to determine that she was still alive, she started to replay the events before she got knocked out. It was clear as day that they were ambushed after so perfectly waltzing into the German trap. They should have known… Something was amiss the whole time, from the place of the earlier attack to the injured soldiers. No German casualties, just their own which seemed unlikely at the time. How the hell had the Germans time to gather their wounded and leave the scene without the ally forces coming across to them? Now in retrospect it seemed like the allied injured where lain there with purpose to lure out the medical personnel.
Was it a bit too much of a low blow? Most certainly. But would the ambush hurt them like a motherfucker? Without a doubt. Will it leave any lingering effect on the Allies’ war effort? Not really, soldiers and medics still can be replaced. So what was the gain in this ambush for the Germans? Nothing most likely, if not to covering something up… „No. You’re just seeing a pattern where certainly there is none.” She chided herself still lying in the debris.
So, first things first. She needed to get free from under the heavy boulder. As she wiggled under it, she accidentally kicked it with her knees. It was inexplicably soft for a rock boulder, emanating heat, moaning painfully after Lilly’s knees connected with its side. Was it a body laying above her? She tried to assess her surroundings.
She was laying on concrete floor, or asphalt, she couldn’t tell exactly. Was it already dark, or was it just around her? Was she in a building? Images continued to flash before her mind’s eyes. After they’ve got caught in the ambush, Davies tried to cover her, then she remembered nothing. No infernal scream came from the other side of the wall, the once shrieking guns and rifles, de ground-shaking detonations were also silent. The world around them was silent.
The body above her moaned again, and Lilly remembered. A shell hit the building’s side wall, Davies shouted something unintelligible before his body impacted into her. All her cries of fear were swallowed by the boom of the explosion, and they got enveloped by unconsciousness.
She wiggled a bit more cautiously not to hurt the man laying on her while getting free from under his body. Davies was out could she realized after she managed to shed the last remains of fogginess out of her head. The medic continued to moan in pain and she had no idea what was torturing him until after she got free, and she checked the other in the half-dark.
Davies’ right arm was stuck under the debris. When Lilly tried to pull it free, the arm did not even budged the slightest, but the man’s moans intensified to a heart-wrenching level.
„I’m so sorry, Davies” she tried to calm the man, but she was well aware that there was nothing to ease his pain. „But I really have to unstuck your arm. You’ll die of shock if I don’t.”
Davies said nothing. He wasn’t even conscious. So Lilly let him lay temporary flat on his stomach. She looked for her medic bag, fortunately it was in arm’s reach covered by dust and little pieces of the crumbled wall. She rummaged through the bag finally finding what she was searching for. She got the torch in her hand and went back to Davies’s side. She crawled nearer to the stuck arm, she needed to get a better look on that.
Lilly got the end of the torch in her mouth leaving both of her hands free, and in that quivering yellow light she examined the damage the best she could. A glance was enough to determine that Davies’s arm was as good as gone. The part under his elbow had disappeared under the debris, darkened blood thickened with dust oozed from the bricks and rocks. There was no chance to freeing it. Lilly didn’t even want to try, because it would certainly kill Davies.
Which left him with only one option. The arm had to go. She was alone, without any help, so it would be tricky doing everything alone, but she could do it. She knew she could. This operation wasn’t any different from any situation when she was left alone to cope with and to prove herself.
So she went to check the tools in her and Davies’ bag. She had to make sure that she had everything she may need to save Davies’s life. As for tools, everything was there; scalpel, bonesaw, arterial clamp – and bandages. They run a bit low on morphine, they used up almost every syrette on the wounded before. She was left with two, Davies with only one. That should do for the operation. But she has to be careful when to use Davies’ last one. One could argue the level – or more likely the lack of – hygiene or sanitation of the tools, but the rules of the battlefield overrode this kind of necessities. „Save lives first and worry about infections later.” That was what her father used to say.
„Garrett?” Lilly almost did not hear the whimpering sounds coming from Davies. „What are you doing?”
„Me? Nothing much.” She felt her nonchalance falling flat. „You know just the usual shit. Like preparing for cutting your arm off.”
„You… what? No… you don’t.” Davies’s protest was weak as he fought to stay conscious.
