Living On Oxygen for Life
This story is written by me, Christine. Please do NOT copy this story and use it as your own or post it on any website. Please obtain permission to print this story for personal use only. Thank you for reading.
Living On Oxygen for Life
A Story in a Story
The Maple Leaf Girls
You are standing there within the limits of the forest among tall, old trees. You feel the gentle breeze blow across your face, feeling cool to the touch of your skin. You look upwards to the sky and see only the leaves of the trees; once green but now have slowly changed into its beautiful fall red color. You guess that they are maple trees that stand around you. As the breeze blows past you again, one of the leaves breaks free from above and you watch it float down in a spiral dance. You reach your hand out and catch it safely within your palms. Looking at it, you see that it is a maple tree leaf. You are stunned that it feels so real. You place the leaf on the ground so that it can continue its cycle through life, adding its nutrients back into the ground once again.
You see that you are on a narrow dirt path, worn with age and use. So, you follow it for a short while. It’s so quiet and peaceful here. It’s easy to relax and enjoy the forest’s beauty. In the distance, you see a very large, very tall tree with a split trunk. When you walk up to it, you notice small boards nailed to its trunk. Further up the trunk of the tree there is a somewhat of a crude, makeshift plywood flooring for a tree house. It looks quite old. You test the strength of the boards and they still seem stable. On the ground next to the tree, you see dirt that looks as if it was dug into. There are little popsicle sticks marking each row with words of “sunflower, watermelon, and corn,” written on them in scribbled writing. Still, you wonder where you are. You swear that you had just closed your eyes briefly while laying down on your cot.
Even though you are an adult, you are not able to resist climbing up those little steps on the trunk and swing yourself upon the floor of the tree house. You scoot yourself back against one of the split trunk limbs and enjoy the feeling of being a kid again. You take your helmet off and enjoy the cool air that sweeps through the trees. Birds call to each other. You take a deep relaxing breath like you haven’t done in a long while. You see a smile growing in your mind and then you realize you’re actually smiling for real.
After a few minutes of relaxing, the wind carries a noise to your ears. Your brow crinkles with concern, wondering what it could be. So, you listen further as the noise becomes louder. You pick up your helmet and begin your climb down the little steps to the ground. That’s when you hear it. A peel of laughter. It rings out amongst the trees and carries far upon the breeze.
Slowly you make your way closer to the sounds you hear. Then a voice calls out with laughter, “Look! I’ve got purple fingers!” As you come to a break in the forest, you stand in the shadows, and look into a clearing. It’s an open field between two sections of the forest. What you see is comical. Three little girls. One of which is showing the others her purple fingers and now is showing her purple tongue. All three of them compare their fingers and tongues with each other.
You see a long-haired blond child who looks about nine years old, carrying a plastic colander. Another younger child, about seven years old, carrying a green plastic tupperware bowl. The youngest child, six years old, was carrying nothing. And they are all looking at the ground now. You are very curious. So, you stay very quiet, not wanting to scare the girls. The girls are walking around and then one of them reaches down to pick something up when you hear her saying “I found some strawberries!!!” Another peel of laughter rings through the air. It’s a beautiful sound to your ears. The girls run to each other to picking up strawberries to go with their wild raspberries. Althhough, they are eating more than what they save in their bowls.
After a short time, you realize you feel happy from watching such cute kids doing something so normal. You see that the girls are slowly making their way towards you. So, you sink further into the forest. As they begin to pass you, the seven year old stops near you. She tilts her head and asks the others if they feel something. She shrugs and moves on with her sisters. You give them a few minutes and then follow because you don’t know your way out of the forest. As you near the edge of the forest, you take a step further and everything beyond the forest fades. You find yourself back on your cot with a whisper going through your head… “Indiana is where you’ve been and we shall be your friends…” It was the voice of the seven year old and you begin to wonder if you were really there as you wake up. When you reached in your pocket, you find the maple leaf you thought you put down on the ground.
