Blood Negative

“Huh Skyles? You think you love her? You think you love her!? Are you fuckin kiddin me!? Come on! Do you really think she loves you? Forget her lets go!”
“Jacob, listen very carefully. Put the gun d-down. This isn’t right…”
“This, my friend, is as right as it gets.”
Jacob shot Rebecca once in the chest. She lay there in the corner of the room pressing her hands against her heart as if they were the only thing keeping it from falling out and onto the wooden floor. The straps of her white sundress, now stained with blood, were slipping off her thin, frail frame. Rebecca propped herself up into the far corner of the room. Her lips gave way to an endless waterfall of red silk as they moved to question me. Weakened by the loss of blood, her broken mouth abandoned the hope of speech.
She was my undoing. I couldn’t help but pity her for ever meeting me. Even at this time of great urgency, I couldn’t move. I stood there frozen in the face of mortality. I loved her. That was the truth.
“I l-love you.”
Rebecca fell over, hitting her head against the side of the oak dresser before finally finding the floor. The blood pouring out of her chest now stretched itself across the wood, looking, searching for something, for someone, for me. It wanted to touch me so I could know its warmth before it left forever. Her eyes were now closed but still appeared cross and gave her face the look of uncertainty. A fly flew in through the open window and landed on her chapped, bottom lip. Jacob tossed the gun down on the bed and reached deep into his pocket. The hot steel singed my sheets. He chuckled, lit a cigarette, and sat in the chair across from where I was standing paralyzed.
“Hey, Sky boy. What’s the camera say?”
“Leave me alone,” I lamented.
If she could have held on for just a few more minutes, someone would be up to help her. They had to of heard the blast. No gun goes off around here without them pulling the trigger. I palmed the side of Rebecca’s face; so soft. I grabbed my Nikon D40 from the top drawer and started taking pictures of her. My camera was cold and needed to be cleaned. Four shots were enough. No. One more. Two more. I thought seven would make for a good portfolio. I ran out of film and grabbed my digital camera.
The Chinese peasants I had seen murdered looked no different than Rebecca did just then. Of course, a million killed taken from a population well over a billion isn’t much, right? Life isn’t necessarily valued when it’s in abundance. For them, this was population control more than anything else. Proportionality is never a guideline in war; so why should it be considered in acts of genocide? I’ve developed the opinion that suffering is more tolerable when seen through chinks and gaps. Or at least that was true when it came to my parents.
That night, my mom had come rushing into the master bedroom wearing loosely strapped stilettos, a red dress, and a single pearl earring. She threw herself on top of his brown plastic suitcase just before he had the chance to slam it shut. Dad grabbed the alarm clock, ripped it out of the faded scarlet wall, and took it across her face. It was 5:30 in the morning and the sun continued to hide behind a pale set of hills in the distance. I wondered if they knew I was awake, listening, watching through a crack the ajar door left vacant for my small eyes to see. I wondered if she had packed my Star Wars lunch box yet, or was I gonna get to buy lunch? I wondered. He called her a whore. He called her a prostitute. He called her unfaithful. “Get off Sarah!” he shouted. My mom sobbed uncontrollably. Her words were barely distinguishable. It was as if grief had become her new language. Her sentences streamed together like the saliva connecting her top and over exaggerated bottom lip.
“I’m sorry…I didn’t mean to…he forced me to I swear…don’t leave me like this…what will everyone say…how will I take care of Skyles…I didn’t mean for it to go this far…stop!” She fell to the floor exhausted.
The blood was red lipstick to her mouth. He stormed towards the door, towards me, towards his only son. My thumb was firmly pressed against the inside of my right cheek. He looked at me, then turned back to the room and shouted.
“I bet this isn’t mine anyway. I’m sure Mike can help take care of him. I’m tired of this shit hole. And what kind of wife are you anyway?! When’s the last time you cooked a decent meal? Huh?! When’s the last time you cleaned a dish? You just sit around on your lazy ass all day then go fuck the town while I work two shifts at the yard. I got to start thinkin of me!”
I didn’t cry. I looked at my mom sprawled across the bed aside herself, and hated her.
Past that, I grew-up without much incident and graduated high school normal enough. Against my better judgment, I took the money from my college fund and decided to travel for a year. I wanted to see the world through an eyepiece before starting life. My mom thought photography was a bad career choice, but I never paid her much mind anyway.
