Ten Seconds to Forgotten

January 28, 2013
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People have no problem forgetting. Events can be overlooked, actions reasoned with, whole memories: discarded. People can forget about sadness, people can forget about that animal part of themselves, people can forget about themselves. Yes, people can forget, and people can forgive.
But what of the soldier? What of the boy who marched off to the South half-dressed in a uniform and half ready to forget with a smile? A boy who thought he’d be home for Christmas; a boy who thought the field was home, after all. To us, the world is a distraction: a fly, buzzing across the scope of a much larger infinity. Count to ten, and it’ll be gone. This is how you learn to cope with fear. Wounded on the field? Count to ten, you’ll be gone when the numbers max out. Close your eyes, maybe, but count to ten. This is how you’re going to forget.

1… 2… 3… 4… 5… 6…… 7……………………

This… this is an unfamiliar sky above me… but it feels… right. The snow is slightly warm, but that feels normal. Why does it feel normal? My eyes seem to swallow the full force of the sun when I open them, and for a moment I’m paralyzed. The landscape’s chills slice deep into my skin, purging my body of all warmth. Shapes and orbs glow like fire inside my eyes as the sun seeps into them, and at last everything adjusts. Immediately I notice the dead white landscape before me, but am distracted. A sense of danger still holds me. Up, I must get up...! Soldiers, big, brutish men, no doubt are seconds from upon me, so it is too late. Too late, even, to count to ten. But in a moment I see I am alone, and whatever sense of warmth was left in me evaporates into the frosty infinity.

My weapon, my broad, bestial musket, is not with me. I get off my back in a flash and am searing my hands in the cold snow, on all fours, looking for the thing. But somehow I know it is not here, and my movements slow then abruptly stop. My clothes are still colored with the Yankee blues, and I try to feel the hue to ensure its solidity. The fabric is still cheap, the colors still dull, and the fibers still interwoven with the very skin of Uncle Sam himself. Even here, I’m still a Yankee.

My eager fingertips fumble around the jacket, feeling inside every pocket, until I feel a different color slashed across my chest. Like a thick, juicy web the red stain is dried flat on the Yankee uniform in wild, feral slashes. My fingers press all upon where the stain has foamed up, but there is no cut or bruise or slash upon the skin that infers the blood is my own. The strange sky feels all right, the ethereal snow feels natural somehow, but this mark all but burns with its foreign origins. Whose blood is it? It really doesn’t matter. Now get up, I tell myself. Get up.

The gash is disturbing to stare at, and the stain becomes fire upon my chest when I move, but there is no mark upon me to justify the pain. The skin on my chest flares wildly, every nerve putting a stopper to my movement, so they may not alight themselves with the intense focus of the foreign blood. The feeling dies out after a while, decomposes my nerves until it is just a slight tingle, the twitches of my dead synapses. It is unreal, like the hurt is not pain at all, but an inner massacre that is only acutely expressed through that one condemning spot on this Yankee garb. But that doesn't explain the blood.

With a terrible fever I take the stray end of my coat sleeve and rub fiercely upon the cursed mark! But the fabric only sways and tugs against itself in obdurate dismissal of my frenzy, and the dried blood screams searing pain into my body, but there is no wound! I know there to be no cut upon me and so I say it isn’t real, but it burns all the greater! After an eternity of rubbing, a single drop runs down from the dried spot and terminates on the little ice crystals in the snow. I check again. There is no wound upon me. I look to the white space crawling into an infinite distance for a sort of guidance. Now I see this place.

It is a white canopy dressing a blank battlefield. There are cannons without balls, craters without mortars, uniforms… without soldiers. Yes, the strange ghosts are everywhere, most of them half-buried in the snow and the ice, like the very skins of these soldiers have melted off their counterparts, and fallen limp upon the battlefield. None of them are bloody, despite obvious holes and tears in the empty uniforms that suggest their fate. I see those of the North and those of the South, all fallen, all in haste, like a mass grave that is not yet smothered in earth, a grave where those who have waited to be jettisoned to hell have left disappointed. The poetry of these empty clothes is interwoven in every one I touch.

They are spasmodically interlaced with the grand landscape, some collapsed on top of each other, some so alone you might wonder if the man who dawned it had been running home. Two that I find in particular are so in the quiet midst of a ‘hand-to-hand’ their owners might well return to them to beat each other to death in this mute place. Though these jackets may not have ever been owned at all. They seem so forlorn.

These skins are not what frighten me: it is how they beckon. Every one, from North and South, mangled and perfect, has a single arm free of the snow. An arm stretched towards me! There are so many here, hundreds, that I can see, and every man has a hollow sleeve calling me. Each arm is the needle of its own compass, and I… I am the poles. I move, and the needles turn, and follow, like silent… cries of help. Help? Where are my comrades? The mark burns as an answer.

As I wander to a blind spot in the wasteland of Yankee skins, my hands naturally catch around the buried phantoms, and I yank them up in a flush of snow by the sleeves. Some have arms torn off completely, and I must lean down upon them and snatch the little stubs. I leave them unearthed and raw in the large bundle of snow succumbing to my boots as I move. If there were wolves or Confederates tracking me, I could be stalked to the edge of infinity: just follow the ghosts… or maybe they’d show you the way.

