The Picture

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They were only youths - three uninhibited spirits making their ascent up that hill; its deep green glowed a rich blue in the dazzling moonlight. At his right stood snowcapped mountains outstretched for miles. To his left stood a delicate flower, skipping alongside him with surreal grace, seeming to float along cherubic, out of reach except through a pleasurable glance or through her soft singing floating with the flurry of the breeze. All were laughing. How could anyone but smile in laugh in such a place, all emerald and all sapphire and all flowered fields. Out of breath on reaching the summit, still in frantic fits of laughter, the two collapsed side by side to stare up to affable Gemini, its smiles falling down to meet the happy two. Rays of moonlight formed flowing tendrils, gleaming argent and cascading down to fix four enraptured eyes upon them, blessing each in that place of wonder where dead trees bloomed and chaos succumbed to peace. In that serenity, Tamara produced the camera, which forever locked that memory, now held in simple picture frame between a soldier’s trembling fingers. He had kept that picture close ever since that day, producing it often to relive that memory.
He was fully incongruous in the military. Or maybe he deserved to be there; after all, he did present a fresh perspective to the “no guts, no glory” tactics of his peers – those senseless brutes who wished nothing more than to be in the fight, prizing only the ideals of the “good-ole American way” and “killin’ bad guys.” Morgan Reyes was not unpatriotic. I suppose Morgan could be called a hopeless governmental romantic, yearning for a world where an unselfish political system such as Communism could thrive. He effloresced as a blossom on barren land, cursed with a caring, accepting soul; he was not so blindly naïve as to accept that an entire nation of evil could possibly exist. His fellows seemed to believe the contrary, though they themselves killed without purpose, rigorously trained to forget themselves and what may have seemed evil, to become callous devices without moral compunction. In this world, savagery sat enthroned, held high above civility, a problem long ago overcome, but for in the cruel practices of war.
However, it would be inapt to call Morgan foolish. No, his intellect had been thrust forward, to his liking or not, the moment he had been sent away. Just two weeks after that wonderful day on the hill, Morgan’s father had made the decision. “He would not have his son prancing about as some flower-toting hippie,” to speak his own words. In truth, he could not stomach the thought of his son not following in his footsteps, a former military colonel, now with strictly formulated and brutally regimented lifestyle. Morgan’s ideals were viewed as naught but feminine fancies, his father believing even love to be ancillary in any true man. And thus, fragile Morgan spent the next 6 years of his life in military training and various at-home patrol jobs all so his father could boast of Reyes family toughness.
He was this night’s watchman by choice. He relaxed against a large rock formation and stared out into the night. He would have considered running away had abstract senses of duty to his comrades not held him firmly planted against the stone. In addition, fleeing through a nation of individuals who would rather see him shot that living held little appeal. He could cast no rightful blame though, for this senseless slaughter numbered in the thousands over just a few years. Defecting to the opposing army even crossed his mind at times.
Morgan had yet to see war. Direct bloodshed and death had hence been avoided, but such were envisioned, reaching his eyes and ears vividly. He was still fresh to the tidings of war, his heart yet uncorrupt. Morgan’s superb marks in academy alone elevated him to such status, in all his years only fighting against his assignment to the field, vehemently. But requisitions demanded he spend two years in the forefront of things. For six years now, Morgan had avoided war, and tomorrow morning this would all end, with him sent away on a raid of a rural town deemed full of “ruthless terrorists to be exterminated at all costs.” Morgan had never killed a man, nor had he even fired his rifle, but at body-shaped stuffings and bull’s-eyes. The former seemed an unreal possibility. Did he plan then to approach death without struggle? A thousand of these thoughts should have occupied his mind, but not even these vital, convoluted questions crossed his mind in this moment. These reflections on life had been long settled in him.
Solely one memory gained entrance to his mind’s expanse; that was his last truly joyful memory. He sat, leaning comfortably against that thick, enduring stone just outside his tent, underneath a starry sky, just as on that night, picturing Tamara’s dancing, smiling form before him. It is said that one sees his life flash before his eyes in an instant before death, but in Morgan’s case, the phenomena happened only a few hours’ difference and with only one event, that life-defining memory. He now hoped she lay somewhere too, prostrated beneath the diamond sky, now thousands of miles and 7 years ago.
But now the stars above him dimmed. “Those stars would soon traverse the skies to appear for her,” he thought to himself blissfully. In deep meditation, Morgan all but ignored the horrors of the coming day, a brutal soldier on the eve of battle, yet picturing only the lovely dance of his past. Voices began stirring in camp, snapping the young soldier’s mind back to his horrid reality. His resolution remained firm. No matter to what degree, all he could lose was only skin. It was true then that Morgan Reyes more greatly feared murder than death, even under such justifiable context as war, unable to act as reaper to even those that would gladly cheer at seeing him tortured.