The Maple Leaf Girls
You are finished with your mission and you are tired, hot, and sweaty. The only thing that you can think of as you walk into the place where you live is sleep. Your mission was a week long with only power naps here and there. But even though you slept, you didn’t experience anything like what you had the previous week when you woke up with that maple leaf within your pocket. You think of it often. It’s still in the same place as you had left it from the time before your mission. You tacked on the wall near your cot. Approaching the maple leaf, you look at it and notice that it has changed some but you can’t quite tell just how exactly different it is. So, you reach out to touch it; wondering how in the world it found it’s way to you.
You sit down upon your cot. You are so tired that you leave your boots on as you decide to lie down and close your eyes. Your breathing slows to a comfortable rhythm. Before you drift into to sleep you hear a sound that seems just outside your living quarters. You’re aware that you’ve heard it before but can’t quite place where. A coldness, so penetrating, it seeps through your clothing and leaves you shivering. That is when you realize that you are back.
You are no longer in the desert. Slowly you open your eyes to an unbelievable scene that appears before you. A curtain of snow so heavy descends around you and rapidly covers everything in sight for as far as you can see. You are standing in someone’s yard, in the middle of a neighborhood. This is a different place from last time that you’ve come here. The snowflakes falling on you stick to your clothes and boots. The wind blows fiercely as you look up and down what you assume to be the street in front of you. You find no tire tracks in the snow. It’s too deep for any vehicle to make it through.
It’s bitter cold and you shove your hands in the pockets of your pants, hunching your shoulders to stay warm. You turn away from the gusting wind to find three people in the distance. You watch with curiosity, wondering why they are out in this weather walking down the street. The three are trudging through the snow bundled up in coats, scarves, boots and mittens. The typical winter apparel.
As they make their way closer to you, you begin to notice familiar things about them. On one of the three, you can see blond hair peeking out from beneath a hat. She’s the oldest of them. You realize that they are the three little girls from the field in the forest. The Maple Leaf Girls as you have come to call them in your mind over the past week. You smile at the memory you have of that moment. You walk to the edge of the street where a split railing wooden fence stands and begin to wonder if they can even see you there. You look down the street at the girls as they make their way to their home and notice the little one is dragging behind. The distance between the two taller girls and the smallest is ever increasing. The blond haired girl and the girl with glasses pass you by without even showing signs of noticing you.
The snow in the street is very deep. It makes for walking through it difficult even for an adult. There are no tire tracks in the street to make it easier for the girl. Yet, they move on at a slow pace because their school bus couldn’t make it down their street. In parts of the street, the snow is as deep as the girls’ shins or knees for each step they take and when the smallest girl reaches the fence, she’s visibly exhausted. She’s breathing hard and you wonder why she is having so much trouble where as her sisters look fine. She stops walking and bends to place her hands on her knees to take some deep breaths through her knit scarf. You begin to get really concerned for her. So you step closer, wanting to help, but she suddenly looks up and yells out. “Wait! Wait! I can’t go any further… I..I can’t..” You hear the hitch in her voice and turn to see if the other girls heard her. The oldest girl, the blond, turns around and begins to walk back to the waiting girl who now leans against the fence. When she reaches her sister, she asks how she is doing but she could already tell she was tired. She asks if she’s been walking in her footsteps and the little girl replies yes but doesn’t tell her big sister that her stride is too far apart for her.
You still don’t understand why you can hear everything, see everything and even feel everything but they can not hear or see you. Though, you are freezing your butt off, you only care that these little girls make it home. They’re home is at the far end of a long street at the back of the neighborhood.
“I have to rest,” you hear and the older girl tells the other that she wants her to wait right here and she will come back for her with the sled. Off in the not too far distance you can see a two story blue house standing at the end of the culdesac. You watch the other two girls trudge their way through the snow and finally make it to the house. They both disappear inside and shut the door. You look at the waiting girl standing here beside you and see that she is shaking from the cold. You can tell she’s scared and worried that her older sister won’t come back for her. You start to reach out to touch her but you hesitate, not knowing what you could do here. So you talk to her. You tell her it will be alright. Her sister will come back.
