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Soldier's Woe (standard:drama, 1972 words)
Author: A.M. SneadAdded: Sep 23 2002Views/Reads: 1998/1407Story vote: 0.00 (0 votes)
A soldier struggles to come to terms with the truth concerning an unspeakable act both he and his fellow soldiers committed. But he wonders if death is the only way to escape the guilt and shame.

I am a soldier.  A good soldier.  But looking at my hands now, I see the
stain of innocent blood.  Blood that won't wash away, though I've 
scrubbed at it furiously.  I look at my reflection and I see the truth 
of what I've done.  And I see the consequences.  I see it in the eyes 
of the other soldiers.  We all know what we did, but no one voices it 
aloud.  Perhaps we've convinced ourselves that as long as no one 
verbally admits this unspeakable act, then we are not truly guilty and 
won't be held accountable when that dreaded moment of judgement comes 
to us. 

I have stood in this doorway every night since that night and studied
the distant horizon, dark and smoldering.  I still find it hard to 
believe that we didn't know.  How could we not know?  Looking back on 
it now, I see it so clearly.  And I hear it...the silence.  Dead 
silence where there should have been shouting, accusations, cursing.  
But silence was all we'd received.  That should have told us, but we- 
like everyone else- had been caught up in the frenzy.  We were madmen 
that night, driven forward by the encompassing multitudes that would 
not have allowed us to stop had we wanted to.  But we hadn't wanted to. 
 And we didn't.  Now the multitudes go on with their lives as if it is 
over.  But it is not over.  Not for us.  It will never be over. 

Tonight I watch the horizon again, perhaps seeking a redemption that
will never come.  I cannot ask for redemption, though some believe it 
is attainable.  There are rumors drifting about.  Quiet, excited 
whispers that has the whole place in an uproar.  I watch the faces of 
my fellow soldiers flicker with hope.  They hunger for redemption as 
deeply as I do.  I don't try to dissuade them from seeking it, let them 
have their hope.  But as for myself, I won't leave this doorway to go 
and see if the rumors are true.  I think it would be harder for me if 
they were.  I could not bear to face such a reality, though I knew from 
that very night that it would come to this. 

Soldier after soldier slowly stumbles out of the doorway around me. 
Some bump me as they go by, but no one invites me to go along.  Each 
man is buried within his own personal torment, as I am, and seeks only 
one thing.  I long to go with them, but I can't. 

Finally, I leave the doorway and descend the steps.  I'm not drunk
tonight as I have been the previous nights.  I haven't had a single 
drink.  No one has.  And I don't want one, which is why I leave.  But I 
don't follow the others; I just walk through the night, hoping for it 
to swallow me up.  As I walk, I think about the other man, the one who 
realized his error long before we ever did.  He is dead now, by his own 
hand.  I can't help but wonder how many of us will come to the same 
end, when the knowledge of what we've done becomes too unbearable.  For 
me, that is already the case.  But I won't take my own life.  Death 
scares me more than life now, though it didn't use to. 

The hill looms before me.  The same hill I climbed just three nights
ago.  But tonight I hesitate at its base, recalling too vividly the 
events surrounding that first climb.  In my ears, I still hear the 
jeering crowd as clearly as if they still surrounded me.  Occasionally, 
below the shouts and cries, I hear soft weeping.  I understand it now, 
though I didn't then.  What have we done?  I wonder in agony. 

Tonight, the climb is laboring, as though I'm wading through thick mud. 
Three nights ago, the muscles in my legs had pulsed with strength as 
I'd forged up the hill, pushing and shoving, cursing and beating.  I 
had been like a man possessed that night, we all had been.  How can I 
live with this?  This is a question I ask myself with each breath I 
take.  Though death terrifies me, I find myself longing for its eternal 
embrace.  I want it to end, this anguish within my soul.  I want peace. 
 I want to close my eyes and sleep until my memory fails me and life is 
no longer a daily burden.  But there is no end in sight.  I cannot undo 
the unthinkable thing I've done. 

At the top of the hill, my knees buckle and drop me to the earth.  I sit
on my heels, my shoulders slumped, my chin on my chest, my arms slack 
at my sides.  The tears are there before I realize they are building.  
I weep, unmoving.  What is there left to do?  I know what I want to do, 
but I can't bring myself to speak the words, even in my mind.  I close 
my eyes and will the words to come.  Somehow...somehow perhaps they 
would bring comfort.  But they won't come. 

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