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Life of a Young Soldier

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The sound of the rifle was deafening. I was used to it. Every now and then the startling sound would echo through the trees. Sure I regretted coming here, volunteering; putting my life on the spot. I’m sure that Mom and Maddie were wondering if I was still alive. My only thought then was to protect my country, for it molded me into a man quickly; with Dad dying out on these very fields.

It’s an interesting thing; life is. Never really know what you’ve got until you lose it. Over time, I’ve learned to hold on to my very few belongings that included socks, my army knife, and a photograph of my family back home that was taken many years ago. Now I was eighteen and ready to show my wits. Little Maddie back at home was only nine; and Mom, well after I told her that I was going out to war, her face seemed to age. Her hair lost its sheen and wrinkles seemed to be forming where smooth skin had once been. Though I missed them so, I couldn’t go back now. The only way to go back was to go forwards.

I heard some of the other soldiers talking earlier. They said that we had no chance of defeating the enemy. And that we were all going to die. I couldn’t blame him for thinking so. I had my doubts. With an army of 5,000 against 8,000 men, it was hard to grasp onto hope. Hope, to me, seemed like a four leafed clover; uncommon and hard to find. But then again, General Blake always told us to keep our chins up. I knew that in order to survive, I had to trust him; but at the moment all of my faith had vanished. I had to get some rest now because I fully understood that it would be inevitable later. I lay awake watching the stars move into a new constellation. I watched with wonder as a bright yellow star race across the navy-black sky.

