The Duty

The Duty

A Story by cassandra violet
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What is more important- our duty to our heart or society?

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Two watchmen stood side by side, shivering their bodies in sync to the chill that glided in the restless wind. The taller of the two began to hum a deep whistle that echoed through the sleeping camp. It was late. Dew that predicted the coming of dawn began to poke the air, dripping off of trees and splattering against the dirt in soft clicks. The falling drops beat against the watchman’s whistles and his companion begun to tap his feet to the infrequent melody. The men were painfully bored. Their thought’s scattered about their heads until the whistling watchman broke his beat to speak.

“Do you think its true?” he asked uncertainly, hesitant to discuss the matter.

“I cannot be sure,” the other answered honestly, “though something tells me nothing could be more true. I’ve felt the tension in the air for quite some time now.” He squatted down on the ground, resting his gun on the battered wall behind him.

“George, right?” The standing soldier confirmed.

“Right. Henry?” George asked, staring up at the strong lines of the others face.

“Yes.” Henry confirmed. “But would they challenge us? This I must wonder. Surely their attacks would be useless. They have 80 men!” He exclaimed with disbelief. He did not sit down with his companion, instead he chose to pace the pavement in circles, lacing his fingers thorough his hair wildly as he contemplated the purpose behind such absurdity. His fellow soldier ignored him as his thoughts drifted to his stomach’s growling hunger. He wondered if he could sneak something to eat.

“We’re taking away something that they have known for generations, something that they have built their society on. We’re going to destroy the place they call home. What choice do they have?” Henry finally concluded aloud after treading through the rushing currents of his thoughts.

“True… If you consider that tiny village a society” George snorted while taking his eyes away from Henry to angrily watch the horizon. He looked past the littered smog that smothered the air to watch where their enemy was waiting somewhere northeast from the camp. They hid somewhere off in the distant trees like cowards.

The men minded their own business for some time, keeping to themselves but occasionally breaking from their thoughts to watch one another intently, wondering what could be on the other’s mind. They had been ordered to guard the west entrance to the city. The General had been rumored to be planning an attack on a neighboring village to open an easy route to the enemy. The village had remained mutual throughout the war and had refused to allow the army to pass through peacefully to attack their neighbors. The only other way to reach their opponent was through the thick surrounding forest. They had some tanks left, but not nearly enough to launch a major attack. Besides, the tanks couldn’t pass through the forests unnoticed. More tanks would not arrive for more then a month and they were desperate for time. Every day that they lingered cost more money and wasted resources that they did not have.

 The men feared the woods; each refused to enter its mess of bulky branches. The enemy was strong in the forest. They had set up traps to keep the soldiers out and their snipers hid in the frightening darkness. So, the many of the men had reasoned that the best option was through the village. The two watchmen had been ordered to kill any from the village who came to the walls which had caused Henry to form the logical conclusion that the general had indeed been planning a discrete attack against the village to avoid conflict with the soldiers who did not wish to harm the innocent; Henry was one of those men, he was unsure of what he would do if a villager so happened to come to their walls that evening.

“Did you hear that?” George asked, tripping Henry as he skipped thorough his thoughts.

“Hear what?” he questioned. Interested, he edged nearer towards the wall that George now watched fearfully.

“Be quiet.” George urged, he motioned for Henry to stand back while he stood up and looked over the wall. “False alarm” he declared. Relieved, he sat down, rapidly tapping his feet together and drumming his fingers on his thighs. George didn’t seem to care much about the villagers, but Henry doubted that his fellow soldier wanted to commit murder, because whether or not one had yet acknowledged it, in their subconscious the act of murder slowly decays the soul.

Henry walked towards the wall, glancing over only to see dirt and rocks lying in the dirt below them. He looked back at his companion and they exchanged nervous glances. He checked below the wall again before backing away. As his feet inched him back he stared at the vastness of the destroyed horizon as it smoked thick clouds of war smog.

“Close call.” George stated casually, lighting a long cigarette while offering one to Henry who politely refused.

“I don’t smoke,” he replied.

“Lucky you.”

“I guess.”

“I’ve quit at least a hundred times, I just can’t seem to find a way to do it though. Every time I think I’m fine something stressful happens or I get bored and I just cave in, you know?” he rambled.

“Ya, sure. Wait, hang on.” Henry interrupted. “I think I heard something down there, I need to go check it out, I just want to be safe.”

“Your risk.” George muttered with smoke merging from his cracked lips. He flicked the ash of his cigarette onto the floor of the wall.

His skin grazed the smooth handle of the gun as his eyes checked his pockets for a knife. He threw the heavy death stick over his shoulder and begun to sneak towards the shadows below the wall where the strange noises had been heard. The darkness obscured his vision and his hands felt in front of him while his eyes adjusted to the night. The darkness covered the air like a blanket of thick wool, smothering it. Crickets hissed at him as he explored the area. His feet softly broke weeds and branches that were sporadically tangled in the dirt. His ears were alert and listened intently for the sound of movement. After several moments of finding nothing out of the ordinary, he turned to go back into the camp, but as his back faced the bushes he heard the same noise and spun rapidly in its direction. Two figures slowly came out of the nearest bush and he yelled in surprise and fear before realizing that the figures were a woman and a small child. The pounding of his heart was calmed by the pitiful look the woman wore in her eyes.

“What was that?” George called  above him.

“False alarm,” he shouted back towards the sky while motioning the strangers to be silent.

“Who are you?” He asked fluently in their native tongue.

“Please…” the woman whispered desperately.  “My daughter is sick and she needs help… I didn’t know anyone else to come to.” Tears glistened on her round cheeks, sparkling with her skin and sticking clumps of hair to her face.

“What… does she have?” He questioned uncertainly, inching towards them slowly to observe the young girl.

The child’s face was thin and pale with pounding red cheeks, contrasting against the darkness of the evening. Her eyes refused to meet his and instead remained focused on the ground, lids half closed and watering while they watched the same spot in the dirt as he inspected her. Her breathing was uneven and loud; her congestion could be heard like raging thunder.

“I’m not quite sure.” Her mother answered honestly. “She’s had a high fever for weeks now and no energy. It started when the smog appeared in the sky, when all of this started I guess, it’s just my luck to have this happen during such a terrible time. It’s only getting worse too, we almost didn’t make it here; I had to carry her as much as I could. She can’t keep any food in her body and she wakes up shaking in the night. I don’t know what to do.” She whispered in shame.