Five minutes pass and still no one comes out of the house. The little girl just stares at the house wishing for her sister to hurry. Faintly, you hear a muffled sound. You stand a little closer to her to hear what she is saying. “I can make it,” she repeats to herself. She takes a few steps but stops. Before she makes the decision to walk further, the garage door to their house finally opens and her sister walks out with the sled dragging behind her. The little girl wanted to cry, she was so happy. On this day, she realizes, she sees her sister in a whole new way. She is her hero.
When the little girl is on the sled, the older one begins to pull it through the snow but they don’t get very far. The snow is too soft and deep and the sled keeps getting stuck. The older sister tells the other that she’s going have to walk; she isn’t strong enough to pull her home. So, they begin to walk. Just to see if you could, you walk along with them, giving them encouragement with what you say. You really don’t think they can hear you but it makes you feel better knowing that you are trying to help them in some way by giving them encouraging words until, finally, they reach the house. Slowly, you walk up the driveway and onto the porch but stop a good distance before the door.
As she enters the house, the glass and screen door close behind her with a soft click. You slowly walk closer to the door, not sure of how near you can be. You remember from before that you could only go as far as the forest edge. You wonder why this time you can be so close to the children without returning to the desert. The little girl begins to shut the front door but stops the swing of the door with her hand. She pulls it open again and removes her hat and the scarf from her face. You see that her cheeks are red from the cold. Even parts of your body are starting to feel numb as you crouch down to her eye level.
She stands with her nose pressed against the glass door and lets out a few breaths of warm air from her mouth. With her finger, she slowly draws the letter “H” and then the letter “i.” You feel startled as she looks right at you and smiles. And that’s when you realize as you slowly fade away, your hand lifting to touch the glass, that she knows.
You jerk awake, feeling as if you’ve been asleep for a long time. You look around you and see everything is normal, the way it was before, except for one thing. The Maple Leaf. Though still tacked upon the wall, it is now frozen and beginning to thaw. The rivulets of water from the ice on the leaf streaks the wall below it.
The Maple Leaf Girls
After endless days of working, your body feels as if it is going to give out. You enter your living quarters only to find two soldiers staring at the wall next to your cot. You feel yourself begin to panic as you rush over to stand behind the soldiers because you know what is hopefully still on that wall. It has become a lifeline to you. Your inspiration for making it through this tour of duty. It has been almost two weeks since you last seen the maple leaf and frankly you have missed it.
When you look over the soldiers’ shoulders you notice what has drawn their attention. The leaf is no longer red and it amazes you because you know without a doubt that it was red when first you touched it while walking through the forest. The men in front of you ask you where you found a living maple leaf out there in the desert but you don’t want to tell them. They would probably think the story you told them was totally made up. So, you tell them it’s just a fake leaf someone sent you. They reach out to touch it but you shove their hands away quickly. You realize as the soldiers leave that now two people have seen the leaf besides you. You only worry about it momentarily before exhaustion takes over.
Kneeling on one knee on your cot, you reach across to the wall and touch the leaf gently with your fingertips to reassure yourself that it is truly real. You pull your hand back and look at your fingers and see moisture from the leaf upon them. Simply amazing, you think to yourself. Never in your wildest imagination could you have thought this could happen to you. However, it has.
You pull off your gear and lie down on your side and just look at the leaf and within a few minutes you find yourself falling asleep. This time is different. This time, you’re ready to return. Almost immediately you feel a wintery chill as you open your eyes. You find yourself surrounded by what must be the neighborhood children.
