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The Binding Flask
Shrill blaring sounds. It never stops. Too many have been lost. Too many sacrificed for a dying cause. The quiet pale man in front of me huddles closer to the fire. We’re lucky to get this much. It’s pitiful really how close we could be to the end. The man shifts closer, his shaking hands held over the flames. I’m tired of this. I’m tired of getting bullets in my back for some s*** war. With every fallen man I feel a part of myself leave my body. The man in front of me looks up from the fire for the first time. His stare is hollow and empty. We both know it. We’re all gonna die.
He reaches a tentative hand in his pocket.
“You want some?”
I blinked. What?
“You want some?”
He then pulls out a small silver flask. Relief instantly floods my aching body.
“Where did you get this?” My hushed voice is heard for the first time in days.
“Saved my last ration from about a week ago. Knew the fighting would give us nothing to eat. Figured I’d down it before the fighting started up again.”
An excitement ran through me like it never had before. This is just what I needed.
He hands the flask to me first. I down half of it on one go. The bitter liquid burns down my throat leaving a pleasant numbness in its wake. I look at him as I hand back the flask.
He downs his share and stares into space. We try not to think about our fate in this hell.
“So what’s your name?” Might as well make friends with the guy before we get our brains blown out.
“Alexander Burr, you?”
“Kristian Dodd, nice to meet you.”
We both quietly, relish the new found silence. Sounds like the fighting stopped again, for now.
“What’s it like at home Alex?” It might seem a bit personal, but I want to forget. I want to forget who I am, the responsibilities I hold. If only for a moment.
“At my house, there are lots of flowers…and sunlight.” He looks content as he says this.
“Are there women at your house? You know cus’ of the flowers.”
“Yeah, my mom and my little sister.”
My curiosity peaks again. I want to know more about this man. While I still can.
“What are they like?”
“Well my mom loves to cook. She’d make the best wurst. But she’d be da**** if you were in her kitchen and got in her way.”
I laughed. Another first in such a long time.
“What about your sister?”
“She’s still very little, but always gets into trouble. I always used to watch her when my mom went out to work. It was a lot of work keeping an eye on her.”
“That sounds real nice.” I meant it too.
He looked back at me almost a bit afraid of what he had to say. “What about you? Who did you leave behind?”
I pause for a moment, trying to remember him. It was hard to think about.
“I have a brother.” I decided slowly. Alex looks at me patiently, giving me all the time in the world. As if it wasn’t numbered.
“He’s almost a man now.” I remembered with a pang of remorse. “I hope I’ve done enough for him.” I really hoped I did. I left home so soon, too soon. I wondered how he would remember me.
“I think he’ll make a fine man,” Alex says; sincerity laced into his voice.
Before I can even get a chance to thank him, it starts again. Men screaming and guns blaring. Alex and I look at each other before scrambling to our posts. It was pure hell. Men were crouched behind sand bags, desperately shooting at an unseen enemy. Cries of pain and vengeance ran through the air. All I could think about as I gripped my gun and shot into the dark mist, was that I hoped my brother would never experience something so terrifying for as long as he lived.
After the blaze, it was discovered that ten of our men had died in the fighting. Eight more were wounded and suffered from extensive bleeding. In all, eighteen casualties. While twenty more were left to pick up the pieces. The fighting had finally ended. The result was another stalemate. Eighteen men suffered, for a worthless cause.
As I left my post, leaving some other poor miserable soul to man my gun in the case of another attack, I scanned the area for Alex. He was sitting exactly where we had been mere hours before, huddled in the corner next to the blackened embers of the dead fire. It had long since run out of life. I shuffled next to him and sat down once more. There was nothing more to say. What could be said? Ten of our own were gone. Ten good men with families back home, their bodies rotting some meters away waiting for military pick up. All for a stalemate, another god da**** stalemate!
My anger clearly showed because Alex shot me a sympathetic look. At least we both felt the same. Miserable. As I suffocated in my own toxic rage, I felt a tentative hand on my back. No words were said, but none were necessary. We could only choke back our grief together and press forward. With one last glance towards my friend, I settled down in the mud and closed my eyes. It was my turn to sleep anyway.
The next morning, the cruel dawn rose once more. Her glowing light slowly roused me from my sleep. The men around me had already begun the day’s chores. Half of them looked significantly tired. They probably weren’t allowed to get any sleep. After my quiet observation, I heaved my tired body out of the dried mud. There was work to be done.
The trench needed extensive repairs. Many sandbags needed to be replaced, food needed to be cooked and a lot of other boring things that needed to be tended to, I was given my assignment and sent on my way. I was to replace all barbed wire on the north side of the trench by o’nine-hundred.
Swell, I thought. I get to cut my fingers open and get sniped. As I quickly tied the cool vicious metal together, I thought about my brother again. My conversation with Alex had reminded me of something very important: Who I was before the war, and who I left behind. I remembered how I treated him before I left. When I was a different man. How I teased him and vexed him about everyday things. Everyday happiness I might never see again.
“Need a hand?” Over my shoulder was Alex smiling down at me.
