Monday, December 21, 2009

There Are No Easy Answers To Be Found Around Your Neck; FFF #14

"Well how did I get here?" he thought. He had only regained consciousness a few minutes ago and he spent several of those minutes face down, not wanting to open his eyes for the fear of seeing what was there. Much like a child who is afraid of the dark but is too frightened to turn on the light, he had laid there very still, the cold mud pressed against his face while bells of pain echoed and rang through the back of his head.

"Well," he reasoned, "I will have to open my eyes at some point, and if it is really bad, I can always just slip back into unconsciousness and return to the blissful rest I was just enjoying. At least there, there wasn't all this pain floating about." He resolved to open his eyes and take a quick peek.

He opened the eye that wasn't pressed into the mud. The only thing in his line of sight was two dead blades of grass perched on the edge of a clod of earth. He closed his eye. "This won't do. I need to see more than this, but that means I have to move. Shit." He did a mental checklist of the muscles needed for this particular maneuver and then threw himself into motion.

Now he was sitting up but his brain and stomach seemed to be on a five second lag. When they finally returned to their rightful places, he wanted to retch, and would have if he could have remembered how, but the pretty lights at the edge of his vision were a nice touch and offset the waves of pain.

"Am I hurt?" he began to run his hands over himself. No bleeding, no broken bones. He had all of his limbs and digits. So why was his head overwhelmed with waves of pain? He reached up and his hand grazed the edge of a helmet that he didn't know he was wearing. He tried to remove it but found it tightly fastened under his chin. "That explains the choking sensation, now that I think about it," he said to himself as he fumbled with the strap. He took off the heavy helmet and sat it in his lap. It appeared as if some giant had taken a bite from the back of it, like teethmarks of a nibbled biscuit. "It would have taken something pretty powerful to do that!" he marveled. "I wonder how I know that?"

He reached his hand up to the throbbing spot at the back of his head and found that while he had been out, his skull had taken up the new hobby of smuggling golf balls for fun, profit, or both. Regardless, the knot on his head would have been very at home on the links, but at this very moment, it seemed to be aspiring for Wimbledon. "That explains the pain," he thought in an effort to comfort himself.

He looked himself over again. He was dressed in a uniform of some sort, but he didn't look like a policeman or a marching band member. He seemed to be mottled from head to foot in varying shades of mud brown. "I'm a soldier," he decided. "Only soldiers get this dirty, but who am I, and what am I fighting for? I don't even know what side I'm on!" his mind had only been deeply concerned. Now it shoved it's cold hand up panic's skirt. "Sweet Jesus! I can't even remember my own name!" He gulped for air but it tasted like smoke and his eyes began to water of their own will.

"Wait! Wait!" he rested his head in in his hands and tried to think. The phrase, "remember the training" wandered around aimlessly in his head, looking for something to connect to but it came up empty-handed. "I know I'm a soldier," he started over, "What do soldiers have? A helmet, check. A uniform, check. A gun, hmm." He looked around and saw what had once been a rifle but now was twisted metal and splinters. "That won't do," and he concentrated harder. "What else do soldier's have? I've got a bag with a cross on it. Perhaps that means something?" His mind couldn't find anything to make any connection to but the he kept meandering about. "Dog tags! Soldier's have dog tags, and they have names!"

His hands flew to his throat and moved his clothes out of the way, reaching for the answer to a lot of questions, but to no avail. The back of his collar had been shredded by whatever had removed most of the back of his helmet, and now easy answers were not to be found around his neck.

"What have I got in my pockets? Maybe I have a letter. That would tell me who I am and where I'm from! Then I will know what I'm fighting for!" He went from pocket to pocket and spilled the contents into his up-turned helmet. A gentle rain began to fall while a lonely crow cawed in the distance. The mud under him softened some and conformed to his imprint.

He looked over the contents of his pockets. There were a few coins with heads on them that he didn't recognize. There were two tattered pictures. One of an older couple on a porch somewhere, and one of a woman who could have been his sister, his cousin, his aunt, or his betrothed. "She's a little ugly," he thought, "must be a sister." He checked the back for writing but only found layers of muddy fingerprints.

He looked around himself in hopes of seeing something familiar, something that would jog his head back into working order. He would have preferred to return to unconsciousness than face the prospect of knowing that he knew nothing, but that option was denied him as he was already up and several glands were throwing in their two cents to his survival.

The landscape was no help at all. It looked as if it had all jumped into the air at once and landed on it's stomach in a huge belly flop. It was pock-marked like the moon, with only burnt stalks of what had once been large trees and loops of barbed wire to punctuated it's perverse undulations. There were no signs, no roads, or even a path or game trail to follow.

"I know I am not dead. I know I am a soldier. I am hurt, but I am not hurt badly. I know I am in a war because this looks like a battlefield to me. I should look for men who look like me. Chances are, we are on the same side and they will help me. By the same token, I should avoid people who don't look like me as they are apt to be for the other side and would try to harm me,." he thought, but he vaguely remembered something about allies and had to reconsider.

"Regardless," he thought, "When I meet anyone, friend or foe alike, I will have to give them my name. I can't fight them," he realized, "and the first thing they will want is to know my name and I haven't got one." When he couldn't bring his own to mind, he decided to take another. Just one that would do until his real one came along. He tried to think of a common name, one that would fit anyone. All he could think of was John, Fritz, and Pierre, and none of those seemed to fit. He ran his hands through the stuff from his pockets and overturned a crumpled packet of cigarettes that read Chesterfield Kings. "Chester, that'll do. Should anyone ask, I'll be Chester. I'm certain I have a better name than that, but Chester will do in a pinch!"

He lit one and had a swig from his canteen. Whatever came, from here on out, he was ready to meet it head on and damn the consequences.

He got to his feet in a shaky fashion and started walking. "Whomever I meet," he resolved, "I'm going to surrender to them, as I've got no idea what this war is about anyway, and there is one thing I do know. There is no way they can talk me into signing up for this twice!"



  1. See, war is good for something, quality fiction.

  2. Doc:

    Wow! Impressive indeed. The use of "Chester" was especially poignant. The war backdrop was a very interesting change from your more recent work as well.

    It seems like all of us really did take to heart Cormac's urging that we stretch a bit (except, perhaps me... I am not sure if I deviated all that much).


  3. Great piece of writing Doc. I honestly don't think that anyone knows what any war is about!!

    Merry Christmas mate, David.


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