Short Stories

Conflict

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The nature of human beings is quite ironic, they are social creatures who obsess over conflicts. What do we make of the invaders and martyrs involved in these events, why are they there? Is it because of their own convictions or is it predestination. People stuck in these perils often find bravery in company, giving rise to the notion of camaraderie in forces. After all an army is as strong as its weakest soldier, soldiers who safeguard nations and bury their brethren for the security of their homelands. Do they want to fight such wars or are they swept into conflicts by invisible powers working behind iron curtains. Whether it is their own free will or determined by powers to be, these seemingly noble souls are plunged into the dusk of humanity. Dusk which invites night.

As Officer cadet Steven rode his military alloted horse into oblivion while seeing the sun trickle down into the shadows. The hooved beast galloped towards a forest full of firs and pines. The rays of setting sun riddling from the thick cover of leaves, leaving a transient imprint of touch on Steven’s face, as if bidding a final farewell.  

 He knew that at this pace he’d reach the outpost in a couple of hours and by the end of three days, he could request his return to mainland barracks. Steven’s mind raced to the time after the war was won, how he’d live his usual life without all the threats faced in combat and the shell shock. Focusing back to the moment, Steven grew curious about the outpost he was being sent to was in the neutral territories and no prior information was given to him about his objective there. As the hours passed and the four legged beast galloped, Steven reached his destination. Standing in wilderness, Steven began searching for a fellow comrade, some high ranking officer to assign him his destiny for the next three days. Just as Steven started to register his surroundings, at the distance of about ten steps lay a hare writhing in pain, trapped in a snare.

A thin and bony hand rested on Steven’s shoulder, as he shuddered and his hand reached for his concealed dagger. Upon turning Steven saw Captain Kevin, fixing his metal framed glasses with his other hand. Steven weakened his grip of the mound of the concealed dagger and saluted the gaunt looking captain. Scratching his scruff covered chin, Kevin spoke.

Captain Kevin : At ease, soldier. State your name, company and purpose here.

Steven replied, still aghast from seeing the hare jolting for his final breathes and by the presence that interrogated his intent.

Steven : Officer Cadet Steven Siegel, Company name Valor, Company number 2666 and purpose of visit to guard the pine forest outpost.

Captain Kevin : Company Valor, do send my regards to Captain Bale upon return. When do you plan on returning though.

Steven: I’d like to request my return after 3 days, if you permit?

Captain Kevin : Young man, 3 days is quite a short while but I’ll allow your return after three days. I’ll be returning to the mainland along with you, as a matter of fact. From what our sources tell, major reinforcements from both sides are about to clash in these outskirts after a week or so. Three days should give us enough time to reach back safely.

Kevin cracked a dry smile towards Steven, while Steven returned the gesture with a bead of precipitation racing down his forehead. Kevin ordered him.

Captain Kevin : Officer, let’s secure our supper for tonight and then inspect the perimeter before retiring for today.

Kevin tiptoed towards the limp corpse of the hare and Steven followed his footsteps. Once they secured their meal, Steven asked Kevin.

Steven : What is our purpose here exactly ?

Captain Kevin: Well the army has abandoned me here to look for the inspection party from the invader’s side and if possible vanquish them or else report back to the mainland barracks. You are here to aid me in this, since my last squire boy has requested his return.

Steven nodded and both gents prepared their muskets for the stroll covering the perimeter.

Another couple of hours pass, both the soldiers exhausted, slouch down near a tree trunk.

Kevin orders Steven to light their fire for the night. Once the flame begins consuming the dry woods of jungle, they set the hare they slayed over a ramrod, to roast it. Kevin asked Steven.

Captain Kevin: Tell me about your other responsibilities as a soldier or perhaps the life you had in your hometown ?

Steven replied: I was studying to be an accountant before getting listed in the army, my father wanted me to honour our tradition and serve the motherland.

Captain Kevin: What other tradition did your father ask you to honor, huh?

Steven sheepishly replied: He asked me to gift the local chieftain or the deity the locals worship a bottle of wine.

Captain Kevin raised a curious eyebrow and asked: Boy do you have a bottle of wine in your possession ?

Steven replied: Yes sir, but it is a gift to the local deity, so they ward off the spirits and bless us with fortune.

Captain Kevin replied: Give it to me boy, it’s a luxury you can’t waste on shamans. We’re in the middle of nowhere there are no takers for your gift here except for me. I’ll pray all the spirits away for a sip of wine.

Steven, being slightly disheartened, agreed and took out a neatly wrapped bottle from his backpack and gave it to Kevin. 

Kevin clasped the glassy neck of the bottle, glittered a cheshire smile towards Steven and began searching his coat pockets. After a brief moment, he fished out a small brown packet. He extended his bony arm towards Steven, offering the contents of the packet to his young companion.

Steven inquired: What is this?

Kevin replied: Consider this a gift from the local deity, it helps you calm your nerves.

Steven searched the contents of the packet and picked out a slender cigarette. Amused by his discovery he asked Kevin.

Steven: What is in this ? Tobacco  or something else?

Kevin replied: Last time I went to the nearby village, I bought this after bartering my munitions. They told me it helps sleeping, even if you feel the daunting sensation of the forest.

Steven looked at the charring skin of the hare, which was dangling atop the dancing flames and tonelessly asked.

Steven: What is the sensation of the forest?

Kevin replied : Did you not feel anxious upon entering the eerie lands of the jungle as if every beast here was staring at you. Do you feel even a slither of sleep although your swollen eyes ache for rest?

Acknowledging his anxiety Steven accepted the cigarette and set its end ablaze from the embers of their fire. Dragging a long breath as he kissed the unlit end of cigarette, Steven did not feel the cinders of calm entering his chest. After a couple of breaths in, he again asked Kevin.

Steven : Why are we here?

Kevin : Didn’t I tell you a few hours ago, what our purpose here is?

Steven : No, I mean why do we have to take part in a war, fought for strangers, by strangers, against strangers. I don’t gain a single dime out of this misery.

Kevin sat in front of him with a vacant expression, devoid of any answer to this philosophical question Steven spouted out.

Steven continued his tirade of misery as his lungs pulled the ashes inside. 

Steven: I could have completed my study, begun my practice as an accountant, married my sweetheart of a neighbour but here I am sitting in the middle of nowhere staring at the starlit sky hidden behind the canopy of trees, waiting for this rabbit to get burnt enough to eat.

Kevin tried to shush Steven, but to no avail.

Steven: You would have been doing something far greater than sitting across me, if you hadn’t joined the war. I can bet my life on it.

Kevin placed a hand on the blithering lad’s yap and his other bony hand cupped his ear. He could hear the rhythmic gallops of horses at a distance. He did not know whether it was a bunch of merchants travelling intercity or was it a band of smugglers or did his nightmare come true. If it was the inspecting party from the other side of the border, Kevin had to make an escape. He tried lifting the inebriated cadet, but Steven lay down their spewing nonsensical chatter. With his hysteria heightening, Kevin picked munitions which Steven brought with himself, kept the bottle of liquor in his backpack, checked for the brown packet in his coat pocket and started pacing towards the spot where Steven met him.

As his steps leapt forward, Kevin peered back, probably for the last time. He saw Steven flat on the ground, half laughing and half weeping, blabbering all sorts of things that might make sense in a higher state of consciousness.

Curtain falls and the show ends. 

Figuring out stuff....

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