I don’t think I’ve ever actually posted a story on here, sooooo…let me know what you think!
From Cowardice Defend Us
Stories about cowardice can be as gripping as those about courage. One tells us about who we’d like to be; the other tells us about who we fear we are.
~ Author Unknown
Shattered pieces of glass dig into my hands and knees as I scramble into the dark building.
Hair drenched in sweat. Explosions and gunshots that are far behind rattle in my ears as if I’m next to them.
My heart pounds in time with my ragged breaths. Or is it sobs? Is it sweat or tears streaming down my face? I swipe my hand, cut and covered in dirt, over my eyes. It does nothing.
Like the glass that punctures my skin, the words that echo after me stab deeper.
A noise! I jerk and roll from my hands and knees into a ball, shivering as I cower beneath the unstable rafters of a half burnt-out barn. I press against the wall. Even burnt-out ruins don’t tremble against my insignificant weight. Insignificance in general.
I wrap my arms around my knees, clenching my jaw to stop the chattering teeth that sound like machine guns inside me.
The real guns have stopped. At last, they’ve stopped. If ears could, mine would breathe a sigh of relief.
Are my brothers in arms dead? Have they joined so many others?
I cower against the wood, tighten the wrap around my knees. I try to force some warmth into my body, but none comes. Just cold darkness. Cold mud that seeps into everything, through my boots, through my uniform. Eyes squeeze shut, throat constricts. Like a child terrified of monsters that don’t exist.
Deserter. Traitor. Coward. I can never go back. Victory must be close! Why couldn’t I hold on just a little longer? Just a little longer and it could’ve all been over.
“If I die, then so be it,” my brother had whispered, was it days ago? Hours? Minutes? He has always had that strength. The strength I’ve always wanted—and now never will have.
Is he dead? Dead because I left him?
“Go get ‘em, son.” That’s what Dad said as I left. His work-worn hand gentle as it rested on my shoulder. “And come back home.”
“Are you scared?” My younger sister asked with childlike curiosity. Her wide, star-filled eyes gazed up at me to repeat the question.
I’d smiled back then. I could put on a brave face when we were all going off together. Proud and defiant. It was our time to serve, to protect our home, our families. Rifles slung on our backs. Young and brave. But with every passing moment, the brave began to waver, and the young look younger than ever. Fear like a blanket draped over all of us. The thought of victory—a prize so far off. As we fought the war, slept in the mud, and one by one, left this world, defiance fled and our pride changed to terror. Unblinking eyes, unmoving lips.
What once was brave is now cowering in a barn. My brother and friends are still fighting, still bleeding out on the battlefields. Stories of courage, that’s what they are. I am a story of cowardice.
I could never do the things that my brother did. No matter how hard I tried, whatever I did—I slam my fist into the floor, I give a muffled cry as splinters of broken window glass respond.
Cradle my hand. Long for sleep to come. Rest that will block the screams of dying men from my ears. But no sleep, no rest.
The night drags on. My body is limp against the wall. I stare into nothing. Flashes of images I long to forget are all my eyes can see. Flashes of artillery that light up a peaceful night, destroy the calm and all in between.
The brokenness a war brings.
My head sags under its own weight. Everything cries out for escape, yet no one runs to my rescue.
Tiny slivers of light begin to peek through cracks in the wood. Dancing on the floor like the people will when there is no war. Like my family will when—if—my brother comes home. Like they would have if I could go home. Hope would be returned to the hopeless.
But not for me. No hope. I am forever labeled as I am.
A sob that sounds strange in the silence of the shed escapes me. Have I always been a coward? Does war break men or just reveal who they always were in the first place?
Is this who I am? Is this who I will always be?
No answers jump from the dancing light. No voice from heaven speaks comfort. No vision of my father reassures me of his love. Just a constant barrage of questions, tearing like gunfire.
It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. Men were not made to kill each other. When will it all be over?
With blood-encrusted hands, I fumble in the semi-darkness of the shed for something with which to pull myself up. My right hand grasps a rough piece of wood and I strain against the pain. Again! The wood snaps and leaves me a fistful of splinters as a parting gift. I lurch forward and stumble to my knees. Inhale and press my hands against the floor. Draw each foot under me until I’m crouched. I raise myself, reaching to grab the wall for support. My knees feel like they’ll buckle beneath me.
A window strung with cobwebs on the other side of the room calls me. The dirt floor between us looks like a canyon to my trembling legs. Each step closer brings more light. I drink it up, closer, closer—there. I collapse beside it and sink to the floor. The rays of sunlight fall on my head. Were they dancing?
Eyes close. I hope it is for the last time.
“Hello?” A strained voice.
Vision springs to life, body retracts, heart jumps.
The colors of the uniform throw themselves at me. The enemy. I stare up, eyelids straining. My hand half gropes for my gun, before I can remind myself that it is abandoned somewhere on a battlefield. My hand falls still and my eyes squeeze shut. I clench my fists. This is it. You die a coward.
Silence. Heavy breathing. A crash of metal.
I crack one eye open. He collapses to the floor next to his gun with a groan and lies still.
Is he . . . dead?
I slide myself with cautious speed to my knees and stare at him. He’s not moving. But it could be a trap. Like the one that killed my best friend. His face is turned away. My hands tremble, so I press them into the dirt.
You can do this.
Closer. Just a little closer. I’m right next to him now. I roll him over. Dark hair, wide brown eyes dart before resting on me. Unmoving lips. Not much younger than myself. In his eyes, I can see the same fear that grips my heart.
I slip my arm beneath him, and with what little strength I have left, drag him to the wall and prop him against it. He starts to shake. His hands wrap like shackles around my fists, his trembling voice stutters out the words. “Please . . . please don’t kill . . . me.”
I shake my head. Words sticking to my throat. I peel them off. “I won’t.”
His hands don’t loosen. He squeezes my wrists, but I don’t care. My hands wrap over his and squeeze back till the trembling subsides. His grip cracks open, bit by bit, then lets go, and he presses himself back.
I find myself speaking. I don’t know if he can even understand me. “It’s going to be all right. One day it’ll be all right.”
It will be all right one day, it will, it will, it will.
The soldier beside me is proof. Hands that would have killed each other only hours ago, joined. Something sparked inside. Hope.
As the soldier drifts to sleep, I feel my muscles relax.
Noise. Footsteps. My eyes open.
I see a man wearing the same color uniform as my own. I jerk back, my shoulder hitting a beam. He holds a gun and looks between me and my sleeping friend.
I swallow. With a deep breath, I summon strength I don’t know I have. Press my knuckles to the floor and shift myself in front of the man on the ground. I press myself against his body. Brace for the shot. If I die, then so be it. I close my eyes. The shot doesn’t come. The gun crashes to the ground.
Just three words: “It’s all over.”
My eyes open. His hand is outstretched. A smile. He lifts me to my feet. I think, somehow, it will be alright.