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Fiction Adventure

The war against Blogaria has been raging for three years. It’s all we talked about in high school–our chance to fight for the glory of Slovia someday–so right after I graduated, I enlisted in the Slovian Army.


As the chill early morning wind whips through the clearing, I stand tall and sing the national anthem of Slovia at the top of my lungs. The other fifty cadets around me do the same thing. I sing even louder. It’s our first day of deployment to the front line. After weeks of training, we’re finally here to show the Blogarians what a real Slovian man can do! 


When our glorious national anthem finishes, we salute our new commanding officer. 


To fill you in on another thing, Viktor, my squad mate from basic, doesn’t want to be here. Says his uncle tricked him into an enlistment center by saying they were going bowling (who believes that story?). He’s always talking in circle, and I think deep down he really wants to fight for our country.


The commander looks upon us recruits and asks, “Any questions before I get started?” 


A heavy silence hung in the air, broken by Viktor raising his hand and heads turning.


“Yes, soldier?”


 “Why do we hate the Blogarians?” Viktor asks.


“We don’t hate the Blogarians. They hate us.” The commander’s eyes sweep across everyone present, his steady gaze signalling the justness of our cause. We all hate the Blogarians.


“But, there’s a poster right there,” Viktor says, pointing at a sign tacked onto the notice board, ”that says the only good Blogarian is a dead Blogarian.”


“Blogaria has an evil leader,” says the commander. “We hate him, not the Blogarian people.”


“So why are we bombing the Blogarian people?”


“If the Blogarians don’t oppose their own leader, they have no right not to be bombed.”


“That’s a bit extreme, don’t you think?” Viktor asks, arching his eyebrows.


A thunderous sonic boom pierces the air, followed by a distant rumble that echoes through the clearing. A Blogarian airstrike, or possibly one of ours, on them. Standing out in the open, the sounds of war reverberating around us, I feel a sudden desire to get this briefing over with.


“Shut the fuck up, Viktor,” someone in the crowd shouts.


Viktor falls silent, and the commander rushes through the rest of the briefing as if he’s given it a thousand times before. We’re fighting to preserve a thousand years of national dignity, fighting for our grandmothers, our grandchildren, and many other reasons I don’t hear, as I’m intently listening to the sound of the distant airstrikes.


We are given a rifle and two hand grenades, and then dispersed amongst the soldiers manning the front line. Thin-faced and sullen, they mumble curses about Blogarians in but show little enthusiasm for our arrival.


Time passes slowly. There’s nothing to do but stare at trees and listen to birds and distant explosions. At 5pm, it’s time to eat. The night and day watch switch at 5am and 5pm—the rhythm of our life from now on. They say the new recruits are not trusted with the night shift yet, when the real action occurs.


When our first shift is over, it’s time to eat. In the mess hall, amidst the cacophony of plates on metal counters and the heavy smell of hearty food, a line of soldiers wearing white aprons, stand behind the stainless steel counter. A symphony of grunts and fragmented conversations fill the hall as they dish out dinner to hungry soldiers.


A sudden resentment enters my mind. Soldiers cooking instead of fighting. Peeling potatoes all day, never shooting back at the enemy. What use are they? What stories are they going to tell when they get back home?


When I reach them, I find myself face to face with a towering figure. His lively blue eyes stand out from his grime-streaked apron and unkempt hair.


“I’ll have the stew and veg. No potatoes. I’m on a no-carb diet.” I say, extending my tray toward him.


“No one survives out here without eating.” With his ladle, he scoops green beans onto my plate, then dumps a mountain of mashed potatoes onto them. Everything mixes together.


“What the fuck?” I shout. It’s below freezing and I’ve been shivering all day. Maybe he’s right, but he should listen to my preferences.

He ignores me and tops off my plate with a heaping portion of pork stew. “How long have you been out here?” he asks.


“First day.” 


“Good luck, soldier.” He nods at me and begins to serve the next person in line. “Don’t drink too much tonight,” he mumbles.


I take my food and sit down with Viktor, Stefan, Radu, and Luka—my full squad from basic training. There’s no alcohol on the front line, and I don’t understand why the serving guy told me not to drink. I ask our new sergeant, “Who’s that guy?” pointing toward the man who just ended my 54-day low-carb diet.