You are stunned at the sight before you. Snow piled high along each side of the driveway belonging to the three little girl’s house. It must have snowed for days to create such a winter wonderland and the children are now enjoying it to its fullest. All of them making snowballs for an all out war to come. The battle of the fittest or fastest snowball creator. You slowly move to the perimeter of the yard, not sure what you can do or where you can go on this visit. It’s always a guess for you.
Suddenly, a man walks out of the house. He’s bundled up as well as the children. He seems friendly and all the kids gather around him as he announces that they will be building the biggest snowman ever. They all forget the snowballs that they are stockpiling for the grizzly war to help create Frosty the Snowman. You see the Maple Leaf Girls hug the man who joined in the fun. You think maybe he’s their father but aren’t quite sure.
The race was on to see which child could build the beginnings of the base snowball for Frosty. The snow was perfect packing snow and soon, a giant-sized snow ball is being rolled around the large front yard. The children roll until they couldn’t roll it anymore and then begin adding snow by hand. You are becoming skeptical about this snowman. How can these children build something so tall? The base alone is about four feet wide. Off to the side, other children are rolling another ball of snow for the belly of Frosty. This one not quite so big as the first. When the children roll it over to the snowman, they discover one small problem. No one is strong enough to lift the belly onto the base.
After some grumbling and serious debating, the man proposes a solution. You can’t believe what you hear as you stand there listening to the man. You think, this will never work. You see the man get down on his hands and knees next to the base of the snowman and somehow the children begin to roll the belly snowball up his back. The belly, with great effort from the man, rolls right into place.
With the cold wind whipping through the scarves, coats, & mittens, everyone cheers their success. On every face, you can see happiness. You feel elated just watching a happy moment. But the work issn’t over. Next is the head and it lifts on with relative ease since its size is the smallest. The children donate things to decorate the snow to turn it into Frosty the Snowman. When it’s finished, the children begin to go home, suddenly realizing how tired they are.
After a few minutes, the yard stands empty now save for you and Frosty. You walk around to look at him. He is so tall; nearly eight feet high. Standing there you wonder how it’s possible to be back here in the middle of winter. You hear a noise and look up to see the front door opening.
It’s the little girl who you were concerned about the last time you were here. She looks upset and its as if she is looking straight at you. A gust of chilling wind whips past you and knocks the carrot nose from Frosty’s face. Without thinking you reach down to pick up the carrot. The little girl begins to look more distressed with each passing second. As you stand to place the carrot back on the face of the snowman, the ground rumbles as if there is an earthquake. Without warning everything begins to fade around you and the last thing you hear is the little girl yelling as she runs towards you…”Get down!”
You jerk awake to complete silence except for the little girl’s warning in your head. Just as you decide to throw yourself on the ground, you realize your life has just been saved.
The Maple Leaf Girls
The last thing you remember as you dive for the floor is the chaos of other soldiers running for cover. You feel the heat of an explosion that brings the walls of your quarters crashing down over you. A piece of metal slices into you and as you drift closer to unconsciousness, you see the maple leaf floating towards you as it falls free. Reaching out with the last of your remaining strength, you close a hand around the leaf as it flutters down from the wall. Slowly you drift off, silently, into blackness.
“You are hurt,” she whispers. It sounds like a whisper but you aren’t sure. The noise around you is so loud. Again you hear the voice, “You’ll be alright.” Stirring into consciousness, you feel a light tap on your shoulder. You brace yourself as you open your eyes; never knowing what will happen or where you will be since the time you brought back the maple leaf. It seems like it was only yesterday that you made that first trip to Indiana. At least that’s where the little girl told him he was that first time.
No longer are you among the rubble of destruction of war but inside a helicopter flying over a city. But not a city of a warzone. It is somewhere in America once again. You are no longer in your world but in hers. What happened? What happened to me? You look down at yourself but you don’t notice anything wrong. Your head feels a little fuzzy; like your mind is wavering in and out of consciousness. A wave of dizziness and confusion makes thinking difficult.
