Romance Fiction Inspirational

This story contains sensitive content

Warning: Contains themes of war, violence, death, and gore. Ac

Something crashed outside, the night sky filling with what looked like trillions of falling, flaming stars. An alarm blared, signaling another attack, the enemy was on their way. Screaming. Shouts and someone barking orders. Running. Fires crackled as the neighborhood ignited with pillars of fire. Explosions. More screaming. 

“I-I’m scared, dad . . .”

“Don’t worry son. I’ve got you, Koldan,” I whispered, holding my boy close. His body

quivered with every gunshot outside . . . and there were plenty to be heard. 

“Artem, what do we do? They sound right outside!” My wife pressed her lips to my ear, trying not to frighten little Koldan. 

I thought for a moment, listening intently, trying to piece together sounds amidst the chaos outside. Sure enough, the clomping of soldiers’ feet was just beyond the wall, right outside our home and heading toward the front. They’d be on the porch soon, but with any luck they wouldn’t come inside. The half-walls around our patio were easily four feet of solid cement and provided perfect cover for war. 

With any luck, they’ll keep moving.  

“It’ll be alright, Alena. Do not worry, they have no reason to come inside. We are safe here–not even they would hurt civilians.”

A blinding light flooded the room, violently filling every corner in harsh heat. I pulled my family into a tight embrace, making myself a wall against the world. The urge to quiver in fear was overwhelming, but I swallowed my cowardice. 

Show no fear. 

And suddenly I was in the desert again with my squad. 

We were young. Stupids. You had to be for you to travel so far from home. Sergeant Johanna was tossing a water bottle my way.

“Stay hydrated, soldier. The heat will kill you faster than any Taliban,” She barked. 

“Yes, sergeant,” I responded in poor English, downing half the bottle and placing it into my bag. The rest of my team was mulling about–cleaning their weapons of the inevitable desert dust, drinking water, relieving themselves behind nearby dunes, etc. 

“How far are we from the caves?”  The boy next to me, an American named Pittman, asked. 

“It’s just around the way, private. We’re waiting on the go ahead from HQ.” 


The minutes ticked by before radio static interrupted the silence. Sergeant Johanna began speaking into her radio, confirming jumbled orders and code-words. 

“Alright, men! Let’s pack it up and move!”

Mumbles and groans, some complaints, but we did as we were told, lining up and filing into a large personnel carrier. It rumbled to life and began the bumpy journey across the desert. Terrorists had been sighted in some nearby caverns and we had been deployed to flush them out. It was supposed to be a simple operation backed by superior air power. A quick in-and-out. A surefire victory. 

But still, I felt no confidence as we chugged along, fidgeting with our weapons. An uneasy feeling was creeping into my stomach–and I couldn’t say if it was simple nerves of God warning me.

I shuddered. 

“Hey, Artem! You okay, bud?” Pittman nudged me, “You seem tense. Nervous?”

I chuckled halfheartedly, “Me? Nervous? Never. We aren’t the side who should be worried.” Pounding my chest, I felt a forced confidence filling my belly. Oftentimes, a man can talk himself into heroism.

Frowning, Pittman thought for a moment, then nodded as if making a decision. He held out a closed fist, “Here.” 

Raising a brow, I asked, “What’s this?”

“Just take it and put it in your pocket.” 

“Alright,” I extended my palm and Pittman dumped some small brown beads into my hand from a pouch enclosed in his fist.  

“Are-Are these drugs or something?” I asked. Americans and their drugs. I had seen it many times before, soldiers desperate for reprieve despite the consequences.  

“No, dumbass. They’re seeds.”


“Yeah. My dad used to make my siblings and I put seeds in our pocket when we went to school or left home. It’s a family tradition. In fact, it’s been going on since the Civil War! The story goes that my great-great-great grandpa had a brother. One was with the south, one with the north. During a skirmish over some field in South Carolina, the brothers ran into each other and fought to the death! My great-great-great uncle died during the fight. A year later, my ancestor found a sunflower growing over the mass grave that they dumped him in. He picked the flower and used its seeds to start a small and very successful farm post-war. They’re like a protective talisman for my family, like a promise that we won’t fight each other any more.” 

