The boy, who would rather be called a man, was dying. Fire ate at the old forest, but the Liar couldn’t feel the heat. He felt only the boy’s fear, his pain, his regret. The way his bloody fingers slipped over the buttons as he tried to radio for help. The machine was dead, but the boy’s sight was fading and he couldn’t see.
“Easy, son,” the Liar said. The distant whine of incoming aircraft ran through the leaves.
“Ca- Captain?” the boy asked.
The Liar nodded. “It’s me. Just relax, private. We’ll get you out of here.”
“But, they… command said fall back. Retreat past… past…” The boy closed his dark eyes, trying to remember.
“You misheard,” the Liar said, his voice calm. “The enemy has fled. They’re running home.The boy looked around him. The Liar saw through his eyes, saw the sea of dark blurs that remained to him.
“Why are you-” the boy was interrupted by a fit of coughing that brought up too much blood. The Liar wiped the boy’s chin with a handkerchief as the aircraft began to scream.
“I promised your mother that I’d get you home.”
“Mama?” his voice trailed off.
“Soon. Just close your eyes. You’ll be home soon.”
“Thank you…” he murmured as he drifted off into death. “Captain…”
The old forest erupted as the planes reached them and dropped their payload. The Liar walked away from the corpse of the boy, flames swallowing everything. Earthbreaking concussions enveloped him as he folded his bloody handkerchief and put it back into his pocket. Remnants of the boy’s pain lingered in his chest. The Liar walked for a long time, until the sounds of battle faded.
The girl wore her bathing suit in the tub. She didn’t want her mother to find her naked and tell the paramedics how fat she was, how her mother had never been that fat. How it was probably better that she died now instead of dying alone, as she surely would. No man would ever love someone like the girl.
So she wore her bathing suit. A one piece, not the cute bikinis like the other girls had worn on the Beta Club trip to Splash Mountain. It had vertical black and white stripes, and her mother had said it was slimming. She had wanted the one with flowers on it, but her mother said she’d look like an old lady in a flowery one. But Amberly Akin had worn a bikini with flower prints and everyone had told her how good she looked. The girl didn’t tell her mother that.
The Liar pushed the door open gently, so the girl wouldn’t be scared. The tub was turning red from the ribbons of blood flowing from the girl’s wrists. Her pain sat in his gut, heavy as a bowling ball. The jagged lines on her wrists were paled beside that.
She looked up at the sound of his shoes on the tile.
“Hi, honey,” the Liar said.
“Where have you been?” she asked. Her voice was soft. The way her mother told her it should be.
“Away. I’m so sorry, honey. But I’m back now, and I’ll never leave you again.”
“Mother won’t let you stay, she’ll throw you out again!” The girl sniffed as tears formed in her eyes. The Liar reached out and took her hand in his, blood slick between them.
“No she won’t. You and I are going to California, and we’re going to live on the beach.”
“Oh,” the girl was fading. “Good. But I think I did something bad.”
“You did. Very bad.”
“Can you fix it?”
“Of course I can,” he lied.
The girl smiled as her eyes closed. “I’m tired, Daddy.”
“Just take a nap, honey. We’ll leave as soon as you wake up.” The Liar smiled.
The Liar held her hand until the girl’s breath disappeared completely, and then for a long time after that. The water grew tepid. When he left the empty house, a cold rain was falling.
The old man was going to die just as the sun came up. His room was dark but for the green glow of the monitors. A slow beeping was the only sound. No nurses brought medicine, no doctors checked charts, no sons or daughters tried to sleep in the solitary armchair by the window.
The Liar sat down in the armchair and waited. There wasn’t much pain, just a warm sadness.
The pink prologue of dawn rapped on the window, and the old man opened his eyes.
“Who are you?” the old man asked, his voice scratchy from the intubation.
“Hey, Dad,” the Liar said. “How are you feeling?”
“Like I’m about to die. Who are you?”
“It’s Paul. Your son,” the Liar said, softly.
“No you aren’t. Paul’s in Seattle,” the old man said.
The Liar shifted in his almost comfy chair.
“I wanted to see you, to tell you -”
“I’ve gone crazy, haven’t I? That Alzheimer’s got me, and I’m seeing things that ain’t,” the old man said.
The Liar shook his head. “You aren’t crazy.”
“Then what’s happening?”
The Liar sighed. After a moment, he said, “You’re going to die.”
“I know that.”
The old man took a moment. “Why’d you come here?”
“To help you,” the Liar said.
“Help me live?”
“No. To make it… easier.”
“Will you make it painless?” The old man asked.
“I can’t do that.”
The old man snorted and he rolled to look out the window.
“I’m sorry,” the Liar said.
“It’s alright,” the old man said, then coughed. His eyes were clouded and his hand shook as he grasped the handrail of the bed.
The two sat in silence for a little while as the sun crept over the horizon.
“So,” the old man said, “what’s next?”
“You’ll grow sleepy, and your lungs will -”
“No,” the old man interrupted. “After that.”
“I don’t know,” the Liar said.
The sun was halfway over the hill and the hospital room was coming out of the darkness. The old man’s breath started to rattle as he drew it, and the Liar knew it would be over soon.
“What good are you then?” the old man whispered.
The Liar watched the sun rise with the old man; a weak comfort, but better than nothing.
David Austin is a pharmacy technician by day and a graduate student in English at the University of Montevallo by night. When he isn’t busy with either of those, his hobbies include playing soccer in ninety-five degree weather and adding bacon to things that did not originally contain bacon. So far, grilled cheese is the winner. “The Liar” is David’s fourth published story. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama, which isn’t as bad as it sounds, with his fiance and twenty-five pound cat, who is exactly as big as she sounds. He can be reached at DavidAustinFiction@gmail.com for questions, comments, or bacon-related suggestions. For more of David’s work, see http://crossedgenres.com/magazine/020-static/.
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© 2014 David Austin