The Last Unknown

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic
A post-apocalyptic fiction short story

Submitted: January 04, 2019

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Submitted: January 04, 2019

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Dawn broke over the green fields of Arlington National Cemetery with a desperate gleam of light, as if it were trying to remind a shattered world of hearts once mended and dreams once held. The white crosses scattered throughout the overgrown grass stood bravely against the plight of oncoming evils, forever trying to forget that they were mere markers of more destruction already wrought in the world. Silhouetted against the lightening horizon, broken skyscrapers stood high, loss of their might and majesty still shaking the earth.

As the bell of a half-forgotten clock tower echoed hollowly in the distance, a solitary soldier switched his gun to his right shoulder. His mind began to reel-off the memorized seconds subconsciously through his brain.

One. Two. Three.

He stood unwavering and unflinching in the brightening sun of dawn. Alone, he was the last of his unit. The last soldier.

Eight. Nine. Ten.

The entire world had stood in shock as America had fallen. Its army decimated, there was no chance it could last any longer. The cities were the next to go. Then the innocent civilians. And yet still he stood here, counting… counting…

Nineteen. Twenty. Twenty-one.

As he finished the count, the soldier turned to his right and began to take his numbered steps.

One. Two. Three.

His legs ached. He had never stood so long at attention, nor calculated such precise steps for so many hours. Yet he could not stop. One more step. Then another. Then another. It had to end somewhere. Every place in America had been left unguarded except for this – the last place of peace.

Nineteen. Twenty. Twenty-one.

But of course there was peace here. No one stood within miles. Only the dead, lying beneath their moss covered graves and marble tombs. Stopping, the soldier moved his gun to his right shoulder without a thought. Again, numbers began to move through his mind.

One. Two. Three.

Hendrick was not there. Hendrick had promised to return, and yet he had not. The thought echoed discordantly in his mind. Hendrick had been the only other soldier left, but had not returned.

Eight. Nine. Ten.

Whether Hendrick was dead or just gone into hiding, the soldier did not know. He only knew that he was now all alone. Only he remained to guard and protect. He was the last to walk this ground with respect and silence. Once he had failed here, no others remained to keep up this reverence and memory of the fallen soldiers.

Nineteen. Twenty. Twenty-one.

As his silent count finished, the soldier turned again, now to his left, and continued his slow march.

One. Two. Three.

Out of the corner of his eye, the soldier could see the glint of words shimmering against the marble cold white tomb. He knew them by heart. Too often had he walked by them to be unfamiliar with the graven lines. “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.”

Nineteen. Twenty. Twenty-one.

It seemed as if that was the only number he could count to any longer. Nothing could last beyond twenty-one. There was nothing greater than it. The soldier halted and shifted his gun again and stared at the dawning horizon. All memories from his former life seemed to have faded as he walked the worn path before the tomb.

One. Two. Three.

Yet what did it matter? The guarding of the tomb was his life now, and since his country had died, his loyalties fell all to this Unknown Soldier.

Eight. Nine. Ten.

Distant voices sounded in the distance. To the soldier it seemed to be no more than the whispers of the wind as he stood still, unwavering, and gazing east. In the farthest depths of his mind, he knew that it meant danger. Yet danger was why he stood here, guarding this tomb. He would guard it until the end, whenever and however that might be.

Nineteen. Twenty. Twenty-one.

The soldier turned to begin his march once again.

One. Two. Three.

The voices were clearer now, and definable. Another language came floating over the fields as the men approached the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. An enemy language. The soldier stopped directly in front of the tomb and pulled his gun into a defensive position. Somehow the count continued in his mind, but it was more distant than ever, and he took no more steps.

Thirteen. Fourteen. Fifteen.

Faces appeared. Guns appeared. Trust disappeared. They wanted to kill him, to eliminate the guard of the Unknown Soldier. He knew it deep within his mind. Yet as he pulled the trigger, he also knew it was no use, and time seemed to slow almost to a stop.

Eighteen.

 A bullet hit his chest and the soldier was knocked back.

Nineteen.

The pain was nothing. It only stung like a fuzzy memory of a mistake in the past.

Twenty.

In sudden darkness, the world faded away, yet he could still feel his hand brushing against the cold marble of the tomb.

Twenty-one.


© Copyright 2019 R.T.E. Bodoh. All rights reserved.

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