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To Tear A Stone
Author's note: I wrote this because I felt like I had to. I felt powerless against war, as though I could do nothing against it. This book is what I can do against war, this book is my protest. It is little, it is only short and I am no one, but it is nevertheless close to my heart.
The wind screams over a silent land, whipping charcoal up into the air and blowing it into the eyes. The smell of smoke claws it’s way into clothes and into hair, sticking it’s sent to a person. This is a pillaged and ravished land, blackened by fire and twisted by explosions. The girl’s face resembles the land. She is beautiful, but eyes are harsh, scared and cruel. Her hair is scruffy; her face is stained by charcoal. Her face is shadowy, sharp and strong. By her side is a half person. A little boy whose mind is else where, in some make believe world only he can see. His face is buried in her hip, his little hands gripping her skirt.
The wind whips around both of them, making her skirt billow and flutter around him, making them one creature. Her hand is on his shoulder, holding him close as though he might suddenly slip away from her. The girl’s body is strong, with wide shoulders from which sprouts a long, strong neck. The little boy is frail and weak, gentle and sweet. The girl’s bright eyes watch the shuffling people, as though expecting attack. The girl watches madwoman carefully as madwoman wanders by.
Madwoman carries her dead child close to her heart. As though her beating heart could revive her child’s cold one. Madwoman could from no words, only whimpers and wails. Her legs swing beneath her like pendulums on a clock, she sways. The screaming wind hits her full on, whipping her long and tangled main of hair about her. Her mind has been lost to grief, her child as been lost to a bullet. Away she wanders, no longer seeing the charred village. Into the woods she goes, into the woods where the packs of dogs roam. Dogs that used to be pets, and are now wild creatures thirsting for blood.
Life is like a glass bottle, thinks the girl. You live inside it, separate from everything without noticing. It’s not till tragedy strikes, and that bottle breaks, do you see the real world. Then the screaming wind whirls about you, and soldiers spill in. They are here to kill, pillage and destroy, to take everything and give nothing back. These are the fruits of war, thinks the girl, these bodies that litter the streets, this village burned to the ground and all these lost and shuffling people. Her mind is of the practical kind; she has already decided to stay in the village. Mamma and papa are gone, as is elder brother, but she is strong. In their memory she must not leave this village. She will rebuild her home again, for this little one, she will rebuild.
Wild boy’s eyes were large and strange. He opened his eyes to wide, making his handsome face seem strange. His hair was dark and stuck out around his haggard and stone like face. He watches the girl, for she is his heart’s darling. There has never been a time she has been out of his heart. To wild boy, people are strange creatures. To wild boy, people do not matter. All people, that is, except for the girl. Wild boy watches the girl from a distance, watching the little one cling to her side. Wild boy is harsh and strong. His body is hardened to cruelty, and his mind hardened to people. To him people are cruel and strange, and the world more so. He wants a world without people and without pain. Wild boy wants a wide-open place, green and bright, with freedom from people. He wants not so much for himself, but for the girl. For his happiness depends on hers, without her; there is nothing.
The girl leaves the little boy in a cave of rubble, where his small body is protected from the wind and from view. Then she goes out in search of food. No plants will grow in this parched soil; no animals roam though the ash. The girl finds a dead man, with a loaf of bread clutched between his hands. The dead man’s sightless eyes stare across the ground, his mouth has swung open in death. The girl is afraid. She knows of the sin it is, to take from a dead man. She pauses; watching the dead man for movement, then plucks the bread from his hands. If there were punishment, it would be inflicted on her and not the little boy.
The offices of war are bustling like the streets of a city. The offices of war are their own city, a separate city like no other. This city’s mayor is a fat and piggish man. The general sits in his chair smoking a fat cigar and watching the smoke swirl up in the air. This war he commands should win him Commander and Chief, if he plays his cards right. He will, he wants that title so badly.
“There is a science to war, an art!” The general shifts his seat slightly; he speaks to the officer, who watches him from a distance. “War is a beautiful thing, to people like you and me.”
“How is it beautiful, sir?” The officer asks, although he does not care. Whatever the general has to say, the officer couldn’t care less: but the officer knows how the general loves the sound of his own voice.
