* * *
Doctor Stephan Poll woke up from his sleep at the sound of a loud alarm. He got up all of a sudden, hearing the old music playing loudly, and nearly having a heart attack. He clutched his chest, to make sure his heart was still beating. He felt his clothes there. They were moist; his body was covered in sweat. The alarm had thankfully saved him from another nightmare. He had it for that reason. It had been this way for many years.
He slowed his quick, panicked breathing. Beside his bed, on a nightstand, were a pair of headphones. They were also old-fashioned, but by a hundred years. The music, on the other hand, came from a variety of times, from the patriotic themes of World War II to rock music from the 1980s to anime music from the 2020s. Dr. Poll simply liked old stuff. It gave off a nice sense of nostalgia. It was happy and yet sad at the same time, because no one knew of the stuff anymore. In some ways, it represented his own life.
Dr. Poll, as usual, scrambled for his headphones. He’d leave them there intentionally at night for the mornings. The night was always the scariest part of the day.
He put the headphones on. They started playing his playlist of music. He took a deep breath in and forced a smile on his face. He got up and went to a mirror, as per his routine, to make sure it looked genuine enough.
“Alright, Stephan,” he told himself, “Ya’ just gotta keep this up for nine hours. It’ll be over then.” He told himself this almost every day. He could afterward waste some time at home and then sleep. Another day would then be over.
This was what he told himself. But as he went through his professional workday, looking after patients and performing surgeries, time seemed to take forever to move even an inch. It was boredom. Responsibilities gnawed at his brain from the outside, while painful memories did so from the inside. As a result, his every day was torture. His headphones were the only thing keeping him going.
He constantly remembered his past, even if he didn’t want to. The memories forced their way out of the jail cell he kept them in inside his brain (get it?). Every memory remained, clear as day.
He was young when it all started. Perhaps twelve or thirteen. He had been on his way home, in a car. He was outside the city where he lived. He looked out the window, at an image that burned into his mind: A giant mushroom cloud, in the distance, where he was headed towards. It had appeared so suddenly, without any noise, as a giant bright ball of fire at first. Then, the cloud slowly expanded over the entire city. The noise came soon after. It was deafening. Then, there were fires and destruction and burns. His aunt and uncle, who were driving him home, along with everyone around him slowly died. There was no room for hope that his parents had survived, back at home.
Young Poll survived, but with severe radiation poisoning, and all alone. He was in terrible pain, but still alive. He survived for months but with pain. Eventually, it ended. Perhaps it was due to his grandfather, who had also survived nuclear radiation, but something changed in him on a genetic level. Over several years, he discovered that his aging had slowed down. He became a doctor and researched his own body. He found out that he only aged whilst under stress. It was a blessing to him, but over time, it became a curse. He watched everything around him change over time, everything but himself. This caused him great emotional pain. Not knowing how to address it, since no one else could understand, he locked it away in his heart. While he tried to distract himself and keep himself calm, it built up over the years. And now, eighty-five years since that fateful day, it reached a point where it could burst.
Now, on his break, Dr. Poll sat down on the roof of his hospital building. Over the low parapet, he could see the city walls in the distance. Above those walls, was a cloudy sky.
Stephan didn’t know why he still tried to live. He probably didn’t want to grow old and vanish like the countless things around him. But living was too much of a pain. He was cursed. He didn’t know why he did a lot of the things he did. He still needed money to survive, so he used his knowledge to become a doctor. Though, why he was a doctor was ambiguous. It was originally to learn more about himself, but he remained in the profession. Perhaps it was because he wanted to relieve others’ pain, feeling some form of empathy for them. He wished it was for a noble cause like that, for that would make him feel better about his actions in life. But the actions of humans aren’t very easy to understand nor are they intentionally magnanimous.
The doctor was interrupted from his thoughts by the sound of footsteps behind him. Drake had come to the rooftop.
“Hey, Dr. Poll. I just came for a check-up on my arm.”
Poll quickly put on a smile. “Oh, that. Right, ‘ts all fixed now. Ya don’t hafta come here anymore.”
“Nice! I can continue fighting then,” Drake said cheerily.
Dr. Poll thought for a moment. “Drake, can ya sit here, next ta me?”
Drake did so. He noticed some things he hadn’t noticed before. Dr. Poll’s smile looked a bit sad. And every time he sees him, he always has those same old-fashioned headphones on.
“If ya don’t mind me askin’, why’d ya join the Defense Militia?”
Drake had been asked that so many times by now, he had prepared an elaborate response: “I want revenge.”
“Well, there are a bunch of reasons, but the foremost would be to get revenge against the Mayhems for all the terrible things they’ve done. I also don’t want to feel weak anymore, after everything I wasn’t able to do while before them. Lastly, I made a promise to myself, that I would kill every single Mayhem.”
“You’re riskin’ your life for that? Isn’t ‘at an impossible task?”
“It is, but I nevertheless want to dedicate myself towards it, because I don’t want to live like this. I’d rather die trying to improve myself.”
Dr. Poll really couldn’t understand his ideology. It was like the two were polar opposites. “You should jus’ ignore all those feelin’s. If ya keep yaself occupied, you can bury those emotions away. It might not feel nice, but it’ll keep ya alive. That’s what matters.”
Drake shook his head. Yet again, another person tried to advise him against being in the Militia. It was getting annoying. Why did they place so much value in a boring life filled with hardship and no good future like this?
“What’s the point of living, if you’ll be living with all that pain and guilt in you? It’s a horrible lifestyle. We humans have to constantly improve ourselves. If you are following your own advice, let me tell you that it is bad. Rather than bottling your feelings away, face them. It’ll be hard, of course, but you’ll feel a lot better about it in the end.” If Drake hadn’t been that way, he would have died of boredom and stress back in Beil, so he was speaking from experience.
“But what if no one can understand or help ya’?”
“Exactly. No one will help you. It’s something you have to face yourself, like I’m doing with Mayhems and my emotions.”
That was a way of thinking Poll had never thought of before. To confront his memories by himself. He had never asked a person for advice before because it felt useless. He decided that this time, he would try things differently. He would follow Drake’s advice. How else would his situation change, if he remained the same? It hadn’t gotten him anywhere in the eighty years he did so. He had become a doctor and helped others’ pain, but he never really addressed his own. After all, no medicine can cure internal pain.
“Thanks for the advice, Drake. I got a feelin’ that it’ll be helpful.”
“No problem, after what you did for me. I’ll continue to see you, then. Just to talk, not about the arm.”
Although Drake’s advice was interesting, Drake using it for his ‘revenge against Mayhems’ was still dangerous. Poll didn’t want to see Drake hurt. “Keep fightin’ and winnin’, but be careful.” He knew that Drake’s type was sometimes rash. “Don’t jus’ jump inta battle at every chance. Please, think through what you’re doin’.”
“…Okay…?” Drake smiled and left, not understanding yet the useful words of advice given to him.
After Drake left, Dr. Poll looked up once again. The clouds had parted for a clear sky. He smiled, and for the first time in a long time, it was not fake. Thank you, Drake. This may be what I needed. Let’s hope for a good future. One that we’ll work hard towards.