The owls chanted their “hoos” joining the symphonic structure of the chirping crickets. The moon was bright, its light projecting the world below. I’m not sure why, but I felt a sudden sadness. I figured that it was more of self pity. I was laying here with an inescapable root in my back; while Mom and Maddie had a soft straw mattress and down pillows, warmed by the fire in the fireplace. I guess I fell asleep soon after that because I couldn’t remember much of anything else.
The dream that I dreamt was horrific and erroneous in too many ways. I was back at home. Standing in the familiar fields of tall wheat. Whispering in the wind. Whispering to me. I ran through the front door of our small cottage. I yelled for my Mom and Maddie. No answer. I got a gut wrenching feeling, the one where you know that something terrible happened. I ran into the kitchen, no one. I ran into my mother’s bedroom, no one. One last place to look. I walked slowly towards Maddie’s and my room. I dreaded what I would see. I peered into the door traumatized to find Mom and Maddie lying in a pool of their own blood. I hurried to them as fast as I could to be able to kneel by their side. I lifted Maddie from the floor, holding her limp body in my arms. I lay her in her bed and turned to my mother. I picked her up as well. Easily, she seemed hollow. I carried her and put her in her bed. I sat in the hallway which allowed me to see both of the corpses of the ones that I loved. I mourned for their absence. I cried and cried hoping that this wasn’t the fate of the future. I woke then, drenched in tears. Nature’s orchestra had not yet quieted. I lay gasping for air. Panting from the recent events. General Blake stood over me watching my terrified eyes, “What’s wrong with you boy? Why do you think you are here, saving your pride?”
“Just a bad dream. I’m here to fulfill what my father did not. I’m not here to save my pride. I’m here so that I can prove that I’m not too young to do something important. I wanted to make a point.”
He look at me thoughtfully, “How old are you boy?”
“I’m eighteen, turning nineteen next month.” I responded with curiosity.
He seemed to ponder this. I’ve never been this scared to be somewhere but now I was terrified. It wasn’t everyday that the General would just walk up to you. He had to of had a reason. Right now all explanations where out of reach. I didn’t understand why he didn’t say anything more. He just looked over his shoulder and walked away. I was very confused on what had happened. I decided not to go back to sleep because I didn’t want to encounter a similar fate as my last nightmare.
About an hour later a beam of light shined on my face. The sun was waking up to a new day that we would all dread. Today we started marching again. Father into enemy lines. I looked around me to see soldiers getting ready. They loaded their backpacks and filled their canteens. Their packs carried 50lbs solid. Unlike them, I carried a much lighter load, only 25lbs so that I wouldn’t get left behind. I thought about my short conversation with the General. Why was he acting so strange? Was the General watching me this whole time? Checking to make sure that I could do something like this? I didn’t know nor did I care. I knew that General Blake meant well, it’s just that he made me wonder. Wonder about what kind of crazy things were going through his head. I never understood why he would do certain things. Like whenever one of the soldiers or me fell, he would spit in their direction. Like he was embarrassed or ashamed of us. I thought that if I were to do anything as inexcusable as that at home, I’d be severely punished. I never questioned General Blake formally, but that couldn’t stop me from being curious about his questionable behavior. I wondered if I would ever have the guts to confront him personally on how he treated the men who followed him. The men who gave up their lives and put forth their services to back him up. The very men who would have his back through life and death. Shame? Guilt? What made General Blake who he is today? What is the reason that he took on this mighty responsibility if he wasn’t ready to obtain his position? Could he really endanger us by lowering our self esteem and confidence level? I once believed that he was a great man.
Before I joined the army many other young adults, like myself, lined up ready to be picked by our general. My best friend Jared was with me. We both had similar pasts and a similar present. We wanted to continue the trend by having similar futures. It was I who wanted to join the army in the first place.
“Hey,” I quietly whispered to Jared, “Good luck! I hope you get a good general.”
“Thanks man, same. If we get assigned to different bases then stay safe.”
“Thanks.” I was grateful to have a friend like Jared because someone like him is one in a million. There must have been twenty men like me. We all stood tall while we watched the generals walk in with grace. They were given our files and they looked us up and down. One particular general caught my eye, not for his lack of metals or badges but for the fact that he was so young! He could be just a year or two older than I. I wanted him to be my general because I thought that he would have been easier to get along with him, to get on his good side. Than to have to work for it if I had one of the older generals. One by one a general would examine us. Every feature, asking personal questions, and performing other tests. I couldn’t help but smirk when one of the older generals put his hand in Jared’s mouth. He seemed to be making a mental note about every ones reaction. Jared peered at me giving a grimace in disgust. “My general” came over and looked me up and down. He motioned for me to turn around, and I did. He did many tests to observe me and I didn’t falter once. However, I did find it necessary to glance to see how the others were doing. He snapped his fingers and I quickly riveted my attention back to his awaiting stares. As I met his gaze, his tongue made a tsk sound. The next general that looked me down was someone that I would expect to be a general. He looked in the late thirties, he had a strict face, and eyes that looked almost black. I read his name plate and it read, G. Blake.
He told me, “What’s your name boy?”
“Kyle.”
“Well Kyle, I’ve been watching every reaction of yours from every test and I believe that you have potential, and just the right amount. That’s exactly what I’m looking for today. Why do you want to be in the army?”
“Well Sir—“
“Call me General Blake.” He gave me an ordered look as he interrupted me.
“Well, General Blake, I wanted to follow my father’s footstep and make something good of myself in hope of defending and protecting this country.”
“Hmmmm… I like the way you think Kyle. Would you consider joining my army base, because we could use a real young guy like you? We need more energy in our base. I’m afraid the soldiers have just lost their spirits and they could use an extra boost.” He was trying to persuade me.
Although he wasn’t the general that I originally had wanted, he seemed to like me, “Sure General Blake, I’ll join your army but is it a possibility that you could take my friend in as well?”
“Negative. And I’ll tell you why. For two reasons. One, I don’t want any distractions on the battlefield. Two, I think that he’s already been taken by General Francis.
“Who’s General Francis? I asked.
“He’s the real young looking one.” General Blake said warily.
“Oh.” I sighed.
“Sorry boy, but I have rules and I don’t make them just so that they could be broken.” He was unaware of why I was upset. Of course I wanted to be based with Jared, but he was always one step ahead of me. He always got the greater deal. I was upset for myself yet happy for him. In spite of myself, I was happy with General Blake; for he had experience, unlike General Francis. After the “Choosing of Generals”, I walked over to Jared telling him where I was based. He said that he was assigned in a base near the coastal border and I told him that I was in more of a central base. I decided that it was best not to say anything that I was feeling on the inside because I didn’t want to make him worry about me. We needed to realize that this wasn’t going to be easy. We were going out to war.
General Blake came up to me and said, “What are you doing just standing around for, boy? We’ve got to keep marching, daylights wasting!”
I rolled my eyes and exhaled in a mocking tone, “C’mon boy, daylights wasting!” As soon as every soldier in our camp was packed up and ready to go, we were off. I got my pack and followed the soldiers away from camp. I looked up at the sky and saw a militia of black clouds rolling past the mountains and towards camp. Maybe the General didn’t want to get caught in the rain. He probably wanted us to make more progress before the first raindrop touched the blades of grass. The soldiers stood in perfect lines of two, marching. Their boots made a harmonious thud as they trotted through the thick mud. Squishing and squashing, their feet created faultless imprints of where they once stood. Awed, I followed interrupting the patterned footprints. It wasn’t until half an hour of walking, when we all heard the first booming sound wave; thunder. We all ran towards an oak forest seeking shelter from the trees. We didn’t want our equipment or ourselves to get wet. The leaves shielded our eyes from the piercing bullets that shot out of the sky. We all braced ourselves for the next crack of thunder, but I wasn’t ready for the streak of yellow-white terror to form and touch the ground. I shivered in the cold, windy atmosphere while General Blake screamed at us to stay in formation and to be on our guard. We stood with our backs against the trees as we all watched the clouds, terrified. Scared as I was, I knew the worst was still to come. It was certain that I would see no mercy and death. When I was younger, I dreamed that I would be just like my dad; brave, courteous, and mostly kind.
I remember when I was sixteen and my father told me to never be afraid to express myself. To always be myself. He was 6 ft 4 in and he had a deep base voice. If we were to do something bad, his voice would echo through the fields making birds fly away with fright. Besides the deserved punishments that he gave, he was as gentle as could be. He was never afraid to ask or answer any questions that we threw at him.
One day he said, “Kyle, get your sister, we’re going for a ride.” I ran to wake my sister so that my Dad wouldn’t get angry. I pushed her shoulder gently and watched her eyes flutter open. Big and brown, she looked up at me. I could see the confusion in little Maddie’s face. “What’s wrong? Where’s Daddy?” She asked.
“Everything’s fine, we’re going on an adventure.” I replied. She quickly jumped out of bed and put her overalls on over her pajamas. She slipped into her boots and reached for my hands. We grabbed our jackets and ran out the back door. I put her on my shoulders and walked under our apple tree so she could get breakfast. Her outstretched hand curled around a red apple and she eagerly reached up for another. I let her down so her feet touched the ground. She handed the red delicious to me and I gladly took a bite. Life is good; that’s what I thought. We heard the purr of a motor and looked at where the sound was coming from. A brand new Indian Chief Dark Horse drove out from behind the shed. It was pulling a pink wagon. Riding the motorcycle was a man with a black face covering helmet. He parked the bike a few feet away and trudged towards us. He took off his helmet and it was my old man. Our mouths popped open and he smiled. Maddie ran toward him and gave him a hug. My Dad laughed at our puzzled expressions. I knew that we weren’t the richest people that lived in our little town. We had enough money to go by and live happily and comfortably. Where did he get all of this money?
“Both of you sit down.” By the tone in his voice, I knew that it wouldn’t be good news.
“I have accepted the position in the service that has recently opened. I feel that it is my responsibility to help defend my country. They were willing to pay for the supplies that I would need and I took the money. I already had most of the things that I would need so I bought you both a good-bye present. Now Maddie, I don’t want you to be sad.” Her muffled tears and sobs were heart wrenching. I caught one of her tears on my finger and dried her cheeks. I was in shock of my father’s decision. I never expected him to do something this rash. I had to clear my throat several times so that I wouldn’t choke up. That night I cried myself to sleep. I was going to lose my dad…

