NOTES: I need names! Also, I wrote this from my character’s perspective, but if I do another I’ll do it from 3rd person. Also, really hard to remember stuff so there’s some artistic liberty being taken, but if you can remember stuff please give input so I can change it! Once I have character descriptions it’ll be fun to go back and give that part more umph as well :)
Camp was brutal. Later on in my life that particular description would mean something rather troublesome, but survivable. Back then, just as the second world war was crumbling to conclusion and men still wore hats, brutal still meant exactly that. I’d never known anything like it. I had no reference to find solace in, no way of connecting the experience to any facet of a normal life. If I mention torture it may limit the scope of the thing. We were humiliated, twisted, starved, teased and tormented.
I, like the rest of the women, were left naked, constantly exposed and degraded. They did not rape us, they would sooner take on one of the village goats than lower themselves with a prisoner. We weren’t considered human enough to be of interest. Perhaps their distain was a mercy, but it also furthered the feeling of disconnection from humanity. They never touched us, any of us, except to hurt, or maim or kill, and even then it was usually with an instrument of some kind.
We were kept separate from each other as well. It was the isolation that played with my mind more than anything, days upon days alone with my thoughts. And the pit. There was no escaping that abyss. It’s odor, the essence of death left out in the sun to rot, permeated every inch of the camp. It was a catch-all, collecting refuse, shit and bodies in equal measure. Lying on the floor on particularly hot nights, when the smell would crawl out and strangle both prisoners and guards in its embrace, I felt as though I was already at the bottom, sucking in the putrid fluids that pooled there into my lungs.
It was on one of those long nights that the earthquake struck. At first I thought I was dreaming, since reality had become less and less certain as the weeks wore on, and I simply laid there while the building rattled and the ground jumped like a chef tossing a frying pan. Then things were still and in the dim light of the moon I could see my door had broken off one of its hinges and now tilted drunkenly on one frail piece of steel.
I struggled to my feet and shuffled quietly towards the door. Another quake rumbled through and I clutched the door frame for support. The door fell, succumbing to the violent movement, and I stepped into the hall. Another woman stood there, leaning against a wall and looking around as I was. She was shorter than me, a woman of more average height, but the lack of food couldn’t hide the fact that her build was more generous than mine, and in all the places men seemed to think it counted. Our eyes met and, under other circumstances, hers would have seemed foreign and cold to me, but we had suffered in this place long enough that I instead saw a mirror of my own face, haunted and worn.
A noise at the end of the hall startled us both and a ragged man in shackles crawled into view, followed swiftly by one of the guards, who was beating the prisoner about the back and spine with a bit of pipe. I recognized the guard immediately, and from the low growl emitting from the woman near me, I suspected she had as well. Huo Tan, more commonly known as the Dentist, was a sadistic devil who did a botch job of it even on people he wasn’t torturing. I was missing two molars and an eye tooth thanks to his pliers and the very sight of his sickly little face overwhelmed me with such a violence I hardly recognized myself.
A spew of Russian curses sounded next to me and I saw the woman pick up a handful of stones lying along the floor. A whimper carried down to us from the bashed and bleeding prisoner and my eyes met with the woman’s, a silent agreement passing swiftly between us. We turned and began to run towards Huo Tan, rage building in me with every step. He was too engrossed in beating the man to death to notice his own impending doom. I slipped an arm around his neck and pulled back with what was probably the last of my strength, while the Russian woman began to beat him savagely across the chest and gut. Some while later I realized I was no longer restraining Huo, but holding him up. My arm dropped and he fell with it, crumbling to the floor like a puppet with cut strings.
It was only in stripping the dead prisoner and the guard for clothes that we found the keys. Priorities I suppose. I took a pair of ragged shorts and a jacket while the Russian woman took a t-shirt and some khaki pants. It was startling the difference a few pieces of clothing could make. I felt human again, stronger. Well, admittedly, the pistol I’d taken of Huo helped quite a bit. Yelling drifted around the corner from another corridor, a mixture of voices, some crying in pain.
“What should we do?” I asked, holding the keys up. “I mean, should we try to get them out?”
“Why not.” The woman answered, half-smiling as though the whole thing were amusing. She hadn’t had that expression before, maybe finding clothes and killing Huo Tan had restored her as it had me. We walked quietly down the hallway, peering through the bar windows into the holding cells, letting out any living prisoners we found. Most of them were local, supposed political prisoners, but really just ordinary lay folk caught up in a bad time.
“What is that?” The Russian woman pointed a few cells down, where a door was shaking violently, glimpses of a massive body flashing through the bars.