In the third month of my visit to China, I caught wind of something that had previously only been whispered between Danish pastries in coffee shops on Wall Street. The Chinese government was in a bind with the summer Olympics just a year away. They needed the games to help boost their economy, but several working class rebellions were distracting attention away from preparation. These uprisings were never more than a few hundred people trying to stir some trouble. The general population didn’t even know it was going on for the most part, and the ones who did didn’t live long enough to tell anybody about it. The Chinese censored their media from reporting on these events, and used them for political gain whenever word did leak out. Ming Xiao Chen, the Chinese Ambassador to the U.S., claimed that these groups were linked to Al Qaeda, and that the revolts were an attempt to frighten the U.S. out of competition. Of course, Americans would rather die for the freedom to run in a circle than let a proclaimed Islamic Jihad get the better of them in a game of hide and seek. The American media had a field day with Chen’s comments and Congress sold the Chinese military some of our best short range missiles, planes, and guns in an act of future alliance and support against terrorism.
I headed to the She Na province in the Gobi desert, not to find a revolution in the making, but a holocaust. The train took me from the airport to within ten miles of the shanty town. I dropped my clothes off at the hotel next to the rail station. It wasn’t bad by most standards; more like an upscale motel which was nice for the area I was in. Except for a few short wick candles, the only light inside came from the sun which already hung directly overhead on a clear, humid day. Supposedly, a thunder storm knocked out the power a few weeks back. In the desert?
All the hotel employees wore a grey v- neck with khaki slacks. They smiled and stammered, “Woom Foah Dirty Wan.” The key was cold and discolored. At first, my room appeared to have nothing. No Gideon Bible, no fluffy pillows, no bathroom, no television. There was a single window, a box frame, an oak dresser and a small family huddled away in a corner. It was as if I had come upon a stray animal. I didn’t call security, or they would have been killed. I didn’t say a word, or they would have run. I just took a picture and filled my camera with stowaways. I raised my finger to my dry, cracked lips and pointed to the room across the hall. It was partly open and seemed just as empty as my room had been before their arrival. A man, woman, and child shuffled their chained feet across the floor past the flat bed with thin green sheets, past me, past my doorway, and into the hall.
I headed out immediately; walking towards the distant sounds of gun shots and screams. It scared me to think that a government could kill so many people just outside the city limits and get away with it. I was sure the She Na citizens lived in silence for fear of their lives. It wasn’t long before I was stopped by armed guards and directed to go back to the hotel. No one was allowed to leave the gates of She Na under orders of General Hu Jintao. I had to find another way. Rebecca was in my way. Walking back to my room, I noticed a fellow American checking in. Her beauty caused me to speak in monosyllables.
“Uh..um, g-good to see a friendly face. Where you styain?” Stupid, stupid!
“Um, here.” She chuckled.
“Yeah. Hey, can I help you with your stuff?”
“Sure! Thanks.”
We got to her room and went on to speak for what seemed like days, but the setting sun reminded us otherwise. She painted, I took pictures, she loved to travel, I hated school, she was lonely, I was there, she liked my eyes, I liked her hair, she liked my dimples, I liked her lips, she recognized my smile, I recognized her laughter, she knew me, I knew her. The hills turned pale and the sun came up to see what its rays had missed. It was at this that I decided to make my descent into the camp under cover of dark, and then wait till light to start taking pictures. Rebecca thought I was dangerous, I thought she was safe. As I headed out that night, she hugged me.
“Be careful,” she said.
“I will.”
The outskirts of She Na had been converted into a concentration camp. From a near hill side, I spent the night. The following morning I spent hours taking rolls, and rolls of rape, drinking, screaming, murder, atrocity. My heart raced faster and faster with every fallen corpse. The camp director figured out every way to kill a man. The army burned them, choked them, made them eat tar, drink piss (or the local water, I couldn’t tell). They gave evil a face. It didn’t matter how many people I saw killed, it remained new and fresh every time. One man’s death was particularly memorable. I recount it was the first time I saw the military take pleasure in what they were doing. A Chinese officer raised his knife to a peasant’s throat in the middle of a dry patch of land. The soldiers under his command formed a circle around the two of them, but faced outward as if to ignore their leader’s misconduct. The officer moved the flat side of the blade back and forth across his victim’s skin. Slowly. So sure of himself. The camera began to feel heavy after such a long day, but I couldn’t put it down. Without the focus, I wouldn’t be able to see. Without the camera, I would have lost my stomach. The officer cut the man sharply, rolled down his sleeves, lit a cigar, then went in his tent for supper. Never have I felt so alive. The peasant didn’t die immediately. He laid there for a few moments before beginning to twitch. The guards watching him laughed and mimicked his motion as it resembled that of a headless chicken. His blood looked black against the desert sand. It took six minutes.