When my ignorance shuts itself up and my eyes linger to the repetitive beating of my footwear, little red circlets reveal themselves in the frost. The gash is wet again, and dripping viciously unto the white hue. I resolve to leave the uniforms in the ground, as a vague superstition.

This place is a well of superstition and arcane dealings, but why I am a part of them is a mystery.

I’m too blunt to ask questions. Besides, nothing feels strange. These empty costumes are as natural as the snow that dresses them, and this pale shiny sky is a guardian above my fuzzy head. Everything has a place… except me. I’m a strange little thing in a normal infinity, and that feels utterly, hopelessly wrong.

The slash on my chest is dry again, a state it seemingly cannot hold, and my thoughts degenerate from fuzzy to stale. The world gurgles with a hidden laughter: poor Yankee, it cries, poor Yankee! Now I’m asking stupid questions, like who was my rifle pointed at before I blacked out, or if I blacked out at all. When the curiosities devolve into complete madness (what were the cooks serving the night before the raid?), I’m on my knees, so waiting for my lifeline to this place to be cleaved that all else blurs and twists into hideous caricatures. I see… those hundred little arms all crying out in silent voices. I see a little blood on the snow, with an all too familiar source.

I count to ten.
1… 2… 3… 4……


The words smash me with the full force of a mortar! Everything in me jumps! My thoughts pepper the walls of my jolted mind with their pieces and my knuckles turn white from the force I clutch them. A merciless wind slices clean across the landscape, and my face falls and becomes cold rubber in the snow. The bloody mark seems to circulate acid through my veins and lungs and now I’m rasping and choking on the poison! My fingers twitch uncontrollably, forming sharp angles spontaneously as my thin breath blows little flourishes of snow into the air. My h-hands… they’re on… someone’s… throat...! It is not my breath that throws up the snow but his! He coughs blood onto my face, little speckles of blood! What hell is this!?
5…… 6………… 7………………!

Then it’s all gone.

“Hey!” booms a voice.

The same voice? I can’t tell. I smell… leather? There’s a boot casually placed by the side of my face. My hands dash to my sides and push the earth in a pathetic way. My face rolls limply in the snow, and as I breathe, slowly regaining whatever lost, and questioning this reality, I feel my uniform dip into a wet spot on the snow. The blood has overflowed from the gash, but I don’t need to touch the mark to know it’s already dried up again, and I’m unharmed.

A snow-clad hand is reaching towards me. It reminds me of the empty uniforms… reaching. His palm is open and I catch it. There’s a stillness. Everything goes quiet, as if this one moment, these two hands, has power enough and meaning enough to hush the raging souls of both the universe and I. Not a burning in my chest or a heavy wind or the chiming of fate’s bells disturbs the absolute nothingness right now. There is just this quiet handshake.

When upright I see this man is a soldier, though of which side is impossible to read, as he is so densely crammed with snow. There is a muddy feeling that overtakes me. First encounters for me consist of reading one’s loyalties, and either chaining or shaking his hands. Now this man in front of me, he’s dressed in white, and all I know is that he’s a soldier and a complete enigma.

The only manifest feature on his face is his youth. He must be twenty-one, not at all much younger than I. Now was he a patriot, or drafted? And why does his look terminate on this red stain?

“What’s your name, and to what regiment do you belong?” I command of the soldier, only so I may study his voice for a trace of the tongue that accused me with that critical word.

His face contorts, sullen, controlling bestial instincts within and burying them in haste as his eyes draw up, enchanted by my question.

“You don’t remember.” he speaks carefully, disappointed, eyes sinking to my red mark again. “Well, son of a gun, this is gonna be hell for you.” he blinked. “You look like hell. How are you still walking?”

“I haven’t one blasted stab on me.” I speak, angrily rubbing the dried blood, ignoring all lessons learned from doing so earlier. He spies intensely on these actions.

The conversation is tackled by silence, and my comrade’s face and features become blunt.

“You must have beat the fool to death, to get a stain that wild.”

“Must have…” I speak softly.

I pass my hand along the smooth red streaks, and when I start scraping that fatal mark the soldier snaps, “Don’t get blood on your hands.” His eyes flash about the environment, wrapping around its features with familiar pulsations. Why does he take time to remember this distraction? Maybe it’s involuntary.
But one can always count to ten.

He starts off in a direction, seemingly random, until he discovers the uniforms; all unearthed from my previous delusional state, when my palms fished them out of their snowy burials and let the sun bake the ice from them. Slowly, and deliberately, he curls his fingers around one sleeve, letting it fall limp in his hand. His features grow soft. The little orbs of color in the boy’s eyes follow the sleeve’s direction until he discovers me again, hand on the burning stain. Then he bitterly looks at the uniform.

“Now what have you done..” he whispers methodically.

