The Forgotten War
This morning when I went to shave, a monster looked back at me. That’s why I don’t want you to know my name, and that’s the reason why I want you to know my story. Somebody or something didn’t put this monster into my head it was always there. They did bring it out of me though, and made it better. They used the word if. The magical word ‘if’. If you bayonet your rifle, if you kill that man, if you live long enough, you’ll be a hero…if. If is for children. Patriotism is another word for if. It wasn’t that I walked into this blindly. I knew the deal from the beginning, I knew whom they were and why they were here, whom I was and what I needed to protect. That rang true years ago, before things broke down. Back in the days of formal armies, and defined objectives, during the day of the alliances among the nation states.
Now it’s nothing like that. I shoot at them and they shoot back. We shell them and they bomb us, not over anything important. Nobody goes after anything strategic like factories. So little industrialization left on both sides, one last push is all there is. They take out our factories, we then take away theirs, and nobody has the capacity left to do anything. We bomb one of their barricades they shoot up a school. We ambush a band of ‘aide workers’ they shoot the refugees that speak our language. So many people just running about jumping the boarder it’s hard to tell where our nation started and theirs ended. The unspeakable truth? Who wins looses. Nothing left for either side to win, not much to loose either and nobody wants to quit. This brand of ugly went perpetual.
Thing is if the authorities just said stop it let’s put this mess right, we would be back to where we were in a couple of generations. So instead I get up at what use to be called Army Depot 1832, go into the no man’s land of the capital city and shoot at the occupiers for a couple of weeks. If I come back, I get fixed up or what ever and go back to it. In the beginning, I belonged to a platoon of three hundred. Now it’s just me. In the depot, there are about five hundred other soldiers, the standing remains of the entire Eastern Army Group. In addition, of course, there are about four hundred occupiers from across the river. We have more grunts they have more helicopters. Most of their helicopters don’t fly regularly, and they live behind this barricade, only poking out and around irregularly. They like to tell us they occupy our capital, while theirs is in rubble. They’ve occupied the capitol from the start. Big hairy deal, we laced theirs fifteen minutes later with anti-positron devices.
I wake up in the morning and see a monster look back at me. I shave the monster’s face, feed the monster’s belly do what the king monster orders me too. The monster’s kids? Those that aren’t in the grand old uniform of the former Republic? Those who aren’t plowing fields and making like a farmer, or working in a beat up bombed out factories making boots when they need to make shoes, making bombshells when they need to make tools, those poor displaced bastards? They starve and live in the shadows.
My sister lives like that. She’s a secretary for this guy that use to make airplane parts. It once was a big factory, employing four thousand people. Dad worked there as an electrician. Now he has fifty guys and they made three parts for something last week. My sister said he keeps the entire payroll in a suitcase. When I’m skulking about town for something to get into, I stop by the company pad, shower, and snag a few things only a high and mighty business executive can afford now. Real food, a couple of packs of real cigarettes, and clean sheets for the night. Sometimes I think about lifting the high price stuff, grabbing my sister, and just leaving. I know what she does to get the goodies I just don’t think about it.
In the early days when I wasn’t the entire platoon, I figured something went off the tracks during the Winter Offensive. This is when there actually was a front line. The burning of the eastside of the city pushed fallout and soot up into the stratosphere for days and it came back down, and of course, Army Command had us sneak up on it from the countryside. We marched through this down pour, torrential rains that seemed to come at you sideways. The ground couldn’t soak anymore up and it left me with five pounds of this thick, sticky black mud stuck on my boots. The rain wasn’t like clean water, but it was black and gritty. As we were marching in, I passed a band of refugee types huddled along the side by this fence around some sort of a lumberyard or something, and they were listening to one of those fancy emergency hand crank radios. The radio had this news program on where the university educated fool talked about how there was a drought and we need to conserve water. They stood there and stared at us. Their eyes were empty, flat, a bunch of corpses that refused to fall over.
Eventually we found asphalt that armor chewed up and fell in behind a self-propelled gun. The houses that would normally be lining the streets were either in the basements or in burning their way down. The gun bunnies set up in a playground, the squad sergeant checked his position on the sat-nav system, and we pushed from the ‘burbs’ into downtown. The office buildings were still standing, shot to hell but still standing. I don’t think I saw one intact window there. Cars burned out, outside wall collapsed, water and sewage lines busted up. We didn’t see many bodies, the ones we did were mostly civil police or firemen, none of them intact, just bits and pieces. It got uglier when the sun came up. A thick acrid cloud hung over everything that stained the sun red and made the sky a sickly tornado green. Then it got funky.