“Maybe we better leave that one alone.” I said, continuing to unlock doors. I opened the cell across from the giant. A tall man, though not unreasonably so, lay still on the floor. At first I thought he might have already died but then he stirred and said something like ‘thank you ma’am’ in a distinctly flat American accent and I moved forward to the next cell. I’d just gotten the next door open when a horrendous screech of metal and wood went off behind me like a gun. I flinched and turned to find the prisoner behind the shaking door had escaped, the remains of said door lying in the hall like ship wreckage. The Yank across the hall from him stood in his door way looking terrified and understandably so. Even in the hallway the giant had to stoop, his head pressing against the ceiling.
“Well, what do we have here?” The Russian woman said, staring up appreciably at the colossus standing between us. Her smile had gone from half to full up and it looked like the giant’s confused expression was very quickly coming around to a similar conclusion. Death camp romance. Go figure.
By that time most of hall was clamoring for me to let them out and in a matter of minutes we we’re all running for the exit at the end of the corridor. I heard the Yank yell for everyone to wait but the crowd was pouring out the door before he could do anything about it. Gunshots rang out like firecrackers, then everything was quiet for a moment. I gripped the gun and forgot to breathe. On the other side of the open door I saw the giant standing with the Russian woman, his hand on her arm. His expression seemed calm, assessing. Military. He was probably an officer of some kind.
The sound of boots, a lot of boots, all running towards us, came from the other end of the building. I suddenly felt dizzy and had to lean back against the wall for support. Across the doorway I saw the giant slump to the ground, his eyes rolling back in his head and his body beginning to shake. The Russian woman clutched her hands to her head, her mouth open in a silent scream of pain. I felt something wet on my feet and looked down to see the Yank heaving up what meager stomach contents he had. The gun fell from my hand and a wave of darkness soaked in knives rolled over me, all the stabbing sensation focused somewhere between my eyes. The last thing I remember was looking out into the prison yard as I fell, over the dead and dying bodies of the other prisoners, to row of soldiers beyond, guns smoking under the moonlight.
A single gunshot woke me. I was lying on the ground. My hands were bound and my feet had been put in leg irons and I could feel something on my face. As I struggled to sit up the smell of sick wafted up. I’d thrown up and they’d let me lay in it until it had dried. I looked around and saw that they had us in a long row, the giant, the Yank, the Russian woman and about fifteen others, a few of whom I recognized.
They were executing us. A woman from the very end of the line was dragged to her feet and forced to the edge of the pit. She’d shared her rice with me once, when no one was looking. A guard pressed a rifle to the back of her head and fired, then shoved her body down the slope as she crumpled. My head pulsed apinfully as the migraine that had knocked me out earlier continued to rage, although it seemed to be quieting.
For a moment I accepted it. Look at us, I thought. No one in line had had an easy time of it. We were bruised, cut, burned, broken and starved, and that was just the superficial stuff. I wasn’t sure I could find who I was again, even I did get out there. The girl who’d grown up on a farm with eight brothers, the woman who’d tried to reinvent herself in London, the spy who’d traveled three continents translating documents and smiling nicely to customs agents. I didn’t know her anymore. Maybe it was better just to pass into the night.
The giant was next in line. They couldn’t push him around so they just prodded him with their rifles. His shoulders were slumped in resignation as he stood.
“Damn it.” I heard the Yank mutter. “I should have stayed in Korea. Still have all my damn teeth.”
The next bit happened fast, so much so that I didn’t register everything at once and had to sort it out later. I heard the soldiers shouting at the giant and I noticed his arms were free. There was gunfire, and more shouting, then several soldiers were on the ground and the giant was running down the line, ripping off chains like they were made out of dry straw. When he got to the Yank there was a loud sound, so loud that for a moment I thought it was the Blitz again, and I was in some basement shelter waiting out the night. Then the Yank was gone and a tower on the far end of the compound was tilting to the side, dust drifting form a hole at the base.
I didn’t have more than a second to notice when the soldier nearest the Russian woman was nearly cut in half, blood flying out of his neck and spattering in all directions. I looked for the woman but she was gone. Then another soldier about twenty feet away slumped to the ground and she was behind him, blood dripping off her hands. At the same time I felt the chains ripped off me from behind, making me gasp in pain. I fell forward on my face, my arms too numb to catch me.
Adrenaline got me to my feet and nothing else. All around the sounds of screaming and dying men sounded out. Someone, something, was moving around the compound so fast I couldn’t see them run. It looked like they were just popping in and out of nowhere. And everywhere they landed soldiers were torn to shreds. I could swear the Yank was flying because it would be a stretch to call it jumping. The giant was impossible to miss. He was covered by at least thirty soldiers like a rugby pile. I saw an arm go flying out from the center and land near a truck.