The next day, I left the hotel at dawn and hurried to the airport for the next flight out of the country. Rebecca couldn’t know. That would put her in danger. She just needed to continue painting the pale view of hills she loved so much. I knew that the pictures I took were gold. That’s probably why they wouldn’t let me leave.
“What do you mean all flights have been grounded?!”
“I am sorry Mr. Jordan but until this storm passes, no plane is taking off .”
“What? The sky is clear! We’re in a desert dam it!”
It was useless. Watching the televisions lined up on the wall of the terminal, you would have thought life was scampering on just as normal. Granted, I couldn’t understand the streams of characters running across the bottom of the screen, but I knew that a video of a four year old girl completing a Rubik’s cube in under a minute could not possibly keep a jet airliner stuck in the middle of the desert. If this were an American airport, I would know what was going on; someone would know what was going on. If I were in America, I would know the truth. I would know if people were being murdered in the Nevada desert. As I walked toward the exit, I heard the screech of wet shoes on the floor as people entered the airport. The sky was clear. There shoes were wet. The sky is never clear. The shoes are never dry.
I trudged back to the hotel, this time with more care of my actions. No longer was I just a tourist. I was an American with two bags of camera equipment, a reservation at a hotel ten miles away from the greatest holocaust since Rwanda, and a documented attempt at leaving the country before the date printed on my airline return ticket. I was marked.
The hotel manager gave me the same key, same room, same view of dirt and mountains. No clouds, just sun. I lay prone on my bed with Rebecca across my back. The sheets smelled of smoke and alcohol. She smelled of home. I sat there thinking. How was I going to get out of the country? How was I going to get home? What happened to the people in my room? What will America think of my pictures? Will America consider the magnitude of the photographs? Wait. What happened to the people in my room? Rebecca fell asleep on my bed soon after I got up to look out the window. I turned and headed for the doorway.
Slowly, I cracked my door and peered across the hall. Maybe, I thought, I could get their story. Maybe, I could find out more. I flipped through my Chinese pamphlet of common phrases and quickly tried to memorize them. I went out into the hall and approached the room. I figured knocking was an American custom and courtesy they wouldn’t recognize, so I just pushed open the door.
He didn’t look surprised to see me at all.
“Can I help you with something?”
“Sorry, I thought someone else was in this room. I didn’t mean to intrude.”
“But yes you did. I think they still knock in China.” He was right, they do.
He continued, “No worries pal. Just giving you a hard time. Who were you looking for?”
“A Chinese family.”
“You mean the one chained together at the ankles?” He gave the smile a child gives when stealing a cookie.
“Yeah!”
“Turned them in last night. Got paid pretty well for it too.”
I tried not to look too concerned. After all, under different circumstances, I would have done the same thing.
“So what’s your story?” he continued, “You look kind of young to be out here all alone.”
“Oh, umm, my name is Skyles. Skyles Jordan. I’m just traveling a bit before I start school. You?”
“Why She Na of all places? I would have picked, shit, I don’t know, somewhere where it wasn’t so god damn hot.”
“Funny, but I bet you wouldn’t be saying that if you knew what was going on just through that mountain pass. I’m sure you wouldn’t think this place as dull. But what brings you here?”
“If you got something to say, say it. What’s going on through the pass?”
“I think you know. Like you said, who would pick to come here of all places?”
He grinned. I felt clever. He tossed me his business card.
“I’m a reporter,” he said.
And that’s how I met,
“Jacob Woodward?”
“Yep. Flew in a few days ago right after…” He paused to pull out a cigarette, “you got a light? Thanks. Right after I heard about Al Qaeda setting up a cell around here.”
He blew out a long stem of smoke before continuing.
“You see Sky boy, I’m a man after the truth, and I’m a man after setting people free.” He accentuated the last half of his statement as if to quote some nationalist text we were all supposed to have read in grade school.
“What do you plan to do? I mean, Al Qaeda probably doesn’t want to hear your truth”
“Come on. You and I both know that this isn’t about a terrorist group. I am here to gather material for my readers. I’m here to see what everyone back home talks about but is too goddamn scared to confront. Shit. I want to see me some Genocide. Isn’t that why you’re here Sky boy?”
“I’m here to help people.”
I tried to state this as relaxed as possible, but still sounded over zealous.
“By doing what?”
“By taking pictures. By allowing the American public to see some…”
“Americans don’t care about China. To the average person, China is just a communist nation we’ve yet to blow up. We just want some gold medals and a dead terrorist or two. That’s all….”
I didn’t know how to respond. In many ways, he was right. How many times did I sit at home on my couch, watch The Bosnian War, a history channel special, then nuke a hot pocket for lunch? He started again.
