Of Violence and Uncertainty
He was being dragged along a cold, rough ground. Rocks and shrapnel tore at his back and the severely burning sensation was agonizing, doing nothing but dealing him the unbearable feeling that he was on fire. Coupled with the burning, his ankles ached and throbbed horribly. He could feel that they were suspended in the air as if a rope strung them up somehow.
He let out a strangled groan, but the only audible sound was a sickening gurgle; his mouth full of blood. He quickly spat it out, coughing haggardly.
The dragging did not stop, as if it had heard nothing. No... It sped up. The scraping sensation doubled and any potential sense of comfort disappeared in an instant. He clenched his teeth, not wanting to yell out. He had a feeling it was a bad idea.
How did I get here? Drifted through his mind. He strained himself to remember where he had been before this all happened…
…He gripped his rifle tightly as he trekked up a hill. Just over the peak was an abandoned bridge. Captain's orders were to find and secure it. They were apparently supposed to protect it from the enemy despite the fact that they were yet to be seen for miles. The Union army had been here long ago and this was simply busy work to be rid of another group of men for while.
A nearby soldier sighed obnoxiously, "When I signed up for this, I was expecting a lot more."
"Tell me about it!" another said, rolling his eyes.
The rest jumped at the chance to express their similar thoughts.
"I would have hoped to see the battlefield in the near future…" the man said, "…You know… doing something."
The first soldier looked at the man, thinking, "Grant, right?"
The man nodded.
"Yeah," the first soldier continued, "I completely agree. Sitting behind the lines and securing empty bridges is not what I would consider to be 'serving our country'."
"The more I think about it, though, I'm beginning to realize that this was the most likely outcome," Grant said.
The soldier shrugged, "It's still disappointing."
It was. But so was life in general. Nothing ever pleased anyone and Grant had the feeling that even combat wouldn't turn out to be as great and glorious as it led itself to seem. He tried to shrug off that fact. Despite the efforts, his mind drifted off to before he had enlisted… before the war… before even the tensions leading up to the war began…
…He had been working under a man named Gord for the better part of ten years now... A decade! That fact had never ceased to amaze him.
It had all started when he, as a stupid young kid, was screwing around in the shop where the man worked. He was a blacksmith, making the tools necessary to farm, as his home was a farming town.
Grant had come running into the man's shop and inadvertently knocked over the man's hot coal bath. The shop in its entirety had taken to blazes as if it were doused with gasoline. In fact, he claimed it had been in the aftermath. But that excuse did nothing to qualm the raging tirades from Gord that resulted in Grant's parents having to compromise.
Unfortunately, or maybe it was good fortune, but at the time he had considered to be the former, his parents agreed that young Grant had a price to pay for his actions.
He was supposed to work for him to the point that the man could rebuild his business. Grant was a capable worker. He was screwy at first, but the man had worked him into shape, to the point that he was an extremely hard worker who never complained. The only drawback at that point was his physicality. He was a thin build, to contrast Gord's massive form. He was hardened and cut as time went by, but he seemed to always be a step behind the man.
His acquaintance to the man eventually took hold and the man hired him even after the debt was paid off. He worked for him for eight years after that, forming a close bond with the man. It was assumed that Grant would take over the business following the death of the man later on.
This all came into controversy when the man unexpectedly died of a heart attack well after their ninth year together. Grant was fully expectant to receive the company and all.
But then Mark showed up…
Grant hated Mark. No… that wasn't right… he loathed him. Mark was Gord's son… estranged son. Grant had rarely heard the man speak of him. Apparently his son had deserted the man for unknown reasons. Gord had been insulted or hurt by his son in some way and they had been apart until now, at Gord's funeral.
Mark claimed that the company was his, as Gord hadn't written his will, passing the company to Grant yet. He was only in his mid-forties when he died! Of course, the company was passed to Mark, who promptly fired Grant and transformed the place into a barn.
Grant was left in ruins, having no job anymore and no promising future. He contemplated murder for days on end. There was nothing out there for him, nothing that was worth it. He couldn't rebuild the business; through a tragic set of coincidences, he was forced to spend all his money to fix up the shop before Mark appeared and was left broke.
He contemplated murder again… but this time it was impossible. Mark had disappeared back to whatever hell he had ascended from, leaving Grant to fume…
…Grant shook the thoughts from his head. The rifle in his hands began to shake. He was squeezing it as hard as he could. He even feared it would shatter. He had enlisted and been shipped out immediately after that.
The group eventually reached an abandoned town. The bridge was just beyond, but before them, the buildings were in ruins. Bullet holes riddled the walls and ground and rubble was scattered everywhere.
A battle must have been fought here earlier in the war. He scanned over the landscape before him. This wasn't just a battlefield... there were homes, stores... this place was a town where families lived, slept, prayed...