My shoulder rattled sending a volt of fear through out my body.

“Come on soldier, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover. That storm really set us back” As I nodded I realized that I was finishing what my father, before me, started. He directed me here and he would guide me through battle. His life may have ended, but his spirit would forever thrive within my heart. I marched and marched, keeping my head held high. I had a new motive to keep trudging through knee deep mud. A new motive to survive. General Blake looked ahead and lifted his hand to motion for us to hide. I ducked behind an old oak tree. As I listened, I looked up at the trembling red and orange leaves.

“Pull back! Pull Back!” General Blake was now shouting desperately. Rounds of bullets went off like firecrackers. There were so many. One of the soldiers near me went limp. I watched his knees buckle and he fell. Blood poured from his stomach. I knew that there wasn’t any chance of escaping by running for it. I thought up a plan quickly and decided that it was my best bet. I went over to the lifeless soldier and rolled in his blood, making sure that it was thick enough to be visible on my pale skin. I grabbed his backpack and started climbing the old oak tree. Stepping on the branches that I knew could hold me. I didn’t stop until I was I was completely invisible from my attackers; neatly tucked away behind the leaves. I could see over the hill, unfamiliar men were climbing into a green military truck and…

The sound of the truck woke me up. I looked out the window to see my father stepping into a heavily armed vehicle. I never saw an army truck anywhere besides on TV. I had to say good-bye to him, to tell him that I loved him. I just had to. Quickly, I sat up and got out of bed.

“Uph!” I groaned. Everyday it seemed like I was getting taller and the ceiling got shorter. I rubbed my head, trying to sooth the ache. I slipped into my boots and ran outside. A soldier looked at me with alarm in his eyes and lifted his gun.

“Nooo!” My Dad and I shouted in unison.

“That’s my son.” I heard him say, “I didn’t think that he’d be up this early.” The soldier looked at me and I nodded. He motioned his head signaling me to go to my Dad. I walked cautiously, and flinched when I the silence was broken when I stepped on a twig. My Dad sighed. My panic stricken feeling must have appeared on my face because one of the soldiers busted out laughing as if to ease the tension in the air.

“Dad, why do you have to go? Why now?” I had to stall him, to give him more time to think.

“Well, I figured that instead of just laying around here, I should make something of my life and do something right.” His reason made sense.

“But, but…” I started to come up with some excuse to make him stay, but I knew that I couldn’t. He was right and I had to respect his decision no matter how much I disagreed.

Well Dad, I love you and be careful. I will miss you so much.” I urged him to do what he felt to do by saying that it was okay for him to go. Though in my heart I knew that it was wrong, but I wouldn’t tell him. Although in my head I was screaming, “Dad come back don’t leave!”, but instead I had to make this as less painful as it needed to be. He hugged me and told me that he loved my mother and Maddie very much. He stepped inside the truck and he drove away. I waved goodbye as the tears streamed down my face. I had to blink to clear my eyes…

I had to blink to clear my eyes and my head. I heard voices below me and I looked down to see two strange men talking in a heavy accent.