“The glory of war, my boy, is like no other you see… there is no glory to fighting a war, there is no glory in dying. Where the glory is behind the front lines, among the maps and planners. Wars are not won by the men who fight them, but by the men who teach where to fight and when. We are the artists, people like you and I, this war shall be my masterpiece. Watch my disciple, watch!” The officer loves the sound of his words, cherishing every one. The officer watches on, his time will come he knows. There will be a time, when the officer becomes a general. The officer is just waiting, waiting for that time.
“I am glad to be a disciple, to a man like you.” Says the officer with a small sigh, lies slipped from the officer’s lips like water from a jug. The general stands with a grunt, and walks from the smoke filled room, the officer hot on his heels.
Far away, in a large town house, the general’s wife is bored. The general’s wife dislikes her life, despite its great riches and fame. Yet most of all, of all the things she dislikes, she dislikes her own daughter. The general’s daughter, the ugly girl belongs to her father. The general’s daughter is thin and frail, and feels her mother’s hate like a stomach-ache.
“You strange girl, what is that you wear?” The general’s wife sneers, loving the pain that floods the general’s daughter’s face. The girl cannot utter a word; she bites her lip and twists her fingers together. “Change, you look even more ugly with that on.” The general’s wife says with a half smile. The general’s daughter walks away into the house.
The general’s daughter does not cry, she is only slightly sad. If she were not in love, she would cry now. She does not mind if her mother thinks her ugly, her mother is not exactly beautiful herself. The general’s daughter’s heart is not her own, it belongs to the officer. She takes a thrill in this; her mind is full of romance novels. The general’s daughter very rarely leaves her house, because the world outside is scary to her. She likes to stay inside and press flowers for her collection. Her collection is her pride and joy, her life’s work. She wants to have one of every flower, pressed and dried and placed in her book. Whenever she is sad or lonely, the general’s daughter opens that book and takes pleasure in the flowers there.
Down in the streets below a tramp searches his bottle for drink. He looks down its glass neck and searches for some liquor left over. There is no. The world is a deep and dull place. Thinks the tramp. I am not allowed but one more drop of this sweet and fiery liquid. The tramp is irritated. He sighs and scowls at the passers by. People are so causally cruel, thinks the tramp. They ignore a homeless man on the street, because they are afraid that he smells or has lice or has brought his sufferings upon himself. The tramp had not brought his homelessness upon himself. He was the victim.
The men at the front are really boys. They stick out of their uniforms and look at the world with large, confused eyes. They no longer believe the war lies, in the glory, the friendship and magnificence. The real war has jumped off equipment posters and killed everyone they know. Solider boy watches the new requites, who grow younger every shipment. Those little ones, have yet to learn how to kill a man. Those little ones, know what the capital of Norway is, they know that Pb stands for Lead on the periodic table and how to use Pythagoreans. They know what school taught them and no more. These boys, these young, people haven’t had a chance to live before they are killed by somebody else’s war.
“Do you remember that film about the guy who gets in a coma, then when he wakes up the love of his life has married someone else?”
“Yeah, I saw that a long time ago.”
“I kinda feel like, I feel like this is me in a coma. This war is me being completely out of the world. I feel like when I wake up, and return to the real world my girl will have married someone else.”
“There are no men to marry, back home. Everyone is out here. So do not worry. I wish I were in a coma; I’ve always wanted to be in a coma. Just to see what it was like. Better to be in a coma then be here, because if you die in a coma it is your own body that kills you, not someone else’s, like our deaths will be like” Soldier boy smiles at his friend. Smiles used to come easy, as laughter did and does for children. Solider boy is no longer able to smile so easily or laugh. There are few things to laugh and smile at.
Soldier speaks between puffs on his cigarette. Cigarettes kill your hunger, numb your pain, and relax the nerves. When the food is nearly out, and all you have is a piece of bread, a cigarette is beautiful. All the solider boys smoke, as much as they can. Rich food hurts them; they have been hungry so long.
The morning after violence the solider boys huddle together against the cold and the wind, watching the wounded die. The nursing supplies haven’t come yet, so many will die. A boy walks about on the stumps of his legs, wondering why he is stared at. Solider boy has seen this before, a man forgets his legs are blown away; there is somehow a pat of him that does not feel his loss. His blood is pouring out of him and making him slip in the mud. Solider boy only hopes that soon the boy walking on his stumps dies. For now, the boy with stumps’ best friend is death. Death will offer calm and escape. The boy with stumps finally falls on his back. He stares up at the sky, and tears begin to blind him. He knows that his life is over, but he does not really understand why. He watches a storm come in silently.