His stomach clenched up into his chest, threatening to inside itself out. All he could see was his family; his mom, dad, sister. What if this is what it was like back home? What if the war broke out and ran his family away from their homes? Or worse.
He quickly shook his head again to be rid of the thoughts and looked ahead. There wasn't anything left on this side of the town. The battle had cleared the entire town out around the bridge. There were no buildings left standing, though it was obvious that some had stood there at one point in time. Grant felt sick again.
He reverted his attention to the conversation that was still going on. The others were still talking about the disappointment of not being in battle. They weren't even affected by the grotesque scenery before them… completely oblivious to it.
"This is it guys," one of the soldiers said, "We could have been a part of this…"
Grant scowled but decided to keep his mouth shut. It wasn't worth making a big deal of it.
He made his way to the front of the group, reaching the bridge first.
He stopped in his tracks... Now this was the first sight of a battle.
"Whoa!" said the soldier just behind him as he came into viewing distance.
Grant slowly walked up the arched brick way that crossed over the rushing river below. Just in front of him were ten dead soldiers. They were all wearing grey uniforms that were stained red, brown, and other disturbing colors introduced by who knows what. The bodies must have been left here as a result of the battle… but why not anywhere else?
Grant came up close to one of the bodies. Most of them had begun to rot, beckoning all the flies from afar to come and feast. This image struck up further memories…
…It was many years ago, back before even Gord was in his life. He was his own young self, playing out in the fields. He was with one of his long-time friends and a dog owned by one of the neighbors.
They were throwing a small ball back and forth and out into the field, letting the dog retrieve it when necessary. This had been one of his favorite past time activities, having invited his friend, Susie almost every day to play.
One day in particular stood out to him because he considered it the day he had begun to lose his innocence, the process being completed when he was employed under Gord.
He and Susie had begun to gravitate towards the woods in the outskirts of the town. The fields where they usually played were the only barrier between the two.
Grant had thrown the ball harder than Susie could reach. His boyish instincts had told him to, for some odd reason… Scarlet, the German shepherd, ran after it, but her beeline didn't last all too long. The next thing they knew, the dog was bolting into the woods.
They chased after him, not bothering to listen to any of the rules they had been taught repeatedly. Their parents had always told them to stay away from the woods due to fear that they could be lost.
They ignored the rules and followed Scarlet as the curious dog quickly converged on a buck that had been rustling about in the bushes. They watched as the dog attacked the deer from seemingly out of nowhere. Grant watched in shock and awe, as the deer seemed to buckle and fall under the power of the dog…
That was when the deer had gone berserk. It whipped its antlers about, kicking its legs this way and that. An antler caught the dog in the side, impaling it with a sharp jab. The dog yelped in shock, flying through the air, into a tree. Grant guessed he and Susie were lucky that the deer had split after that, or they could have been killed.
In the aftermath, the two had slowly inched towards the still dog, fearing the worst. The dog showed no sign of life within its beaten corpse, so Grant nudged her slightly, hoping… Susie begging, that she was okay. The dog didn't move. Grant had knelt there for who knows how long, shaking the dog in frenzy, begging the dog to wake up from his slumber and lick away the blood, just as it would if it were a flesh wound.
Susie was so disgusted that she left on the spot, returning home for the day. Grant did too, not long after. He was forced to chase her down and convince her to keep this all a secret. They were doubly in trouble if word had come about that they went into the woods and let the dog die.
She reluctantly agreed, after listening to Grant argue his case for several minutes. They made a truce to keep everything under wraps and left before their parents noticed their absence.
Apparently Grant was one of the worst liars on the planet. His parents had tacked him down and quickly squeezed the truth out of him. In fact, he remembered this encounter all too well…
He walked into the house, slowly, hoping they wouldn't notice his presence.
"Hey, Grant!" his mother said, peeking around the corner, "What have you been up to?"
"Uh?" Grant said, "Nothing!"
He made to run into his room but his mother followed him, "What do you mean, 'nothing'?"
"Why do you care?" Grant said frantically.
"I was just asking you," his mother said with an amused laugh, "Now you've caught my interest."
He kept refusing to open up almost all night, and it built up to the point that his father was in the mix, as well. They sat him down on the couch, looking down upon him in a demeaning manner. At least that was how he felt.
"Son," his father spoke, "We know you may be scared, but you really need to open up to us."
"You know how," his mother said.
"I don't know anything!"
His father stood up and came forward at this point. He knelt down in front of Grant and looked down on him, "You will be in big trouble if you don't tell me, right now!"
Grant jumped at this. He had never seen his father like this. He, all of the sudden, burst in to tears, "Okay! Okay! I'm sorry! I… I… I'm sorry!"
