Contemporary Drama Historical Fiction

This story contains sensitive content

Content Note: This is a story placed during contemporary times, in a fictional America at war with itself. At its core it’s a family war drama, that being said this story will mention and describe gun/knife violence, and what one would describe as evil actions against men, women, children, elderly and disabled (nothing sexual at all). War crimes, plain and simple. I feel they are necessary when discussing a mature theme like war and how it changes people, how we think of family. My intent was to do so in an artistically necessary and tasteful a manner as possible without being unnecessarily grotesque. I’d like to also make clear there is no particular mention of any political parties or belief systems, it is not a direct critique at anyone or anything. It’s a story about people in extraordinary circumstances adapting the best they know how. Unfortunately, we live in an extremely tumultuous and violent world. Although what is written could be considered graphic, it is not my intent to offend, harm, or trigger anyone negatively. Thank you. 

Jeb slept as well as any man that bares the weight of command. Even then, it’d been decades since he’d slept past 4 A.M. and today’s duties weighed particularly heavy on him. He would be taking something away forever and replacing it with something necessary. He did not have the luxury to listen to his heart and could only convince himself what he had to do was the only way to protect those he loved. There seemed, never enough time to convince himself.

A gentle, caring hand touched his bare shoulder. Jeb instinctually gripped his revolver, which had been resting under his open palm on the small window side table. He’d been lost in thought looking out into the clear Nebraska night sky since midnight. He needed silence only the early hours of the day could provide. Every so often a bright flash off in the distance would break the crystal starlight landscape and remind him that they were at war. He thought for a moment what they had once been, a teacher and a baker, non combatants.

“My love,” said a warm heavy voice. Harold handed Jeb a steaming cup of coffee. Jeb's face was scarred and bearded with a large nose that had been broken more than a few times. Jeb looked up at Harold’s concerned blue eyes, Hadrold was lean and with dusky blond hair.

“Thank you,” and for a few moment he held Harold’s hand that hung down his chest and they shared a stillness in the predawn darkness while the birds sang, oblivious to the problems of man and his making. Jeb kissed Harold’s hand and held it close enjoying his husband's familiar smell.

“Go wake him, feed him and send him out to me.” Harold said nothing, but Jeb could feel his disapproval hanging over him. None-the-less Harold left to wake their son James.

Jeb pulled on his shirt and holstered his revolver. He lifted himself with an audible groan from the pain in his knees. He grabbed the rifle that leaned against the window seal and made his way past the shared room his son slept in with other recruits his age. He could hear his husband softly waking James.

“Up-up, Sunshine.”

Jeb continued down the stairs and walked out the front door of the large farm house. Their group had fifty people occupying the property. New recruits, Jeb’s personal guard, refugees, family and friends. It served their purpose for the short time they’d be there. Always on the move. Jeb took a deep breath of cold air and stretched his arms wide until reaching down into his chest pocket to pull a cigarette from a crumpled old box. He was saving these for a special occasion. But this took precedent. He lit the cigarette and inhaled deep, releasing a hot white cloud. Marshall walked by during his watch and gave him a haphazard salute and nod. Jeb returned it loosely and limp of enthusiasm. The rolling booms echoed over the ridge down into the small valley the farm resided in. Jeb knew they’d have to move soon. But there were expectations of him, things to be answered for before they did.

James burst through the screen door with his usual enthusiastic demeanor.

“Dad,” he said with a handsome smile. He was a bit small for his age, but he was strong and healthy. He had dark brown hair like Jeb, blue eyes like Harold.

“Son,” replied Jeb, with what he could muster as a crooked grin. “Hey, forget something?”

“Oh yea! Duh!” James ran back inside and came back out with his own rifle, he stopped with the screen door open, “bye, Dad!” 

Jeb had started walking slowly towards the barn that was about twenty yards away from the house. James ran and caught up to him. “Son, We’re gonna go into that barn and we’re gonna do some things. I need you trust that they are the right thing. That it’ll save lives. That it’s something you need to see before you go out with your own unit soon. You know I can’t treat you any different than the rest of the fresh recruits. If anything I have to hold you to a higher standard. You’re well respected among your peers, it might be sooner than you think that you’ll be having to send them into danger or ordering them to kill a man as young as you.” Jeb tried to gauge James reaction, but he stayed uncharacteristically silent. Jeb considered that perhaps that was a good thing. It wasn’t really a choice. Maybe James knew better than to question any of it in the moment. Jeb wasn’t sure he’d have faired any better if his own father had imparted the same responsibilities to him. But Jeb knew his son’s heart better than any and had faith he’d rise to the occasion. He should have been discussing which college James wanted to go to. How his Summer job was going. Maybe he’d fallen in love with someone nice. He wanted all that for his son and more. But times dictate otherwise as they always do. Instead he had to learn military tactics and arms training for the past two years. Yet, somehow, this amazing happy child still existed, he made everyone around him laugh. Jeb gave all that credit to Harold, who was never a fighter, and never would be. But gave so much in so many other ways and held us together for all these years. Jeb couldn’t afford to get emotional. “You’ll do alright."