“Listen. Without pain, without sacrifice, we wouldn’t feel like we were ahead of the game, and that’s all we want; to feel as if our lives with our stuff mean something. And it only means something if someone else doesn’t have it…”
Jacob had Americans pinned.
He continued, “It’s only when we realize that life, simply breathing without constriction, is the best thing we as humans got going for us, is when we’ll understand what freedom really is.”
“Well, how do you do that? How do you make people value something that they’re born with?”
“You take it away from someone else.”
I thought of the feeling I had taking pictures of the guards murdering the peasants. I told him about the death camp, he told me about his opinion of America, I showed him photographs, he showed me articles he published, I showed him my head, he showed me scars, I told him about Rebecca, he told me about me. Either Jacob was my bad dream or I was his, but regardless, I took him to the camp that night.
“Over there,” I explained, “is where they bury them. And there, to the left next to the dark brown tent, is where that officer I told you about lives.”
In between my sentences, Jacob wrote furiously in a small, red notebook. I tried to read what he was writing down, but he made sure to keep his words hidden. “Right there,” I continued, “is where the rest of the prisoners live. They’re fed once a day, right at dawn. Then, a few hundred are chosen for torture.”
He and I sat there and saw a little girl and her mom buried alive. The father was forced to watch the guard detail throw shovel after shovel of sand and dirt over their bodies. The man sobbed. His lips were like the cracked desert surface with streams of drool and snot flowing in between. He would have given his life for them, or at least that’s what my camera said.
Over the course of a month, Jacob wrote, Rebecca painted, and I took pictures
tirelessly. At the rate we were going, it wasn’t long before he ran out of paper, she out of mountains, and I out of film.
“What now?” I asked Rebecca.
“I want to spend more time with you,” she said.
“What now?” I asked Jacob.
“Well, what do you think we should do Sky boy?”
“I say we take the train to Beijing and try the U.S. embassy?”
“That’s an expensive ticket, but I bet we could get the money.”
“How?”
Jacob pulled out a gun from his travel bag.
“Where did you get that?!”
“I found it in the camp.”
“When did you go down to the camp!?”
“Yesterday, while you were asleep. I say we go down there, hold up that officer, then break for Beijing before he can call for back up.”
“What about Rebecca?”
“Leave her. She’s good for fuckin but not much more.”
“Wait, I…I think I love her.”
“Don’t be stupid Sky boy. Love weakens the mind. You’re too smart for that. Besides, she’ll slow us down. So. Let’s go to the camp, get the money, then break out of here.”
“This doesn’t sound well thought out.”
“Stop over thinking things Sky boy. We’ll be stateside enjoying the lies of an American dream before you know it, ‘biggie sized’!”
“Fine.”
We headed toward the camp and down the hill under the cloak of night. As we approached the officer’s illuminated tent, we heard the sound of a cello. I looked inside through a corner of the tent. The officer was plunging into a female prisoner while Bach blared on a 1920’s record player. He made me sick. I took the gun from Jacob and went into the tent. The inside was lined with sheets of red silk, and all around were statues and art work (probably stolen from the She Na temple). His bed was wrapped with a nylon veil. The girl looked no older than fifteen. I took the butt of the gun and hit him in the back of his head. If Chuck Norris did this, he probably would’ve been knocked out, but in my case, it just let him know where to place his elbow. I grabbed my jaw as he threw the girl off the bed and reached for his pistol. I ran to grab it first, but tripped on a silk cord. I got to my feet as fast as I could and pointed my gun at his large Buddha like figure. Naked, he stood there pointing a pistol right back. What thoughts had gotten me to this place? I yelled for Jacob, but the music was too loud. I dropped to my knees right as he shot. A bullet skinned my cheek and lip. I shot him twice; once in each leg. The girl started screaming. I motioned for her to leave, and she ran for the hill we came from. I ran out and grabbed Jacob before going through the officer’s pockets.
“Grab him too.” Jacob said.
“No! We got to get out of here before someone finds us.”
“Grab him!”
“No! There’s no way we’re carrying him four miles. We have the money, now let’s go.”
“Do you have your camera?”
“Yeah, but now isn’t the time.” Jacob took the gun and headed over to the man. He spoke perfect Chinese. He later told me that he studied in the morning while I slept.
“Why?!” Jacob yelled. The man replied with tears.“Why!? Why spend your life taking life.”
The officer replied in broken syllables. “I h-have no choice. This-s-s is all I know.” Jacob put the gun to his head and burned a ring into his temple.
“Know something else, or I guarantee you this, you will know death.”
Jacob turned off the music, hit him with the butt of the pistol, this time knocking him unconscious, and yelled for a “medic!”