The sergeant yelled helicopter and I ran into a building as this ogre strafed us. They killed about twenty. I ran out of the shop and emptied my rifle in the general direction of it and the guy I didn’t know tried to cap off his rocket but couldn’t get a bead on it. The damn thing kept bouncing between the buildings just popping out long enough to launch on us. I grabbed this guy and said we should get up high on this building and wait for it to come back. Well we made it to the top and bellied over to the edge. We saw it come back for a third pass and this guy nails it the cockpit with the rocket. Scrap metal everywhere, well he jumps up and gives a whooping ‘yeah baby’ when more copters show up and started launching on us. They slammed rockets into the building under us, the roof collapsed and that’s when everything went black. I came out of it a couple of hours later buried under mineral paper and planking. Busted up a couple of ribs on my left side and a bunch of bruises with blood caked up on my face and around everything that wasn’t cover by helmet or body armor. I found my rifle in a corner and amazingly, the scope wasn’t broke. I couldn’t find the other guy. Don’t know his name but I suspect the outside wall buried him on the street.
Having a building fall on you and live really sucks. I knew I had busted ribs, but let me tell you I hurt all over. Slowly and painfully limped down to the third floor and I just couldn’t go any farther. I lumbered into what looked like a grade school floor and saw a soft looking chair by a teacher’s desk. You know the padded kind with wheels on the bottom. I carefully sat into it and leaned back, looking across the room. What struck me as odd at this point is that with the exceptions of broken windows, everything in this room is intact. The thirty or so chairs are still in neat lines, the walls aren’t burned, above the side blackboard is a number line, on the back are the grammatical and math symbols, in a corner a bookcase, still intact, and a globe on a pedestal sits on top. I rifled the desk looking for anything valuable. Not money mind you, true value like writing paper pens and things like that. As I snuck through a lower drawer one of those damn lime green and yellow helicopters shows up, sees me in the room, and unloads. I dove to the floor and crawled over to the radiator against the outside wall. Fortunately, by this time everyone was getting very cheap. Normally those copters carried a front gun with major caliber cannon. Now they use minor caliber ammunition that wouldn’t penetrate the radiator or the walls. They did how ever shoot through the window everything they could see, wasting the entire room and pock marked the walls and ceiling. Now if they had a couple of grenades or a rocket, they would’ve aced me out. Instead, I’m curled up in a ball with my back against the heating radiator listening to chunks of blackboard, plaster and concrete get knocked off the wall, the teacher’s steel desk get shredded and the formerly neat rows of desk chairs get kicked around. They took their time but after tearing things up, they left. I waited a few minutes, couldn’t hear the rotor wash anymore, before I began to crawl out of the room.
Do you remember the Commandments? All thirteen of them? Well I don’t. Like any middle class grammar school, they had them in those antique looking wooden plaques stuck above the alphabet at the front of the classroom. As I slowly and painfully crawling across the shot up floor, I find a couple. This first one read ‘God said thou shall not kill,’ the second, ‘Thou shall not steal.’ It was weird. Not religion or the ideas there of, it were weird because of the timing. Here I am sitting in a chair after having a building fall on me and get a message from the Creator. When I got out into the hallway, I slowly stood up and tried to find my mates. Not really wanting to find them, I went off and found my sister.
My sister use to be a chubby mildly over weight, brown eyed, blonde that was always on a diet. Since the war began, she not only lost the twenty or so extra pounds but about ten more. She was happy and bubbly, now dower. She didn’t look or act herself, almost like the refugees that roamed about. Dead in the eyes, soulless. She taped my ribs up and fried up a chicken in her one room efficiency. She made lame jokes about how she had two baths to herself, one at each end of the apartment’s hallway. When the lights flickered I looked up, she barely noticed. The chicken tasted like mom's. I slept in the corner recliner and in the morning, I left for the Depot.
After the reception I got there, I concluded I didn’t need to come back. It was like I never left or more accurately nobody cared. Less people there this time. The word was more people deserted. My squad sergeant asked about the guy I was with and I just told him what happened. He just nodded his head knowingly and walked off. That evening they cancelled our monthly pay and replaced it with a system that paid us every other month. You should’ve seen the stir that caused. Spent the next month there getting over my ribs and numerous bruises and contusions. When I thought I could easier carry heavier loads, I left myself. Getting the stuff wasn’t hard. Nobody there to look or care I walked in and took it. Filled up my large field pack, filled up a cargo bag and walked out a side gate.
