And the Winner is . . . Short Story Category

24 Jun

Congrats to Taylor, who won the First-and-a-Half Annual Short Fiction Contest Short Story category with her story “Twelve Hours”

Check it out:

It was noon.

It was so hot. The heat was unbearable and made the blood-stained earth burn through Theodore’s uniform. The sweat dripped off his forehead to the thinned grass and flooded his eyes. His throat was dry.

Blood dripped from the wound in his stomach.

The wound wasn’t fatal. Captain Theodore Sydney knew that much. But the stretcher bearer had to get to him quick, or he would bleed out.

The stretcher bearer would not come.

The shells and bullets that had rained down on them when they charged had ceased, but anyone who stepped out of the trench would be shot on sight, or worse.

His face was in the dirt, and it took all his strength to turn over to stare at the sky. The sun was directly above him.

How long would it take?

He hoped not long. He hated waiting.

A magpie flew overhead and blocked out the sun for a second.

The moans of the wounded and dying pervaded no-man’s land.

Some cried for their mothers. “Mother! Mother!” and “Mutter! Mutter!”

Many just wept.

Theodore would not scream or cry out. Not out of pride, it was simply his nature. He never raised his voice.

“Always so quiet. .Always so serious.”

That voice! So familiar! So comforting! The voice that symbolized warmth and comfort. The voice that meant that he was home.

“Mother?” he whispered, and turned his head to his right. She was there, crouched next to him, smoothing out his black hair.

Her hair was tied up messily, as it always was. There were streaks of grey, and the beginnings of wrinkles about her face. “Will you not cry out for me?” Her smile was sad.

“I do not cry out. I can’t. You know as much.”

She moved her hand to the wound in his stomach. “Can you not stop the bleeding?”

“Why are you here? You cannot be here.”

“Please, love. Please. Put your hand on the wound. Apply pressure. For me. I need you. I need my boy. I need my soldier.”

“You didn’t want me to fight. You thought I end up like Father.”

Her eyes welled with tears. “No. I couldn’t bear it if I lost you, too. Your father, and your sister-”

“Beatrice is still alive.” He stared at her indignantly, daring her to dismiss his claim.

“I would have no one.”

“You would have Beatrice. You would have Teddy. Please mother,” he grasped his mother’s hand, “find them. They need you. Beatrice needs her mother.”

Her lips pressed into a thin line. “You know I can’t. The disgrace! What would the neighborhood say? Or our church? No, I can’t meet with her.”

“Jesus Christ, mum!” Theodore’s voice raised an octave, but after a few calming breaths, his tone lowered, “She’s family. She’s all you have left now! Why do you care what others say? She wants to be with you!”

“I will not throw away all your father’s worked for! Your sister…” His mother closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. “Your father fought to make a future for this family, and your sister has to throw away her life and reputation to a scoundrel-”

“She’s your daughter. He’s your only grandson. Please, don’t act like they aren’t alive. They very much are. Father, he was wrong. He always is.”

“Don’t speak about your father like that!” His mother’s eyes lit up in anger.

“Why not? He made you miserable every day he was with you. With us.”

His mother’s shoulders sagged, and she smiled sadly at him, and moved her hand down to cup his cheek. “You’re very much wrong, love. He made me so happy. He was a good man. You’re very much like him, you know.”

“No, I’m not.”

“You don’t realize it now, but-”

“Find Beatrice.”

She grasped his hand affectionately, then placed it on his stomach. “I will if you try, my love. Try.”

“I will,” he whispered, then blinked.

And she was gone.

Theodore turned his head so he was facing the sky. The sun was beginning to set, and he began to weep.

“Don’t you dare cry, Theodore.”

He did not even have to open his eyes to know who it was. The voice was authoritative, stern, serious.

He opened his eyes, and found himself staring into the cold blue gaze of his father. His jaw was square and set tight. There was no affectionate smile on the face of Matthew Sydney, who simply peered down at him.

“Why are you here?” Theodore asked, without the soft tone he used with his mother.

“Because I want to see my only son survive this fucking place.”

“That’s a fucking lie, and you know it. You’ve never loved anyone but your rifle and the battlefield.”

His father stood up to his full height, and towered over his fallen body. “What makes you say that?”

“You were so cold with us, too polite. How could you be so indifferent?”

“I am you. You are me.”

“No.”