The seeds were small, but sat heavier in my hand after hearing their story. 

“Why are you giving them to me, then?”

“You look like you need protection, Artem,” Pittman noticed some other soldiers watching us, “In fact, I’d reckon you all look like you need some.” He stood, struggling to maintain balance in the moving vehicle as he traveled up and down the center aisle passing out seeds. When he returned to the space beside me, I saw that his pouch was empty. 

“Pittman . . . You’re all out of seeds, why don’t you take some back?” I offered him half the pile that he gave me. 

He simply shook his head, “No, Artem. I’ll be fine without them! Show no fear, my friend!”

Those words echoed in my mind as shells exploded outside. His voice even louder than on the ride home without him. It was because of Pittman that I quit military service. He wasn’t the only death that I saw during my tour, not the only friend snuffed out, but he stuck with me even as other memories faded. 

The door to our home splintered as the enemy rushed in. 

My wife yelped, I cupped my hand over her mouth, “Shhh, Alena. Do not speak or make a sound.” We were hiding in the first floor bathroom of my ancestral home, inside the tub. Patting my chest, the rough mass of a small pouch reassured me. I took it out, dumping its contents into the palm of my hand. “Darling, take these seeds and hold them over your heart. Give some to Koldan as well.” Turning to my son I instructed, ”Put these seeds over your heart and keep your eyes closed no matter what happens, do you understand?”

“Daddy?” He whispered, looking up at me with worried, tearful eyes. 

“Don’t worry, my boy,” I ruffled his hair, “All will be fine as long as you hold onto them.” I reached for the loaded shotgun laying on the bathroom floor. 

My wife’s voice brought me pause, “Artem? What are you doing?! You can’t fight them! They’re trained soldiers!” She struggled through suffocating tears. 

“Sweetheart,” I stooped over to kiss her, “I am too. Lock the door behind me and do not come out until I tell you to do so.”

Before she could object, I tore myself away and left, closing the door behind me. 

Show no fear

Stepping into the hallway, it felt as if I had entered into another, frighteningly familiar world. The house was haunted by the comfort that it once had. Lights flickered with the remnants of a backup generator, our power plant being hit by invaders weeks ago. The building shook and danced with the onslaught of the battlefield, every expended ammunition adding to its rhythm. Dust fell from cracked ceiling joints, filling the air with something similar to fog. Smoke choked me, but I stifled the urge to cough. Stealth was my only ally, surprise my advantage. 

Men moved around in the living room, mere feet away from where my dear Koldan and Alena would watch TV, waiting for me to come home each day. Koldan would crawl around, playing soldier, chasing terrorists out of caves like ants. 

Shadows overtook the dusty hall. Only the brief flickers of light from the hellfire outside cut swaths of illumination through disheveled blinds, filtering across the room like searchlights. My father watched me as I snuck past from his ashen perch on a shelf. His eyes followed me as a somber warning. 

Run, son!

Show no fear.  

Pittman’s ghostly hand was on my shoulder once again as I turned the corner into the living room. Only this time, instead of men in turbans and robes spraying lead, there were four men in black uniforms facing away from me. Completely unknowing. Unaware.

I wondered if they had families. 

The living room was no longer my home, it was a cave in the desert. Dirt from the dilapidated cavern ceiling formed piles at intervals, work lanterns flooded the windows, lights swayed overhead, causing shadows to tear at me like animals. 

My old hands shook as I raised my gun, cocking the forearm back and pulling the trigger once, then twice, then thrice, then a fourth, final time. One man fell, his body a bloodied mess. Another slumped forward against the wall, sliding down in a puddle of red. The third whirled around, raising his weapon before flying back with the force of buck shot. The fourth soldier dove behind cover, a window shattering in his place. 

“Get out of my house!” I shouted, shaking as I took cover behind the corner. It had been over ten years since I had fired a weapon. The enemy shot blindly from behind his sanctuary, peppering the wall with little holes.  

He yelled something, panicked, in a language that I did not care to understand. It sounded as if he were crying. His voice was demanding and very young. 

