My mind flashed to images of ape men ripping people apart. I remembered grabbing my boyfriend and pulling him back, then suddenly hearing Stacy’s voice, “Stop! You’re hurting me!”
My therapist says the PTSD hadn’t fully sunk into me at that point, that I hadn’t been away from battle long enough to truly show symptoms – but I had been scared.
I shook my head and let Stacy go. “What is that thing?!”
“Dani! My friend. She’s a spider girl, and like really good at basketball.”
I rubbed my eyes. The spider waved a small American flag. Stacy admitted that this was a monster, a real monster. “What…does it talk?”
The spider’s lips upturned, its fangs and feelers wiggling in a strange, happy manner. “Of course I do! I’m a spider girl, duh.” She stood up on her rear sets of legs and waved her arms. “Thank you for your service!”
I knew what she was. I didn’t have to wait any longer to understand what I was seeing. An American Chimera, something even more frightening and advanced than the ape men unleashed by the North Koreans. I laughed – couldn’t control myself, couldn’t stop – and dropped the duffle I carried. Everything I fought for, suffered for, wished I had died for, was useless. They’d made me fight to destroy an army that lived and died entirely in pain, made me fight so a treaty would be signed.
And they’d already broken the treaty.
Fuck them. Fuck them to death.
Dani and Stacy ran up to me and held me from the ground as I laughed. “Antigen, what’s wrong?” Stacy asked. It wasn’t long before Victoria tried picking me up, but I didn’t stop laughing.
“I can’t believe it,” I said, “It was all for nothing. I accomplished nothing.”
Victoria grabbed my upper arm more tightly. “What? You kept us safe. You are a hero, Jen.” She ushered me towards the car, away from the fragile ears of the children. “Those two girls are very proud of you and your accomplishments.”
“One of them is a chimera,” I said. “The world can’t take another war like that, especially not with the US as the defenders.”
“How do you know she’s a chimera, hm? You fought nothing like her, and she’s a sweet girl, anyway.”
“Chinese won’t care. Russians won’t care. Hell, even the goddamn Limeys won’t care. We’re dead, just fucking dead!”
“Jen, please! The children!”
I pushed her off me. “WIll it matter if they’re all just destined to die?” I huffed, breath heaving up and down in my chest. “I fought against an atrocity in a foreign war only to come back and find out that we did the same damn thing I fought to stop.” I opened the car door and got in. “Nothing matters, Vic.”
Victoria’s brows furrowed, and she formed tight fists. “I understand things have been hard for you, so I’m going to just let that go and tell you to get in the car. Mom and Dad will want to talk with you, and I’ll bring Dani and Stacy along with me and Jim.” She opened the door and showed me a hand in. “Get in. I expected more of you – I expected someone who’s been to war to appreciate being greeted by her fellow Americans, even if they do look like spiders.”
“You speak as if she’s human.”
“She’s Stacy’s friend. And I’m sorry if she’s bringing up memories of the war, or if she’s making your sacrifice feel empty, but Jen – oh, Jen, she’s a little girl, and she just wanted to welcome you home.”
“Tch,” I snarled. “Kids get whatever they want because their useless parents defend them. I hate that about children.”