With his bare hands he scoops the ice and the flakes back upon the empty clothes I unearthed. The sun shines proudly off the ice on his back, the same natural curiosity that blurs his uniform’s color from me, or more… disfigures it. Sometimes I can swear I see blue on his back, though sometimes it is most clearly red. Sometimes it is just snow. When the first outfit is submerged I see him do something that makes me curious. He reaches into the fresh snow canvas and pulls free from the snowy grave a single arm. Still pointed at me.

It is strange with such reverence he reburies the lifeless and the empty. He must know something I don’t about them, which could be anything, for I know nothing. With every one he touches, however, something stirs within his lifeless eyes, something boils up: An anger. And with every one he touches, something stirs within me, too: a memory. Perhaps it’s too late to count to ten.

He doesn’t nearly have all these skins of soldiers buried when perhaps the only relevant thing inside the boy bellows up: a passion. I’m on my knees, for the burning once again has consumed and destroyed all reasonable dignity, and my hands are red with the cold as I shovel fistfuls of snow painfully against the boiling blood stain. He just watches me silently, and fiercely, seeing my pain with vengeful eyes, breathing in all the malignance and strangeness and death of this place. He frees one final arm from one shallow tomb, and approaches me. The arm, it seems, pins me to my spot.

“And now you’ve gone and tried to rub the thing off, again! Again, again, again. And you don’t have a single cut on you? But still that stain bleeds, oh yes, it bleeds!” He holds me by a deadly grip on my shoulder. “You really don’t get it, do you!?”

I can only mumble painful groans and let the gash bleed as an answer.

“Me! This place! You cutthroat, you just don’t get it! You just don’t get it!”

He slugs me in the head with his clenched white fists, and the taste of snow meets my lips. It all feels like when I first heard that condemning word from the sad soul at the beginning: when I woke up to a strange infinity. Maybe a little more… literal. The little dots of blood look so natural, like they belong on the snow. The blood on my chest continually pours, but I don’t feel a thing.

His hands are locked around my throat. Something now blurs my vision… tears maybe. My mark burns with his hatred, and all the while this soldier choking me, knocking me with his fists, is pitifully weeping his tears upon this Yankee blue uniform. I spit speckles of red onto his face. Now, this reminds me of a certain delusion.

But it’s not a delusion; it has origin in that other place, the place where I carried a bayonet. Yes, I remember this soldier. It was on him I first smelled blood, on him that I saw the strange poetry laced upon the contrast of red blood on white snow. My hands tingle with the fear in which I hushed his screaming eyes to sleep on the raging battlefield. My chest and face burn with his blood. I should be curious as to what he sees in my eyes now. Is that fear? Is it regret? What are they telling him? I could hardly sleep the night after: my dreams were plagued with that delusion. Maybe they were infected with this place, whatever ‘this place’ may be. I had to ask another Yankee how to sleep. “Count to ten.” He said.

When my arms go limp there’s a stillness, like everything… coming together. The soldier wipes his face with grief. I don’t know what’ll become of him, or me. All noise and vision blur hopelessly into an opaque flurry of snow. The flakes fall slowly down upon us, burying these two shallow souls in a natural grave with so many others. Maybe I’ll leave an arm out, condemn another guilty soul. Maybe I’ll keep to myself.

Sometimes you have to distract yourself, if only for a little while. This moment, this is just a fly crossing the scope of a big universe. Count to ten and it’ll be gone. Count to ten.

1… 2… 3… 4… 5… 6…… 7… 8… 9……… 10.

There, it’s gone.

Join the Discussion

This article has 9 comments. Post your own now!

holly1999 said...
Oct. 12, 2013 at 12:08 pm
Wow! The imagery and description you used was amazing, and your word choice was perfect. I loved the idea, the story flowed well and it was interesting to read from the beginning. Your're a great writer!
Devalara This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Oct. 12, 2013 at 6:27 pm
Thanks! ;)
AthenaMarisaDeterminedbyFate This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Mar. 16, 2013 at 11:18 pm
This story really put me into the shoes of the soldiers who fought in the Civil War, and how bloody and even absurd the fighting was. No one knew who they were shooting at. The ten seconds idea was wonderful, because you can perfectly imagine how it would feel to be in such a crazy situation that you only remember things for ten seconds. I just love this!
Super_Mario_Prose This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Mar. 17, 2013 at 10:27 am
Thanks a bunch ;)
AthenaMarisaDeterminedbyFate This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Mar. 15, 2013 at 12:30 am
Attention, Super_Mario_Prose: this piece of yours won the Snow Contest, and you need to post what you want ratings and comments for on the Snow Contests Results thread.
kmeep replied...
Mar. 15, 2013 at 7:50 am
Wow, very detailed! :) I like it!
Super_Mario_Prose This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Mar. 15, 2013 at 10:03 am
Thanks kmeep! ;) And AthenaMarisaDeterminedbyFate, I said you could rate/comment on any of the writings on my page. ;)
AthenaMarisaDeterminedbyFate This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Mar. 16, 2013 at 10:53 pm
Oh, yes, now I remember! My memory is failing me :)
Super_Mario_Prose This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Mar. 17, 2013 at 10:26 am
Haha, happens to the best of us ;)
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