I was out of shells, unable to reload as my entire body began to rebel against my control. Images of the desert and caves and blood and Pittman filled my eyes.  

Suddenly, the man was standing above me, rifle trained on my forehead. He was a shadowy figure, coated in black–his face concealed by a cloth mask. Pittman’s ethereal hand reached out and touched the rifle, it clicked as he pulled the trigger twice . . . nothing happened. The gun had jammed, Pittman had caused it to jam, he must have! In the sliver of time that confusion dominated all other senses, I threw myself into the enemy. We rolled on the floor, shouting and screaming and throwing punches desperately. One connected heavily with my nose, sending blood and snot down my front. I spat into his eyes, causing him to yelp. He was young, but I was experienced. His knife was my goal, secured to his side in a small sheath but quickly in my hand. Those eyes of his, brown and deep and young, were wide in fear as he wrestled for the tool, eventually wrenching it from my grasp. It was above me now, him pushing desperately against my entire strength, aiming to place the blade between my ribs. 

My old bones and muscles were failing. The knife was inching closer and closer to my heart. In my head; Koldan smiled at me, Alena kissed me, but Pittman frowned disapprovingly. 

It would be a disservice to die here, in my home, after he gave his life for me. 

I wish that I had kept some of those seeds. 

And suddenly, as tears and panic filled my eyes, clogged my vision, the soldier above me was no longer an invader–no, he was the bearded man in the corner of that cave. The one that I didn’t see. The one that pulled the grenade pin and tossed it to me. That grenade that Pittman hugged so desperately. 

Koldan deserves a father. 

Alena, a husband. 

And Pittman, a memory. 


My wife was suddenly there, watching me from the hallway. The soldier glanced her way, distracted, and she threw something at him. That something connected with his eyes as he shouted in pain, reacting instinctively to wipe it away. I used the moment to snatch full control of the knife and plunge it into his neck. 

He watched me with wide, shocked eyes as I rolled him away, bleeding. He took my place at death’s threshold. 

Alena helped me stand, dazed and confused. 

“What-What did you throw?” I asked, scanning the ground for whatever it was. I saw one resting on the floor. It was brown and oval, with a slightly tapered end. 

“A seed,” I gasped. 

Soon, my wife and child were crying, embracing me and wailing about how stupid I had been. The cavern walls were fading, the battleground around our home disappearing as they became all that I saw.

“We are gathered here today to honor the memory of a man worth remembering. A hero who gave his life in a way that heroes so often do,” The preacher’s voice filled the field, “And remember, those that the deceased loved, that we are to celebrate their death just as we do their life--for no soldier truly dies, but instead they retire to new pastures, new havens, and to the peace that only they truly earn.” 

I didn’t cry often, never had, but I did today. There was a closed casket behind the preacher, guarded by men in uniform. 

“Christ once said, from the same lips responsible for creation, that no man hath greater love than this—than to lay down his life for his friends--and Private Alex Pittman is a prime example of what it means to love.”

I sobbed and something soft touched my cheek. Jolting, I swiveled to find a beautiful woman offering me a tissue. She was dressed in the signature attire of someone grieving.

“Thank you . . .” I said. 

She paused for a moment, then responded, “You must’ve been close to my brother, huh? Were you a part of his squad?”

“I was.”

“Hmm," the woman watched me, the words of the preacher fading from focus, “He would never blame you, you know.” She reached into her pocket, then held out a fist, “Here.”

I cocked a brow, expecting her to give me another tissue. Instead, small brown ovals filled my palm. Tears filled my eyes as I realized that they were seeds. 

“They told me what happened. No one in his squad was so much as wounded because of him and his stupid traditions . . .” She wiped away her own tears, “You know why we put these seeds into our pockets, right?”

I shook my head, “Only the story.”

“Mhm,” She grinned softly, “It’s because death is a tragedy, but if we have them in our pocket, something beautiful may grow from it.”

Her words were so heavy, sitting in my chest like rocks as I mulled them over. 

“What’s your name?” I finally asked. 

She smiled and it was the most beautiful thing that I had ever seen. 

“My name is Alena.”

December 06, 2022 15:08

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