The first man said, “I didn’t know that we were fighting a group of unskilled armatures! Wait till General Hans hears about this!” I was fuming, we were more than just a group we were an army. I’m sure that if it were possible, steam would be blowing out my ears. Just like the cartoons that I watched so long ago. What I did then was not an action that I could control. I took off my boot and threw it, with as much force as possible, at one of the two men. I hit him directly above the neck knocking him out.

“What the he--…” The other attacker started to say, but he was interrupted by fifty ponds of backpack. I smiled to myself and jumped cautiously from the tree. I checked each of the men. They had, in their pockets and in their packs, a lighter, extra socks, a pocket knife, and some rope. I realized that they would kill me they I woke up. I reacted quickly; using the rope to bound their hands and feet, and I shoved a sock in both of their mouths. I didn’t have the strength to commit murder like some of the other soldiers did. I couldn’t stand the thought of taking someone’s child away from them forever. At least this way, if their colleagues found them, they could go back to their families just as I planned to…

Here, mail traveled slowly so it took me a while for me to get Dad’s first letter. I figured that it would be better to first read it by myself instead of giving it to Mom first. I ripped the letter open, eager to see how he was doing. It read-

Kyle, Maddie, Carolynn:
I have many things to say to all three of you. I guess that I will start with my loving wife. Carolynn, it’s hard to sleep devoid of your goodnight kisses and your bright happy smiles. Waking up to see your big brown eyes. I love you so much and can’t wait to see you again. Maddie, my beautiful little girl. I wish that I could see you, hold your little hand in mine. I with I could hear your voice. I miss your warm hugs; their magical feelings warm my heart. I love you baby girl and I hope to see you soon. Finally the new man of the house, Kyle. I’m hoping that you can find it in your heart to forgive me. I just want you to understand that I had to do what I had to do. I hope that I can count on you to take care of Maddie and your mother. I know that it’s hard to realize, but if I happen to die out here, I want you to finish what I started. Take care of our family and anyone else if you can. I love you; I hope that someday in the future I will see you again.
Forever yours,

Dad, Tom

I knew what he meant when he said that he wanted me to finish what he started. If he died, his dying wish would be me going into the army, taking his place. That’s how I figured it. I decided that’s what he meant…

I decided that I should go to the top of the hill to scope out where I would go. Was anybody else alive? Why did General Blake’s plan fail? I knew that if I stayed here I wouldn’t be safe. I exchanged my withered boots for the pair on one of the men’s feet. They were good and broken in. The leather felt soft. They seemed freshly cleaned. I packed my new belongings into the fifty pound pack. As I started climbing up the hill, I realized why I usually carried twenty five pounds instead of fifty. I struggled up the steep hill, but my motive trudged me on, kept me going. As I approached the top of the hill, I was happy to find the army truck all by itself. I hopped in and looked at the control panel; astounded by all of the lights, buttons and switches. I shifted the gears hoping that I remembered where General Blake told us to go if we ever were separated…

The rain stung unbearably on my skin. I was surprised that the storm had not yet quieted. The branches of the oak trees were shaking violently.

“Men! Stay in formation, don't lose each other! If we ever happen to get separated, any time at all, report back to the base camp. I don’t care if you are the only one there. You will go there and you will wait for more to come, do you hear me?” He yelled these orders with such authority, that it seemed like he knew that something was going to happen.

“Sir, yes, sir!” We all screamed back at him. The sky was starting to lighten up. The clouds were rolling away and the sun was brightening. The new day approached and we were ready. The air was fresh. As we were marching, we approached a hill. General Blake looked ahead and lifted his hand to motion for us to hide…

I put the truck in drive and it rolled forward, I made my way back to camp. I hoped that General Blake made it out of the surprise ambush. The tires stamps tracks into the pliable sludge of Earth. I was very uneasy. Any blow of wind that made leaves rustle made me jump. The aged oak forest was very eerie due to the fact that at any given moment an enemy could leap out of hiding with his gun locked and loaded. A drop of sweat rolled down my face. I drove out of the forest any towards the camp. Over time, I heard many voices and the louder the voices got, the wearier I became. I finally came across the familiar base camp. There weren’t that many soldiers. Where was General Blake? What would we do without him except die? The soldiers looked at me with tear stained faces. My heart broke for them. They must have seen far worse things since I was camouflaged in the tree. They were used to my face. Even if they didn’t know what I was, they had lost all hope and they were filled with sorrow. The sun was setting. Another hard filled day had ended and this one was the worst day yet. Tents were pitched even though we had more than needed. I went inside my own tent. I was confused why everyone was sharing tents. I then realized that they were scared. Scared to be alone knowing that now, the enemy was closer than ever. I doubt that any of us were asleep. They were probably praying or thinking of home; I wasn’t sure, but I that’s what I was doing. Maddie’s birthday was next week. Suddenly, time had caught up with me. She was going to be eleven. I was twenty. Mom. How was she? What were they doing?