“Yeah, I can’t stand much more of this on my own.”
Alex placed himself beside me and started the busy task of tying sharp metal together. Always so helpful this one.
“You okay now?” he asked not, looking up from his work.
“Yeah, I didn’t mean to get all emotional or anything. Sorry about that.”
“That’s alright; we all get like that sometimes, especially here.”
“I guess so.”
As we work, I begin to notice two other men talking animatedly near us.
“I can’t f****** wait until the next supply route comes ‘round! I hear that after the supplies are distributed, they might take some of the men out of the front lines. Some of us might even be home soon!”
“There’s no way that’s gonna happen.”
The men turn to me, surprised to have someone listen into their conversation. Alex glances at me warily from the corner of his eye. I start out slowly so they can truly understand, and look them straight in the eyes.
“The only guys that are getting out of here anytime soon, are the ones leaving in a box.” The men look startled and a little offended but I continue anyway. “There’s no use spreading such rumors and raising false hopes. Not in this trench.”
The men glance at each other and say no more.
I glance back at Alex and continue my work. Not too long after, the men are gone leaving just the two of us in the mist. Finally a voice breaks the silence.
“I don’t think you should’ve told them that.”
I stop once more and look back at Alex. His face is serious yet thoughtful.
“Well why not? I don’t want any of those rumors floating around and making everyone think like we’re all gonna make it out of here.”
He takes his time before he continues.
“I just think that maybe they needed that. They needed to think that they’ll survive this. It’s what keeps them going.”
“Just because it helps them doesn’t mean it’s going to help everyone else.”
He sighs warily, and I begin to wonder if I’m that hard to put up with.
“I know that you don’t want anyone to get hurt. God knows that’s the last thing we need.” He looks right at me as he says this. I’ve never met anyone so sincere. “But I think that it’s okay for them to believe that, even if it’s a long shot. I think it’s okay to have a little faith.”
I smile, but cynically so.
“You a religious man, Alex?”
“Isn’t everyone here?”
And I laugh along with him.
A few more days go by relatively slowly. Both sides looked like they had stopped fighting for a while. Everyone seemed to have given up on the idea all together, but they knew that sooner or later, they’d have to fight again. Meanwhile boredom was running rapid. Soldiers had nothing to do with lack of fighting. Chores were finished quickly, making soldiers idle. All there was to do was sit, talk, and try to ignore the mud in your boots. I couldn’t decide what I hated more, the fighting, or waiting for the fighting to start all over again.
The same men from before were talking about the upcoming supply shipment. Apparently the rumors were true. All significantly injured soldiers were being taken out of the front lines and sent back home. This of course caused an uproar in the small trench. All of the injured soldiers looked relieved that they were finally able to get treatment. Some of their wounds had gotten infected, making it extremely painful to carry on daily tasks. Other soldiers were also talking about injuring themselves on purpose if the fighting started again. They figured it was better to deal with a bullet in the arm, rather than in the head.
“Can you believe what some of these guys are planning on doing?” Alex asked me as we ate our supper that night. It was alright, better than most of the crap they had given us. I figured that they saved the best supplies for last before the new shipment arrived.
“Yes I can, most people would be desperate enough to get out of this rat hole.”
“Too bad you meant that literally.” Alex grimaced at the very thought. It was no secret that the trench housed more rats then men.
“I know I hate those little b******s, it’s my personal mission to kill as many rats as possible while in this dump.”
“Let’s do it if we see some, anything to kill time.”
A few hours went by and no sign of any rats. Of course it didn’t help that we didn’t make any effort what so ever to get up and look for them. Both of us were perfectly content with lounging around and not working. By lunch time no rats had been found.
“Hey, I think I see one!” Alex yells catching my attention. I swiftly turn my head into the direction Alex was pointing at. Only a few seconds went by until I realized I had been duped.
“Very mature Alex.” I rolled my eyes with a smirk on my face. Alex looked twice as pleased as I did. A few more minutes rolled by until I spotted some strange movement next to Alex. It was brown, filthy, and fat, probably feasted on the dead men that had been killed a few days before.
“Alex, you’re totally not gonna believe me but there’s a rat right next to your hand.”
He looked at me unimpressed. “You’re full of crap Kristian; I’m not falling for it.”
“Alright, suit yourself.” I was going to enjoy this.
Predictably the rat sensed the food Alex was currently holding in his hand. Its small fuzzy paw made a grab for it inevitably brushing against Alex’s. With a strangled yell he leaped out of the way, startled by the contact. Savoring the moment I swiftly grabbed my knife and plunged it into the rat’s fat body.
Alex looked none so pleased by this outcome.
“That thing could have totally bit me, you know that right?.”
I laughed harder than I have in ages. Befriending Alex, I decided, was the best thing I had ever done in my life.
“Yeah I know.”
“Why you annoying b******!” Even as he said this, he didn’t look too angry. We both laughed loudly, enjoying the moment.
