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A Craven's Tale

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War is no place for a coward. Do not make the error of associating my presence on the battlefield with an act of bravery. It was neither the desire to fight injustice nor the need to defend innocent lives that had led me to this land of decay. The thirst for acknowledgement, and the title of hero had each grasped one of my hands and guided me to my fate. Propaganda pumped through my veins, filling me with patriotic zeal that often bordered on absurdity. Such irrationality was encouraged during times of international struggle. Defend your country. We want you. It’s time to give back. Honor. Dignity. Pride. The time has come for the young to protect the values of the old. I am seventeen, twenty-eight and all the ages in between; life is surely at my control. Death will not dare to take my soul.


Grey clouds consumed the scenery as my squad hid in the trenches. I like to think that those creases in the earth are the planet offering us cover. Even the earth understood the need for violence. The glory of victory. We were on a mission and our goal would be achieved. I was sure of it, for youth is immortality and we were but children playing the part of men.


Dust danced its way into my facial cavities when my comrades charged. They urged me to follow as adrenaline and foolish rectitude drove them towards their demise. Cowards did not welcome martyrdom; they ran in the opposite direction and my, how I ran.


The thing about fleeing in a state of panic is that you often have no destination. Maybe that is why I headed straight into the midst of an opposing soldier. He was to be thought of as the enemy but how could I conform to this mindset when he had done me no wrong? Face unblemished by age, eyes bright with fear, his entire being focused on me. For a couple of seconds, he considered his options while I watched the innocence slowly melt off his body as it aged prematurely. I bore this splitting image of myself no hatred. He was only doing his duty, defending his country. They needed him. He was giving back. Honor. Dignity. Pride. These were the values he was safeguarding.


The decision to act was plain in his eyes even before I found myself facing the barrel of a rusted gun. Did he not know that cowards also acted if they were cornered? Two shots were fired in the hazy mess of that uncharted land which was both nameless and universal.

One of them missed.


Dead bodies have a way of blaming you, just by existing. Twice I tried to turn away but my feet insisted on returning to this reproachful corpse. The sparse contents of my stomach turned as I glared at the result of a lucky shot. I mumbled an apology. I shook its lifeless hand. I even kissed its pale forehead. None of this assuaged the peculiar feeling in my gut.


Dropping to both knees, I clawed at the dry dirt. It may have taken years, or a couple of hours but I did not stop until I deemed the hole I had created respectable. The corpse thanked me by landing in its resting place rather easily. We shared one final moment. He understood. Dirt filled the shallow hole as the earth offered him one final cover. Before heading back to an unknown future, I patted the soil that concealed the body. A last act of cowardice.



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