It was almost midnight when I heard a wounded voice. I peeked out of my tent and in the dark I saw a familiar face. It was him. General Blake had come back. A glimmer of hope shimmered in my thoughts. My senses returned and I realized that he was hurt. I hurried to his side as he fell into my arms. I could smell a rustic odor and I could feel a wet slime flowing over my arms.

“Help! Quick! I need a medic! General Blake has been shot!” I yelled orders left and right until I got a response. The men ran over with a stretcher and we carefully laid the wounded man onto it. A soldier ran ahead to light the oil lamp in the hospital tent. General Blake’s face was clammy and pale. His hands were cold with the crisp air. His eyes were blood shot. It seemed that it was his stomach was the area in which the bullet had entered. Gunpowder polluted his clothes. I grabbed a wet cloth and applied pressure on his stomach. He winced at the slight force from my hand. How did this happen? He was prepared; he knew that the chance of an ambush was high. General Blake coughed horribly. Our doctor arrived and examined General Blake’s injuries.

“Well the bullet went straight through him. So that’s good news. The thing is, is that he has lost a lot of blood and the abrasion is infected. More bad news is that he is in no condition where he would be able to defend himself.” The doctor gave us the news and our hearts dropped.

“General Blake,” the doctor whispered gently to him, “is there anyone here whom you trust enough to take your place? These soldiers just can’t stay here; almost all of the other bases are abandoned.” My stomach dropped with disappointment. My hopes had risen with General Blake’s return and this news was the downfall. What were we going to do? General Blake’s slowly opened his eyes and looked around the room at all of the dirt and tear stained faces and he sighed. He lifted his trembling hand and raised a finger. Gasps came from everyone in the room, except me. I was dead silent. For General Blake was pointing at me. How could he think that I was ready for something like this? The doctor motioned for everyone to leave the tent. I stayed.

“General Blake,” I started to say, “I… I’m not ready.” I stuttered. Uncertainty crossed my mind as he patted the side of his cot to signal for my to sit.

“Trust me, boy, your ready. All of this time I’ve been watching. Seeing if you had the stature to accomplish such a mighty task. I acted the way I did so no one would know if I was picking a replacement. It may have also seemed like I didn’t care, but I always did. I never doubted anyone; but you, you grabbed my attention ever since I picked you out of that room.” General Blake seemed sincere. I was stunned. I never expected that he actually cared. I guess I was wrong. All along, he’s been the good guy instead of an evil villain. General. Wow. Was I really ready enough to take on something so huge and important?

“General Blake…” I was dazed.

“You are becoming the general of this base whether you like it or not and you are to direct these men to victory. A victory that many will remember, a victory that will go down in history.” He said this with more power than you would have thought possible in his poor condition.

“I just don’t know if I’m ready.” I whispered.

“Kyle, listen, your ready I believe that you are ready and you should too.” He said this in a softer tone. I didn’t say anything more. I just nodded and walked out of the tent. I could see men huddled around each other and they looked at me with such hatred as I emerged from the hospital tent. I ambled towards my tent so I could escape their evil stares. Later that night, the sound of their voices traveled into my tent.

“…I think so too. That boy doesn’t deserve to be a general. He doesn’t even have the right to be here. General Blake was a fool to put the boy in charge. He’s too amateurish.” He sneered and slurred the words together. I carefully peeked out of my tent to see four men sitting around a lit oil lamp. Their faces were illuminated by the yellow glow.

“Why he probably can’t even load his gun without someone having to teach him how to!” The men laughed and his stomach dropped because it was true, he didn’t know how to load or even clean his gun. He looked at their faces. They had large grins stretched across their faces. It was clear that they were intoxicated. Their eyes were sunken in with fatigue. How could they be so cruel? I didn’t do anything to them. It was General Blake who had made them like this, not me.

“That crossed traitor should have picked me for general. I have the best aim and speed!” I heard the men around him murmur in agreement. Tomorrow I would hit them with the hardest challenge that they would ever face. Tomorrow we would start marching again and there would be no stopping until nightfall where we would camp out. The men would be very tired and worn out, but that would show them to disrespect their former and new general. I laid my head in my arms. I fell asleep easily and smiled with my new importance hoping that it made my Dad happy.

I woke up early and refreshed. I stretched my arms and legs as I sat up. While reaching for my pack, I heard a scream followed by a single gunshot. I ran to scene of the disturbance. I saw one of the men from last night laying on the ground, gun in hand. His head was tangled with blood and hair. I sped up to examine his lifeless corpse and everyone stopped to watch. The gunshot entered slightly to the side of his chin. Up and out. This was no hit and run and for that I was relieved; I then realized that this was a suicide. Was it because I was their new leader? Did they all think that they were going to die?

