The Healer's Nightmare
By Willow Taylor
I cowered behind the steel bulkhead and wondered what I was doing there for the hundredth time, as bullets roared over my head. The sergeant shouted orders as dead bodies fell into the water we floated on. A wounded man fell from his post and landed in my lap. Unheeded by the soldiers around me, I unfolded, mind not entirely my own, and reached out in my arms, bare hands pressing to the wound that gushed crimson over the cuffs of my bright green shirt. I had to keep my eyes open here, even though I wanted to close them for concentration. A few moments later, I pulled my hand away, and his eyes opened, looking at me, and seeing the red cross and green leaves on the helmet firmly strapped over dirt brown hair. When he stood up and set his gun again, leaving me to return to my hiding place and wonder yet again why I was there.
Not that I didn't know why I was there. Not that I didn't remember the day I left home. There is a place where Healers like myself live in peace without being touched by war - Since the advent of guns, many of us have hidden there. As my Grunther said, "It's so damn frustrating for them ta go out an' ruin your work." Not that back when they fought with steel and sinew they didn't rush out just as foolishly, but now it happens so quickly. And there were more wounds even we can't heal.
But the Quietlands, the Healer's home, that's where I was born, and trained. This war came up so sudden like, they hadn't enough of us who craved a different life, and they offered a reward - to the family of any healer who came into this war they would give twenty acres of green land. Not simply preserve, true green land that we could farm on and live on as we liked. So I, and my three friends snuck off and signed up before our parents could stop us. We were given our grass green uniforms, and helmets that marked us as healers, and were sent off to say goodbye. My mother didn't cry, she just shook her head, but she's one of us that gets other gifts, and she dreams the future that will hurt of heal.
And so I went to war, with two weeks training of the human doctors.
"Move your green ass, Healer!" screamed the sergeant, and over the side I went into the blood stained water with my waterproof sacks of herbs and stones. Bullets struck around me and men who fought the training they'd given me to ignore pain for a time, and struck out to shore, avoiding floating bodies.
There was a humming of power in my ears, not unlike the sound that you get when you dive deep under water, but definitely different. It was the deaths of a thousand men pulsing against my blood and water soaked skin, as I dodged the sinking bodies bore down with heavy kits. I surfaced and gulped down the air. I kept my eyes open and plunged back down into the salty pink water. Death all around me like I'd never seen before. I scraped shore, and kept low in the water like they'd told me to. Someone fell across my legs. I rolled over, hands going out of their own accord, closing the wound setting the broken bone, and seeing the wild, confused eyes of a man who thought he was dead. He rolled off of me, and crouched down, offering a prayer.
"Move," I whispered, not even audible over the sound of the battle. He jerked his head to the side, and held up his gun.
'Follow me,' his body said. I stayed close behind him, as we tore up the beach that bodies littered. The air hummed with the same power as the water had.
Why hadn't Grunther told me about this?
I stopped to heal a man gasping out his lifetime with a lung wound. And another whose helmet had gotten cut off by a close bullet and was bleeding to death from a scalp cut. Bullets flew in both directions, and I took a hit in my shoulder, knocked aside by one of the men I'd healed. Every man I healed formed up around me, as we spearheaded forward, up the dunes. For every man I saved, ten more died. I closed my ears to the screaming of power and spirits. At last the screaming of the bullets stopped. I looked at my hands, dark brown with dried blood infused into the creases like they'd never be the clean white hands that healers were known for.
"Good work," said the Sergeant. I shook in shock, and dug in my pack for the stones and herbs that would restore me. "You were the rallying point that got us the battle," he went on prattling as I pulled the energy from my storage stones, to try and stop the shakes.
When night fell, and the camp was set, I stared into the fire. The human medics had brought me the wounded that they couldn't help, and they left me walking on their feet hungry as spring bears from the healing. The human medics bound my shoulder. I left my helmet on as the moon rose above the battle field. The feeling of death was pressing hard around me and I couldn't breathe thought of removing anything, as I swabbed my hands, again and again with pinkish sea water. The out flowing tide took the bodies away, and left some clung fast to the bottom. A detachment of men went out to pile them up and bury them, to collect the tags. I just stared into the moon, and shivered, my hands the only steady parts of me. I wondered where my friends were now, and dug my healer's dagger beneath my nails to remove the dried blood.