“I’m not sure how much I can help you.” He said regretfully, pressing the back of his hand to the girl’s forehead to feel her temperature. He yanked his hand away at its heat. “Holy s**t.” He whispered.

“Right now, I’ll take any help I can get.” The woman’s face shined with tears, like the moon glistening on river water, but yet remained stable and stern like the tone of her voice. Her eyes were pits of darkness where hope was hiding.

“Do you want medicine?” he asked.

“Do you have doctors?”

“None that would help you.”

She nodded and held her daughter closer to her chest as the girl began to cough hysterically. Henry covered up her coughs with his own, hoping that it would distract George enough from hearing them.  

“I can find you medicine… I think, but for now I think that’s all I can do. I’ve studied basic medicine, but nothing like this. I had something similar to this once when I was much younger, I can try to find what worked for me.”

“I understand and thank you.”

“Can you wait here?”

“Yes.”

“I’m not sure how long I’ll be, but if I’m not back before it starts to get light then can you meet me when nights falls again tomorrow?”

“I don’t know how much longer she can last.” The woman cried impatiently, her desperateness pleading that he would soon return.

“I know, I’ll be as quick as I possibly can, I promise.”

“Thank you.”

“God bless you.” He whispered sadly to the girl, unsure of what parting words might ease her suffering.

“I don’t believe in God,” her harsh voice cracked in muffled coughs.

“I don’t think I do either,” he said, while gazing at the smoky sky that blew thick clouds of smog towards them. He wondered what innocent lives had been lost that night.

 

 

Henry parted ways with the woman and her child to sneak back into the gates. There was little time and he needed to act fast. Before he could get aid he knew that he had to make an excuse for his extended absence to the other watchman so that he wouldn’t wander down to where the woman and her child were hiding, thinking that something had happened to him. What could he possibly say to excuse himself to leave for more then an hour? He did not know his companion well enough to include him in the plan, and with the state of the child he knew that there was no room for mistakes and even less for failure; her life depended on him and something told him he could not trust George. His lids closed to reflect upon the sunken paleness of her cheeks as they blew out raspy coughs into the wind. The memory echoed wildly within him, staining his sanity.

His legs climbed up the stairs as quickly as they could carry his heavy heart while he breathlessly ran towards George. George looked up hesitantly. Henry threw himself down the hall of the wall, tripping over George’s gun that rested lazily on the ground. He sprung to his feet and dusted off the dirt that blemished his pants. George watched him cautiously, puffing on a new cigarette.

“I think I need to talk to the General.” Henry said sternly hoping that his confidence would be enough erase any doubts George may have.

“What for?” he curiously inquired, standing up to hear the news. His heart pumped at the idea of him presenting it to the general instead of his fellow soldier. If it was useful news he could be a hero, a war hero. He would go back home and be worth something. The air of the night stung with desperation as George moved towards Henry, who began to back up.

“Its private- but urgent.” He hissed. “It won’t take long- I hope, but it’s an emergency. Stay here and watch the wall. We need at least one of us to do the duty that we were assigned.” With those words he turned roughly on the spot and prayed that his act had fooled him.

He wanted to glance back and read George’s face to make sure he wasn’t eying him with uncertainty, but he knew that doing so would only cause more questioning, and so he pulled his feet as quickly as they would lead him away without breaking into a chaotic gallop.

Racing down the stairs and into the dirt-tiled streets, he searched for the small hospital shack. The dim light that filled the evening slowed him down. His thoughts ruminated on how to take the medicine while remaining unnoticed and he soon realized that the only way to do so was if the shack had little wounded residing within it. Their base had seized most of their attacks due to supplies decreasing rapidly, and so they had suffered very few deaths. This gave him hope that he would be lucky enough to find the shack clear of wounded soldiers. Encountering even one could be enough to get him caught. The child was developing some sort of flu, and while there was no medicine he could give her that promised to heal illness, there had to be something that could be found to aid her, or at least something to ease the child’s suffering as she parted.

The shack was dark and quiet. He cringed as the door creaked open under his soft touch. Henry clumsily slithered into the room and swayed on the unevenly built floor. His shaking hands felt the inside of his pockets for the small flashlight kept there. The quivering of his body failed to ignite the light several times and with each failure his eyes frantically searched the dark room, praying it was abandoned. Once lit, the light shined against the vacant beds and Henry drew the light across the beds in a quick line and messy line, searching for wounded men carelessly. The light reveled no men and he bitterly wondered why they had suffered so little casualties despite the fact that they planned to destroy an entire town, simply to gain more then they already had; what they didn’t even need.

The war had started because his country was running out of resources. They had destroyed most of them in the past decade as they exceedingly used them once they found their buildings to be too small, and so they needed to make them taller. The tall buildings housed more people, but those people then needed more cars, and then those cars required more roads and those roads had to lead to more places to go. He did not have a car, he didn’t need one, he had legs, he could walk. His house was back home was small, but because it was smaller he needed less things to fill it and he found that without so many possessions, he was able to appreciate the things he had and the things that the world offered for free. Things like the music of the chirping of birds as they nested in the morning sunrise tinted dew, on beautiful flower covered trees, blowing in the breeze. Free things like the warm touch of a lovers skin on the shores of the sea, under the smiling star-lit sky. Beautiful things like the uncertainty of waves as they crashed against rocky cliffs, wrestling with the fierce moonlight. He glanced out of the shack’s battered window, hatefully watching the smoke that stained the sky; it was edging closer to the moon. The night would soon erupt in darkness.

Using the flashlight to quickly glance around the room, he found the cabinets that held the medicine stuffed in a dusty corner. The cabinets were full of different sized bottles that were labeled with complicated names and ingredients he had not heard of. This would be harder then he thought. Starting on the right he began pulling them down to read, until finally after some time he had managed to gather a pile of what he hoped could fight the child’s virus. As he turned to exit though, he came face to face with a man who must have been lying hidden underneath the covers of his bed when Henry first walked in, but now sat up and stared at him as he stuffed stolen bottles into his pockets.

“What are you doing?” The man implored. His eyes squinted, narrowing themselves into slits. Henry’s heart thrust into his chest. His eyes stuck like glue to the curious eyes of the wounded man, unable to decide how to act.

“My friend is sick.” He said at last, unconvincingly in a quivering voice that was intoxicated from nerves.

“That’s a lie.” The man whispered, shaking his head. He crossed his arms slowly, radiating intimidation that shivered down Henry’s spine. “Tell me the truth or I’ll call the nurse in.” His hand motioned for a bell hanging

“I…” Henry started. He watched the man desperately. “Please?” He begged, unsure of exactly what he was asking for.

“If I’m going to let you do this I need to know why you’re doing it.”

Silence stung the air, pinching at him until he finally answered with the truth, knowing that it would have only a very small chance, if any, of touching the man’s heart enough to allow him to leave with the medicine.

“There is a girl…” his fingers played with the bottles that were bundled heavily in his pants. “She’s sick, horribly sick- but she’s a native.” He stopped, unable to continue. His eyes frowned into curved rivers of guilt.

“Oh.” The man said slowly, turning his face to watch outside of the dusty window. His face was expressionless as he contemplated Henry’s words.

“I can’t let her die.” He explained. “There’s no reason she should have to, there’s no reason anyone should have to die before they’ve lived a long, fulfilling life.” He argued in a desperate attempt to make the man see the situation in the same way that he did.

“She’s just a girl… and she’s already seen so much evil since this started. If she lives she’ll probably see more, maybe too much more, but she’ll also see beautiful things… like the love of her Mother, who risked both of their lives to bring her to me with tears shooting her eyes like bullets… but maybe someday she will see a clear sunrise again, once this smoke has drifted away and the war is over.” Hope danced with his words as they swayed from his lips. He inched closer to the bed and watched the man with fierce intensity. His heart sprinted, covering his body in sweat, but his mind remained static. He had already made up his mind when he had promised the mother he would come back. Even if this man called the nurse he would find a way to help her.

The man didn’t answer him, instead his eyes clung to the open window where a breeze begun to blow against this hair. His eyes closed for a moment to take in the cool air and then they opened quickly and his head turned to face Henry as he stood breathing rapidly in the dark, waiting for an answer.

“Go.” The man finally said. “I’m sick of war, I feel like I’ve seen nothing else my entire life. The nurse told me today that I’m dying, my wounds are infected and they don’t have the resources here to cure them. If they send me back I won’t make it in time. I have less then a week, I’m going to die and these nothing I can do to change that. I’ll never see the skies that you talk about. My family is dead, I’ve never known a mothers sweet touch, but if someone else can experience that then they should.” His arms uncrossed and his fingers twisted themselves into tangles of messy thought.

Henrys heart sunk in pity for the man lying before him. He examined his face, noticing deep bags underneath his eyes. The man’s cheeks were thin, disproportionate to the round bones that rose from his face. He must have once worn a cheerful face, but now his face was masked with misery. Or had it previously been masked with joy? Henry did not know, he could not know and now he never would because life was leaving the man’s body.

“What is your name?” Henry asked, tears beginning to drown his blue eyes, wetting the blonde lashes that extended from them and dripping from them to fall onto the thin, light beard that had started to grow like a shadow his chin.

“It doesn’t matter, it won’t be remembered in a week.” He said from his bed, his voice high with the fear of death and bitter from fate.

“I’ll remember it.” Henry said, sitting on the bed at the man’s feet. They stared at each other strongly for several moments in the darkness of the room, barely able to make out the others features in the thin light that weakly illuminated the room. The man’s eyes were a flickering light.

“James.” He finally sighed softly, breaking the contact their eyes had held to tilt his head down and watch his dancing fingers.

“James, I think you’re the best man I’ve ever met.” He said, continuing to look at him, trying to conquer the fear of death that rested on James’s face. “Life is unfair… Sometimes I wish my arms held the hands of God. I wish I could change the way that the world worked, I wish I could change my life.” Henry’s hands twitched, he had an idea. He reached around his neck and pulled off the small chain that he had found the first few days of arriving to this dreadful place. It had been found it in the dirt, resting on the outskirts of the feared jungle. On the tip of the chain dangled a small, plain, and brown wooden bead. It wasn’t much, in fact it was almost nothing, but it was dear to him. The bead reminded him of the simple pleasures that he chose to love over unnecessary luxuries. Since coming into his possession he carried it with him everywhere, always grazing underneath his shirt to feel the smoothness of the bead.

He speechlessly placed the chain on the mans chest and then said- “I’m Henry.” Before getting up to leave. As he left, he glanced back to see the man putting the chain around his neck, his fingers caressing the bead as his lips smiled weakly. While his smile was weak, his eyes twinkled like the stars Henry used to watch on the ocean’s shores, and he watched calmness sketch itself upon the poor man’s face. Perhaps, knowing that while he was losing his own life, he at least had the privilege of saving another, and maybe this thought had been enough to make a life feel fulfilled. Henry hummed as he closed the door behind him, singing to the song of the man as their hearts beat like stable, flowing drums.

He shut the door behind him and his eyes adjusted themselves to the darkness that had stitched itself into the night’s thick curtain. The smog had moved with the wind and now shadowed the moon, tripping his feet as they stubbed into hidden rocks that rested in the dirt road. His legs raced his heart as he ran sweating towards the wall. When it was reached, he laid with his back against it, camouflaging himself into its texture and depths. He ran quietly outside, staying as close as he could to the wall. Pacing the dark dirt, he searched for the bushes where he had left the woman and child. However, as he searched back and forth between the clusters of messy plants he could not find them. The bottles of medicine in his pockets clicked against each other, jiggling as loudly as the pounding of his blood as it spread through his limbs. After several minutes, he sat down, leaning his head sadly against the wall. His head fell into his hands, who reached out for it with the comfort of a mother. He heard a soft cough and looked up to find the woman cautiously crawling from bush nearest to him, clinging onto her sleeping daughter whose face had grown a strong blood tinted red that matched her mothers lips. Their bodies were scratched from the penetration of the bushes sharp twigs.

“I got it.” He whispered in relief, reaching his hand out to pull the woman to the ground as she stood up, sitting her next to him, hinting that she needed rest. They lay their heads with the walls in exhaustion. Blood beat through their veins in mirrored rhythm. 

“What were you able to get?” She finally asked after several moments of silence had been taken to appreciate the welcoming luck of the evening.

He began pulling out small bottles from his pockets, careful not to let them noisily click together. He passed them to the woman who looked at them curiously, unable to understand the words written on their labels as her lips silently moved to mouth the pronunciation of the only hope she had remaining.

“This,” he said pointing at the first three bottles he had handed her and breaking her concentrated curiosity, “Is for her fever. I was given it once when I had what I think your daughter has, and it worked for me. Fill the lid up to that mark by the rim and fed it to her twice a day, once in the morning and once at sunset. Make sure she has plenty of water afterwards; it has a bitter taste that may make her nauseas.”

“How long do I give this to her for?” she asked.

“Do it until she’s better.” His voice clung onto his last spoken sentence and they exchanged nervous glances as the woman’s eyes molded into saddened shapes from the exhausted hope that weighed down on her heart on a dangled rope. She had tied it around her pounding organ of life in a permanent knot and had no intention of cutting it off. “This,” he handed her the largest of the bottles, “Is for her cough and congestion.” The woman took it from him and nodded, taking note as he explained how it should be consumed. He pulled out the last few bottles and briefly gave her directions on the amount to be given, and when to be given and finally on the method of ingestion.

“That’s it. That’s all I could find, but if they can make her better then there should be enough there to cure her. You may even have some left over in case something like this happens again.” He said, praying that they would never have to be used again.

The woman remained silent, watching the bottles that were scattered about her dirt covered hands.

“Are you alright?” he asked, unsure of which emotions were swerving through her thoughts.

“I just… I came here tonight, doubting whether or not we would get help because rumors have passed through the lips of my village, whispering that your army is planning an attack against us… but I didn’t know where else to go, I didn’t know how to help my own child… and that’s the worst feeling in the world, knowing that you can’t protect your children. Not just from sickness, but from everything that has been happening around here. I… I’m going to ask you something and I would appreciate it if you were honest with me.” She muttered quietly, stroking her daughters tangled hair as light snores ejected themselves unevenly through her opened mouth.

“Anything.” He said truthfully, watching her eyes deeply, suspecting that he already knew the coming question.

“Are we going to be attacked?” She inquired bluntly, preparing herself for the answer she knew would be given.

“Yes.”

“When?” She demanded, turning to look at him, pulling the soft waves of her brown hair from her pale glowing face.

He noticed that her eyes were made up of splattered sporadic hues of green and brown, like drying grass, holding onto the dirt, praying for rain in a drought.

“I’m not sure. They haven’t told us yet, but there have been rumors based off of logic. I think it will be soon.” He said sadly. “You need to leave,” he ordered desperately, overwhelmed by the idea of her death.

“I cannot leave. I have nowhere to go.” She said tiredly; hope a stranger in her voice. “And… this is my home.”

“Go anywhere, but if you stay here then you’ll die. She’ll die.” He said motioning towards the sleeping child who stirred in her sleep at the harshness of his words. “You have a chance for life right now, both of you, but you need to leave immediately. Go West, or East, or North, but anywhere would be better then here.” His words stung against her pores and she shivered violently.

“How can you… be one of them?” She implored. “You’re not like them. I don’t think you want this.” Her eyes spoke to him as they whispered a deep understanding of the thoughts that had been ruminating his mind, haunting his happiness, ever since his gun had first been shot here. “You hate this don’t you? You can’t stand it! So why are you doing it? You’re not only killing people, you’re killing yourself.” Her words warned him frantically with concern.

“I… was forced to, it’s an obligation in my country if you’re called in to fight.”

“Just like I have an obligation to stay with my people, to stay in the lands that are my home.” She said, defending her refusal to leave. 

“This is different, that’s how you feel spiritually… this is… my duty.”

“If you think going against everything you believe in is your true duty, then you’re not the person I thought you were. Your duty is to do what you want, to be happy, to do what you believe is right.”

“And are you doing that?” he opposed, raising his voice. “Answer me honestly, do you really want to watch your daughter shot by men you hate? You risked both of your lives coming here tonight, and now you’re going to sacrifice all of it because of some absurd belief that you need to stay and defend your home against an army that outnumbers you five to one. That’s suicide. I think you’re giving up, you’re tired of struggling here, but you’re afraid of living a new life outside of what you know.” He argued sternly, aggressively.

“And you aren’t doing the same thing? You could leave right now. You could go away, run into the wild mountains that you dream of. Your eyes caress them more gently then if they were a lover, you haven’t taken your eyes off of the freedom that they offer all night. I watched you guard the wall up there, you’re miserable. I doubt there is any part of you that wants to stay here, and when this is over, I don’t think you want to go back to where you came from either. There is nothing there for you, you’re so bitter about this war, what’s happening right now, that you’ll despise everything back home one hundred times more then you did before” She spat with her racing voice. It pounded in his head, thrusting logic into his ignorant thoughts. She was right. He loved the world, he loved being alive, but he did not love his society- and he never could, not after this; any hope that had once lingered for that love to form had been stained by the dirty smog that littered the sky.

“You’re right.” Henry whispered sadly. “I’m a coward.”

“You’re not a coward, we’re all afraid of change. We dream of things and our dreams tell us what we want, but when they’re different from what everyone else dreams of, or what we think we’re supposed to dream of, we’re afraid to act on them. We’re even afraid to accept them.” She said slowly and sadly, realizing that her words spoke to her as strongly as they spoke to him, perhaps even stronger. They pounded in her head as her daughter turned her head from side to side and moaned from the nightmares that stalked her dreams.

“I don’t want to be this person.” He realized. “I don’t want to stay here and kill people, and I don’t want to go home to watch my world cut down the inspiring strength of trees to build bigger houses.” He started, his words not more then an unsure whisper.  “I don’t want to spend my life collecting different shinny possessions only to have them sit on a shelf and mock me, asking me if they’re uselessness makes me happy. I don’t want the shine of a diamond to be more important then the light of the sun. I don’t want to pass stranger’s faces, feeling bitter towards what they’re doing to the world. I want to be happy, and I don’t think I can ever be happy here… and at I’ll never feel the joy I feel when I’m alone in nature at home either, because I’m always reminded of a world I can’t stand, of a world I hate, a world which has caused me to consider suicide as a means of escape from it.” He rambled in realization.

“I don’t want to die.” She cried with him, listening intently, while suddenly needing to confess her own misery as well. “I’m so young, there’s so much I want to see, and so much I want to learn.” Her head fell on his shoulder and tears begun dripping into the cloth of his shirt, seeping through and drenching his skin with her sorrow. Her eyes released the pain that had stabbed at her chest for the span of her life, it poured out, like raging rain released from clouds in an angry thunderstorm. Drops struck the soil like thunder.

“Then…” he started uncertainly, almost not believing the words he was about to speak, “Why do we have to?”

She lifted her head to stare at him in disbelief, unsure of exactly what he meant by such irrationality. Then she understood and her answer brought on pain.

“Like you said, duty.” Her lips said in a harsh sigh. She began to sourly explain her options to him, her mouth tart from the bitterness of circumstance. “If I tell my people that we’re going to be attacked, then they will want to stay and defend our village, meaning that I will have to stay and defend our home with them. If I leave without saying anything to avoid being called a coward then I’ve betrayed them. If I tell them and then leave I’m a coward and I’ve disgraced my family’s name and not only will they hate me, but they’ll hate my brothers and sisters and my parents, when they’ve done nothing to deserve that. I don’t think I can live with what happens with either choice I have.”

“There is some truth to what you’re saying. I think we have this all wrong though. Those options are the consequences of assuming that you think it is your duty to believe that what everyone tells you is the right and only option.” He explained. “We have a duty to our families, to society, but I think that for the first time in my life I believe in God right now, or at least some sort of sublime superior force, and its telling me that every person is unique and different for a reason. We should embrace ourselves and act on this uniqueness, act on what gifts we were given, believe and act on the ideas that we think are the right thing to do. More then anything, we should try to become the best people we can possibly be, because life is so beautiful that it has to be a gift from something divine, something that should be appreciated- but how can you do that if you’re dead when you want to be alive? That’s contradicting the intentions of our creator. And now I’m hating who I’ve been all of these years because I’ve realized- how can I do that when I can’t even act on what I believe in? So what if one person thinks a certain way, what about the way I think?” His newfound realization of the definition of the term duty caused his veins to pump with determination and bravery to embrace the ideology, to make it a way of life.

 He was tired of hating the world, he was tired of hating himself when he loved what he believed in, what truly made him happy but could not be reached because he had never acted on it. If he didn’t like the society that surrounded him, then he didn’t need to live in it. If he didn’t want to be a murder then he didn’t need to be one. Her words before had been the truth. He was afraid of change because he had always been told that things only work in one way, but now he saw that things could work in many different ways, and they were supposed to. He had been drafted to this war, but that didn’t mean he needed to be a part of it. He needed to break away from that ideology and do whatever he felt was needed to be done in order to appreciate the gift of life that had presented to him. There were people who died young, there were people who had lived into elderly years but had not really lived at all. Life was not something that was guaranteed, it was something beautiful that could be taken away quicker then the blink of an alert eye, or something that could never be found at all. Now that he found it he wanted to keep it forever.

“I just… you’re asking for so much change in so little time.” Her head shook with confusion and uncertainty. Her tears fell harder, watering the soil, feeding the bushes that had earlier scratched at her skin. “You’re asking me to leave everything I know, to abandon it and to somehow find a way to live without it. Yes, I want to stay alive, I want to leave this place and see what wonders the world has to offer, but I don’t want to leave under the name of a coward.”

“But this change wouldn’t only save your life, it would make it so much better. The name of a coward would be with people who aren’t alive like we have the ability to be. Like you said, this war is killing me, I need this. I need to save myself and you need to save yourself. We both need this. Your daughter needs this! Lets do it then. Lets leave this war, your people might think you’re a coward- but no offence, they won’t live long enough to remember your actions because they’re all going to be dead, but you, you can do what you’ve always wanted to do and see the world. You can love your life instead of dread it. When was the last time you genuinely smiled?

“ I can have myself packed in minutes; all I need is some food and clothes.” He told her, offering her the dreams that had laid in the shadows of her mind her entire life. “I can meet you somewhere and wait for you to warn your village, so if there are any who think like we do they can escape. Then you can leave them and come with me and we can be the people that we want to be. We can save ourselves, save our bodies and our souls.

“Who says we can’t live in the wild?” he continued on as her eyes watched him in admiration by the confidence of his words, by the way in which he thought so differently from every person she had ever known. He thought so much like herself. She secretly pinched her arm, making sure she was in the realms of reality.

“I don’t need anything that I have back home.” He went on. “I can live without my house lights, they’re too bright anyways. I can live without people because they only corrupt me. Bring your daughter and come with me. Please!” he near shouted in excitement, jumping to his feet as his eyes danced with freedom. He realized that whether or not the woman came, he was a changed man, he had found what he needed in life, and he had finally found what could make him happy. All that he had ever wanted was to be free, to break away from the world he hated, and now he had the courage to do so. All he had ever wanted was to live with Earth, not to merely live on it. He was drunk from adrenaline; its rush giving his body a high he would do anything to keep.

“You’re mad!” she laughed, standing up beside him with her daughter in her arms. She stirred from her nightmares and half watched them, drifting in and out of sleep. “But you’re the most sane person I’ve ever come across. You know what? You’re right! I don’t need to die; I don’t need to keep my daughter in a place that’s so dreadful. We can explore the world on foot, live off of the lands and maybe we can eventually find a place to settle down, away from all of this darkness. I feel like I’m seeing light for the first time in my life, but it’s not blinding, it’s a beautiful soft glow that’s lighted a path which had been obscured by the dark, but had always been in front of me, the path I had always tried to find but just couldn’t. Lets do this.” She said surely. “I’m serious.” She finished, panting from her rambling happiness, her pale cheeks now flushed with bliss.

He pulled her roughly to his chest and held her with her daughter resting in the center. They were a family; her daughter would be ok, he was sure of it because he felt it in his body. Things happened for a reason. Tonight was fate. No, he suddenly realized. Fate was not right, because he had the power of drawing the path of his own life. Rather, he decided, tonight had been a guideline, a push in the right direction, an opportunity. He would not rest until the child was better. This woman was what he had been looking for all of this life. He had never seen such strength in a woman’s eyes, or heard such melody in a voice. Logic blew from her lips like a sweet song. A tune that would echo in his head forever, one that he wanted to dance with underneath cleared skies where the fear of being judged by others while dancing wouldn’t keep his body from enjoying the sensation that music gave as it bought on the desire to shake to it’s rhythm.

“Where do I meet you?” he asked, pulling away to pet her face.

“Do you know where the river is?” she asked with excitement, the hum of her voice causing his heart to jiggle with lust.

“The east river by the woods?”

“Meet me there.” She confirmed. “As soon as you can. I’m going to leave a note with our chief. I can’t face him in person; I’m worried it will ruin this moment; his words might exceed my strength. Then I’m going to grab what we need and I’ll run faster then I’ve ever run. Be patient though, I’m not sure how long this will take.” Her face blushed as his fingers felt the tips of her hair, which rolled like waves.

 He kissed her on the cheek before kissing the top of her daughter’s head. He turned to leave, but then his feet stopped and shifted his body to face her awkwardly. “I don’t know your name.” He laughed as he became aware of this.

“I think we need new names.” She said. “My name was given to me, but it’s not necessarily a representation of what I am, of who I am.”

“I’ve never heard such a truth.” He agreed. His head glanced above him to see a bird with its wings extended out, soaring in the sky. “I think I’ll be Bird.” He decided. He was leaving behind who he had been told to become, and becoming the person he was meant to be. It was a beautiful moment. His eyes dropped tears that fell like cleansing rain upon his soul, washing off dirt.

“And I’ll be Butterfly,” she decided as her eyelids closed to remember the colorful creatures that she used to wander the forest searching for, awestruck by so many colors painted on one creature. She had always longed for such transformation, to wake one morning and find that she was beautiful, and free.

He ran back into the gates, not caring who heard him, not bothering to report back to the other watchman. Standing upon the wall with George now felt like it had happened in a different lifetime, or perhaps a nightmare that needed to be forgotten. The hut where he slept was near the entrance to the camp, and while it was shared with several other men, he knew that they would be sound asleep, exhausted from learning how to become murders. He kept his things neatly in a bag underneath his bed, all he had to do was grab it and run back into the night, to the river where he would wait patiently for the woman who had changed his life in the most inspiring way, a way he had never even imagined possible.

He could decide what he needed when he got there, he could throw it out of his bag and leave it to rest of the shores of the river, the things he wouldn’t need for survival mattered to him even less then they did before. They were trash, meant to be thrown from one’s life. His fingers inched under his bed and pulled out a battered bag. There was some space left. He quietly exited the room to go to the kitchen shack next door, where he knew food was stored out in the open, soldiers rarely venturing in to steal for fear of getting caught. What he was doing was risky, absurdly dangerous and an hour ago he would have never done it. Now, however, staying in this camp seemed more absurd, more dangerous, not to his body, but to his heart, to the essence that composed his soul. He felt that whatever force had created him would be insulted by him staying.

Before exiting the gate, he looked back at the camp one last time, curious to see if the farewell would evoke any feelings of sadness. It didn’t. He felt the outside of his bag for a gun and the inside of his clothes for a knife, wanting to be safe; he was entering a world where one could predict nothing. When his hand reached to push open the gates he suddenly stopped, an idea sporadically entering his thoughts that felt as right as everything else he had realized that evening. He turned and rushed back to the hospital shack where the dying man had been kept, alone and in the dusty darkness. The door squeaked open to his touch, and his eyes searched for the bed where the man rested.

He found him with his eyes staring deadly at the ceiling. Life had passed him, he was too late. He had wanted to take the man with him, to let him die in the wild jungles of nature instead of the lonely, battered shack that probably brought on dreadful memories. He had wanted to let him choose his new name, to decide who he was before it died. Bird walked over to the bed and gently kissed his passed friends forehead, whispering good-bye and thanking God that the man had at least been able to do something he had truly wanted to do before he died, to feel the happiness one felt from an act of kindness, particularly one that allowed them to embrace the idea of making his or her own decisions, free from the treacherous influence of others.

Once again, leading himself outside, he jogged lightly past the exit of the gates. His legs carried him to freedom. Each step he took released him from what had felt like a dreary prison cell. He had found an exit, one that led to a field of shining flowers glistening from the sunlight.

The river was close, a little more then a mile from the camp. When he came to it, he searched for Butterfly, but she had yet to arrive. So, he took her advice and was patient, sitting down on the shores, and kicking off his shoes to let his feet dig into the gravel of the dirty sand. It cooled this throbbing feet that now ached from running frantically about the night. The trees whispered to him as the winds rustled their leaves and sporadically blew them off of branches to land on his head. The falling leaves tickled his skin. He sat in the quiet for some time, the wild forest creatures that poked from the wilderness his only companions until he heard footsteps and sprinted to his feet to find her face nearing him. Her arms bounced with the weight of the still sleeping child. He rushed to her and took the girl from her arms to burden the weight of the child whose height would soon compete with her mother’s.

“Thank you,” she said, appreciative of the gesture. Her arms were red from the weight and sweat draped her face, soaking the hair that curtained her radiance. He pulled an arm free from under the child to pull the curtains aside, letting her light shine through.

“No, I should be thanking you. Really, for everything. This is unbelievable and I couldn’t of done it without you.” He sat down with the child on his lap and motioned for her to sit with them to watch the flowing river.

“I couldn’t have done this without you either. I don’t think anyone could do it alone.” She argued.

“That’s true.” He agreed. “As much as I dislike most people, I feel like everyone needs a companion, someone to talk to, to help them grow and that’s just what we’re doing, we’re helping each other grow, to become better people.” He finished and they remained silent for some time, but there was anything but silence. Nature sung a song by furry creatures and the streaming river joined, its ripples rattling like drums.

She rested her head on his shoulder and they watched the sun slowly sneak into the sky to start a new day. The light glistened in rainbow hues of warm colors and birds spoke to them, celebrating the family’s new freedom by showing them how delighted they were to spread their wings and soar into the vast sky, appreciating and embracing their freedom. They both had worries, they still had their doubts, a sick child nested on Bird’s lap, but now they had faith and something to distract them from darkness. All they could do was hope for the best and reach for the best. If the child died, then at least now they had done everything possible for them to cure her. If her daughter died, then she at least had the comfort of a new companion to help ease the pain of such a miserable passing. He could hold her tightly every night as she wailed tears of the worst type of goodbye, until her tears would begin to grow thinner, and then there would be none at all. There would be nothing but precious memories that could be recalled with the closing of her eyes sweet lids as they played like old classic films.

He felt his eyes dropping slowly, and images of coming dreams skipped inside of his head unsteadily as he drifted into sleep. However, the breaking of a branch woke him, sending alarms stabbing through his peaceful dreams. He yanked the child off, waking her while he grabbed the gun he kept in the pocket of his bag, just as a shadow merged from the woods behind them. The shadow entered the sun wakening stained light and George’s face revealed itself, rage and determination glaring from his eyes in a reddened madness. He pointed a gun back at Bird and clicked it, preparing to end his life.

“Traitor.” He yelled, spit flying from his mouth and landing on the child that now shook with fear on the bank of the river. Her mother held her to her and their shaking struck against one another. “Did you not think I knew from the start? I heard that pathetic child’s coughs as you tried to pass them off as your own. I heard your whispering; your plotting. I heard you running about the camp. We made a promise to our country to defend it, and you go off and run away with what we’re fighting against? You disgust me!” George yelled in fury. His face was redder then the child’s sick cheeks, redder then the fading sunrise. His eyes were as black as the smog that hung above them.

“This is my life.” Bird said fearlessly. “I should be able to do what I want with it. I never wanted to come here; I was forced to. I don’t believe in anything that we’re doing, and I won’t be a part of it any longer.” He clicked his gun back at George as they watched one another, veins on their bodies pounding in rage, beating against heated flesh like a sweaty sun against pale sun burnt skin. George hesitated as his hands swung his gun in small, unsteady circles. If he killed Henry he would destroy himself, and he knew it.

“You have no faith in your country.” George said, trying to remain strong by looking down upon the crying natives with a look of repulsion.

“I have faith in myself.” Henry said with growing confidence.

“You’re selfish” George prepared to continue, opening his mouth wider to shout as loudly as his lungs could bare, stalling for time, but Bird wouldn’t take anymore. He was sick of it, sick of everything that was the past. The past stalked him when he had already left it, when it was meant to be a fading memory. He would do anything to break away because he refused to go back and rest on the bottom of the lightless murky waters which once drowned him. He pulled the trigger and George’s raging words were muffled by the stopping of his heart as the bullet cut through it. It tore through it like a crashing wave upon a chiseled, mossy rock that rested under the shadow of a cliff. The rock had never seen the sunshine, it just sat in the dark every day as the waves slowly chipped away at it until there would be no more rock.

The body fell to the floor, thumping as it bounced several times before lying statically in the dirt, staining it with vibrant blood. The air was quiet for several moments; ears rung from the boom of the bullet and Bird continued to hold the gun up in defense, unsure of what would happen next. Then, his heart began to flutter to the excitement of the last cleared obstacle. It was finally over. He was sure that George had been arrogant enough to assume that he could do the job himself, and had therefore not told anyone of his plan. He would have wanted to take all of the credit, to bask in the glory that would come from it. The shot though… that had been loud and was probably heard back at the camp where the soldiers would now be waking to routinely exercise themselves for battle. They needed to leave, immediately. He knelt to the floor to hug Butterfly and her daughter.

“I am so sorry.” He whispered in the child’s ear. “That was a bad man, he wanted to hurt us, but now no one can ever hurt us again, I promise.” Her eyes watched him with appreciation, she understood.

“Who was that man?” Butterfly asked, her voice cracking.

“There’s no time to explain, I’ll tell you once we’ve gotten away from this place. We need to leave though, there’s nothing but evil here, no good can come from staying. It’s corrupting us, harming us; the smog that spreads though the air like a fungus is probably what is making your daughter sick. The only thing we need to decide now is where we want to go.” His words rushed through his lips and pushed them into a smile as his hands dug into his bag, pulling out objects he wouldn’t need, a razor, a flask, a pair of dress shoes…

“I’ve always wanted to go north, towards the mountains.” The child exclaimed, her emotions mirroring those that pounded through Bird’s veins; she was her mother’s daughter, she was one of them.

“The mountains?” He joked with uncertainty, rustling the child’s hair playfully. “Of course! It’s perfect!” he agreed with the child whose sick, sunken cheeks now formed a weak, excited smile. “The mountains are a mysterious place, I’m sure that there we’ll find the adventure that our hearts seek. Even better, once we’re in the mountains, we’ll be able to see the entire world from the top of them, and on the other side is a different place entirely. The sky will be clear; the air won’t ring with the sound of bullets. Yes… the mountains… I think its perfect. What do you think Butterfly?” he asked, grazing her round, red painted cheeks.

“If we keep going north, once we’ve reached the mountains we’ll also be closer to the sea, I’ve always wanted to see it.” She said delightfully, longing to jump in the wild waters.

“Butterfly?” the daughter asked curiously.

“We’ve come up with new names for ourselves.” Her mother smiled at her.

“You’ll need one too.” Bird said.

“What can mine be?” she asked them.

“We can’t tell you.” He replied. “It’s your new name, it’s a representation of who you are. No one knows you better then yourself.”

Her eyes glanced above her, past the tree’s branches that wiggled in the wind and reached towards the light that was growing in the sky.

“Sunshine.” She decided.

“I like that.” He said truthfully, beaming at her choice.

“What’s yours?” she wondered.

“Bird.” He told her.

“You remind me of one.” She said, climbing into his arms as he reached down to lift her. They began their way towards the Northern Mountains, skipping together and shouting out their new names.

None of them knew how long it would take, it could take a day, a week or even a month, but it didn’t matter, because they held no obligations. Their journey towards their destination could change if it was so they so desired. They could turn west, or east or even head back south if they found something in the deep southern lands past this war-infected area that called them. They would go where their hearts pulled them, they would explore the earth and live with her, not on her. Little food rested in their bags, but spring was near and the trees were beginning to blossom with bright, colored fruit. Fish jumped from the water, traveling with them as they walked along the bank that winded north. Herbs popped from the soil, sending sweet scents through the air that could be tasted on their tongues. Later the next evening, as the sun climbed down from the sky to nap in the ground, they reached the end of the river; the spot that marked the edge of the dreary land they had managed to escape from. The border opened to a vast plain that danced with daffodils underneath a vibrant blue sky. The sky was clear of smog. Sunshine poured smoothly upon the fields, glistening off of the flowers and raining on the group’s hair. The girl suddenly impatiently demanded that they stop.

“What is it?” Her mother wondered with concern.

“Put me down,” she ordered. Bird exchanged nervous glances with Butterfly, wondering if he should follow the child’s commands. “Put me down!” she repeated loudly in his ear. Shrugging, he bent down and rested her on the floor of flowers, only to find her rise with him as he stood.

“I can walk.” She whispered to herself. Her legs extended and her dress fell upon them. The wind swayed the silky cloth against her form as she bounced and basked in the miracle.

“No…” her Mother cried in disbelief. “It’s been… so long… weeks…”

“How did you do that?” Bird wondered. A smile permanently painted itself into the portrait of his glowing face.

She didn’t answer them; instead she danced and ran about the field, swaying her legs with the wild flowers as they tangoed with the wind. Her hair flew around her face, tickling the roundness of her cheeks. The redness that had once stained her face with sickness began fading to reveal skin that glowed as strongly as the sun gleaming through the luminous white clouds above them. Her cracked voice was released from her throat and blew away into the wind and she started a soft, sweet song. The tune narrated the life of a flower that felt bitter about life after being birthed under the spring’s dreary showers. However, once the rain stopped, the shivering bud experienced the sensation of the sun’s warm rays for the first time; and the heavy drops of rain that had lingered on it’s body, pulling it down into the dirt, began to dry. As the light shone down, the flower found that what it had thought to be permanent green leaves that would spend each day under the pounding of the rain, had began to extend to the florescence of the sun, and it marveled at the bright color of its growing petals as they folded themselves into a blossom of vivid pink beauty.

Her mother threw back her head in laughter, drinking the shine that poured from the sun and fell upon her face. It fell into her open, jolly mouth like sweet red wine, tingling her body in pleasure. Her hand reached for Bird’s. She held it for a moment to feel the warmth it offered before gently pulling away, leaving his side to dance and sing with her healthy daughter in the yellow painted meadow. The beat of their song played in harmony and urged Bird to move, but yet he found himself stubbornly resisting his body’s desire. He was self-conscious about the way in which they would judge his performance if he used his himself to express the way that the music flowed through his form.

The dancing women repeated the song and it began to beat with his heart, mirroring its pounding thrusts and streaming with his blood through his veins. As he resisted, he found the desire to carelessly frolic growing upon him; the craving began to consume him. He denied the longing and in doing so he felt his heart ache with pain, it’s will having been stabbed by his stubbornness. Shadows that he had left in the sorrow of the past began to stalk him. The darkness settled itself upon him and the sun was shadowed. He was left alone to shiver in the dark. He shook his head in frustration to escape the frightening state. He had finally broken free from those dimmed days that had smothered his soul in darkness; he could never allow himself to go back. He wanted to dance, he needed to dance; the music was becoming a part of him. In refusing the music he was rejecting a part of who he was. So he let the rhythm flow though his body. It started off as light swerving in his arms but soon progressed to vigorous struts and sways as he allowed himself to become one with the music.

As the women started the song for a third time, the lyrics rolled off of his tongue in memorization and were released form his throat in perfect tune. Nature joined their song of pleasure. She sent the chirping of morning birds to flutter and sing with them.  The winds came, humming softly against his skin. The breeze blew through the trees and they chanted their rustling leaves with the music. In letting the music become a part of him, he felt himself becoming one with everything around him as his heart thrived with nature’s beats, just in the way that he had always longed for. He understood that he was finally becoming exactly who he wanted to be. It was beautiful, and for the first time in his life was not afraid to dance wildly.

 

© 2010 cassandra violet


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Reviews

Amazing.

Posted 10 Years Ago


absolutely fantastic write. your descriptions are flawless, setting and characterization crafted in utter brilliance. I shutter to think what might happen if you let your spirit fly and become published-they'll be no room out there for the rest of us ! :)


Posted 10 Years Ago


Really good stuff here.. enjoyed this very much!

Posted 10 Years Ago


Wow, this is a very talented feministic twist on war, as well as despcription that still makes me ponder on the characters. Even the small brushes of detail make this great.

Posted 10 Years Ago


In addition to the pleasant nature references, music is portrayed as having an almost hypnotic influence in this story? It also raises some interesting (and important) questions regarding the clash between our emotional desires and the requirements of society. More background information at the start of this story, may have helped to improve our understanding of the scenario and main characters? Also, the inclusion of comments in an Author's Note could have been added to good purpose in this case? My interest was held throughout. Nice writing!

Posted 10 Years Ago


i really like this story. the way you start off with the soldiers talking about the war, the logic behind it, and lead into the sense of duty that binds them to their nation. it makes it impossible to give these characters a particular nationality, because this could be any country, really. this is the nature of humanity in this day and age, and i love how at least one soldier finally sees through the lies he's been told his whole life and finds the courage to do what's right in his eyes, what he needs for himself. and the little girl just beings it together, drives it home that nature is a beautiful thing that we should really appreciate more

Posted 10 Years Ago


reALLY REALLY REALLY LOVE IT

Posted 10 Years Ago


i really loved this story... very well written

Posted 10 Years Ago


The story is amazing. I like the conversation about the war and taking of the village. The girl made the story more human. You create a bad situation for a town separation two waring nations. I really like this story. In the mist of war. Peace can be found if we are lucky. A outstanding story. Thank you.
Coyote

Posted 10 Years Ago


This is fantastic! Very well characterised and really well written, a brilliant choice of words; I loved it. Very deep and emotional too, a good job indeed, keep it up!~

Posted 10 Years Ago



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Added on November 25, 2010
Last Updated on November 25, 2010
Tags: society, war, drama, love, passion, emotions, spiritual, nature

Author

cassandra violet
cassandra violet

boston, MA



About
I hate this part. This is the part where I try to tell you who I am, what I've been and what I want with every single last milimeter of blood dancing in my veins to become- the person who my heart bea.. more..

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A Poem by cassandra violet