Scott enjoys writing words that occasionally form sentences that accumulate into paragraphs that form an outline of a story if you read between the lines. When he's bored he does pushups for fun and snacks on Bernie Bott's every flavor beans. His latest poem, By The Lake, was published in the latest issue of the Whistling Shade. You can check him out on twitter at @ScottHotaling
Soldier by Scott Hotaling
I wish I told my dad how much I loved him.
I crawled behind a small tree with a thick trunk and auburn leaves. The smooth bark felt cool against my back. Figured that was as nice of a spot to die in as anywhere else. My leg felt much better too, even though I knew I’d never walk again. Pretty obvious when your leg is dangling from what looks like a large rubber band. My sister could have told you what kind of tree this was but she was never going to see this place. She would have liked it though. Great place to read a book. I never read that much. I think I’d like to now. Maybe something by J.D Salinger or George Orwell. But now isn’t the time. I’ve got to hide. Not like this is a great spot for it. But it might just give me a few more minutes before I have to kill again.
I’m not too worried about it though. I’ve never been one of those people that worry about the future. Looking back is as far forward as I’ve ever looked. My parents will be able to bury me in a proper casket. I’m one of the lucky ones. Now I can join my brothers in heaven, if there is such a place. We can play catch and tease girls like we did when we were young. Not that being 20 is old. But I don’t expect God to forgive the things I’ve done here. In my defense, I didn’t have a choice. Well, maybe I did. My father always told me, two wrongs don’t make a right. In this case, they just help you survive.
My dad was a plumber. Hardest working man I ever met. We argued all the time, about things I can’t remember. I suppose that’s normal, kids fighting with their parents. I didn’t fight with my mom. She left before I learned how to walk. I never asked my sister why. It wasn’t that I didn’t care; it just wasn’t the kind of thing we talked about. I never blamed myself. I always blamed my dad. And he knew it.
He wanted me to become a doctor. But I was never that smart. Straight C student in school. I didn’t much care about learning how to calculate the area of a trapezoid or what the atomic number of Helium was. I was pretty confident I’d never need to know it, especially since my dad didn’t know that stuff either. He knew what he needed to learn and what he didn’t when he was in school. No one could tell him different either. He was smart. I think he admired how I liked to help people. Always stood up for people that didn’t stick up for themselves. I could never have been a doctor anyway. I was always a bit squeamish at the thought of that much blood on my hands. I think my dad knew this is where I’d end up. Like I said, he was a smart man.
Maybe I should have been more interested in school. Then I could have gone to college. That’s where the smart ones go. My sister was always the bright one. She was full of useless information, atomic numbers included. She would come home and tell us stories about all the adventures she was having there; meeting new people, learning new things, and going on trips with friends to places she never imagined. It bore me. I never thought much about it. I already had friends. We played sports every day. It was great. I didn’t want anything to change. But change was inevitable. I knew that much. Maybe I was smart after all.
She would have graduated medical school by now. I wish I could have been there to see it. I was proud of her. The blood never bothered her. It was a means to an end. I guess I should have looked at it that way. She was helping people by saving them. I was helping people by killing them. Wrap your head around that one. I stopped trying a long time ago. I’m not afraid of blood anymore. My hands will never be clean again. Hers will always be followed with a smile.
They’re here. On top of the hill. I count ten of them. It looks like I was right about a few minutes. These guys just don’t give up hunting you until your dead. At least I was able to share a few things about myself to you. Better to be remembered by someone than to be forgotten by everyone. They don’t see me yet. Not that it matters. I can’t kill ten people by myself. That only happens in movies. Not on strange fields stained with blood. I love my dad. I hope he knows that. I was never good at telling him how I felt. I wish he were here. I wish he could protect me. He’d kill them all. Just like in the movies. Because he’s my dad. He’s the strongest man I know.
I wonder if my life will flash before my eyes just before I die. I hope I have enough memories so that it might. I suppose I could have done a lot of things differently, but back then I didn’t know killing fields like this one existed. Sure, I’d heard stories about them on television, but they never seemed real to me. Being naïve does have its perks. It’s sure better than lying here bleeding in the mud. Though I think I’m beginning to enjoy the pain. Some days it’s the only way I know for sure that I’m still alive. Survival never felt better. Even if this is an adult’s twisted version of some video game where the blood is real and the score doesn’t count. I used to love playing those shoot ‘em up games with friends. I was always the sniper. This isn’t that much different I suppose. Only here if you die that’s the last time you’ll play. I think my friends pity me now. The ones that are still alive at least. They think we’re all just boys playing an intricate game of hide and seek where the winner is the first one to die. I wonder if that’s how my brothers felt before they died. I wonder if that’s how my enemies felt before I killed them.
I suppose it doesn’t matter. They’re dead now. Someone’s mother will stand next to an empty coffin and tell herself he fought the good fight. That he was a brave man and he’ll protect her even in death. I hope that’s true. But I’ve seen things. Immoral things. Winning, it seems, does not have jurisdiction here. School doesn’t teach you that.
Three of the men are running toward me. They should be here within a couple minutes. I like those odds. I was never going to lay down for them anyway. I was always going to fight. It just so happens that this was going to be my last one. But was it? I still had my gun. My knife. My heart. I felt a little disrespected. Who did they think I was? Some broken down cripple? If they thought it would only take three of them to kill me, well, they were mistaken.
Our family went camping every summer. I’d swim with my sister and we’d race across the lake. Once in a while she’d let me win, but most times I didn’t stand a chance. My dad loved to fish. I caught my first one the day before my seventh birthday. You should have seen how proud he was. My sister wasn’t too impressed. Dad told us a story by the fire and I ate marshmallows until I felt sick. I never told him how much I enjoyed fishing with him. He told me I’d fall in love and have kids of my own someday. I would have taught them how to fish, just like my dad. I don’t know if he told anyone about my first catch. To tell you the truth, I hope he didn’t. I think some things are better left between a father and a son.
I shot the first soldier when he was 200 yards out. He dropped like a shirt falling off a clothesline. Hit the second at about 150. I just wounded him. He howled like someone just shot his leg off. Hurts doesn’t it? Tell me about it. The last one shot me in the shoulder before I sunk my blade into his liver. I felt like I might pass out from the pain. It felt good to be alive.
I never had a girlfriend. That’s not to say I didn’t have a few crushes. They just never panned out. I wasn’t the kind of guy that could just go up to a girl and talk to her. I was always the quiet one. I did go out on a date once, with a girl from my English class. Wrote her a poem. It wasn’t good. She was beautiful. Always wore a blue necklace. She was my first kiss. It would have been nice to see her again.
The remaining men on the hill fired at me from a hundred yards out. I pinned myself against the tree and killed two more like I was that sniper again in the video game. Then a third and fourth. The rest of them charged at me. I killed the tallest one with a bullet right between the eyes. A few seconds later, the pain in my shoulder vanished. I never saw the other two men. They must have run away.
My father picked me up and carried me to the top of the hill. His hair was dark brown and the lines on his face had softened. There was a small lake below that I hadn’t noticed before. My sister was waiting for us next to a faded old tent. We built a fire together and dad told us a story while I ate marshmallows until I felt sick. Tomorrow I’ll ask my dad to go fishing and race my sister across the lake. Most of my brothers didn’t get a chance to go back home and see their family. I’m one of the lucky ones. I have my whole life in front of me. I think I’m going to spend it with my dad.