“Ok, Dad," replied James.

They’d reached the large barn doors which were already ajar, Liz was standing sentry. Jeb and James both nodded to her as they entered and stood at the center of the hay covered floor for a moment until Jeb stomped his foot three times then twice. The sound of pull bar could be heard sliding aside and the floor door was pushed open revealing Syd, Jeb’s 1st Officer.

“Oi, Boss! Critter!” Syd called James Critter since they’d met, back when James was much smaller. Back when things were considered normal. He was an Aussie by birth, but was working in the U.S. when the first attacks occurred. The borders were shut down and they just never opened again. So, he chose a side. He was a charming and handsome man, but also known as vicious killer to the enemy, with more confirmed kills than anyone in the unit. You wanted him beside you in battle and he’d saved Jeb’s life on more than one occasion. He was Jeb’s best friend, like a brother.

“Syd, we all set?” Replied Jeb.

“Yes, Sir.” He motioned them to come down. Jeb and James descended the stairs and followed Syd to the back wall that was lined with storage rooms. A lantern sat on box and gave off pale illumination. Two more soldiers stood guard. Jeb nodded to Syd. Syd whistled to the men and they unlocked one of the storage doors and pulled out a man who had been severely beaten. His face was lumpy and blue and blood covered his muddied uniform. Syd pulled the man’s head up by grabbing his hair roughly. Behind the swelling one could still see the hate in his stare. He immediately spit blood all over Jeb’s boots.

“Mongrels! The lot of you!” The man said through wet broken teeth. He was a large portly man.

“WOOF, WOOF, WOOF, WOOF, WOOF, WOOF!” Chanted every soldier in the room except Jeb and James. It had become a common rallying cry of the cause after the enemy had taken to calling them such things: animals, dogs, mongrels, half breed, dirty, low and not human. The man seemed to be caught off guard by the fierce enthusiastic reaction from the soldiers standing over him, he flinched. 

“See, son. This is the type of man you’ll be facing soon enough. An Officer. Hand picked for their cruelty. Don’t confuse these types with the run of the mill foot soldier. Not every man thirsts for violence, but some do seek it out in their addiction for power. Men like him. And it may be hard to tell, but you know Major Rawls. Or at least you’re familiar with his work.” James looked at his Dad with a clearly inquisitive and worried look in his eyes. Jeb hated what would come next. “Major Rawls gave the order to chain the doors shut on Lincoln High School Gymnasium, which at the time was a non military refugee camp with mostly women and children, the elderly, the sick or disabled. He also ordered for the building to be torched and anyone who managed to escape was shot dead before they had a chance to extinguish the flames that engulfed their bodies.” Major Rawls was quiet now, the hate from the five pairs of eyes was oppressive in the moment. “Now, where our friends watched their children at play, is a mass grave.”

James had silent tears running down his smooth cheeks, but none of the soldiers would hold it against him. They had all lost someone in that massacre. Many had family, friends, lovers or just people they saw on Tuesdays riding the bus to work die that day. James had lost a number of peers and friends in that massacre. Jeb had already moved his family and his then small fighting group out of the city. He had tried to convince more to join, but they thought they'd be safe.

Jeb turned and stood in front of James blocking his view of the Major. James did his best to wipe away the tears as he looked up at his Father and Commander. 

“Son, I don’t give you this duty lightly. It’ll be done whether you want to do it or not. But I’m going to give you the opportunity to bring a moments respite to what you’re feeling and some justice for those we’ve lost. You can hate him, but don’t become him. We don’t kill for pleasure. But we will exact a toll for what they’ve taken from us.” And with those words Jeb unholstered his revolver and held it out to James. 