“Everybody listen!” I shouted so that I could get the attention of every man, “This man didn’t have faith in me. He didn’t think that I could protect all of you, but he was wrong. I hope that the rest of will trust me and have faith in me just like you did General Blake. I know that I may not be the most experienced or the wisest. I know that I don’t always do the right thing. I will admit it, I make mistakes. But accepting the opportunity, no the honor, in becoming your general… That wasn’t a mistake. I know for a fact that I did that right. I also know that most of you were bothered when you found out that I was going to be your general and I was too, at first. I now know that I am ready to take on this mighty task in fulfilling my father’s dying wish. I hope that you will follow me with the same respect that you gave to General Blake.” Everybody looked at me wide-eyed. A few of them clapped and one stepped forward.

“I think that I speak for all of us when I say this. This boy is very young and he may be unfit for this position, but how do we know that? We never gave him a chance to prove himself worthy if we turn him down now? This boy has every reason and intention of being here. Just as much as we do and it’s unfair to turn him down now. Especially because he made it this far. I say that we give this boy a chance. All in favor say “I”. Utter silence flooded the camp. I started to turn away, ashamed, but then voices rose up and broke the quietness. “I”. “I”. “I”.

Many more “I”’s emerged from the crowd and I was thrilled. I was finally accepted and I knew that somewhere my father was smiling down upon me; watching with great joy.

“What do you say then men?” I had a great boost of confidence, “Let’s win this war and get back to our families. See their faces again, hear their voices, wipe their tears!”

The men chanted with determination as I told them that we would start marching tomorrow.

“We will take the course towards the coastal boundaries. There we will meet up with General Francis’ base and we will combine forces to drive the Germans back. With the combined power I am almost certain that we will be able to defeat the Germans.” I explained my plan to them. We all got to our tents early because we started walking tomorrow. I rested my head in my arms, eager to sleep. I drifted away into sweet, sweet happiness. This dream had a light, feathery feeling. We had won the war without one single soul lost. My plan had worked out so perfectly that the Germans didn’t even know what was happening. We ran through out the fields, and one by one, each German fell lifeless…
A bright light blinded my opening eyes. All of my gear was packed from the night before; so I grabbed my fifty pound back pack and strutted out of my tent. The soldiers were all huddled next to the hospital tent. What happened to General Blake now? I jogged over to the infirmary to catch a very unpleasant smell. I heard a stomach twisting sound of thick liquids pouring into a hallow plastic bucket. General Blake was sick. In fact, he was severely sick. I took a deep breath, knowing that I wouldn’t get any clean air inside. I walked cautiously feeling my stomach churn inside me. There he was laying on the cot where I left him yesterday. His face was a sickly green color and his forehead was sweaty, his eyes were closed. The doctor came over to me, seeing the concern sprawled across my face.

“Shh, you must be quiet. He’s very weak right now. He has an infection from the contaminated lesion. He took the antibiotics very well. He’s just paying for the missed pain right now.” I nodded reassured. I looked at his face and his eyes opened slightly.

“I know that you’ll steer them right, boy.” He whispered. His normally rough voice was small and weak. He seemed too vulnerable to be the man that I once knew.

“General Blake, I wanted to thank you; for everything.” I was grateful to this man on the cot. He smiled and grunted his throat. His stomach made a gurgle noise and his eyes went wide. The doctor pulled a bucket up to his lips and I closed my eyes. The terrifying noise of his vomit hit me again. The smell violently slapped me in the face. I thought that I was getting used to the smell, but I guess I was wrong. I felt my face redden and I started to think that I would need that bucket.

“Go boy, before I make you sick too.” He wanted me to leave.

“Alright, but I promise that I will see you again.” I vowed this. I knew that my plans to travel to the coastal border would work because the Germans would never expect it. As long as General Francis, the general that I wanted so long ago, recognized us and wouldn’t mistake us for Germans. I walked outside the hospital tent. The clean air stung my nose. The crisp autumn wind flew through the tree branches. I went over to General Blake’s old tent. I knew that it was wrong to be snooping, but I was the new general and I could use all of the help that I could get. A sparkle caught my eye and I looked for the source. On General Blake’s pillow was a brand new, shiny whistle and a small piece of paper. I reached for the whistle and peeked at the paper. It had my name on it, it read.
Dear Kyle,
I hope that you can gain the amount of respect that they’ve given me. This should help get their attention. Power takes great responsibility; don’t take advantage of it.

He knew that I would snoop in his tent. I guess that he planned all of this. I looked around for that could help me. Among the things in his tent besides the whistle; I found a compass and a 22 pistol. Loaded and cleaned; a bag of gunpowder and bullets assisted the gun. As well as, instructions to clean and load them by myself. The note that I found with the gun was:
Dear Kyle,
Be very careful with these. Use them wisely because what you get is what you’ll have. Always keep it pointing downward. Good luck out there, it’s a tough world out there.