When dawn came, it was like the gods were mimicking the blood shed on the ground, with crimson streaked across the clouds. And I stared up at them, still feeling the pressure of death against my skin. "Healer!" snapped the sergeant, and I got up, slinging my pack against my shoulders and marching up swiftly.
"Yessir." I saluted.
"Aw get off it," he snapped. "Are all the men well?"
"I'll have to make the rounds, Sir," I said.
"Then do it. I don't like this dawn."
"Nosir." Off I went among the troops and sentries.
"Now," I could remember my trainer telling me before I went off. "You, Healer, are very important. The Necies won't try and kill you, they'll try and capture you for their own side. That -" and he pointed to the red cross between my eyebrows, the mark of a dedicated healer. "Proves you really are more than a medic, and you'll heal them anyway." I'd nodded because my Grunther had told me the same thing.
"Damn useless thing, but I ain't never seen a Healer that could hold out against other's pain."
"Life is the important thing, sir."
"No," he spat making me want to jump back. "Winning is the important thing. If we don't take this, than they're going to kill more than a few of our men to prove their point."
Gunfire started again south of me. I turned towards it like a flower towards the light. A hand fell on my shoulder, and a soldier shook his head. It was the one who'd fallen on me at the shore, and I thought, perhaps the one who'd brought me my broth last night.
"Let them come to us."
"But..." I started.
I shivered like mad at the feelings of slow death, and sure enough the gunfire came towards us. I prayed now since there were no wounded yet, just the piles of dead we hadn't yet buried.
The battle began and the wounded piled up, I crawled from one to the other as the blood stained my hands again. There was nothing but the wounds. My shoulder ached badly. The one thing a Healer cannot do is lay hands upon himself to heal it. It would heal faster than a humans' wound, but it was still there. There were more Necies than us, but they didn't field their own Healers, and for that, I almost wished I were one of them. Today I worked harder, and they only killed two for every one I saved. Many wounds my mother would have left to die as a kindness I closed, and sent them back. These were my friends. I put my hands on a man with a wound on his face and healed. Hands clutched at me and tried to pull me away.
"He's dead!" screamed my new friend over the battle thunder.
"NO!" I sobbed "I can feel him!"
"Leave him! We have to - " he was cut off as a shell nearly blew him in half. I screamed again. And power poured out of me uncontrollably. I had to pull more into me, or I'd die. I reached for my crystals and drained them, and then sought for my final solace the mother earth. Strength poured into me, then out to heal men's bodies. The power of thousands of death screamed through me like lightning. I could feel men rise to fight and screams above the battle thunder. I screamed and tore at my helmet reaching deep into the earth for untainted power to try and help myself. Men stood around me and raised their guns to the Necies, who ran, for no reason I could see.
"Damn!" screamed the sergeant's voice. "We've got a raiser."
I heard the words but they didn't make any sense.
"Stop them!" I sobbed. "They're going to kill!"
The men standing with their guns fired into the banks of retreating Necies, and marched forward, tramping over them. I was swept along, still locked into an eternal loop of death energy and healing. My hair fell down my back from its braid, and I stumbled. A hand steadied me, and I saw the blood streaked face of my friend, who'd tried to help me for so long. I clutched his hand like a life line. It was cold. I walked forward over the bodies of the black-uniformed Necies, surrounded by my own troops, the ones who'd felt my power. The sky darkened, though I was sure it had just been dawn, but there was light around me. Necies lined the road dead as I walked, dead at the hands of my troops, as I still powered the death power out. Ahead I saw a base camp with the black flag flying.
"Stop them!" I screamed, and the world went black.
They told me I wasn't the first to come here, though I am the only one here now. It's almost as peaceful as the Quietlands. They tell me I am one in a million of the Healers, the ones who can feed off blood. They call us raisers, who can make the dead seem healed like the ones who follow voodum. I took out the base camp of Necies. They say I will have a bonus for that.
I want no more war. When they send me back (and I know they will) I will keep control. I will feed the power to the Necies, and keep walking until I reach the men who started it. And then I will feed them the power that screams, and leaves me raw. The dead men will rise, and be healed and walk at my side, until I have an army that no man can touch. And there will be no more killing. And I won't have to see another man die and not rise again. They will send me back. They have no choice. Because I am a Healer, and they need me. They always need healers.
design ©2001 by Cindy Rosenthal
The Healer's Nightmare © 2001 by Willow Taylor
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