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One More day

I race through the alien forest, slashing through tropical plants and vines. I have no idea if where I am going, only that the lines have been broken.

Our lines broke. Once the lines broke, it was all over—the enemy rushed through our ranks, just like they said it would happen at the academy. They’d hacked and slashed with the bladed ends of their guns, so like the ancient bayonet used in the old wars, but sharper and so much more deadly.
They’d killed my friends, they’d killed us all. They’d gutted a man I’d never even spoke to, gutted him right in front of me and he had looked up with these oddly calm eyes and said, “Say goodbye to her.” I saw the general fall, general Hayley who’d always been so fair and good and they shot him in the arm, I saw him fall. That’s when I ran, I think, but I can’t really remember—I ran when I couldn’t take it anymore, ran when the killing broke me and I couldn’t live to see another man die.

I don’t know how many of us there are left, but I know one thing for sure; the fighting is over. We lost. They won. The war will go on, but they will hunt us down. I know what will happen to us then. We will become lost names, casualties; numbers in a statistic somewhere on an official report. Our wives will be informed that we are missing or captured or dead, and they will weep, and we will be just another number, a number and a name on an official report.
It is a terrible thing to know one’s fate so certainly. I hear soldiers crashing through the brush behind me and take comfort in the fact that what happens here, what happens to us, what happens to our bodies and our souls after the enemy has crushed us, I do not know.
I continue to run. There is nothing else to do. My own weapon is in my hand, a shorter, stubbier version of the enemy’s. I use the blade to clear my way, not caring if I leave a trail. Let them find me, I think, and let them do as they wish. I won’t add my name to their list because I broke my neck on a tree branch.
A clearing appears out of nowhere and I stumble, surprised. Something tackles me from behind; my legs give way, and I topple to the ground. The something flips me over and presses a blade into my neck.
“Roderick?” General Hayley’s shell shocked face comes into focus. I spit out blood and nod. “Roderick! Damn it, you survived! Good, I could use a little help here.” He slides off me and holds out his hand. I take it gratefully.
“So, you up for a little espionage, soldier?” I blink owlishly at him. He’s grinning like a little boy in his first scuffle, all spirit and reckless energy. Just being this close to him seems to renew my own spirit, and I catch myself smiling.
“I…I saw you go down…” the raw emotion in my voice catches me by surprise. He grins at me as if this is no more than a training mission, then rolls up his sleeve to reveal a nasty looking bullet wound. It’s red and oozing; it seems as if he opened it again just recently, probably to get the bullet out.
“What, this little scratch? They gave me this by accident, practically an embarrassment—did hell on the moral, too, but if my speeder hadn’t bucked right then, it would have sailed right over me. He scowled, but then his face brightened again and he slaps me on the back. “So, like I said, soldier! We’ve got work to do; I’ve been leading the enemy’s scout units around in circles for nearly an hour, waiting for something to happen. With your help I think we can start picking them off, but we’ll have to keep our heads down…”
“You really think we’ve got a chance, sir?” my question seems to surprise him. He looks up at me steadily, taking a long look. I know what he sees. Dead eyes, blood soaked uniform in tatters, hands wrapped to keep the gun from burning my hands, bruises where the skin isn’t burned and burns where the skin isn’t bruised…
For a moment, his buoyant confidence vanishes, and all twenty five years of the war seem to crash down on him like a fifty ton cinder block. He sags, and I sag with him because he’s all that’s holding me up.
“No, Roderick,” he says flatly. “We don’t have a chance. Not of winning, if that’s what you meant, and not of living, because even if one of us escapes, we’ll leave our souls on this battle field, you mark my words. It’s better to die here, boy, than watch yourself rot from the inside out back home.” Then he smiles, wide and fearless, but not as cheerful as before. “But in regard to the scout units, my dear lad, we most certainly have a chance of taking one or two dozen with us before they find and gut us, that we do.”
I realize right then that I love him like a father, because seeing him alive has done more for me than any life I might have salvaged from escaping this place.
“Yes sir,” I whisper wholeheartedly. “I’m ready to fight for you, General.”
The sounds of pursuit crash towards us through the trees. I spot a tiny crevice in the roots of a tree; General Hayley is covered in mud, and I assume that crevice is the key to how he “led the scouts in circles” for so many hours until I came along. There’s not enough room for both of us though, so we make the best we can with trees and streambeds.
For a moment they seem to turn away from us. I hold my breath, eyes darting between the General and the leafy foliage that separates us from the clearing…
Then gunfire rings out like, well, there’s nothing really comparable to gunfire except gunfire, and I look around in surprise to see that it is the general who made the shot.
“No sense letting ‘em wander off,” he explains with a wink. I nod, listening in tense silence as our targets babble wildly to each other in their own tongue, then regroup and head straight for our hiding spot.
“They know this jungle better than we do,” I mutter.
“Have faith, boy,” Hayley responds.
I laugh. “In who?”

