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The smoke cleared. A lone soldier walked through the field of the dead clutching at his stomach, his weapon pulled close to his side. It would not be long now, not long until he was home, wrapped in the arms of his wife and daughters.
Seven and five, both with mousey hair, one with blue eyes, and one with green. They took after their mother, both gentle and kind. One was shyer than the other – Olivia. The seven year old, though older did not have the social finesse of her sister. She'd never been one to talk to those she didn't know, letting the other children come to her when she was in the playground at school. She was content as she was, not needing other children to join her in her world; she had quite enough friends there already. His little dreamer, that's what she was.
He smiled, thinking of the stories she would tell him when he got home. He'd missed so much while he was away, he was sure they would both have grown. He looked at the faces below him, most were unrecognisable, he thought of their families as he thought of his own. Did they have daughters, sons? Were they married or just courting? He averted his gaze and sucked in a breath.
Elissa would be so excited to see him. Maybe, she'll have drawn a picture, a painting of the family perhaps. She'd been a scribbler as soon as her fingers could hold a pencil. No paper was left untouched, even in his classics but he didn't mind. Of course, at the time he was upset to find that his expensive leather-bounds had been scrawled all over but when he saw her proud little face grinning up at him, with a gap at the front where a tooth had fallen out the day before, he couldn't be angry.
He'd seen so much anger, so much hate and he was loathe to have been a part of it. All of the fighting and death, and for what? When he had signed up he thought it would be such a brilliant adventure, so full of honour and for such a good cause. What stories he could bring home to his children about how daddy saved the day and everyone lived happily ever after. How wrong he was. There would be so few happy endings, he was lucky; he could go home but what about all the men lying before him? What would happen to them? They stretched as far as the eye could see, lost to the world of the living. He could only imagine where they might have been now.
She'd told him not to go; she didn't care what the other wives would think of her and what the other families would say behind her back. She just wanted him to stay, her love, safe. They'd move away when they had the money, she'd said, to a place where no one knew who they were, where no one would give them shameful looks because he chose his family. He'd wanted to stay, or at least part of him had, but another part, a bigger part, had wanted to protect his family and this was the way he'd chosen to do it.
She cried when he had told her. She begged him not to go. He held her in his arms whispering promises of his return when the war was over. There was no way he wouldn't come back to them, he'd said. She cried in his embrace and for a moment he cried with her. Later he heard her explaining to the girls that he would be going away on a grand quest to save his princesses. In her version, he was a knight and there was a dragon to be slain, else it would come to their castle and take them away and daddy didn't want that. He smiled as he heard the children getting excited about the story – that's what it was to them, just a story.
The day he left, they didn't understand. They couldn't work out why he'd want to leave them. Elissa had cried, gave him a hug and small drawing of herself, she didn't understand war, she had decided in her head that he was going on holiday and that he would bring her presents and maybe there was a dragon.
Olivia stayed quiet, face blank, listening to the mothers and the wives bidding their farewells and talking about what was to come. It was only moments before she understood. In her mind her father wasn't coming home. He was running away and there was nothing she could do about it. He was shocked when she turned away from him, uttering three soft words to try to hide her tears. He never wanted to hear that from either of his daughters, he tried to explain but she wouldn't listen. She wouldn't even look at him.
When he got home he would tell her how sorry he was, he would tell them all how sorry he was and how stupid he had been and how much he loved them and missed them when he was away.
Someone moved up ahead, he hobbled over to him, a young one, eighteen at most. Barely a man. He reached for him with a bloodied hand, his mouth opening and closing but emitting no sound, his eyes looked around frantically, but there was nothing anyone could do to help him live.
Shakily he pulled his pistol from its holster. Finger on the trigger, he shot him. The boy died instantly. He squeezed his eyes shut, tears leaking down his muddy face. A sob pulsed from his body and he shook, he couldn't take it. He'd taken more lives than he could count but none of them had made him feel like this. He knew it was what had to be done; it was for the boy's own good, it would have been much more painful had he just left him.
He looked towards the sky, cursing the God he'd once loved. It was His fault, He'd made it happen! If not for Him then none of this would ever have come to pass, he'd never have had to leave. Maybe, the boy would still have lived, grown up to be a lawyer or a doctor.
He dropped his gun falling to his knees, his hands thrown up to his face as he cried, his faith slipping away as the guilt welled up inside him. He had no idea how long he was there, knelt beside the body of the boy he'd killed. Hours? Days? It was all the same to him. He didn't notice the changes in the world around him he didn't want to.
He couldn't think of home anymore. What would they think if they knew what he'd done? Maybe, there was another alternative. What if the boy didn't need to die? What if he'd killed him when there was hope for him still?
He stared at his now-mangled face, eyes too dry to form tears. Why? Why had he been punished? What did he do to deserve this? Had he revelled too much in the thought of adventure at the coming war? Was it the price for leaving his wife and children even when they had begged him to stay?
He could hear them calling to him now, asking him to come home. Prayers, he supposed. But why should God listen to them now? Why should God let him live?
He couldn't find an answer.
Go or Return to:
- Chimes Portfolio 2
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