Short Story: The Echoes of Eternity

By Luke Romyn on September 23, 2011

The cacophony of explosions became muted, fading away into the background of his consciousness as he sat, musing about his failures. Swallowing heavily, trying to suppress his fear, he attempted to push back the sounds of war. He failed.

Before arriving here, he’d thought war would be glorious, but now, resting in the mud, sixteen-year-old Alan realized he’d been a complete fool. He’d lied about his age to enlist, of course, reveling in the respect he’d seen in his friends’ eyes as he’d shipped out to ‘see the world’, as the recruiter had put it. He’d believed they would storm across Europe, smashing through the Kaiser’s troops like matchwood.

Yeah… matchwood. Right.

Nobody had pointed out the enemy had guns too, that they’d fight back, that they could kill. Nobody had said the reek of rotting bodies would keep him awake at night, the stench of men decomposing in their shallow graves wafting upon every breeze. In his nightmares they called to him, telling him to flee, but to where? He’d seen men blown to pieces by bombs similar to those echoing around him now, screaming as they tried to push their intestines back in and praying to God to save them. But nothing could save them; they were doomed.

Alan had long stopped crying over those who died, and just waited for his time to come, every day a nightmare, every night even worse. When would this all end?

A bomb landed particularly close to where he crouched and Alan jerked, covering his head as dirt showered down on him from the ground above, urine staining his pants but he didn’t care. A distant part of his mind knew he should be numb by now, but he couldn’t stop it. Hands shaking, he dropped his arms back down, brushing the dirt from his shoulders. The call would come soon, and they would rush up the ladders and over the trench wall toward the horizontal hail of lead death. Maybe this would be his time to die, to scream out for God to save him, to say it wasn’t his time, to curse –

A barked order sounded, cutting away his thoughts. The time was coming. The bombs had stopped.

Gripping his rifle with trembling hands, Alan snapped the long bayonet into place under its barrel, praying he wouldn’t need to use it, to see death up close. Standing on legs which threatened to collapse, he wondered how, despite having lost control only seconds ago, his bladder was bursting once more, and yet his mouth seemed so dry. Glancing left and right, he saw his terror mirrored on every young face, and he bit his lip so hard he tasted blood.

A ladder appeared before him, a whistle cut through the reeking air, and Alan’s heart stopped. Even so, he surged forward, his hands gripping the rungs of the ladder, his feet pushing him up from below despite his mental protestations. He screamed at his limbs to stop, but they refused, lurching clumsily over the rotting sandbags and dodging the rolls of razor wire, bullets zinging all around him.

The morning sun was rising directly behind him, casting a stretched shadow across the battlefield toward which he involuntarily dashed. This body was no longer his to control, he was merely a passenger along for a nightmarish ride. He tried to scream but his voice wouldn’t respond as his mutinous frame raised his rifle, firing before ducking low once more, again racing forward.

No! I don’t want to die!

But he had no choice, no power. Try as he might to stop, Alan – was that even his name? – kept running, reloading his rifle and firing, reloading again, his hands no longer shaking. The machine gun opposing them pounded like a slaughtering drum and several fell to its dance of death, but Alan sprinted on beyond his falling comrades, the enemy trench looming like the jaws of a beast into which he hurled himself, firing directly into the face of a German soldier before swinging around to –

The enemy bayonet skewered him through the stomach, and Alan stared at the cold steel now penetrating his body. His eyes traveled up the rifle, noting the buttons of the German uniform before reaching the face, finally resting on the cold eyes staring back at him. Something about those eyes looked familiar, as though he’d seen them before, and often. They were mocking and malicious, and Alan could tell the man killing him was enjoying the action, reveling in what he did, drinking in Alan’s death as another would sip fine wine.

He tried to pull away, but the man dragged him closer, keeping him pinned agonizingly to the bayonet, pleasuring in the screams emitting from Alan’s mouth. Those eyes, the face, everything about the man killing Alan seemed so known to him, but like a memory fading he just couldn’t place it.

A twist of the bayonet wrenched another scream from his lips and Alan almost fell, but was held upright by the cold murderer.

“LOOK AT ME!!!” roared the German, apparently incensed he’d closed his eyes.

And then, like a monster rising up from the depths of the ocean, the memory emerged, and his mind screamed silently, almost in time with the lips of the boy dying upon his bayonet.

His bayonet because they were his eyes. He was the cold man, the murderer.

