In the Night

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

A soldier goes for a cigarette break in the night.

Submitted: October 10, 2017

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Submitted: October 10, 2017



The moon was full, but the sky was cloudy, and so it was nearly too dark to see as Ivan made his way across the field. This far away, from the trenches and his fellows, no one would see him partake of his last roll of tobacco. It was a precious commodity, a treasure that the others would harass him for until he gave in and let everyone have a taste. Or rather, let everyone have a taste until Fat Vlad got ahold of it and bogarted it for himself.

It was his last cigarette, the last one he might ever get, and so Ivan intended to savor every last acrid kiss. There was a clearing, just up ahead, that was the perfect spot for it. He already knew that no one would see him, unless they went looking for him.

But the clearing wasn’t clear: there was another man there, halfway through the motion of lighting his own tobacco.

“Hello,” Ivan said, cautiously, and approached the same way. He did not want to come so close to his prize, only to be denied by nerves. “Had the same idea I did, I see.”

“Yes,” the man replied. “It’s my last one. Didn’t want someone else stealing it.”

“Same here!” Ivan laughed. “I knew that if I lit up back home-” And home here meant the mud and the muck he had been spending his days and nights and days in, and not his home. “-that everyone would want it.”

“And if everyone gets a puff, no one gets a puff.”

“Yes, exactly. Especially once Fat Vlad got to it.”

“Aren’t all Vlads, Fat Vlads?”

“True. Very true, friend.”

They were silent for a second, and then five, as Ivan lit his own tobacco and delighted in the feel of the smoke in his lungs.

“How long have you been out here, friend?” Ivan asked the stranger, once he had let the smoke go.

“Five months, six days, three hours,” the man answered. “You?”

“Six months, three days,” he replied. “I miss home. The cows are ugly, and the women are worn, but it was home.”

“I know what you mean,” the man said. The cigarette dangled from his mouth, the burning tip bouncing as he talked.”Back in Tolsk, we would be celebrating someone’s birthday right now. Anyone’s birthday. We wouldn’t even need to know them.”

Ivan laughed, imagining it easily in his mind’s eyes.

“Where is Tolsk?” he asked. “I’m from Nasnovy, myself. It’s beautiful this time of year.”

“It’s to the east, on the sea,” the man answered, and took a deep breath as if he could smell the salt and the fish even then.

“I have never seen the sea,” Ivan whispered. “I think I would like to, one day.”

“One day, perhaps. When this war is over.”

“If the war is over. I do not know why we even fight.”

“Well I know,” the man said, like the answer was obvious. “We fight them because they’ll eat our babies if we don’t.”

“Eat our babies? I heard they’d take our wives.”

“Worse, I hear: leave our wives and take the cows.”

The two of them laughed, and settled in to enjoy the last of their tobacco in the silent darkness. Finally, the embers reached the end of his cigarette, and Ivan flicked it onto the ground. His boot ground it into the mud.

“Farewell, friend,” he said, and turned to leave back the way he came.

“Where are you going?” the man asked, confusion evident in his voice.

“I’m going home, of course,” Ivan answered, turning.

“But you are going the wrong way,” the man replied. He pointed behind him, in the opposite direction from which Ivan had entered the clearing. “It’s that way that you should be heading, home is over there.”

“No it isn’t,” Ivan said. “I think your tobacco was bad, friend.”

But the wind had picked up by then, and the clouds in the sky had moved. A beam of moonlight, barely enough to guide by, fell upon them. On the man’s coat, to Ivan’s widening eyes, was a patch: silver on red. He glanced down at his own, despite knowing what he’d see. He was not disappointed, and yet he was; his own patch, red on grey.

The man stared at Ivan.

Ivan stared at the man.

Neither said a word.


© Copyright 2018 M. Lee Cottle. All rights reserved.

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