10 June 2012 @ 02:21 am

Machine gun fire stutters relentless, heat and cold simultaneous. Sometimes it pours, mud sloshing beneath their boots and weakening the grip of their heavy boots. Sometimes the sun beats down so heavy that sweat drips into their eyes and blinds them.

Someone is always blamed in a war.

For this, entire nations suffer.

For this, there is a man [ no, a boy ] who wishes he was never born.

We retrace his bloody military-boot footprints.

Mama! Wo bist du?

She was sitting on the porch steps, weeping like she would break apart. He was terrified. His mother was so strong, so beautiful, always so unbreakable. She didn’t respond to anything he asked her, but eventually enveloped him in her arms, whimpering.

It wasn’t father. No, he lived.

His childhood was constantly overshadowed by the war. He could see the War in the faces of the adults, and though they had not known it, in the ghostly faces of the children. He spent the time by going out to the dance halls, swinging with pretty girls. He liked girls well enough; they were fun to dance with. But his first kiss was his best friend, a boy named Oliver who came from Liris. The other boys made fun of him, but he didn’t mind. He couldn’t help who he was.

Then the Fuhrer came into power, stormed the Republic and made it his own. His father refused to vote for the Fuhrer, and was killed. Erick and his mother fled to Liris.

Look at them. Those goddamn Dirschts. They think they’re so much better than everyone else.” Erick sat with his pad of paper and drew. Once, he dropped the charcoal, and someone stepped on it. They walked on right past him without an apology. The closest he came to human life was the people he captured in sketches, the only feeling on his fingertips the charcoal smudges; a poor man’s tool. He and his mother suffered. They had no money, they could get no job.

Fucking Dirscht scum!” One man snarled when Erick came looking for work. “We have no place for you ‘Aryans’ here!

Erick went home.

The boys and girls always avoided him, but he kept his shoulders squared. He was stronger than most of the boys, with more muscle tone from the work he found, lots of heavy lifting that paid next to nothing. The kids his age whispered. “Look at him. He looks like a soldier.

He’s not a soldier. He never wanted to be.

The markets crashed, and he and his mother were on the streets for a while before they found a small flat in the slums. There were rats in the gutters and leaks sprung everywhere. At least it was a roof over their heads. Erick fixed what he could. The leaks got all of his books and drawing pads wet, so he tried to hang them to dry outside. Later he found them ripped apart and thrown in a puddle. Those books were his father’s.

Erick went inside and did what he had not allowed himself to do for many years. He wept until he was sapped of tears.

War was declared. Erick kissed his mother’s cheek and promised he would come back. She did not believe a word.

They shaved his blond hair from his head, and they gave him tags. They forced him into close quarters with the very sorts of men who avoided him like he had some sort of disease. He was complacent and stayed quiet.

“Hey, you.”

Nothing. “Pretty boy. Dirscht bastard.” He turned to look up. Short hair, dark face peering at him. There was something…

“You’re a girl.” He couldn’t keep a little bit of surprise from his voice. Girls weren’t supposed to be in the forces.

“Gods, you’re not a very bright one.” She snapped, cuffed him hard across the head. She was strong; more muscle than curve, bold face, but he still thought she was pretty. “Come with me. Y’don’t have to be all by your lonesome there. Looks pathetic.”

She went by Vaxis, but she told Erick to call her Cat. Her name, of course, was Catherine, but Erick was the only one to ever call her that. There was another few in the group. An Eastern man named Masaru, another black man, and a Dirscht like him; the Dirscht didn’t often say anything, but when he did, it was dark and made them wish he’d kept his mouth shut.

The other guys would gang up on Erick sometimes because he embodied the exact sort of people the Fuhrer was trying to put into power, but Cat called them out. She was good that way. She could beat sense into more or less anyone.

She was really the only thing keeping him from putting the muzzle of the gun in his mouth, most of the time. “Only cowards do that, Ricky,” she’d say to him. “And you’re not one’a those.”

Sometimes he wondered.

He didn’t think anything would change.

He’d go out and shoot his own kinsmen and then be taunted and bruised by those he had chosen to defend. He’d go back into the trenches and worry that he’d find a friendly bullet in his brain, and it they’d swear it was accidental, but everyone would know better.

He didn’t think anything would change, but then he was assigned to a different unit, and then things didn’t stop changing.

“What are you drawing?”

Erick glanced around quickly, unsure if someone else was doodling. No, a young man was standing in front of him. He offered a hesitant smile. “Can I see?”

Wordlessly, Erick handed him the drawing pad. He half expected the young man to throw it on the ground, stomp on it, spit on him, and walk away. That would be the last of his paper. It’s hard to come by these days, particularly as a soldier. “These are quite good,” the boy mused, flipping through. “I wish I had half of your talent. May I?” He indicates the spot beside Erick. Blinking quickly to make sure this isn’t some sort of dream, Erick scoots to the side just a little to give the other fellow some room to sit. He does, and then he procures a pencil—a real pencil—from one of the inside pockets of his uniform jacket. “Here. I don’t use it, but I’m sure you will.”

His smile is bright, and Erick finds that he is smiling too.

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