The realization snapped him out of Alan’s body, slamming him into the frame of the German soldier, and he stared, horrorstruck, at the young boy pierced on the end of his rifle. Struggling to control the hands clasping the German rifle, he fought to remove the bayonet, but as with the body of Alan, he had no control; he was merely a spectator. He felt his own roaring elation as the boy’s death drew closer, and was sickened by it.

Finally, with excruciating finality, the dying boy shuddered, coughed, a spurt of blood spraying from his mouth, and then he dropped, Alan’s battle with death lost.

Fighting against the surging sensations of ecstasy his former self enjoyed at the demise of the young boy, he suffered his own defeat. He had no power here, no authority. He was being forced to witness his former sins and suffer for them. As the scene neared its conclusion, the realization came to him that this had happened many, many times before, and would continue for all eternity. He had killed young Alan, and had relished the evil of his action, and as such had condemned himself to forever repeat this moment, regardless of how much he now repented.

The scene faded as Alan’s body dropped to the mud like trash, and his former self contemptuously stepped over it, searching for another kill. Within moments, he found himself formless once more, floating above the scene of carnage, his remorse so utter that he wished nothing more than an end to it all. But it would never end, never stop.

This was his Hell, his punishment.

Something began to come into focus, a scene similar to the one he had just left, but somehow different. He saw a soldier, little more than a boy, sitting in a muddy trench, terror etched across his features as he clutched a rifle with whitened knuckles. He drifted closer.

The cacophony of explosions became muted, fading away into the background of his consciousness as he sat, musing about his failures. Swallowing heavily, trying to suppress his fear, he attempted to push back the sounds of war. He failed.

He always failed….

 

 

Copyright(C) 2011 Luke Romyn All Rights Reserved

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The Illusion of the Tough Guy.

By Luke Romyn on August 15, 2011

A friend once told me he’d never had a physical fight. This concept amazed me at the time, and I really couldn’t imagine how he had accomplished it. I was only seventeen and already set on a course which would dictate my entire life.

Thinking back to that time, a point in my life where I thought being some sort of tough guy would shield me from the world, I wonder what my life would have been like if I too had never had a fight. Would I be scared, jumping at shadows? Or would I remain unaware of what the world is really like and sleep comfortably at night, wrapped tightly in my ignorance?

I’ll never know.

I see young men these days when I’m working in nightclubs, scared of being considered cowards and willing to attack at any perceived insult just to prove they aren’t afraid. It is all such grand nonsense. I have long lost count of the fights I’ve been involved in now, but it would easily be somewhere over a thousand, and I’m a far cry from the seventeen year old amazed his friend had never had a single one. For me to fight now is a chore, something mechanical I have done so many times it has become boring.

I am no tough guy, not the man I dreamed of becoming, anyway. I thought that once I was that guy I wouldn’t be scared, that people would respect me and move aside when I walked down the street.

Well, I reached that point. I remember distinctly feeling disappointed when I recognized it. I was that guy, but in order to get there I had to appreciate how pointless it all was. I’d spent years doing things which will haunt me forever in order to reach that point only to realize it was an illusion.

Some will read all this and think I am boasting or something ridiculous, but they will be wrong. In order to live the life I have lived I gave up so much, and closed off so much of myself, that I now understand I only ever lived half a life, missing out on so much along the way.

Not one to normally live in the past, I often remember that friend and wonder if his life without violence is a mirror of mine. Does he wish he hadn’t been conservative, leaping into any situation in an effort to prove something to people who don’t matter? Does he look at his mediocrity and yearn for a life spent hurting others in a vain search for hollow respect?

I doubt it.

Now I search for the life I should have lived, but understand I could never be here without the life I regret. I couldn’t be what I am without what I have done, and as such could not have found my true path in life without treading one which brought me so much pain.

And so the heroes in my writing will never be perfect, because I know it’s an impossibility. Only fools believe in perfection, and I am no fool, not any more. I am a man who has seen more than I ever imagined possible, and found the thing I sought wasn’t what it had originally appeared to be. Don’t get me wrong, I have no intention of settling down, hiding behind a white picket fence in between travelling to my office job between 9 and 5 before coming home and bitching about how crap my life is.

Nah, that ain’t me.

But now the intensity I used before will be focused elsewhere, on a single goal without thought of failure. Whether or not I make it is immaterial, and something I have no control over, but the amount of effort I put into it is within my control, and so I will not fail, not this time.

 

 

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Topics: Personal, Serious | 19 Comments »