It is not rain that falls but hail. The solider boys cover their heads with the small plastic sheets they were given against all weather. The sheets are no good. They are weak and heavy. Yet it is all the boys can do, they are not allowed to go into the deserted house, for that is for their officers. The solider boys have to stay out in the weather. The cold creeps into their bones, the wet clings to their skin, the hail pounds relentlessly; all is miserable. From the inside they are gnawed by hunger, from the outside by weather, slowly these boys are eaten way until they are just shells.
The first rays of sunlight spread across the land. Slowly revealing the charred land. The sunrays began to try to warm the cold land. The girl opened her eyes and slowly allowed herself to wake up. Little boy was cold in her arms, cold and motionless. The girl was completely awake now, she shook little boy, and his cold little hands still gripped her shirt, his body holding on to her when his soul could not.
Wild boy’s eyes glow though the receding darkness, watching the girl bury the little boy in a blanket, for the soil is frozen hard and graves cannot be dug.
“He died with his eyes closed, still afraid to look at the world.” The girl says, her face is without tears, for she has no more tears to cry.
“We must leave this place.” Says wild boy.
“You and I”
“I will not leave this place. I have no where to go.”
“What is there to stay here for?” Says wild boy, his eyes on the girl. She turns and faces him, her harsh eyes stone like and glinting in the morning’s new light.
“Where is there to go? As far as the eye can see, there is only charcoal and the bodies of the dead. To travel would be a waste.”
“There must be some place untouched by the war. Our country is large.”
“Our country? You do not understand, we have no country; this land is now a place with the name ‘no man’s land’ there are no boundaries, no place untouched. All around is only the destroyed, no more. Soldiers still lurk about in the areas we do not know, and I have no mind to be seeing them again.” The girl looks right into wild boy’s eyes. Those glass green eyes penetrate though wild boy’s harshness and to his soul, where he is still a poor orphan child, with just one glance she sees right though to the place he protects the most.
“To move would give a purpose to living. Here there is nothing but rebuilding what will be knocked down by the next round of soldiers. There is no one and nothing here for you.” Wild boy’s voice is harsh, although he does not mean it to be.
“Living needs no purpose, it simply is. A man can live without a care, without a reason or without a purpose and still breath. To live is to survive, to continue to exist.” The girl rises and takes one last look at little boy’s body, wrapped in the blanket. She remembers prising his ice-cold hands off her shirt. No blanket will bring him warmth now. The girl looks up at the morning sky, and the leafless trees with their blackened branches, and the rubble that used to be a village.
“I will go with you, to search for some place untouched by war. There must be some corner of this earth where peace exists, although I hardly believe it. The search will most likely kill me, and though death I go to a whole another place, and that strange and distant place might be without war.”
“Dying is easy, you only have to do it once.” Wild boy says with a smile. His face has become so hard to the wind, and there is a scar that runs down his cheek; these two things make his smile more a curling of the upper lip to reveal sharp, cat like teeth.
A quiet mumble floats with the cigar smoke above the dinner party. It lingers with the smell of good food and perfume. The general sits behind a banquet table, wearing his uniform and smiling at his guests. The officer sits by the side of the general, silent and watchful.
“Men are weak and frail creatures. They need too much. You would think the men at the front to be the frailest of aristocrats. Real men would be able to live on bread and water, real men would take what they’re given and be happy. In the army men are treated like men.” Says the general to the people near him. People do not speak to the general; the general speaks to people. Everything he says is a speech. The general fills his fat belly with fine foods. Around his mouth is a circle of grease, it mixes with his moustache and shines off his lips. He pours food down his gullet, hardly chewing before he swallows.
“Men are cowards. They are afraid of death, when they should not be. For to die for your country is a great honour, yet I have men running from the front in all directions. They do not understand, that to win a war requires sacrifice, courage and obedience. If the men at the front were real men, they would not run away in the face of death. If the men at the front were real men, they would march into battle with their heads held high, ready to fight and die.” The general pauses to pour wine down his gullet; he does so with large, long gulps. As though he has not drank for ages. He belches and makes a noise like a fat old toad before beginning again “This is a cowardly country we live in. A cowardly country I say! Look at what I do, look at my sacrifice for our great cause. I work everyday; I put on my uniform and am proud. My work is my life. Do I ask for credit? No! Those silly young cowards at the front want awards for all that they do! Oh! How it disgusts me!”
