The Veteran by Frederick K Foote

He limps home from the war with a lopsided gait. A cripple with a dark green uniform hanging on his gaunt frame. They stare at the colorful ribbons and shiny dangling medals on his chest as they avoid his vacant, hollow eyes hidden in bony valleys of dark flesh.

He disembarks at the station with his duffel on his back. He ignores friends, family, and strangers as he shuffles out of town toward the rugged foothills.

His pace is steady and relentless as he leaves the streets, passes on to the dirt roads, and moves up the trails climbing to an abandoned cabin that he knew as a child.

He has a five-year-old son, a twenty-five-year-old wife, a father age 55, and a 50-year-old mother. He has five siblings, two friends, a God and a moral code. They’re all mirages, facades, and fading memories now.

What is fresh and real are the screams, sobs, and desperate pleas of the dying men, women, and children. What he hears are the screeches, squeals and frantic movements of livestock burning alive in their barns and coops.

The smell of burning and rotting flesh is in his nose and mouth, on his clothes and in his skin.

All flesh is food for the maggots and worms and fodder for the bombs and bullets. This is his precious new reality.

He is a witness and participant in the rape, torture, and mutilation of men, women, and children.

He remembers starting the day with 5,000 lively comrades and ending the day among five thousand uniformed corpses.

He studies his hands. The hands that launched the missiles dropped the bombs, pulled the triggers, lit the fuses, and plunged the bayonets into living flesh. The blood on his hands is indelible and will not wash off or fade away.

In the cabin, he decommissions his uniform. He cuts off the brass buttons, removes the rank, and unit patches, plucks off the ribbons, badges and name tag.

He replaces the buttons with bone buttons he carved and drilled during the last days of his service. His new unit patch is a claw and a fang both dark with dried blood and glued to his jacket’s shoulder with tree resin. His new name tag is a smear of his blood above his left chest pocket.

In a revered and isolated grove, he gathers dead wood for a bountiful, living and raging bonfire.

Naked he dances around and around the fire on a cool fall night leaping to the rhythm of the popping, crackling fire and the bursting of bombs, the chatter of automatic weapons, the whine of mortars and the cymbals of exploding mines.

The choir of anguished voices and animal panic echoes through his mind as he screams and runs into and through the inferno the first, second, and third times.

Purified, sanctified, and commissioned an officer and priest in the battle to spread the gospel of war. Whimsical war without regret or reason or end. War against life itself. Self –justifying wars enlisting pious patriots and the discarded and lowly regarded.

He retreats to his cabin to assemble his rifle, inspect his grenades, mines, and plastic explosives. He fills his magazines, loads his guns, attaches his bayonet, puts on his uniform and dons his helmet.

The first snow of the year is a gentle and delicate drift as he walks without a limp, speeds up to a jog and accelerates to a sprint as he runs back into battle.

Again.

Frederick K Foote

Banner Image: Pixabay.com – Dogtags, memorial garden, Boston

 

10 thoughts on “The Veteran by Frederick K Foote

  1. Hi Fred,
    This is as strong a piece of writing that anyone will read.
    Most of our initial comments on this were simple one words and they were more an expression than a comment!!
    Excellent.
    Hugh

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  2. This was not what I was expecting when I began reading! Which is obviously a good sign. I hadn’t checked the genre, just clicked on it when I saw it on the front page. I thought this was going to go into the effects of war on soldiers but certainly not in the way it did. The way it comes to a head and the ending twisted my mind into that enjoyable kind of confusion.

    I do think that the simple comments on what the protagonist has, who he is related to, what he’s been doing, are all effective in creating a dumbing down sensation–giving the reader the heaviness of battle trauma–before punching into his outlandish actions at the cabin. Personally I wonder if it went on slightly longer than was necessary. Or it could have been the list of numbers and ages before “a God” and “a moral code”, for instance.

    The ending is powerful. It shakes the reader even further. Where is it he is actually going? I doubt he’s been deployed again. It gives such a sense of a cracked mind, broken by the cruelties of warfare.

    Really gave me the creeps, reading about his own buttons.

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  3. This disturbed me. That is a good thing. It takes courage to write disturbing, honest things. It also takes a foolish sort of courage (one found only at a safe distance of 8 thousand miles) to claim that it is hard to follow in your Foote-steps. You see, my father and grandfather and uncles were all infantry men. Trained and proficient killers They worked hard and drank almost constantly afterwards and saw the need to inject humor (even bad humor) into almost everything. Once more, fine work.
    L.A.

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  4. Wow Fred. Left me breathless and speechless. Being a veteran and having worked at a vet’s center, your story brought back some painful conversations. You grabbed the inner pain on this.

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  5. Hi Fred,

    Well done. I especially like the line “Self-justifying war enlisting pious patriots and the discarded and lowly regarded.” I suspect a lot of our pious patriots never served in a war.

    James Hanna

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  6. Thank you all for your kind words and acute observations. You might also enjoy, “Them Blues.”

    Have you ever gone to church and seen a sister get happy and be moved by the spirit? Have you ever got the dancing fever that makes you dance until you drop? If you haven’t you need to experience it second hand and if you have you can renew the experience with “Them Blues” published by Piker Press at: http://www.pikerpress.com/article.php?aID=6462

    Like

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