As you look around the helicopter, you can see the little girl who always seems to notice him. Sitting next her is the girls stepfather. The man helped the children build a large snowman the last time you were transported, somehow, to Indiana.
She is looking right at you now with a sad expression on her face. “I may not see you again,” she tells you. You aren’t sure if you are hearing her correctly. Is she telling you that you’ll never come back? You worry about that. You’ve been starting to look forward to seeing the girls.
The drone of noise from the helicopter was so loud, but her voice was as clear as if she was speaking into your ear as if to tell him a secret. “Why?” you ask her. You don’t want to disappear anymore. It has always been so calm where see is. As minutes fly by, you begin to feel more tired. Your head begins to hurt and your body aches.
“I must have a surgery on my heart and no one thinks I’ll make it. But I’m sure I will.” She gives you a quick smile. “What is your name? I don’t know of any wars going on. Where are you from?”
“My name?” You are much more sluggish now. Breathing is a struggle. You reach up and touch your nametag on your military shirt; every move an effort. He lays one of his ID tags on the seat next to her. It’s something he had been thinking of doing but was sure if he could leave anything behind with her. All he knows is that he was able to bring back a maple leaf with him that first trip here.
“Taggart…” he gasped and then lets out a groan of pain. “It’s Tag for short.” He hopes her heart condition can be fixed with the surgery and wonders why no one believes she’ll make it. He is confused about why she thinks there are no wars but she is young and maybe she isn’t told about those kinds of things. It feels strange that they are having an actual conversation. Each time he’s come to her world, as he calls it, he is able to do more and say more.
“My name is Chris. You have a new scar now on your face. Does it hurt?” she asks him shyly as she draws a line down the right edge of his face with one of her fingers.
Confused, he raises his hand to his face. “I feel so very tired.”
“Tag?” Her voice echoes as she calls to you, reaching for you, while you fade away again.
Organized chaos. Soldiers move around with a purpose; checking the wounded, clearing debris. The wounded that can’t walk are transferred to a place where medical personnel tend to them.
Deep in a fog, you hear people yelling around you. You feel people tugging on you, moving you up and over things; finally being placed on something flat and hard. You hear yourself moan. You reach for your head only to have your arm shoved back down.
You hear people talking around you. One person who is talking says the man knows you. You feel them working on you. They cut your clothes off, insert an IV and you listen to orders being thrown around everywhere. That’s when everything starts to slow down. Someone pries open your hand and finds your maple leaf. You’ve been holding the leaf the whole time since the explosion. Desperately, you reach for it when someone removes it from your hand. Anger and the need to protect that leaf are fierce within you. Even wounded, as you are, that fierceness to keep the leaf safe overcomes the pain you feel. The voice of the man who says he knows you suddenly appears to tell you that your leaf is safe. He will hold on to it for you. He’ll mail it to you wherever you will be.
That leaf is your lifeline. At least that’s how you feel about it. You don’t understand how you have it. It takes you to a place where no one else can go. It’s special.
The next thing you know, you awaken again in an American hospital. You see a woman in nurses scrubs reading and making notes concerning your vital signs she must have just taken. She notices that you are awake and smiles. “You’re finally awake,” the nurse says. “It’s shift change and your new nurse will be here in a minute. When I say new, I mean new. So go easy on her. Will ya?” The nurse gives him a saucy wink and leaves the nurse.
You take the time to look around the room. Everything looks modern here. There is a dull ache in your head and a bandage is wrapped around it and the right side of your face. Outside the room, a woman laughs. It sounds pretty. It is not something you’ve heard in a while. There isn’t much to laugh about in a war zone. Not much to laugh about now either for you while connected to wires and IVs.
You look towards the door as it is gently pushed open. A pretty petite woman walks into your room wearing a smile. Maybe she is the one who was laughing outside the room. She turns to look at you as she begins to say, “ Hi, my name is–.” Her eyes widen as she lets out a gasp of breath.
Chapter 5 is coming when I finish writing it! =o)