Next to the officer quivers the general’s daughter. She continuously watches the officer; afraid constantly that he will see how she watches him. He has noticed, but he does not care. The girl that quivers next to him is as uninteresting as a leaf on the street. Women are, generally, completely uninteresting to him. Most women are in love with his uniform rather then him. Although the officer is very confident, he knows his worth. He has one constant craving. He wants to be loved. More then he wants to be a general, he wants genuine love. Not from a lonely, silly girl full of romance novels and false idols; but from a girl who has seen life and has thought for herself.
Next to the officer the general’s daughter stares at the officer. She knows her love is not returned, and she knows that it never will be. Yet still she holds happiness within her, happiness because of the fact people like the officer exist. It is enough for her, to exist by him. Love is like snow, she thinks. Snow is weak and fleeting, it melts when it touches the skin, and only lasts though winter. Yet snow can silence a city as it falls, it muffles everything and changes the world into a white washed, quiet and different place.
Across the room the general’s wife watches on in disgust. She cannot believe that the simpering, whimpering girl across the table is from her. It disgusts her that the general’s daughter just sits there, watching the officer with fluttering eyelashes and a constant little smile about her lips. The general’s wife is forever unhappy. She is wearing uncomfortable clothes and shoes that hurt her feet. She is forever looking in the mirror, finding problems with her face. The general’s wife is lonely and bored. She feels trapped within the walls of her own house, as though in a prison.
Together they huddle, the lost boys at the front. They are not allowed to smoke now, for it is night and the embers of cigarettes glow in the dark, making targets for the enemy.
“What cause have we?” Solider boy asks the boy next to him. The boy looks in his direction. “What cause is there?” Soldier boy asks. “What cause is there to kill a man for? I can name no such cause, look around, and ask yourself, what cause can have been this for?” The other boy says nothing; he just looks at solider boy. The other boy is thinking of home, a thought he at first did not dare to think of; now he tries to live in the world back home, thinking of it at every moment, thinking and trying to remember everything he can of home.
In the dark a dying boy calls out. He calls to people who are not there; he calls for the people he has left at home. Like a child having nightmares, he calls out for his mother. She is far away, she will never come for him when he tosses and turns in his final nightmare. Soldier boy listens to the cries, and his gurgling whimpers; then only hopes that boy in nightmares will soon die. That boy is dying; only young lives are slow in leaving their bodies. That boy, the one lost in the darkness, will soon die; it is only a question of time. Here is the glory of war; these boys are countries’ heroes. These lost and frightened boys at the front.
Soldier boy wants to smoke. He is hungry, and has no food. The food supplies ran out a good two weeks ago, he has survived on stolen food from the villages they passed though. Even that stolen food has now run out. He is down to his last three cigarettes. Everything has run out. Soldier boy shifts his seat, as a stone is digging into his back where he’s sitting.
Though the darkness comes a shuffling noise. Someone walking. Solider boy becomes tense that could be the enemy. There is a long, silent pause. Then a scream of pain echoes. The scream carries over the crushed land, chilling the soul. The scream sound again. A girl. There is another pause, then a crash sound and some running feet. Gunfire starts, it glows though the darkness. Solider boy’s gun is at the ready. He wishes there was moonlight; he is almost fully blind in this darkness.
The gunfire continues in short bursts. Those are the new recruits, firing blindly into the darkness out of fear. Soldier boy tries to relax, with fear comes hysteria, and with hysteria comes death. Then he hears someone moving though the darkness, his or her step is light but not noiseless.
“Who goes there?” Solider boy hisses though the night, the gunfire continues.
“Someone who will not harm you.” The girl’s voice returns after a short pause.
“What do names matter? I do not know you, and you do not know me.”
“Where are you?”
“Here.” She puts her hand on his shoulder; he jumps then tries to relax.
“Where did you come from?”
“A village in the south.”
“I don’t know where south is, I have lost my directions.”
“You will not know it, for it is like any of the other villages flattened by this war. I left it and my families’ bodies in hope of a land untouched by war.”
“Any luck in finding it?”
“I found this place I am now.”
“Are you alone?”
“I have lost my companion this morning, to those you fight against. He took many a bullet into his body before he died. I think, I think, he continued walking after death.” The girl whispers back, then takes her hand off of the soldier’s shoulder.
“I have seen dead men walk before, it is a strange sight. Get away from here! It is dangerous! Get as far away as you can while the darkness lasts. The enemy forces are somewhere near.”