Half way there, I found a currently unused half-ton carrier; it had three quarters of a tank of fuel so I took that. The previous owner left the keys in it. The fool, look at the neighborhood, can’t trust anybody anymore. Somebody probably stole it from the depot or the driver was off forking somebody who wanted a can of ham. Either way it didn’t matter, I didn’t think anybody would come looking for it. If somebody stole it at my sister’s…easy come easy go. I did however, park it in the parking garage, and chain up the steering column. Took the stuff up stares and seeing how my sister wasn’t there I jimmied the lock and moved in. Once there I learned the phone system was currently working so I called her at work. The phone system stopped working a minute into the conversation, par for the course.
When she came home, I had dinner set up but not cooked. I didn’t know how she’d react to what I said. I had to admit I sat on a fence with it. I knew she wanted to get out of town but at the same time Naj had to be one of the most loyal people I ever met. She was thrilled when she walked in and there I was. Happy that I decided to throw the towel in and leave. She told me that was the reason she wasn’t gone, waiting for me to catch up. I made dinner and I told her about the half-ton locked up in the garage then we shared a giggle about the parking problem. When she started cleaning the dishes, I asked her why since we wouldn’t be here after breakfast. She said it was a habit and stopped. She turned around and after wiping her hands off, she asked me if I was sleeping on the couch or if I wanted to share the bed. I said the couch was fine and blamed it on a twisted spine. She kept trying to talk me into the bed and at this point, the conversation got a bit…different.
“Naj, I really don’t want to screw my sister,” I remember saying. She smiled kicked her shoes off and began unbuttoning her blouse.
“Listen, I’ve soaked up enough fallout that we don’t need to worry about any issue here,” she replied deadpan. She kept unbuttoning the blouse and laid it across the table. “Maybe I want you?” she threw her bra against the wall. The first thing I thought was damn she’s lost more weight. “Ace…” that’s what she called me when she really wanted my attention. “I want to be with a man that remembers me before the war. Remembers me before I looked like a scarecrow…I use to worry about my weight,” she laughed nervously. “I want a man that won’t give my syphilis or kill me for what food I have in the fridge. I want you to hold me close and tell me about the way things were. I want you to make me feel.”
Talk about going around the bend, I understood that, and then I artfully talked my way out of it. Not that it took much effort, didn’t need too say a thing, I held her tight as she cried and buried her head in my chest. At this point, I realized the totality of events, if we didn’t get out of here, we’d both die. Me? Didn’t care much for me, I didn’t respect myself at this point, but I did love Naj. Loved her more than myself. She was my personal link to what once was. When we were both civilized human beings. In the morning, the electricity wasn’t working still, and I looked at Naj as I flicked the wall switch. Neither of us said anything, we both knew it was off for good, the only thing to note the passing was this empty click clack of the light switch in the early morning. For breakfast, we finished off what the fridge had, and Naj insisted on straightening the place up before we left. Miraculously the half-ton was in the garage so clearing out of town wasn’t much of a problem. After and hour we found a useable service station. In the back of the half-ton, we found the issued siphon and filled the tank off and took all four fifteen liter petrol cans in the station, filled them up and scrounged around for whatever goodies we could. I figured the owner took off or had something bad happen. The facility was just wide open. No locked doors no chained up Pitt Bull, no security. Everything just there, and apparently we were the first. After about six hours, we changed over and she drove until the tank emptied out. There we filled its tank up with fuel from the petrol cans and found a clearing by a stream and we slept there for the night. Eventually, long after the truck ran out of gas we found our way into this shantytown of wannabe farmers and petty merchants. Up stream around a bunch of caves, somebody started mining copper and over time, a bunch of smaller towns sprung up.
Naj stopped loosing weight and after a couple of years gained half of it back. I do a bit of farming…no it’s more like a large garden, and drive a mule cart with wood from the lumber camps to the copper mine up stream. I keep wondering if Naj is ever going to get over the ghosts that live in her head. Then again, why should she? My ghosts haunt me still. We spend our time, when we’re not doing what it takes to eat well talking about the way things were.
He Came From arth, my first published novella is available at Amazon.com and other places. If you really really like it, E-Mail and if I can I'll send you an autographed copy or at least something special electronically. Authors comment
All rights belong to its author. It was published on e-Stories.org by demand of Scott Wahrenberger.
Published on e-Stories.org on 02/08/2009.