„I have to. If I further keep delaying the inevitable, you go into shock, and you’ll die. If I try to move your arm and free it from under the debris, you go into shock and you’ll die. So what choice am I left with? If the tables were turned, you’ve’d done the same.” She wasn’t arguing, nor trying to persuade him, she was rattling out facts while not leaving the preparations for the amputation.
„I don’t want to die, Garrett, but I certainly will, if you try this alone…” Davies started to weep. He wasn’t the first man Lilly saw crying tormented by horrible pain and if the war went go on he certainly wouldn’t be the last.
„No you won’t. Besides in this state you’re already a goner. You can only improve from here.”
„I hate your sense of humor, Garrett…” Nonetheless, now Davies was snickering, an abrupt change after almost crying, clearly signaling the starting delirium due to blood loss.
„Okay then, with your approval, I make myself useful.”
Lilly left again Davies’ side to finish the preparations. She assembled debris that looked flammable, and started a little fire. She needed to sanitize the saw and other blades. Furthermore she will need it to cauterize wound the after cutting and sawing off Davies’ arm.
“You want to suffocate us?” Davies asked weakly when he smelled the smoke filling the little room they were stuck in.
“I won’t” I checked the ventilation, can’t you feel the draft getting in?
“What if someone sees the smoke outside then?”
“They won’t see anything. It’s the dead of the night already. Sorry Davies, but I can’t have you babbling nonsenses, so I will knock you out. It would be much more pleasant for you, to get your severed when you’re out cold.”
She did not wait for an answer, she used one syrette and stuck it into the man’s neck. Davies couldn’t move so all he could manage as objection was a menacing glare at Lilly. But she was already accustomed to death glares and menaces coming from grumpy soldiers. Usually she never worked alone, and Henry and Mark always had her back. But she was strong enough to wrestle Davies into submission if she needed to. Despite her petite built, Davies was no match for her in his current state.
So she let the man slumber. She planned to dose him with the other syrette of morphine before starting the operation. She couldn’t let Davies wake up during mid-operation because of the pain. Which would be enormous, she knew.
She sat back beside the little fire she started a few minutes ago, and waited for the blades and saw to start to glow flaming red. She had to be precise and fast. There was no room for laziness. “Here we go” she whispered when she grabbed the blade. She set it aside to cool a bit, then struck the other syrette in Davies neck. With the scalpel she cut into Davies’ flesh, cut it through the ruined muscles and tendons to the bone, then she circled the blade around the bone. Then set aside the scalpel and grabbed to the saw.
It was never easy to saw trough human bone. The feeling and the smell of it… it was nauseating every-time. Accompanied by the sickening noises of the saw gliding back and forth through the bone.
“Almost there, Davies” one last draw of the saw, and the arm fell off. The wound was bleeding profusely, Davies was loosing blood rapidly. Her hand shot out for the last blade she prepared for cauterizing the wound. She acted fast and stopped the bleeding as soon as she could. Finally she bandaged the stump.
Lilly then turned Davies on his back, and when she laid down on the debris, she pulled Davies’ head onto her thigh. She caressed the young man’s hair and spoke to him softly.
“I did it. I told you I would. Now you just had to make it through. You will live. And this is an immediate ticket back home. You are one of the lucky ones. Your war is over.”
They stayed like that for a long time. Lilly laying on the floor among the debris, Davis resting his head on her thigh without stirring. But when noises floated into their hiding Lilly’s eyes flung open.
“Can you smell the smoke?” Someone asked in a low voice.
“Not just smoke. What is it? Burned flesh?”
They were speaking English, Lilly could hear every word clearly, because the new arrivals were standing at the other side of the wall.
“Garrett? Davies?” Came the question through the wall. “Are you in there?”
“We’re here” Lilly answered right away. She knew that voice, it was Corporal Barrel’s who wanted to court her even after Henry laid a claim on her. Barrel may be a tiresome arsehole, but always knew what to do, so it was not by a chance that Captain Baxter chose him to send after them. Maybe Henry and Mark were here too? She certainly would get an earful from her “fiancee” for taking too big risks.
“What’s your status?” Asked Barrel all business. “Are you injured? Can you move?”
“Davies is down, alive but out, I cannot move him. We’re right next to the wall, but the structure seems all to be unstable, I don’t know where can you come in, Corporal.”
“We’ll figure it out. You just lay back, keep the lad alive and wait for us.”