I smiled to myself. Having General Blake know that I would soon come to his tent made me realize that I wasn’t alone in this. He really was always on my side. I gathered my new possessions and walked out of his tent. I raised the burnished whistle to my mouth. The shrill of it was somewhat soothing. It made me feel in charge. The men looked at me and started walking towards me. They lined up neatly and I said once again, “Like I said yesterday, we will start traveling towards the coastal border. We will meet up with General Francis’ squad and we’ll over drive the enemy. We will take control of them and we will win this war!”

The men cheered with fortitude as a new thought crossed my mind. I would see someone that would let my guard down. Someone who would distract me on the battle field. A distant memory appeared in my mind. Memorable faces materialized in my head. First, a young general: General Francis. Secondly, someone from my childhood: Jared. I would see Jared and I will have to worry about him not getting hurt. He is like a brother to me and I always had to look out for him. Even when we were kids…

“Slow down Jared! Don’t run so fast!” I yelled. We were on our way to go fishing in the lake by the school house. As we ran, a dusty fog arose, smothering our view of the road. We were almost at the pond when Jared tripped on a protruding root and stumbled into the ice cold water.

“Oww! Kyle, quick come help me! I hurt my arm.” He screamed terrified. I ran towards him as fast as I could and reached for his outstretched hand. I pulled him on to the bank and he started to cry.

“C’mon lets go home. My momma will know what to do. You carry the fishing poles with your good arm and I’ll try and hold you up.” I struggled to carry him. We both were only six and it would take up a lot of time just to get home. My mother was shocked to see two drenched boys, one carrying the other…

The soldiers looked at me with such suspicion that they grunted uncomfortably. As I zoned back in on of the soldiers came walking towards me.

“General Kyle…” he started to say before I interrupted.

“Please call me General Matthews.” I fixed.

“General Matthews then. When are we to leave for General Francis’ base?” He asked.

“Now. Start packing, all of you and we will leave immediately.” I said this with authority and confidence. The soldiers scrambled to get their belongings packed and ready to go. When the sun was at its highest point, we were off. Our boots pressing in the mud made perfect prints of our stances. I hummed the lullaby that my mother sung to me when I was young…

With a voice as smooth as silk she would sing, “Close your eyes go to bed, rest your head now little baby. In the morn’, you’ll open your eyes; and the day will hold a surprise.”

“Momma, how come I got to go to bed now?” I wined.

“So you could grow up to be big and strong. When you’re asleep and you’re dreaming, you start to grow.” She explained.

“Oh, so is that why Pa sleeps a lot, so he could grow big too?” I yawned.

She sighed and said, “Of course. He wants to grow up too.” I yawned again, closed my eyes, curled my hand around hers, and drifted into my dreams…

Gunshots. I motioned for all of the soldiers to hide; we were a good ten miles away from the camp, no way would we make it back even while running. I hid behind the tree closest to the bend in the road. A single soldier came out from the curve. I looked at his uniform and it was far from the one of a German. Then I looked at his face and gasped. I saw my men aim their guns at the recognizable man.

“Hold your fire! Hold your fire!” I ran from my hiding spot and towards the soldier. He lifted his gun and took a look at my face. His weapon dropped into the gravel and he stood there speechless.

He took a step towards me and said, “Kyle? Is that you?” The excitement and confusion spilled across his face.

“Hi Jared.” I smiled.

“Hey.” He said in relief, “So much has happened since…”

“Yeah I know. We can talk about it when we all get back to your base camp.” I was overjoyed to speak. My friend was okay. I was relieved that we would be able to fight together.

“All? There’s only two of us.” He questioned. At that moment, the soldiers emerged from their hiding spots. One by one they sheepishly inched from behind the trees once they were sure that it was safe. Jared led the way back to his camp no one spoke a word to each other the whole way there. When we got there, I saw General Francis. I told Jared that I needed to talk to General Francis as I started to walk away from him.

“General Francis, I’m very sorry for the inconvenience that I have brought upon you. You see, we are from General Blake’s camp. He has been shot and unable to continue in this war; I have been appointed as the new general of our…” I was interrupted.

“Are you kidding me? You, the boy from that stuffy old room, a general? You are inexperienced and you have no right being a general! Although I am younger than most of the generals, I have had training to get to where I am today. And I’ll tell you what, boy, you better wise up or Mother Nature’s going to chew you up and spit you out, do you hear me?” Although his words were a rain on my parade, I couldn’t think like that right now.

“Unless you want to go and talk to General Blake about this, I suggest that we put it to the side for now and just respect his decision because I have an idea, a plan if you will, to win this battle.” I tried to compromise.

“Well let’s get this over with.” He sighed.

I told him my whole plan, “Well I figured that if our squads were to teams up we could drive the Germans towards other bases and we can wipe them out while doing so. I’m pretty sure that it would decrease their numbers much faster.”

He seemed to ponder this and he nodded, “Not a bad plan. Maybe you’re not as useless as I thought you would be General… General…”

“My name is Kyle, but I prefer General Matthews.” I informed him.