“That’s Marko,” he says. “A real pain in the ass.”


I take a last look at him. His heavy shoulders and stooped posture make it look as if he’s given up on life a long time ago. 


After dinner, we shuffle to an underground bunker and at 10pm, the shelling begins. It starts with an occasional explosion, and then a steady barrage of blasts that shake your very insides. It’s impossible to sleep. The acrid smell of explosives seeps in and we can’t breathe. We huddle together on the side of the bunker furthest away from the entrance. 


The sergeant looks at us and says, “Relax guys, you have nothing to worry about except a direct hit.” Something hits close. Dirt showers down on us from overhead, but we survive.


Around 2am, as abruptly as it began, the shelling stops. The sudden silence is eerie. I’m exhausted, and drift into a half-conscious slumber. Someone shakes my shoulder at 4:30am, the platoon is readying to move out for our 5am shift.


“I can’t wait to shoot a Blogarian.” a blond-haired boy who looks barely out of his teens says.


 We cautiously slip out of the bunker. As we walk to the assembly ground, laying sprawled out on the ground, is a recruit I recognize. Blood on one side of his uniform and his face ashen are a signal he’s no longer with us. My heart skips a beat.


“Got hit by shrapnel on the way to the pisser,” the sergeant says. “Don’t go outside at night when the Blogarians like to fire their artillery.”


The commander walks past. It’s as if the body was a pile of leaves on the ground. He doesn’t even take a glance.


Later that evening in the mess hall, I glare at Marko with a look of disgust.


“Why do you get to stand around and do nothing?”


“Does this look like doing nothing?” he asks, holding his ladle.


“Coward.” I would spit in his food, but the rest of the platoon would have to eat it.


Instead of shouting back, Marko says. “Lose someone? You new recruits always take it out on us.” He looks away, and the next person in line pushes me forward.


That night, the shelling begins again at 10pm, the same as the night before. At around 2am, Viktor pokes my shoulder.


“Bro, you awake?”


“Yeah.”


“I need to pee.”


The sergeant opens an eye and looks over at us. “Nobody pees in the bunker.”


After an hour, the shelling stops and Viktor rushes outside. 

The earth convulses and chunks of dirt showers down on our heads. The steady bombardment recommences. Fear grips me. My heart is beating out of my chest as I think of the likeliness one of the rounds is eventually going to hit our bunker. 


When the shelling finally slows down, I realize Viktor hasn’t returned.


At the mess hall the following day, I glare at Marko with intense loathing. Support personnel like him are driven back to town every night, away from the front line.


Marko sees my hostility and meets my gaze. “Sorry, bro.” 


“Screw you.” I say.

He nods and ladles today’s chicken stew over the vegetables and potatoes. “Where you from?” 


“Pllvanic.”


 “Me too. The Pilvanic Panthers!” he says, invoking the name of our city’s football team.


I process the fact that this asshole is from my hometown. I am once again shoved down the line by the weight of the soldiers behind me.


After sitting down, I notice new posters hung all around the mess hall. Our glorious soldiers will surely triumph and retake Gzlyic! Gzlyic is across the line where the Blogarians are.


The following day, we begin training for an offensive. We hurl smoke grenades, sharpen our knives, crawl through mud. Radio operators rehearse calling in artillery strikes.


We have yet to see a Blogarian, but according to the veterans, they are rarely seen, as they’ve laid mines, installed booby traps, and dug underground machine gun bunkers all along the front line.


Amidst the clamor and commotion of the mess hall packed with restless troops preparing for an assault, Marko’s calm demeanor stands out. “What’s the latest, my friend?” he inquires.


“Training for an offensive. They said we are going to launch a surprise attack tomorrow.”


“Interesting. I’ve seen this before,” he says, his eyes darting toward the posters on the walls. “So, what part of Plvanic are you from?” 


“The south side. Strelka”


“Strelka. I’ve been there. You got family?”


“Two sisters. A girlfriend, she’s pregnant.” I grin proudly as I think about Anna and our child.


“Do you want to make it home to Strelka?”


“Of course.”


“Then have some of this. Trust me,” he says. Retrieving a ladle from beneath the table, he scoops a portion of meat stew from under the counter onto my mashed potatoes. It appears identical to the main one, but its aroma is peculiar. There’s a scent of spoiled meat.


