War Makes Flowers

Content Warning: War, Body horror

The war was here. Smoke rose from the cities, columns of fire and ash. The concrete piled into hills, and twisting rebar sprouted out to the air. The houses were gutted, carved into segments. Apartment buildings were felled, crumpling to the streets. The temples were desecrated, the schools turned into graveyards, and the sea of flames raged endlessly in the mountains—all around, everywhere.

As shrapnel storms rained upon the land, a baby boy was born in a wrecked clinic. Cradled against Mama’s bleeding chest, the taste of iron on his lips was sweeter than any milk, and her cold, lifeless touch soothed him to sleep. For the next sixteen years, the child would be found, abandoned, passed between strangers until they all perished too, blown to bits or riddled with holes. Their mound of corpses would shield the child from constant barrage.

Nameless and dressed in tatters, the child stumbled upon the Army’s gates. They put him in the wrong-sized uniform and passed him a wrong-sized rifle, then called him Soldier Boy. The child was happy to be given fresh clothes, but to take the clothes, he had to take the job too. As Soldier Boy, he would roam the lands forever in service to the Army, fighting their battles wherever they may be. If he refused to pay this debt, the Army said, he would join their enemies in a burning pit instead. He would bathe in the fires, and the flesh would melt from his bones. Clueless as he was, he didn’t wish to burn.

Soldier Boy, Soldier Boy. Onward marched Soldier Boy. The memory of tainted mother’s milk was all he knew of love, and the tune of mortar fire lulled him to sleep every night. He communicated only in wailing screams—varying pitches of fear, horror, despair—mimicking the voices heard from hospitals. He ate meat off the carcasses in his trail and drank from the graying puddles. Bullet casings were his candy. Grenade pins were prizes to be collected. He was Soldier Boy, singing torment in the city the only way he knew how.

When the ten-thousandth missile struck, a billboard fell from its pole and landed face-up on the highway. The billboard had nearly crushed Soldier Boy, but he stumbled across the rubble and looked down upon it. Printed in faded ink, a man and a woman had their noses pressed together in a film advert, though the theaters had long been destroyed. Springtime blossoms surrounded them in a dramatic flurry. Soldier Boy reached for a flower he had spotted, growing from a vine. The flower was a decapitated hand, tangled in wires, fingers purple-red. Soldier Boy searched the city for more flowers—all the different kinds. Bulbous tulips, ruffled peonies, and delicate baby’s breath. Yellowing eyeballs, cauliflower ears and a skullcap with luscious curls still attached to the scalp. He tied everything together in a lovely bouquet, the best he’d ever seen, and far better than the wilted ones in the run-down shops.

It was perfect.

Before the next missile entered the skies, Soldier Boy ran back to the Army’s gates and into the crowded infirmary. He tripped over a fallen soldier, blackened from fire, and his moans of apology echoed down the long aisles. With every explosion in the distance, the hanging fluorescent flicked on and off, curtains swaying between cots. Soldier Boy straightened his shoulders. At the very end of the aisle, a young lady stood dressed in dirty-white uniform. She was prettier than any actress on a billboard, and she could hear no sound with her ears. No explosions, no gunshots, and no songs. Her entire life was spent in silence, yet she diligently counted the day’s dead, barely stopping to rest.

Three thousand and eight. Three thousand and nine. Three thousand and ten—

With the bouquet hidden at his back, Soldier Boy approached slowly and stopped a few steps before Nurse Girl, careful not to startle her. He only wished to make her smile.

Three thousand and eleven, three thousand and twelve—

Nurse Girl turned. Her eyes, hollow as death, gazed upon the offered bouquet. Without making a sound, her mouth gaped wide open. Her face lit up with joy. Her hands, crusted in dried blood, flapped excitedly in the air. She pointed to herself, a soundless question, For me? And Soldier Boy nodded vigorously, stifling the breathy scream from his throat.

Nurse Girl opened her mouth. Seconds later, her voice came out in a weak, rasping tone.

“Wow,” she said.

Soldier Boy’s jaw dropped. It was the loveliest voice he’d ever heard, sweeter than any song he knew.

“Wow,” Nurse Girl rasped again as she accepted the gorgeous arrangement. She breathed in the floral scents, hints of ichor rust feces. She pointed to a tulip-eyeball, then pointed to Soldier Boy in another voiceless question, her throat tired already. You made this?

Soldier Boy nodded again. A squeal escaped his lips, though it was muffled by a grenade explosion next door, followed by the crushing tanks, rapid gunfire, blaring sirens. Coming closer.

Just for me? More pointing.

“Just for you.” More nodding.

The war was here, again. Soldier Boy took up his rifle, but they would all die, this time, and the enemies had surrounded them completely. Bouquet in hand, Nurse Girl placed a light peck to his cheek, a parting gift. She restarted her death count—three thousand and thirteen, three thousand and fourteen—and Soldier Boy charged into battle for the first and last time, heart a-flutter.