A party of five enemy units crash into the clearing, all of them armed. The general touches his nose and we split up, crouching low in the dense thicket with our rifles cocked and ready.
I take a moment to observe the men. They are pale skinned, like us, but their eyes are slanted and dark, and their hair a uniform black. The language they speak is undulating and strange, more like the bird calls that echo around us than human tongue. They appear trained; they have spread out, searching methodically through the thicket with practiced movements. One of them passes only a few feet from the general’s former hiding spot. He does not see it, and I grin. My gun is raised; I’ll put a bullet dead center in his back.
Suddenly, for no reason at all, he whirls around one eighty degrees and shoots off a rapid burst in my general direction. I curse and duck, realizing in the split second the sound leaves my mouth that I have given us away. I curse again, just for the pleasure, and ram my weapon straight up. He is already there; the blade slices through his hip joint, and he falls to the ground, howling. I finish his with a quick blow to the head and roll out to help the General.
General Hayley is in a fix. Intending to take advantage of the distraction, he broke cover at the sound of my curse and attracted the east most unit, intending to take him out from behind. But the scout had evaded him, and his comrades, seeing their first friend dispatched, have come to his aid.
I leap into the confusion, punching and kicking. They have him pressed against a natural embankment, and I managed to fight to his side. A moment of brutal fighting passes, and I receive a shallow scratch in my arm. The moment ends, and the three men are dead.
I grimace and clamp my hand over the wound, which is bleeding more than it should. Hayley sucks in air and slaps me on the back.

There is nothing more said as he lifts his gun and fires five thunderous shots into the bodies.

“That’ll keep ‘em coming,” he mutters. I nod and head for the trees.
The second party attacks from behind.
I was right when I said they knew the terrain better than we did: They seem to come out of nowhere. The butt of a rifle hits me in the skull and I slam into the dirt. Then there is a blade at the base of my spine, and I slump, fully expecting to die. There is a dreadful pause; I buck wildly, sending my would be killer flying. As he hits the ground I hear a shot ring out with all the authority of fate itself: the General cries out and there is a muffled thump, followed by a shrill whoop of triumph.
I scramble to my feet, my only prayer that I am not in time to see him fall—again. It is too late when I reach him. I kill the last remaining soldier with a single efficient blow, and then moan in despair at the sound of more feet running, more enemy units coming to investigate the sound.
Hayley is a dead man, shot in the chest. He will last until his blood runs out. I feel oddly detached from what is happening, as though I am not really here; like a man losing a chess game, making his last desperate movements on the board.
Enemy soldiers rush into the clearing, shouting. General Hayley slumps at my feet. I fall to my knees, my heart numb. I must be crying, but I cannot feel the tears.
“Roderick…” his vice is an agonizing whisper.
“Yes sir,” I whisper back. His lips curve in a half smile—even now, half a minute from death, he cannot seem to feel the passions of war.
“Don’t…give up hope…soldier…I’ll see…you soon…” he gasps. An enemy patrol unit glowers down at me, holding a spear—I ignore him, focused only on the man who holds my last piece of humanity in his hands. “Live…to fight…another…day…” I look into his eyes as they dilate—and then he is gone.

I feel the fight slowly seeping out of me, the courage I found in the General’s presence deflating as Hayley’s life blood runs out on my hands. Enemy soldiers surround me, bladed weapons forming a tight circle of razor lined barrels all aimed at my head. One of them, presumably the leader, steps forward, and to my surprise, he speaks in rough, stilted English.

“Surrender!”

I look at him dully, unable to summon the energy for shock. So what if they are capable of civilized tongue? What makes our tongue civilized, anyway?

“Kill me,” I tell him softly.

“Surrender!” he barks again. I shake my head, raising my voice louder.

“Kill me.” The man brandishes his weapon, and his comrades tense for attack. I look into his eyes; they are dead from countless year of war, and yet they burn with a triumphant hatred that comes with sure victory.
“Surrender!” he shouts for the last time. He cannot understand me, I realize, and the knowledge makes me numb. Even so, I think, if I reach for my weapon he will kill me anyway.
For a long moment, I think about my choice. I will die no matter what I do—once and for all, or slowly, from the inside out, until they finally find the mercy to end my days.
I push my useless weapon away and hold my hands above my head. I remember what General Hayley had said about hope.
I will fight another day.



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This article has 6 comments. Post your own!

Strike_Eagle said...
Jan. 25, 2012 at 7:40 pm:
Great story!
 
4qui133 replied...
Jan. 26, 2012 at 11:09 pm :
thanks so much!
 
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ImaginedangerousThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jan. 23, 2012 at 5:30 pm:
Wow. Very powerful. I love the switches between hope and total despair.
 
4qui133 replied...
Jan. 24, 2012 at 7:37 pm :
thank you! My email is acting funny--almost all of the links are turning up blank. i know i commented on almost all your work: if i am not be able to respond to a lot of them, I'm not giving you or anyone else the cold shoulder, okay?
 
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MidnightFireThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. said...
Jul. 11, 2011 at 11:36 am:
Ooo i like :) very good! i always like a character who will try and fight again (:
 
qui133 replied...
Jul. 11, 2011 at 9:24 pm :
thank you so much! it has been ages since anyone commented! this was inspired by when my english class was stufying war...we did a lot of research on vietnam. such a sad war, and yet sad is just an empty adjective, inadeuet...
 
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