“You are so serious. So serious with everyone.”

“No.”

“With me, with your mother, with your sister, your nephew, and with your girl.”

Theodore blanched at the mention of his girl. “How do you know Rose?”

“I watched you, son. I knew you were in love, even before you knew yourself. She’s very different from us, isn’t she? Isn’t that why you care so much for her?”

“How could you know whether I was in love or not? You never paid attention to me!”

“Son, I love you. I love our family so much. But you must think: How can you face reality after all this? You’ve seen war. You’ve seen death and destruction and murder. You’ve killed. How do you return to normal. How can you see the smiling faces of your family when all you feel is anger? They will never know what it’s like. You don’t want them to know. So you fight with your body and soul to make sure they never do. That’s why I fought. That’s why I served. That’s why I died.”

Theodore stared up at his father. Years of fog seemed to disapparate before him. “I hated you, you know.”

“I know,” he allowed.

“But you loved me.”

“Yes.”

“But you never showed me.”

“No.”

“Why?”
“Because it is my nature.”

“Mine, too,” Theodore admitted.

“Perhaps we were at odds with each other because we are too similar.”

“You threw Beatrice from the house. You cast her out in shame.”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Because I sacrificed so much for you, for her. And she thanks me, and the countless numbers of men who died to protect her livelihood, by damaging herself. By acting irrationally.”

“If you had bothered meeting Teddy, you’d think differently.”

“Perhaps.”

“She begged for your forgiveness.”

“Yes.”

“That’s why I hated you,” Theodore could feel his face burning as all the rage filled inside him.

“I know. It was for the best.”

“That’s why I could never be like you. I have a heart.”

“If you had a heart, you would try to return to your mother and sister, not lying in the dirt with blood pouring from your stomach. You would have married Rose.”

Theodore blanched, “It was…is…for the best.”

“Yes. And you left her broken hearted.”

“You couldn’t understand.”

“Oh?”

“Yes. It hurt me to do that to her. It pained me to leave her.”

“And it pained me to throw Beatrice out. No father wants to lose his daughter.”

Theodore snorted, “What do you want from me?”

He shrugged. “Forgiveness. And if not that, understanding.”

And with that, right before his very eyes, Matthew Sydney disappeared, leaving Theodore to clutch his wound in pain. He was bleeding out. He was dying slowly.

The sky was a brilliant orange. It was all beautiful. The moans of the dying had softened.

He wished someone would come. Someone who would save him. Someone to carry him away.

His father. His father had loved him. His father had loved his family. He was his father. His father was him. And yet, he did not want to be like him. He did not want to be so cold, so calculating, so reserved.

“He’s right, you know.”

He closed his eyes. The voice that was authoritative like his father, and yet had the softness of his mother’s. “Not you, too.”

His sister was crouched next to him, a stern look on her face. She had a small baby in her arms. “Don’t lie to me. I know you’re happy to see me.”

“This is no place for a woman. Or for little Teddy.”

“He wanted to see his uncle.”

The little boy approached cooed and reached out for him.

“Hello, little soldier.” He reached out and squeezed his nephew’s delicate hand. “You are so much like your mother, you know. You are kind. You are brave. You are strong.”

Beatrice moved her hand to smooth his hair, “Just like his uncle. And his grandfather.”

“You’ve forgiven him?”

Her large brown eyes looked into his, and nodded. “Yes. Yes, I suppose I have. Too late, I suppose. He’s been dead for a year, but it’s always better late than never.”

“And you think I should forgive him?”

“No, I don’t. I didn’t realize this until I had Teddy, but the love of a parent is quite strange sometimes. I can’t forgive him for casting me out, but I can understand why he did so. That’s what I gave to my father: Understanding.”

“I told him that I hated him.”

“And do you?”

“No, I couldn’t. I wanted his approval. I wanted his love.”

“He really did love us.”

“Yes.”

“And you really love him.”

“Yes.”

“And I love you, brother.”

“And I love you, Beatrice. And I love you, Teddy.”

His nephew leaned over a placed a small hand on the tip of his nose, and grinned at him. His blue eyes were so big, so innocent, so unassuming.

He closed his eyes to hold back tears, and when he had composed himself, opened them to find the face he dreaded seeing.

“Rose,” he whispered softly. Affectionately.