“Well, welcome, General Matthews and please let you and your squad feel welcome here and make yourselves at home.” He said. We left each other and I looked for Jared. He was leaning against a tree talking to one of the soldiers from my base. I walked slowly so the I wouldn’t disturb his conversation. When it got there it seemed like his conversation had ended.

“Kyle, I want to talk to you. Follow me.” I followed him to his tent and we went inside.

“What’s up Jared?” I questioned him.

“The other soldier told me something that you may or may not want to tell me yourself.” He knew that I was the new general and he was trying to worm it out of me.

“You know what; I’ll just start from the beginning. We were heading more towards a more central province when we were ambushed. Not many of us made it out, and somehow I survived…” I told him everything from hiding in the tree to the night that I found the wounded General Blake, “He said that I would take his place as general whether I liked it or not.”

“Wow, Kyle, congrats on becoming a general; your Dad would be proud. But I am sorry about the ambush.” I think that he was just telling me things that I wanted to hear because in his eyes, I could tell that he was jealous. Then out of the blue, “Kyle, you do know that the Germans are progressing, don’t you?”

“Of course I do, all the soldiers know. They’re scared that I can’t save them. That’s why we came here.” I was annoyed at the fact that he was testing me.

“Anyway, you’ve all had a long journey and you need your rest.” We fell asleep around six, he let me use his bed and he grabbed an extra blanket and pillow and slept on the floor. In my head I was thinking- Thank God, I finally get to sleep in a bed! The next day while the soldiers were eating breakfast, I went to talk General Francis.

“What are we doing today, General?” I asked.

“Well I sent a telegram last night to all of the other bases telling them what our plan was and they returned a telegram saying that they would help with the plan. Today I figured that we would trace our routes on a map so that we were sure where we were going without having to take anything else that could blow our cover. I nodded and as he explained today’s itinerary.

“Don’t worry about it much; we’ll take care of it after breakfast.” He tried to calm my urgent mood. My nerves were a live wire and if they were touched, someone would get hurt. Like he said, we went over the plan after breakfast. We would start marching, all of us, after lunch so that we could make good timing. As we were walking, we heard a shushing sound. General Francis and I motioned for them to stop. We ran ahead to investigate the noise, the silence was broken when I stepped on a twig and that set it off. An explosion went off in front of us and we dove to the sides. This sound was like nothing that I ever experienced. We lay quiet until the smoke cleared. I looked at my bare arms and they were black, but I wasn’t hurt. I went to see if anyone had gotten hurt. The bomb had completely wiped out the first row of our army. I bowed my head with respect for them. Where was General Francis? Where was Jared? I saw General Francis’ body across the road. I ran over to him and shook his shoulder. He was still breathing and his eyes fluttered open.

“Are you okay?” I asked him?

“As okay as I’ll ever be.” He replied. I helped him to sit up and he coughed.

“I have to find Jared; will you be okay for a few minutes?” I had to look.

“Yeah, go find your friend.” He assured me. I nodded and walked away from him. I searched every face for Jared but I did not find him.

I heard my name but it was barely a whisper, “Kyle, over here.” I ran over to him and helped him sit up.

“Jared are you okay?” He didn’t look good. In fact, he didn’t look good at all.

“Oww, Kyle, I hurt my arm.” I looked for his arm, but it wasn’t there. The only thing there was a severed shoulder. Jared looked at where I was staring at and he started to cry terrified.

“Stay here.” I instructed him. I ran over to General Francis and told the report of the well being of the soldiers.

“General Francis, I have to get Jared to a hospital. You have to continue this, you deserve it.” I was worried about my fried and he wanted his name to be remembered. He looked at me with somber eyes and nodded.

“Soldiers!” I yelled so that everyone could hear me,” General Francis is going to take you and lead you to where our plan had originally directed us to. I will not be going on. I have to take care of family before I finish what I want. There is just one thing that I ask of you. Be careful every single one of you. Send something to let me know how you did. I will see you again, I hope.” I looked at all of the faces of the men and they were sad.
One by one they clapped for me, I went over to pick Jared up and we were walking back the way we had come. Side by side, we went back. I heard General Francis behind me yelling orders to the men. I never looked back. We hobbled like old times back to camp. Jared and I finally made it back to his camp and I took him to the doctor. They said that they could do nothing to help him with his arm except clean it and stitch the opening back together. We spent two months at his base waiting for a message. We finally got one on April 5th. It said that my plan worked and the surviving Germans were retreating back home. That meant that Jared and I got to go home too. We took the first helicopter back to Mississippi. An army truck directed us from there. They dropped us off at our houses. I ran through the front door of our small cottage and there they were. Mom and Maddie were sitting at the kitchen table eating a dinner of Mom’s cabbage soup and bread. When they saw me and I saw them, we started to cry. One by one, they trapped me in a death grip. Their warm faces covered with tears felt weird on my skin, but I liked it. I finally knew that I could take care of them no matter what. They were proud of me no matter what I did and my little family was finally back together.




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