Like a water faucet, the truth poured out of his blubbering mouth, and he was forced to repeat the story in order to clear everything up. He didn't know why, but he ratted Susie out as well. He guessed that when it all poured out, he couldn't stop anything…
…The flies… the flies on the dog's corpse when he and his father went back into the woods… They were already feeding on it by the time they had found the poor thing.
He focused on the corpse…
But this man seemed fine. Grant inched towards one of the men. He seemed almost fresh. Was this soldier a scout who died of thirst or hunger not too long ago?
Just as he reached in to touch the face of the body, there was an abrupt shout followed by several gunshots. Grant whirled around to see four of the ten dead men open firing on his group. Before he could react, he was struck in the back of the head…
...His head was reminded to start throbbing again and he began to gasp for breath. He wasn't sure if this was due to shock or the actual physical stress on his body. Clenching his eyes shut, he tried to wake up from his slumber. He would wake up and be lying upon that bridge. The fellow men from his group would be standing around him smacking his face to bring him back to reality...
But he didn't. The dragging continued, slowly but relentlessly tearing away at his back. He prayed for numbness to take control but it never did.
He opened his eyes again immediately noticing that his body was crossing the threshold of a building. The building, like the ones he remembered from before the attack, was worn and beaten down by the combination of the harshness of weather and battle.
He was taken to the back of the building, to a wall that was partially eaten away by termites. Before he could really even process what was exactly happening, he was grabbed by the collar of his shirt and lifted into the air. He was sent flying into the wall.
His head struck first, his vision exploding into a thousand colors. The next thing he knew he was being sat upright against the wall. He blinked several times in an effort to be rid of the pulsing in his brain, but to no avail.
A shadow descending upon him brought his focus to what was in front of him. A man wearing a gray colored uniform, wielding a rifle stood over him, scowling. He was kicked in the side, "Answer me!"
Grant gasped in pain, clutching his ribs. He tried to say something but his voice seemed like it was being held back... held back by an intense, throbbing pain.
"Where is the rest of your regiment?" the man bellowed at him, kicking him in the side again.
Grant screamed and gasped in pain, writhing on the ground. One of his ribs had to be broken. He coughed up more blood.
"Answer me!" the man bellowed again. He didn't kick him in the side again but he ended up pointing the rifle at his head.
"No!" Grant suddenly forgot about the pain, the blood, and he sat back up against the wall. The man walked closer to him, pressing the barrel of his rifle against his forehead.
"I will shoot you!"
Grant opened his mouth, but stopped. He couldn't reveal the location of the regiment. They were safely hidden away, out of sight! The second their location was revealed was the second they would be obliterated by the enemy. He couldn't be responsible for all their deaths… for this blow against his country.
The butt of the rifle struck him in the head again. His vision flickered. He was sure to die if he was hit in the head a fourth time.
"Please!" he gasped, "I don't want to die!"
"Then tell me where your regiment is! Tell me!" The man brought the rifle up in the air to strike him in the head again. Grant put up his arms, as if it would stop the pain, sobbing profusely.
There was a sudden crack. The head of the gun wielding man suddenly burst into ribbons of red, coating Grant and the wall and ground around him. The headless body dropped to its knees, falling forward. Grant quickly spun around to the side so the body wouldn't fall on top of him. The body landed upon his feet, but in his absolute shock, he managed to wrench himself free.
He tried to look out through the doorway of the building, to see what had happened. Had one of his group members survived and come to save him?
Sure enough, a man in a blue uniform came running through the threshold of the building! He wasn't a man he could remember from his own group, but he was definitely on his side.
Grant clawed at the ground gasping out, "Help!"
The man went in a beeline for him, skidding to a stop at his side, "Are you okay?"
"Help…" was all that he could say.
"What happened?" the man asked.
"I...I don't kn...know…" Grant stuttered out.
The man grabbed a hold under Grant's arms, picking him up off of the ground. Grant struggled to place his feet underneath him, sometimes staggering to either side. The man stayed with him so he was able to walk with his assistance.
"We need to get you some help!" the man said, "Where is your regiment?"
Grant started to cough, stopping to clench his side.
"Sir?" the man said patiently, "You really need help."
Grant swallowed a gulp of air, bending over his knees.
"Where can we go? Where is your regiment?"
Grant started to walk again, finally speaking, "It's… it's just past that r…river. We're h...hidden in the foliage just within wa...walking distance of the fields. It's just over that bridge…"
Grant was able to step forward a few more steps without assistance of his savior. After a few feet he realized that the man had stopped. Grant turned around to see the man looking at him…
Grinning at him...
The man raised his rifle so it was level to Grant's head, "Thank you…"