James was very familiar with the revolver. He’d shot it many times before with his father, fond memories. It was a Double Action Ruger SP101 with a 4.20 inch barrel and five round capacity, .357 Mag. James took the revolver from his Father’s hand and Jeb rounded him with a single reassuring pat on the shoulder and stood back a few feet outside the light of lantern, watching silently from the dark. 

“What kind of Commander sends a boy to do man’s job? Praise Emperor…,” before Major Rawls could finish his epitaph the deafening ring of the revolver range in its finality beneath the barn. Jeb would never say it out loud on this matter, but he was proud of his son. James turned and handed the revolver back to his Dad and exited the basement without a word.

Jeb looked down at Major Rawls's body, crumpled catawampus like a marionette doll that suddenly had its strings cut. “Put him in a hole, unmarked.” 

“Aye, Sir,” replied Syd. Syd motioned at the two guards and they obeyed the order dragging Major Rawls body away into the dark. “We got one more thing to handle, boss.” Syd handed Jeb a key.

“Yes, we do.” Jeb took the key and unlocked a second storage door and threw the door open. He reached into the darkness and pulled out a lanky man with a hood over his head. Jeb dragged him to his knees. Syd roughly removed the hood to reveal a scruffy bearded face of a very scared man. 

“Jeb! Thank God, Cousin! Tell this asshole who I am! We're on the same Got'dang side!

“Jake, you've been busy."

“Come on, man, let me up” Jacob pleaded, his voice shaky.

“Not this time, Jake." Jeb pulled a small handheld radio from his back pocket and held it between thumb and finger. "We found this in your bag, along with some other interesting paraphernalia. I wondered how they knew we were at that warehouse, it seemed like extraordinary luck at the time. Quite the ambush. Lost a lot of good people. But you didn’t have a scratch.”

"Jeb! We're family, man! Come on! No, that’s not mine! This asshole is setting me up!”

Jacob began to struggle to rise from his knees, but felt the energy drain from his push. Jeb had stuck knife into his heart. Jeb got close to Jake during his last moments alive and whispered in his ear, "you don't get to put my family in danger, you fucking traitor."

Jeb slid the knife out of Jacob’s chest and cleaned the blood on Jacob’s shirt. Jacob’s eyes closed and he was gone, slumped over into a pile of hay. It was not the first former comrade Jeb had had to eliminate for the security of his people, and it likely wouldn't be the last. The disappointing thing was Jeb knew Jacob well enough to know it was probably just for the money and promise of some safety away from having to choose a side at all. And he was willing to sacrifice them all to get it.

Jeb and Syd exited the barn. “Let’s get everyone ready to leave in twelve hours. Send runners to every squad with updated movement charts and let’s move our cache of munitions again. We don’t know how much Jake gave them. Let’s mix it all up. And get those kids ready for it. Get them where they’ll be needed most. I want James with me, though.”

“Aye, Boss.” Syd replied. They slapped each others shoulders in camaraderie. Syd went to follow orders. Jeb walked the remaining distance to the farm house and reached for the door. The fire red and purple gold of dawn tipped the black horizon.

Jeb walked into the Kitchen where Harold was helping break things down for the move. Harold turned his head just enough to speak from the side of his face, “I love you and I will be there for you till death or victory. But I’ll never forgive you for what you just did our son.”

November 11, 2023 21:48

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Danie Holland
16:02 Nov 17, 2023

Lots of meat in this story. Jeb seems to be a strong leader, taking the situation at hand and he doesn’t let emotions get in the way as he does what needs doing. And yet, he’s almost fair in the sense that he does no more and no less. He shows no mercy for the family traitor and he shows no extra cruelty for the man on the other side. The unit works together as a team and seems stronger together, psyching each other up, not letting major get to them. Showing they aren’t weak like a dog shows their teeth. I also think the conflict in Jebs rel...


Andrew Gibbons
17:13 Nov 17, 2023

Danie, Thank you so much for taking the time to read my story. It means a lot to just to do that alone. So extra thanks for taking time to give a thoughtful critique of my work. I value it deeply. I’m really happy to see that many of my ideas hit the tones and contrasts I was hoping for. It’s been a long time since I’ve written so thank you for confidence boost on my work. My weekends coming up and I’ll def be reading some of your work. Again thank you for your time and words. Andrew


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Eileen Turner
17:20 Nov 19, 2023

Your story reveals both the physical and the emotional horrors of war. Could people like James ever be he same after participating? We probably all know some who are not. I felt James was being deliberately sacrificed. Hard to read subject, but we'll written.


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