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A Man, a Coffin, and a Soldier

A coffin lay with a star-spangled banner draped across it. Wilting flowers adorned a dismal scene—a scene of a coffin, a slain rose, and a lonely man. A story in itself, this coffin’s legacy started in 2100, at the dawn of the century, in the United States of America. This milestone marked the year America finally recognized the lies of the glittering cover that concealed a timeless patriotic pride. Their rude awakening came in the form of a girl—Tara.
“We’ll take a look at your portfolio, and someone will be in contact with you very soon,” an agent smiled a devilish grin he had used many times before as he shook Tara’s hand. In her eyes, her dreams of becoming famous were coming true; in his eyes, he would soon be making millions. Tara flashed an award-winning smile back his way and, with her gorgeous chestnut hair flowing behind her, made her way back to her car.
With a quick face check in the rearview mirror, Tara dropped the top of her car, threw on her sunglasses, and blasted the radio. Could her life be any more perfect? She pulled up slowly to a red light, a young man in a pickup truck beside her admiring her. She flashed him a fake grin and hit the gas as the light turned green, leaving him in the dust. Suddenly static filled the radio until a man’s voice began to speak:
“This is Johnson with the U.S. military. President Jacobs has made the decision to impose--” Tara turned off the radio with disgust. Why should she care what’s going on? Nothing could ruin this day for her! She turned into her neighborhood, pulling up to a horrific scene. Her mother was crying on the sidewalk, the door to the house was flung wide open, and the yard was strewn with papers, pictures, and clothes.
“And you can keep the brat!” Tara had pulled up just in time to hear her father say those words before he slammed the door to his Escalade and tore out of the driveway, narrowly missing Tara’s car. In the next moments, she blacked out.
Tara woke to the sound of her mother making coffee and sobbing quietly. A migraine seemed to be splitting her skull. There was a stabbing pain in her chest—heartbreak. She glanced toward the door, which had been left open and untouched. Tara rolled off the couch, her foot landing on a torn photograph of her father smiling. He really had left. A tear fell on the photo. She stumbled up and stepped to the doorway, using it to support herself as she took in the destroyed yard strewn with her dad’s things. A hand gently touched her shoulder. Tara spun around and buried herself in her mother’s arms.
“I know, honey, I know. He’s gone,” she whispered. “There’s something else we have to talk about.” She took Tara’s hand and led her back to the couch, this time closing the door as they walked away from it. She took a deep breath and explained, “The government has imposed martial law. They are taking control of every household not led by a male. The government will control everything: our money, your schooling, the house… everything.”
“Why?” Tara choked. She remembered the warning she had shut off on the radio.
“We’re falling into another depression. The economy is failing, and the government is going to control every house that doesn’t have a male to provide for them. We have to tell them.”
“No. No, we don’t. I’ll get a job. I’ll take care of you.” Tara burst into tears again. She listened bitterly to the news as they covered the entire scenario over and over again. It was everywhere. There was no escaping it. She had a decision to make. Following the instructions on the television, she addressed a letter to the authorities, typed a letter of recognition that there was indeed a male provider for the household, sealed it with resentment, and sent it. She turned to her mother, who was curled like a frightened child on the couch, grabbed the keys without leaving her gaze, and left. Her decision was made: she would give up everything, her career, her future stardom, and her happiness, to protect her mother from the effects of what her father had done.
The next day, Tara arrived home, finding her mother asleep. She checked the transporter for any letters, and found one from the authorities. Her hand trembled over the back then suddenly ripped it open in one quick motion. Her heart jumped as she read. The listing the government had taken had been a scam. What she held in her hand was an issuing of a military draft. With the depression and weakening of the country came the opportune time for other countries to close in, and they had done so. She crushed the letter in her hand, buried beneath the weight of the decision she had to make. Her mother would surely go to jail if Tara’s lie became known. She refused to let her mother pay for her mistake.
Standing in front of the mirror, Tara wiped away the layers of makeup, fashioned herself in one of her father’s shirts, and finally, sheared her beautiful hair until it was closely fitted to her head. Her fallen hair she tied with a pink ribbon and a letter to her mother. She refused to cry, brushed a lingering kiss on her sleeping mother’s forehead, gripped her draft letter, and left to report for duty.
The entire process was monotonous. She signed in using her father’s name, received her uniform and rifle, and was immediately deployed for emergency debriefing. Within hours she found herself in a creaking van with eleven men, some sad, some angry, all missing loved ones back home. They were being thrust into battle immediately, and Tara had never felt so numb in her life. Now was not a time to be scared. She had a mission, a duty, and an allegiance—not to this government who had threatened to take everything—but to her mother.
Tara’s unit was immediately deployed under Commander Jones into an unidentified area. A sudden explosion brought the unit to their knees. Determination filled Tara’s heart as her unit was ordered to move forward against the enemy. They were surrounded by three different countries. Who was who? It didn’t matter; anyone in a uniform other than hers was a target. Clutching her rifle, she shouldered it for the first time in her life, took aim at a nearby enemy, and fired. The grotesque numbness that filled her caused her to raise her rifle again and fire. She viewed death again and again, her emotions being cast to the side. She was a soldier now, and didn’t view the enemy as another person, but as a traitor to be slaughtered. Once again, she raised her rifle; once again, she fired, and another body dropped to the ground.
“Move! Move! Move!” Orders were being screamed at her, yet everything was a deadly silence. Something to the left caught her eye. A white fluttering object had slipped from a fellow man’s pocket, and Tara bent to pick it up. It was a picture—her picture. A tear slipped down her cheek as she called out,
“Dad?”
Her father turned around and looked at her with shock, barely recognizing his little girl. As if in slow-motion, an enemy crept up behind him, gun poised; Tara abandoned every feeling of resentment against her father—and stepped in the way of the bullet. Coming to his senses, her father pulled the trigger and watched the enemy fall—the enemy that had slain his daughter. And yet, hadn’t he done just that? Tears scarred a soldier’s face as he fell to his knees beside Tara, and cherished one last moment to tell his daughter he loved her.
After the battle was over, one man stood alone by the coffin of his fellow soldier—the soldier who gave him a second chance. An immaculate banner adorned the casket and, with a salute, a father told his daughter one last time that he loved her.



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