Aftermath

Submitted into Contest #146 in response to: Set your story in an unlikely sanctuary.... view prompt

6 comments

Sad Fiction Drama

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

The peace found in the ruins of a battlefield is unlike any other.

The aftermath of a battle is the antithesis of itself. War is chaos. A cacophony of sounds barraging one’s earlobes from every direction. The reverberating clang of metal as two bloodied swords strike, the erupting shudder of a cannon-shot rippling through the air, the commanding shouts from generals as they attempt to raise their voice above the other competing sounds with fail, each sound more terrifying than the last. The smooth sound of a blade across a slitted throat, the harsh stomp of soldiers’ footfalls that rings out like drumbeats, and the echoed screams and gurgles faded to be the last sound of so many lives as they perish on the battlefield, all quieted in the aftermath.

While one may see only horror when faced with the bloodsoaked earth, covered in the frozen faces depicting the fearful last moments of each accidental corpse and budding hero, I see peace. The liquid courage of heroism is poison to the blooming soldier’s roots. For while they soak up lies and nationalism they are deprived of light and nourishing soil found in their homeland. This clarity, this truth, cannot be found in the tumultuous confusion of the battlefield. No. Only in the aftermath can such enlightenment be obtained.

I am not immune to the opinions of my comrades who believe me strange and heartless for finding tranquility in a graveyard. They are young. They know not how to cope with the fracturing of one’s psyche. When they lose the granules of hope they cling to along with their own blood, they will break. While the cracks of my mind show, they hold strong with the adhesion of steadfast ideals and a mind that has weathered the worst.

I no longer cry when death befalls my comrades. I shed a tear when they enter the forces, for I know they are already doomed. If not to die as a false martyr, then to fade away slowly as their sanity slips from them like sand in an hourglass. Perhaps mine will too, in time. Perhaps my mind is already lost. Regardless, in the moments of peace and quiet when I can be alone with my thoughts in the field of death the waters of my mind are truly calm.

I do not claim to have solved the mental plague brought upon me by war. When I close my eyes, I still see corpses. When I plug my ears, I still hear screams. I am simply blind and deaf to their pleas. They ask me questions and accuse me of failing them. They ask me why. They ask me to save them. But there is no one to save. We are already lost the moment we sink our boots into the muddy war fields.

I need not remain in the forces. I have done enough service for my country that I can return home if I wish. Though I do not. I am a sailor who has found a home at sea. I am forever called by its expanse and forever frightened by the shore. My identity which has been molded and forged in cannon-fire and bloodcurdling screams was not made to adapt to civilian life, just as wild beasts struggle in civilization: untamed, unfettered, and unadapting. But civilian life forces the wild beast and me to adapt. To tame the monster within is not to evaporate them from the cool waters of consciousness, but rather sink it to the depths of the unconscious. It lingers and grows, spreading like a disease as it consumes mind and spirit from within while we lie to ourselves on the surface. Our kind was not to be tamed, shackled, or adapted. The path of a killer is one that has no return route.

So here I stay on a blood-soaked sea. While I have no true companions on the waters, for I know their fate will make for no lasting attachments, I will find no more success on the land. Why then do I care to persist? I can hear the oblivion calling, louder than the screams of my comrades, more expansive than the ocean. I listen to it, considering its offer, but never take it. Perhaps one day, death will finally claim victory over me, but persistence is all I have. Persistence to keep my mind from fracturing, persistence to remain in the forces, and persistence to resist death. That is what drives me forward.

Will I ever return to the land? I ask myself that question each day foolishly hoping to have more of an answer than the last time I asked it. I do not fear violence, madness, or even death. Though the thought of returning to civilization sends a shiver down my scarred back. Here I can only hurt those whose lives are already forfeit, like mine. But there, there my changes can hurt those who still have a future.

Being oneself alone is better than pretending with another. I will always be forced to put on a false face, to pretend like the war was a past relationship that I can laugh over at its conclusion. No. The war follows me wherever I go.

The laughter of ordinary folk will be as distant as my fellow solder’s screams. I will be as indifferent to their smiles as I am to corpses. I will be as valuable to civilization as the dead are to me: a reminder of the horrors of war, nothing more.

Age and experience change a person, and perhaps it will change me still. But I think not. I will continue this dance with oblivion. Though every morning still, I will ask myself if I am ready to return to the land, each day fruitlessly hoping for a different answer.

Either way, I will be alone, isolated either by difference or distance. At least this way I can embrace the soldier I have become and enjoy these precious moments of calm in the wastes of a battlefield.

May 19, 2022 18:59

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6 comments

Ava Raim
02:15 May 24, 2022

Ooh, I loved this! Your descriptive prose transported me right to the battlefield with you, and I think your creative interpretation of the prompt is genius. I'd love to read more of this - your protagonist is bound to have such a compelling narrative that brought him to this point.

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Sean Miller
02:29 May 24, 2022

Thank you for those kind words! I enjoyed exploring more psychological writing with this prompt. I'd have to flesh out a lot of that narrative but I do want to write more of this character!

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Rebecca Miles
09:06 May 26, 2022

I needed a narrative- more actual plot. For me, all the first person meditations would then come to life, otherwise it is more just a reflection- musings on war and the aftermath. If you bring a storyline into the mix, even if it is through flashback, then all these meditations would come alive. Fine ideas, just they go on a bit without an inciting moment or climax. If it were me editing, I would go back and think of one compelling moment in the narrator's backstory which has led him to this point of detached despair. Is it the loss of a spe...

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Sean Miller
22:16 May 26, 2022

Thank you for your feedback! As much as I enjoy the advantages of really getting in a character's head through internal monologues, you're right that they can be deficient in a few regards, one being plot, something I will consider in the future. Would it be through a single very impactful moment that the story would be added? Or could one achieve plot through having various smaller flashbacks which perhaps could act as a sort of evidence for their current dilemma to help them decide whether or not to go back?

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03:06 May 24, 2022

Sean, your descriptions are amazing, especially the second paragraph - the battlefield. I also love the idea of peace on a battlefield. It seems like a contradiction, but you convince us towards the end of your piece that that it IS possible to achieve that when you’re a soldier like your MC. I loved that the ending mirrors the beginning. I am going to read your other stories as well. Judging by this piece, you are one intriguing person with an interesting life philosophy. Keep writing! ☺️✍️

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Sean Miller
04:07 May 24, 2022

Thank you! I definitely will keep writing!

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