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It is a dark night. Stars are sprinkled in the sky like keychain disco-balls. You follow a winding mountain path down into a rocky valley. Tangled weeds reach out to grip your feet, the danger of falling very real.
You walk faster as you see the far off flashes of orange in the night sky to the east. This area is dangerous at all times, but particularly at night. The warmth of your body creates sweat, making your shirt stick to your skin.
Passing through a gorge, you feel the fiery warmth radiating from the monolithic, sun-baked rocks. Heat washes over you, making your limbs feel clumsy.
Scraggly bushes fight to survive in harsh, dry earth. The moon favors these living places with its light, filling the gorge with a chessboard of shadows.
You come for a story. Some American-do-gooder-anti-communist-rich-fool has paid for your journey to the ‘U.S.S.R.’s Vietnam.’ So you find yourself down in this lifeless hellhole. Watching the sides of the valley carefully now, you turn your thoughts towards the subject of your visit to this trashed country. You drew the short straw, you are here to get “the inside scoop on the organization: Mujahideen, by focusing on the foot soldiers of the rebellion.” Or that’s what the editor told you. Every time you think about having to write some sob story about a poor farmer turned guerilla, you feel sick to your stomach.
There! A patch of impenetrable darkness among the haze that hugs the valley walls may be what you are looking for. Moving towards the hollow you see a hint of color. Is there a glint of something on the opening? You can’t tell, but the yellow flash confirmed your suspicions.
You cry out: “I come in peace.” The foreign tongue stumbles, garbled out of your mouth.
“Enter friend,” a deep voice sounds from a rock behind you. Turning you see nothing, the watchman is skillfully hidden.
The soil at the entrance to the cave is gravelly, you can make out the hodge-podge assortment of the little grey spheres’ sizes.
You tread carefully as the dark walls trap and surround. You follow the natural, cool stone passage, moving towards a faint and flickering orange-yellow glow. The harsh walls of rock are intimidating, and dirty.
As you turn to your left your hand brushes the cool stone and slides over the surface, every grain of rock caresses your fingers.
The passage opens up into a small cavern where five men have made camp. Their battered skin is weathered; their beards show the strain of war with grey flecks. But you notice one man apart from the others.
He sits in the corner on a heap of mud splattered rags, his dark eyes roving among the faces in the small cavern. Sandpaper hands hold a rifle in his lap. The wood of the weapon is pale, most texture gone. His cracked lips unused to smiling form a grim line on his face.
You notice his dirty snow curtain, it holds all his memories. The dirt is tangling with the snow, the white and black strands struggle over each other, pushing for a place in the front.
The sharp rocks that jab your backside as you sit facing the man are inconsequential. You reach into your tan vest pocket, feeling for the writer’s best friend. You pull out the notebook and your favorite ballpoint and lean closer to the man. His ragged face is like a black hole, absorbing everything, from the light to your attention. The deep groves in his cheeks tell stories and hold mysteries as deep as an ocean trench.
His gaze is now focused solely on your face. His black eyes bore into yours, drinking your story. Legs crossed, you stare into his face for a moment.
“Why do you fight?” Your voice makes you cringe, it sounds hoarse, inadequate. Dull, foreign words fall on this man’s ears, ringing with your disappointment at their frailty.
“What else would I do?” His voice a rasp, it fills you with tense warmth.
“Go home, live life.” You respond quizzically.
He looks at you, his dark eyes consider your face, and then they turn to his weapon. His hands release the rifle. He looks up and shakes his head.
Your brown eyes scour his face, looking for a sign of clarification. As your eyes connect, you see a flash of deep ocean blue in the black pupils. You let out a breath; you didn’t know you had been holding it. You stare at the once loved rifle as realization hits you.
Looking back at his face, the line seems to have sunken down into an arch. White strands seem abundant in the orange bathed beard. His arms seem frail and his fingers delicate, incapable of raising the rifle again.
He slumps back against the stone, his chest deflating. He closes his eyes and takes the shallow breaths that lead to sleep. Black eyes open once more, the bright fire that burned in them at first flickers and dies.
You whisper thanks and stumble away. You will write about a man who has given it all, and now all he has left to give is reflex. You will write of a man whose will to live has left him, but he cannot seem to escape.