“Are you crazy!? What are you yelling? We got to get out of here.”
“Take his picture Skyles.”
“What?”
“Let go and do. See what the end of life looks like close up.”
With no time to argue, I pulled my camera out and headed over to the man. He was totally exposed. Every roll of fat, every birthmark, every pimple. His blood was leaking onto the Persian rug like a broken faucet. My camera knew him; then we left.
I began to tongue the gun shot wound on my top lip. It wasn’t too bad. We started out for the hotel before sun up.
“I don’t know anymore Jacob. I mean, about taking pictures of these things. I feel like I’m disrespecting the dead or something.”
“But some of them are still alive.”
“You can’t survive decapitation.”
“True, but if they were alive, the only mouth they’d have to speak with would be your camera. Its lenses are their ready lips.”
“I don’t know…”
“What do you know about photo negatives Sky boy?”
“Quite a bit. Why?”
“Tell me about them.”
“Well. It’s like a tonal inversion of a picture. It’s what you see on a strip of film before you develop it.”
“Tonal inversion?”
“Basically, the darker colors of the actual picture become light and vice versa.”
“Seems only appropriate then.”
“Why?”
“Well that’s all you’re doing Sky boy. Taking some negatives and covering them in blood.”
“What?”
“The truth is like a small dark gun shot on a child’s forehead. The truth is a small pool of sand stained blood. When you publish these photographs, it will be like taking the negatives of it all. No one will be able to help but see the child’s wound as a bright dot against dark skin.”
We got back to the hotel a little after sunrise. Rebecca was still awake, waiting for me.
“How’d it go, did you guys get the money.”
“Yeah, I think Jacob grabbed some off the desk before we left.”
“Why have I never seen Jacob? We’ve been here a month and you’d think he’d want to meet the girl your dating.”
Silence hung like an awkwardly titled picture frame on a wall in the room.
“Yeah, well I don’t think we got enough to buy three train tickets so we may have to go back.”
She began rubbing my back and gave me a soft kiss. At that moment, I
knew I did love her no matter what Jacob said. I heard a knock on the door, and quickly put my pants on as Rebecca sighed in impatience. I cracked the door and whispered to Jacob, “Now’s not the time man, I’m a little busy if you know what I mean.”
“We have to leave now! There search parties everywhere looking for us. The army will be in town soon. Grab your stuff…
“But we don’t have enough money to get Rebecca a ticket yet. I’m not gonna leave her.”
Jacob forced his way in the room.
“Is that a gun!” I yelled.
“Stop it!” She screamed.
“We’re leaving and if she’s holding us back then I’ll make sure she’s no longer an issue”
“Put the gun down Jacob!”
“Huh Skyles? You think you love her? You think you love her!? Are you fuckin kiddin me!? Come on! Do you really think she loves you? Forget her lets go!”
“Jacob, listen very carefully. Put the gun d-down. This isn’t right…”
“This, my friend, is as right as it gets.”
Jacob shot Rebecca once in the chest.
“Get your stuff and let’s go!”
I looked over at her.
“I l-love you Rebecca…do, do you love me?”
“Hey, Sky boy! What’s the camera say?”
“Leave me alone!” I yelled.
I took pictures of her. Out of film. I dropped two batteries into my digital camera. I grabbed the gun.
“Whoa there Sky boy! Who the fuck do you think you are. Put the gun down!”
“No Jacob. You’re wrong! Your f-fucking wrong.”
“You can’t shoot me kid. It aint in ya.”
I remembered the officer, the poise he had. I remembered how he made murder look so simple. I didn’t want Jacob to know life anymore. He took something that once made life worth living for.
“Leave!” I shouted.
“I ain’t going nowhere without you. You should have figured that out by now.”
“What?”
“Shoot me! I dare ya.”
“No!”
I cried with the gun still pointing at him in my right hand and the camera in my left.
“Shoot me!”
“No!”
“Shoot…!”
I pulled three times and took a picture before falling to the ground. Blood was
pouring out of my body onto the cool wood floor. I lay there on my back, helpless. I turned my head left and saw the camera. The screen showed the picture of an empty chair. Jacob wasn’t there. Jacob was never there. My head rolled to the side again. I looked under the door and saw shadows walking by. I moaned. They stopped.

Blood Negative

Conzrtmaster

Charlottesville, United States

  • Artist
    Notes

Artist's Description

I know it’s long, but I really want it to be read by a larger audience. This was my final exam for a short fiction class. I got an A. I attend a prestigious University if that’ll make you want to read it (although by saying this, I undoubtedly call for harsh criticism). I’ll take the good with the bad I suppose.

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