While all this was happening, probably all of a minute passing, they shot me. I felt the bullets hit my shoulder, ribs and hip. I looked over and saw a group of five soldiers holding rifles, the remains of the execution squad, watching me in horror. It didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would of. I could still breathe. I looked down and saw blood. It didn’t seem like enough. More than anything I was angry. At my feet lay one of the eviscerated soldiers. I took his side arm and emptied it at the men. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Five holes appeared right between their eyes and they fell to the ground almost in unison.
Another bullet hit me and I spun and fired. The gun was empty. The tower nearest me was taking pot shots at us. I screamed at them, throwing the empty gun futilely at the tower while another bullet rammed into my foot. A flash went off, like lightening had hit the yard, and the image of a small, blinding point of light burned itself into my eyes, while the upper part of the tower suddenly exploded in a fury of dust and smoke. I stared at my hand for a moment, unsure if it had been me, then went looking for the nearest available weapon.
It felt like an eternity. If I had to measure the time I stood there, a pile of spent rounds and firearms at my feet, taking down my tormentors one bullet at a time, I would have said it was hours before silence fell. I hadn’t been at the front lines of the war, hadn’t seen any of the really bad stuff first hand, but I would weigh in heavily that the mess we’d made in that camp was a fair representation. There were at least as many body parts as there were bodies. Blood everywhere, and bits covered in blood, no longer identifiable. I tried not to look too closely. Some of the men had been eviscerated, their guts covered in flies and dirt.
Three figures stood out among the rest of the prisoners, covered in viscera. The Yank was floating a few feet above the ground, the sight startling enough it took me a moment to notice he was riddled with bullet holes, or at least, his clothing was. The Russian woman was just barely recognizable, blood dripping from her face and hair, and her fingers looked sharp, like she’d grown claws. There was something off about her eyes as well. The giant was covered in mud and gore but his skin, where it was clean, seemed grey, like stone.
As wrong as it sounds, the first thing we all did was eat, even the three covered in blood. Right after things had calmed down I’d gotten an intense case of hunger cramps and it had nearly brought me to my knees. I never ate so much in my life in one sitting as I did then, four bowls of rice, eight bananas, nine tins of sardines, six apples and a whole chicken I’d found roasting in the mess tent. I wasn’t alone. The giant ate a whole bunch of bananas, and I don’t mean the little bunches they sell at stands, I mean the bunch that comes off the tree, the one the size of a healthy twelve year old.
Eventually we got to more talking and less eating. There were seventeen of us left, eleven were from small villages nearby, two were reporters from Hong Kong, one was a teacher from Shanghai. Only four of us weren’t Chinese and only four of appeared to have gone through some sort of massive biological change. Or miracle. Or curse. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. My dear mother, rest her soul, would have said we’d been made avenging angels, sent to bring justice on the wicked. From what I’d seen we might be demons just as easily. I just hoped it wasn’t permanent. I didn’t like standing out in a crowd and being a woman an inch over six feet was bad enough.
The Yank, who went by [ ], was from somewhere called Iowa, a district in the middle of the United States. He’d stumbled into the industry more than anything and lacked the usual air of a jaded spy. Apparently he’d just been doing articles for the New Yorker in Honk Kong and had felt the call of duty for his country. He seemed surprisingly comfortable with the recent changes, more than I was at any rate. When I asked him what he thought had happened he shrugged and said, ‘Who knows, damn strange times we live in.’
The Russian woman was called [ ], and I was surprised to find out she was only nineteen. A hard life on the eastern edge of Russia had doubled the years she’d lived. There was a knowing attitude in her smile and a callousness in her voice that made me sad. I liked her but I avoided her eyes. They had changed and were now a pure swirl of silver, like they’d been covered in a layer of mercury. Despite the change it wasn’t hard to see the way her gaze drifted frequently to the giant.
[ ] was a military man like I had thought, and formerly a captain in the Marine division of the Pacific theater. A classic Yank, he’d been raised on new money and what he frequently referred to as ‘good old American values’ which seemed to consist of obsessive patriotism and loyalty to colonial car manufacturers. I found him vaguely obnoxious, and the way he went about attacking his food didn’t help. Like a cow at a trough.
It was while we were filling up the corners that a rather surprising thing happened. [ ] started coughing, having taken a dare from [Yank] to try some dangrerous looking peppers, and suddenly there was a literal giant in our midst, the remains of the mess tent roof hanging from his shoulders like a dirty cape. I scrambled off the bench and backed out into the yard faster than I would thought possible, considering I had to jump several other people and four tables to do so. [ ] had vanished and reppeared a safe distance away almost instanty and  was floating about thirty feet up, just aobut even with ’s head.