“Hello, Theodore.” She was laying on her side next to him, her head supported in her hand, and her other hand gently running through his hair. Her big green eyes that stared back at him were filled with sadness, but her small pink lips were turned upwards in a sheepish grin. Rose’s blonde hair fell in curls across her chest. She wore the light green dress that he loved best on her, because it made her eyes even more vivid.

“You’re here.” His voice came out raspy and weak. How much longer? How much time would he have with her?

“No,” she replied softly.

“I know.”

“I can never lie to you.”

“I know.”

“I love you.”

“I know.”

“Is that all you have to say to me?” Her brows furrowed in frustration, and her lips thinned.

“No. But it’s all I can say. It would be improper-”

“Oh, bother that!”

“But-”

“Bother improper!”

“Yes, but-”

Her eyes lit up in anger. She was beautiful. “You make me so angry, Theodore. So angry!”

“I know.”

“You’re always so serious. And reserved. And stern.”

“I know.”

“And yet, I love you most in the world.”

“Why?”

“Because, at heart, you’re a good man.”

“I don’t deserve you.”

She sat up indignantly when he said this. “Theodore, don’t you ever say that. You are kind. So unbelievably kind. You took your sister in after your father threw her out. You provided for her and her son. You cared for your mother after your father died. You enlisted to fight for your country. You are so good.”

“I’m too old, too poor, too cold for you.”

“And I am too naive, too rich, and too warm for you. But we found each other, didn’t we? Even though you never said it, I knew that you loved me.”

“I was going to tell you. I was going to tell you that night before I left.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“I feared you would reject me. You were there in the heart of the party, talking with all your friends. God, you looked so beautiful in your green dress. And I was going to request a private conversation. And then you looked at me. Your eyes, they were so young, so unknowing. I would ruin you. I would make you miserable.”

Her eyes softened. A soft, delicate hand moved down from his hair to cup his cheek. “Oh, Theodore. You never asked me. That’s what’s wrong, you know. You like to be in control. You were scared of what would happen if you asked me to marry you. You could not control whether or not I would say yes, so you assumed I would say no. Love, you never gave me a chance to give an answer. You over think, too. Too many ‘What ifs.’ How about this certainty? We love each other.”

He stared up at her, and the tears fell down his cheeks. “I’m a fool.”

“Yes,” Rose said, looking at him with sympathetic eyes.

“And now I shall die, without seeing Mother, Beatrice and Teddy. Without forgiving my father. Without ever telling you…”

“Perhaps. But I know. I know you love me. It’s in your eyes every time you speak to me.” She gave him a coy smile, “For a man so reserved, you are remarkably easy to read.”

He laughed, and clutched at his stomach when his wound stung. He would die soon.

Theodore looked at Rose, opened his mouth, then closed it. She gave him a reassuring smile. “Rose… could you lay down with me? I’m… I’m scared.”

She nodded, and placed her head on his shoulder, her hand over his heart. He clutched that hand, his thumb gently rubbing her knuckles.

“I don’t want to die.”

“I don’t want you to die, either.”

“I want to come home. I want to come home to you.”

“I want you with me. I want to marry you.”

“I want to buy you a beautiful ring. I want all of your friends to be jealous of your old, serious, poor husband.”

“They’ll be jealous of my handsome, wonderful, mature husband. Besides, fifteen years is not a large gap.”

“I want to have children with you.”

“How many would you have wanted?”

“Five. I recall you saying that you wanted seven though, right?”

“Yes.”

“Six, then?” Her eyes met his, a slight tinge to her cheeks.

He laughed, “Yes.”

“It’s nice when you laugh.”

He looked at her, a smile on his face. He wanted to spend the rest of his life with her at his side. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

“I’m sorry I could not return to you.”

“You still can. Please, try. Try for me. I want you. I want our life. Please, Theodore. Please. I love you so much. Promise me.”

She looked so beautiful in the moonlight. He wanted her more than anything. He needed her. “I promise, Rose.”

And like that, she was gone.

Theodore was left looking into the darkness. He closed his eyes to hold back the tears that threatened to pour overs, but is was no use. He was left sobbing. Dying. Alone. He wanted them all back. He wanted all of them with him. He had isolated so many. There were chances he missed out on. Mistakes that needed to be remedied. He did not want to die alone like this.

He stared up at the sky. The stars were blurred by his tears. He was looking for the moon. Theodore found it right above him, shining down invitingly.

It was midnight.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: