Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Clearing

The soldier crept through the woods in a clumsy fashion. He did not know exactly where he was. The trees reminded him of the forests of his home. There he was safe. Here he was not.

In his mind he still heard the cries of pain from his fellow troops he had left behind in the confusion of the battle. It was not his intent to desert them in their time of need. He had been overwhelmed by the sense of fight or flight, and he had chosen flight.

The soldier was young. Only nineteen. He had been lured by the promise of excitement, adventure, and money. Plus, if he served his time, he had promised a house and land near the town he was currently stationed. 

He stopped and knelt down. He reached for his canteen only to discover it was gone. Fear had parched his throat. He considered trying to lick the dew off the grass, but decided it was not worth the effort. Nervous sweat stung his eyes. He wiped his face with his free hand. His other hand gripped his
rifle tighter. At least he had not dropped that. His sergeant, a brutal man, would have beaten him for that. But that did not bother him. His sergeant was one of the first ones killed in the battle, almost as if he had been targeted. In fact he had noticed that all the leadership of his patrol, the officer and four sergeants, were the first ones shot. All control had been lost. It seemed like the attackers knew exactly what to do. 

As he walked further into the woods, he could not help but think of home. His mother and little brother standing at the doorstep of their little home, waving to him as he left for the army. The man had brought a paper to his mother saying that he had come to get her son to join the army and fight for his country. There were promises made. Some had been kept. Most had not.

The sun rose higher in the sky. At least there was shade under the leafy branches of the trees. He thought there should be a creek or river soon. There he could get water to drink. 

He thought about what he should do now. Should he turn around and find a way back to his unit? Or should he just continue on? Maybe he would find a house and food and water. He decided to walk on. 

The ground begin to slope down. The soldier's pace quicked. Water! There had to be water soon. He heard the water before he saw it. The sound of it trickling over rocks and stones.

Without a thought but to slack his thirst the soldier plunged nearly headlong into the water. He scooped it up his hands, deeply drinking of the cold liquid.

Picking up his rifle, the soldier staggered out of the creek. His thirst sated, he realized how exhausted he felt. At the base of a tree, he sat down between two roots, leaned back against the tree and within seconds feel asleep.


The soldier woke with a start. It was dark.  The night chill mixed with his still damp clothing was cold against his skin. Now he was hungry and thirsty. His bladder was painfully reminding him of how much water he had drank before. Standing up, turning, and unbuttoning his fly all happened in the same motion. He sighed  with relief as he emptied his bladder onto the leaves that covered the ground. 

Picking his rifle back up, he made his way back down to the creek and drank some more water. He knew that activity would warm him up, so he started walking by the moonlight filtering down through the trees. He followed the creek.

The eastern sky brightened. The soldier walked slowly along the creek. He would startle at unrecognizable sounds. Ghosts seemed to flit at the corners of his vision. He would stop and steel himself from time to time. When he got thirsty he would drink water from the creek. The sun dawned. 

As it got brighter details began to stand out. The soldier noticed a worn, old trail that crossed the creek. Flipping a coin in his head, he ended up staying on his side of the creek and began to follow the trail. The trail seemed to meander the forest. The trees thickened. It seemed harder and harder to see around him. It seemed all that was visible was the same worn trail. 

His stomach rumbled at a faint, famliar smell. Food was cooking nearby! Need override reason and he moved faster down the trail. Making a final turn on the trail, he found himself in a tiny clearing with what appeared to be a small wooden shed tucked in amongst the trees at the edge of the clearing. Everything was nearly concealed from overhead sight.

A young woman was working at a small fire at an elevated fire pit. She was cooking and watching two small children who were playing quietly a few feet away. The soldier stood still, rooted by the suprise of it all. Never would he have expected to find people, much less a family living in a small place like this. It was similar, but smaller, to his home. Here all civilians were required to live in the cities. Only the rebels would even try to live in the countryside. 

It was so quiet he could hear the little sounds of the small fire. What smoke made by the fire was filtered out by the trees above the fire pit. The woman was humming a song for the children. The soldier did not recognize the tune. It was probably another one of the strange songs that the rebels and their kind liked to sing. 

He saw hand tools of various sorts hanging on the side of the dwelling. There was a shovel, a hoe, and other useful implements to maintain the little house and garden the area. The stream was not too far away for water. There was even a little outhouse further back in the woods. This was the place he wanted when he was done with his time. It was perfect!

Suddenly, in the middle of his reverie, the soldier noticed one of the children had stopped playing and was pointed directly at him. The woman stopped her cooking, looked down at the child, saw that she was pointing at something. She looked  up and saw the soldier. She forgot the food cooking and snatched up both children and rushed for the door of her little home.

The soldier was confused. Then he remembered who he was and where he was. He could hear the children crying from inside the dwelling. The woman returned to the door. She was holding something in her hands. It was a gun! She was a rebel! The soldier raised his rifle and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. He pulled the trigger again. The same nothing. He twisted his rifle to look at it and realized the safety was still engaged. He moved his hand to release it. 

The soldier glanced back up at the woman. The gun in her hands was still pointing down. He thought he still might have the chance, but what a waste! She was attractive. He would have enjoyed her. Then the soldier noticed that she was not looking at him, but behind him. 

His head turned and his blood froze. As a boy his mother used to warn him about the demons that lurked in the forest, ready to snatch him away his bed at night. As he got older he would dismiss those tales as untrue. Yet, here was a leafy brown and green demon rushing him with with a strange cry that sounded like "Haaaakkaaaa!" A straight stick a piece of metal bisecting the end of it was swinging towards him. The old boyhood fears slowed his reactions. The soldier tried to raise his rifle when the metal ended stick struck his head. There was a white hot flash of light and pain, then nothing.


The forest demon stood over the body of the soldier. The left appendage reached up and pulled back the hood to reveal the man inside. Looking down with an experienced eye, the man knew his blow had struck true, and the young soldier was dead. The tomahawk in his right hand dripped small drops of gore. 

He looked up at his wife who leaned against the door frame in relief. He ran to her dropping the tomahawk to the ground. He wrapped his arms around her. They reassured each other was okay. The younger child stopped his crying and saw his daddy dressed like a bush. He clapped his chubby hands and reached up his arms. The man soothed the child with his voice. 

The man stepped back outside,  picked up his bloodied weapon, and walked over to the dead soldier. He knelt down and stripped the body of everything useful. The rifle, bandolier, the belt, and the boots were quickly piled up. The boots were too small for him, but they should fit his wife. She would appreciate them in the coming winter. He left the bloodied uniform, with its strange blue flag and insignia, on the body.

The man's wife rushed out to the fire pit to save what food she could from burning. She shrugged her shoulders. At least there was enough for the children to eat today. 

The man cleaned his tomahawk and put back in belt. Picking up the items from the ground, he laid them on a little table next to the door. He lifted the boots up for his wife to see. She glanced approvingly of them and continued to scrape the food into a pot to take inside. 

He shrugged out of the leafy ghillie suit and walked around to the side of the little house to grab the shovel. He glanced at the sky. No circling birds yet. He had digging to do.

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