I quickly comprehend Marko’s proposition. A soldier with dysentery won’t be sent to the front line. The man I despise may be trying to help me. Or he might be a traitor. “Are you serious?” 


“How do you think I’m still here after 3 years of this fucking war?”


I take the dinner tray and rotten food and return to my spot on the bench alongside Stefan, Radu, Luka, and the now vacant seat where Viktor used to sit.


“Not hungry?” Stefan asks.


As I’m sitting there, I stare at my plate.


“I’m not sure,” I say, gazing at the chunks of pork in Marko’s stew.


“Suit yourself.”


Watching my friends eat, an idea occurs to me. 


“I’m too on edge to eat today. Have some of mine.” I scoop a spoonful of my stew onto Stefan, Radu, and Luka’s plates, and eat the remaining myself.


From the corner of my eye, I sense someone observing me. Marko. He appears agitated, his eyes brimming with concern.


The pain in my bowels begins from 1am. By the next morning, I’m more sick than I have ever been in my life. The three of us are discovered, groaning in pain and covered in our own filth, and are sent back to the hospital. We see everyone else lining up to be outfitted for the offensive on Gzlyic as we are being hauled away. 


With three of us from the same squad are in the hospital with dysentery, questions are soon asked. There’s an investigation. Radu and Luka point their fingers at me. With a gun in my face, I point my finger at Marko.


A month later, I’m back in a foxhole on the front line. We’re preparing our defense against an expected Blogarian counteroffensive that is due at any moment. 


I’m holding a live hand grenade.


“Put that thing away. You’re going to get us all killed,” Marko says.


Marko is with us because he was also transferred back to the front line. They couldn’t have someone serving rotten food to recruits in the canteen. And they didn’t want to grant him a ticket back home to the safety of a prison cell.


I stow the hand grenade back into its safety holster.  


The new recruits watching us are as scared deer in the headlights. We ignore them. They’ll need to sink or swim on their own. Almost everyone we arrived with a month ago is already dead.


“What do we do if the Blogarians head our way?” I ask Marko.


He slowly raises his head above the rim of the foxhole, scans the distant fields and forests. He takes out a pair of binoculars and watches the horizon. The sound of the whistling November wind rustles through the dry grass.


“They are not attacking today,” he says, as he lowers his large frame back down into the foxhole. In the frigid air, he wipes sweat from his brow. “But if they do, we run.”


November 03, 2023 08:22

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6 comments

Amanda Lieser
00:55 Jan 05, 2024

Hey Scott! Nice work on capturing the camaraderie of an army. The dialogue was well written, the battlefront vivid and tragic at the same time. I liked the way you used the fear of this story to guide us into hoping for life. The war was vague enough to not be too political, but gritty enough to point out some hard facts about our world. Lovely work.

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08:49 Jan 05, 2024

Thanks so much, I was thinking of what the actual soldiers must feel like in that vague war we have out there right now. Its probably much the same for most people in most wars. I had read a Japanese soldier's biography of ww2 and he thought the whole thing was ridiculous and just wanted it to end and go home.

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Michał Przywara
23:02 Nov 07, 2023

A great picture of the senselessness of war, and the disposability of youth. Hypernationalism, pant-crapping rationalism, generational hatred for your neighbours, and even a grim, dark sense of humour. Coupled with the names, this does indeed sound Slavic - though I expect cultures all around the world have learned to despise their cousins. "Why do we hate the Blogarians? / We don’t hate the Blogarians. They hate us." - excellent question, but also an artful answer. There's a great sense of futility, cynicism, and powerlessness to this...

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02:56 Nov 08, 2023

This plot isn't really a crowd-pleaser, so big thanks for reading it fully. The plot is literally the opposite of a "heros journey". But yes, cynicism was what I was going for, watching all the wars brewing up in the world motivated by different forms of nationalism, and continued mostly through the use of language and slogans, "never forget/forgive ...." , made me think of how the young people at the front lines have very different motivations than the middle-aged politicians at home who send them there.

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Mary Bendickson
20:44 Nov 06, 2023

Interesting history lesson. And sad.

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08:35 Nov 03, 2023

A story that originated with a 3-week stay I had in Zagreb Croatia last summer, and reading of the endless wars amongst all the countries in that region (and the lack of rationale given to an outsider except that "its always been that way").

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