“I thank you for my life.”
“There is no need to thank me. It is your right, just as it is my right to not kill you. By not killing you I have freedom of myself and my own decisions.” Solider boy is proud. “Go! Now! There are many men whose fear has made them cruel. They would gladly kill you.”
“Till we meet again.” The girl’s voice returns. Into the night she goes, moving with less noise. The firing has now stopped, and silence reigns again.
“Enemy attack! Rifles at the ready!” Shouts the voice of an officer “Do not retreat! We will serve ou” he never finishes his sentence; his voice is cut of by a yelp of pain. Though the darkness run strange men. Each side is just as blind as the other. The boy soldiers form each side blindly stagger though the night like drunkards, hoping not to bump into one and other.
There is a sudden flash of light, and a bomb explodes. Into the air fly the solider boys, their bodies like sacks of laundry. They fly up into the air like paper, their bodies twisting in the air. The light from the bomb disappears before the boys hit the ground again. When their bodies hit the earth again they are quiet and light.
Solider boy is afraid in the darkness. He is alone. Then suddenly the ground beneath him lights up, he flies up into the air. Up, up like a bird he flies. He looks up at the stars. Such a beautiful sight to see before you die! Thinks soldier boy. He takes one breath of the night air, and embraces death. Proud that before he died he made his own choices. He saved a life. Solider boy is no longer a solider; as he dies he is free of that name. As he dies solider boy becomes a boy, and only a boy. His body will be in a soldier’s boy, his name will be on the list of men who died for their country. He alone knows of his freedom, he dies Robert Smith, not Private Robert Smith.
The general guzzles food at a quick rate, he is angry at having been made to look foolish by loosing a small clash at the front. He shoves food down his mouth, and then suddenly stops. He gasps, and chokes. The officer watches on. The general staggers to his feet, coughing and spluttering and trying to breath. He looks to the officer for help, but the officer just watches on. Waiting for the ugly rasping sound to stop. The general turns light blue as he chokes on his food, the officer is bored, and he has been waiting for this a long time.
Finally it is over. The officer makes the right calls, and the general’s body is taken away, as is his last meal. The officer does not take the general’s seat; it might still be warm from him. Instead the officer decides to go for a walk across the city.
The weather is cold. The officer walks with his hands in his pockets, looking for something, he doesn’t know what just something. The girl stands at a shop window, only half understanding how she came to be in this city. It was a gypsy family who found her, hiding down a well. She had run blindly though the night, having heard the explosions. She then found the well and out of fear climbed in. The girl had found a dead boy in the night; his cold skin had made her scream.
Wild boy was dead. The girl knew that much. Soldiers had killed him earlier that day. So she was alone. The gypsy family had dropped her here, believing it was her best hope. They had taken pity on the girl, so lost and afraid. They would have taken her on their travels had she not refused to go with them.
The officer sees a girl in a shabby, oversized grey coat standing by a shop window. Her shape was dark against the light coming from the shop. He followed her eyes and found her eyes focused on something unseen. Finally she looked at him, her eyes meeting his before lowering to his uniform. Her eyes are harsh and
“I am General Steven Jameston, who are you? “ The officer was proud to state his name.
“Someone who does not care for army men.” The girl met his eyes again, aggressively this time. Steven did not know what to say, so he continues to stare at the girl.
“In that case, I am Steven Jameston”
“I am Alexandria ,” She smiled slightly, her harsh eyes softening a little.
Across the street the general’s daughter watches them. She had wanted to speak to the officer, just once. Now she did not have the courage. Her mother had left her, for some man she would not name. So now the general’s daughter was alone in her house, with only her dried flowers. That had made her feel old. So the general’s daughter went to the window of her bedroom, waited for a large gust of wind, and let her dried flowers fly away in the wind. They disappeared quickly. She had felt a mixture of relief and loss. She would begin her life again.
The general’s daughter looked up at the sky, and smiled as snowflakes began to fall. She glanced across the street at the officer and the strange girl in they grey coat. The general’s daughter was finally free, she walked away, smiling as the snow began to cover the pavement. Her name was Julia.
The snow covered the charred and twisted villages, covering their black with white. It fell over battlefields and buried the bodies of the soldier boys, the boys whose names have been lost. The snow fell and covered all the land, for snow touches everyone and everything. With the snow came the sweet and gentle silence that snow brings, and across the land people were quiet. For as the snow fell, there was a world untouched by war.