By nightfall calm had settled once more inside the trench. The next supplies shipment was due that night. Most were excited to finally be relieved from this place. Others who knew that they’d be staying for longer were happy to have something to be excited about period. All in all it was a good day. Most men were settled down when it started again. Heavy gunfire was heard, signaling the end of the soothing atmosphere. It was back to war again.
I manned my gun as usual and started shooting. I didn’t know why, but a strange foreboding feeling weighed into my stomach. As I shot into air, probably killing another poor soldier who was just as miserable as I was, I felt it. A sharp burning pain settled itself into my right arm. In shock I dropped my gun and clasped my arm. There was a lot of blood, so much so that I began to feel dizzy. I kneeled over, willing the pain to stop. All of a sudden I felt someone move beside me. They clasped my shoulder tightly and briskly moved me out of the line of fire. Through blurred eyes, I saw him. Of course it was Alex. Who else would give a damn that I had been hit? Maybe it was the blood loss or maybe it was the fighting but I was feeling especially cynical at that moment. Alex quickly took out a knife and ripped open my sleeve. He looked at me before proceeding.
“This is probably going to hurt a lot.”
“Can’t be any worse than it is,” I said trying to feign indifference. He didn’t look very convinced.
“Alright on the count of three, one two…” Then another sharp pain entered my arm. Alex began digging into my arm, trying to pull out the bullet. Finally, after some agonizing precision, it was out. He put the bullet to the side and started cleaning the wound with hot water. Dizzy with pain, I realized how much I owed this man.
“Alright all done, are you okay?” He looked at me concerned. I never felt so blessed.
“Yeah, whatever.” I looked to the side embarrassed.
By nightfall the fighting had finally stopped, but it was inevitably going to begin again in the morning. At night there was an unofficial truce by both sides that no matter what, there was to be no fighting. I lay in pain but not agony, Alex was beside me. That was all the comfort I needed.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” He asked for the sixth time.
“I’m fine, and even if I weren’t there’s nothing I can do about it anyway. We’re at war, people get shot.”
“Well if you say so.”
Through the tense silence, an excited murmur followed.
“It’s finally here!”
“I can finally go home!” Grown men were hysterically crying, happy to be leaving this hell. It didn’t take a genius to figure it out. The supply shipment had finally arrived.
“Well I’ll be d*****, it actually came.”
“Well aren’t you excited?” Alex was certainly excited.
“Yeah, whatever, it’s not like I’m leaving anytime soon.”
Alex looked at me incredulously.
“What the hell are you talking about? You got shot in the freaking’ arm!”
“I doubt that’s getting me out. These people will keep us here for as long as possible.”
He stared off into the distance, a bit of hope in his voice.
“Just have a little faith.”
I didn’t know if I had any more faith in me. Alex and I sat together in silence as we listened to the list of names being called for dispatch. Men cried in happiness as they were released from their prisons. Uncontrollable excitement ran throughout the trench. It was as if someone had released a flock of doves into the sky; their excited chatter the last thing being heard as they soared off into the horizon.
“Kristian Dodd.” An absolute silence settled itself within me.
“Alex, what the-
“I had to tell them. You were hurt.”
“I wasn’t that hurt!”
“Yes you were! And even if you weren’t I’d do it anyway.” He looked at me with those sincere eyes, yet I felt nothing but dread. I didn’t deserve this. It was then I realized what I had to do.
When most people do someone a favor, they expect to get something in return. What I did, I didn’t expecting anything. I knew that Alex was a good man, far too good of a man to be trapped in a hell hole like this. As I approached the commanding officer, a calming peace ran throughout my entire body. This was a far better thing than I have ever done.
“Are you Kristian Dodd?” He asked peering over his paper.
“No, I’m not.” I pointed to Alex. “He is.”
The man looked at Alex and Alex looked at me. We both knew what I had done. Alex quickly ran over to the both of us.
“Sir, whatever he’s saying, he’s lying!”
“No, I’m not. Stop being such a hero. Get in!”
“No, shut up! Sir- he’s!”
“Look.” he said, cutting us both off.
“I don’t care who’s who; you’re both obviously hurt from all the fighting.” He looked at us surveying our appearance. We both realized just how filthy we had been laying in a muddy trench for two weeks.
“Both of you get in the d*** truck before I change my mind.”
We both look at each other not believing our luck. This was just too good to be true.
“Alex, do you still have that flask?” I asked frantically.
“Yeah, why?” Looking at me as if I had gone insane. Maybe it was from all the excitement but I could have cared less.
“Just give me the d*** thing!”
He quickly pulled the flask from his back pocket and handed it to me. I ran as fast as I could to two dejected soldiers sitting by a small fire, their names obviously not been called from the deportation list. I shoved it into the nearest one’s hand and said; “Take it, you’re gonna need it.”
As I ran back to the truck I knew that we’d be okay. There was still a chance that we would be treated and then sent back to the front lines. But as Alex and I sat inside the rumbling truck, I discovered something very important. I learned that life’s not worth living without someone you care about. Everyone needs someone to support them in life, even in war. I felt blessed that God had given me such a good friend just when I needed him. It was just like Alex said: you just gotta have a little faith.