Steady footsteps signified the beginning of the march. He had only just awakened from his memories when he suddenly became heavily burdened in thought, the sheer gravity of his situation slowing weighing upon him. His stepping was mechanical, and perfunctorily, he quietly repeated his pledge: to preserve all life but his own. Inner contemplations though, soon took on new direction with a new observation’s surface. Glancing around at the expressions of his comrades, he prepared himself to see stolid, severe demeanor all around, but instead held witness only to furrowed brow and blatant fear. His naivety irritated him. No man wished to be halfway round the world to war, away from loved ones for the sole purpose of taking life Morgan felt as Paul with his sight newly restored, for he had been blind to basic human decency. If he refused to shoot another, not only would some combatant effortlessly gun him down, but all of these fearful men surrounding him would meet a similar end. That horrid analogy of cracking a few eggs to make an omelet flashed through his mind, but now he realized its verisimilitude. General Sherman surely came to a like decision with his march of unthinkable mayhem and destruction, all done to prevent vaster consequences. The simple truth stood that to save lives he would be forced to take some.
The lieutenant requested scouts, an opportunity Morgan quickly took advantage of, to prove to himself his own worth. The scouting party was given specific instructions not to intervene, but only to gather information. His new resolution remained dogged among his thoughts as he crept through the wilting oaks surrounding. Trunks of trees seemed to continue on forever, forming a nearly suffocating enclosure. Yet abundant air filled his lungs. His thoughts remained steady and clear for the first time he had been in the military.
Through the leaves Morgan caught his first glimpse of the town, a poorly thatched roof. Doubts slowly began to inundate him once again, but his resolve remained steadfast. He edged around the final trunk, and made his way towards the old decrepit home. The air’s stillness was disturbed as a door swung open, pounding carelessly against the outside wall; he raised his rifle shoulder-height. He could almost feel the enemy figure coming towards him through that wall. The rifle slowly wavered as he pulled it past his sweat-covered cheek to his half-closed eye, staring down its single, ebon barrel. He would become a killer on this day.
Out in front of the barrel ran a flowing discolored apron, fluttering about like the most beautiful dress. She could not have been over the age of five, slowly twirling as if to delicate music. The barrel lowered. In disbelief, Morgan could only smilingly watch that sweet girl. The horrors of war steadily faded and in the place of that child he saw once again Tamara beside him, atop that hill. But when Tamara’s eyes met his own, so full of purity, a look of terror overtook her features. There was not pure terror though, for a great curiosity existed as well. A new being with unknown intentions had entered into her world, piquing her curiosity. She stood planted. The two only stared in full wonder. Morgan laid down his rifle. He took a cautious step forward, expecting her quick retreat. However, she did not move away; the child instead took a tiny step forward. The girl’s innocence was astounding, identifying Morgan simply as a new playfellow. A tear of shame fell from the young soldier’s face as he imagined that glowing innocence spoiled by this war.
The moment was broken. Sudden gunfire exploded on both sides. The other scouts must have been spotted to cause the commotion. Not quite understanding why, he ran for the girl, who still remained beside her home, took her up in his arms and went and hid behind the house, where a broken window was the only noteworthy feature. Her eyes wide with fright, the girl clutched at Morgan’s uniform as he sat consoling her, remembering the encouraging words Tamara always held to calm him. Morgan knew he had no way of translating these words for her, but he still made the attempt, hoping at least his tone would soothe her. Hugging her close, he spoke soft words to her, receiving no word in reply. In truth, the experience was as calming to the comforter as it was to the comforted. Both sat together in fearful anxiety, but Morgan held his peace; it was unshakable in him. If he could not control his fright, the young child who he protected absolutely could not.



He was surely breaking protocol, trying to calm a “ruthless terrorist,” now, in reality, fully working against his fellows he had sworn to protect. It was clear as day though that his men were in the wrong. There was surely no ruthless hatred imbibed in this young girl; she held enmity towards none. He heard the sound of a cocked rifle. A shard from the broken window cast its dull reflection to him. Without turning to see, he turned to look into those baleful, innocent eyes of Tamara’s, which returned an equal stare. How could he ever have killed another, let alone one with such youthful innocence? All Tamara’s warm qualities were encompassed in that innocence and Morgan was for the last time taken back to that moonlit hill. The sound of the breeze and Tamara’s soft singing returned to his ears, though the girl’s mouth did not move, as he began his descent down that blue glowing hill, turning his head to see above brilliant lunar light, cast down to illuminate his body, solely for him. He freed the girl’s arms from him and smiled inwardly as he watched her clear the hill’s crest, out of sight.





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