Unfortunately, or perhaps not so from ’s expression, the remarkable growth spurt did not include any articles of clothing, and we all had alarmingly good view of things from below.  was shouting something but at that size his voice bellowed like rolling thunder and I couldn’t understand much, although his surprise was fairly obvious. Gingerly he stepped out into the yard, mercifully managing not to squash anyone in the process. Something caught his attention and he pointed out over the fence and into the trees, towards the west.  Flew near ’s ear, there was a rumbled response from  then , was flying away, a booming sound echoing behind him like an air carrier.
After a moment  returned to his normal, although still impressive, size and  seemed more than a bit disappointed. I just shook my head and walked over , bringing a sheet from a bunk with me.
“Here.” I said, handing him the large square of fabric. He took it gratefully and wrapped it around his waist. “What happened?”
“There’s a river right next to us, but it looks like it’s running backwards.  said he’d follow it down and see what’s going on.”
 walked over, her tongue flicking in and out almost like a snake. She’d been doing that now and again but I wasn’t sure if she’d noticed. She frowned at me
“I keep smelling the ocean. And why you give him that?” She pointed at the sheet and I shrugged.
“I’m not a fan of nudes, at least in this case, and neither is anyone else. You two can discuss the glory of the human form later,” I said, “Privately, if we’re lucky.”
“We should take one of these trucks.”  said, pointing towards the row of transport vehicles parked near the gates. “Get the hell out of Dodge if you know what I mean.”
 and I both nodded. There was something bothering me as well, something about the river and the sea, currents and tides, but it just hung back in a dark corner and I ignored it for the moment. We began loading up one of the trucks with food, water, medical supplies and anything else that looked useful. I personally stocked the munitions. It was all cheap assembly line stuff and I missed my custom Colt automatic. They’d taken it off me during the raid and it was probably sitting in some little war lords trophy case collecting dust. What I wouldn’t have given to have dad’s gun locker with me. Beautiful pieces, beautiful and dependable.
But one shouldn’t live in regrets. I slung an assault rifle across one shoulder and tightened the belt holster for the service pistol on my hip. A shadow passed overhead and the now familiar rumbling that accompanied [ ] in flight filled the air like a thousand cicadas. It wasn’t so bad when he was holding still but when he took off it was enough to make me cringe. He landed by the truck with a boom and I shook my head to clear the ringing.
“…river is flooding fast. Looks like some more soldiers on their way too, saw some movement on the road. I see you’ve got that pretty much taken care of here though.” “ said, his voice fading back in along with my hearing. The thought I’d had earlier came to fruition and a sudden sense of panic followed it.
“Earthquake. And the river’s flooding. And we’re near the ocean.” I said in English and Mandarin, since we didn’t have one shared language at the moment. “I think we may want to get uphill fast. There might be a tsunami coming.”
“A sue what?”  said, looking confused. Most of the Chinese prisoners knew that word all too well, and began scrambling onto the truck if they weren’t already, yelling for the rest of us to get going.
“It is a big wave and fast. This area seems very flat. It could be bad here.”  said and climbed into the cab. “I agree. Let us go uphill quickly.”
 looked around for a moment then seem to come to a decision that, in retrospect, it would have been nice to have known about ahead of time. I hopped into the back of the truck and assumed the captain planned on driving, since he headed towards the driver’s door, but then the truck gave a metallic shudder and I suddenly felt thirty pounds heavier, as though sitting in an incredibly fast elevator…which wasn’t far from the truth.
Captain America had gone Jolly Green again, but this time holding the rest of us, and the truck, in his arms like a shepherd carrying a stray lamb back to the fold. He then began to run, not walk, not jog, but run, inland towards the hills at full tilt. I cannot begin to describe the terror that trip inspired, and I had just spent the last three months in a Chinese death camp. Most of us threw up. We’d all overeaten, even the ones who hadn’t gotten super powers. After torture and starvation, food is very life affirming. At any rate, I envied , who flew alongside contentedly while the thirty foot naked colonial ran us to safety like a fox before hounds, dodging trees and leaping streams with apparent ease, if not grace and gentility.
After an eternity, also known as less than half an hour, another sound drew near under the steady growl of  flying and the rhythmic thump of ’s footfalls. It was a buzzing, mechanical sound but I just couldn’t place it.
“Incoming!’’  yelled and I heard  from the cab say “Helicopters!”
It seemed, then, that getting out of camp was only the beginning…