The Footsoldier

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“Only the dead have seen the end of war.” —Plato

 

Dust was Lapointe’s world now.

Dust was in his boots, inside every crevice of his uniform. It was in his hair, on his tongue.

It was in his eyes.

The sun began it’s descent toward the horizon. He stood and stared, taking a meagre sip from his canteen.

Guadian columns of smoke and sand held up the dome of sky by some trick of desert magic. There was no other movement visible and Lapointe felt himself an awkward and uninvited guest, soon to be discovered, and with awful consequence.

Bonfils lay sprawled out on the sunbaked and broken ground behind him, a stagnant pool of blood below his body. The private had been a man both brave and foolhardy.  Lapointe felt no regret for having killed him. If the two of them had advanced as ordered, they would have surely been killed. If he had returned without Bonfils, he would have either been sent back out with another man, or shot as a coward. Better to stay here and wait for the enemy, he thought. Defeat is inevitable. I will offer information, that my life might be spared. If I am refused, I have lost nothing. But if not…his thoughts trailed off and vanished into the still air.

Lapointe sat in the dust next to his comrade’s corpse. He lit a cigarette, an act which he immediately regretted, as it made his mouth feel even more parched.

“Bonfils, I make to you this final promise: If—when—I return to France, I will seek out your young widow. I will tell her that her husband was a gallant man who died a noble death, for these things are true. In time, she will enshrine your memory as sacred. But all the while, as her heart heals, her love for me will grow. Your comrade-in-arms, the last man to see you alive, spared by God Himself to comfort and protect her.” He laughed briefly and bitterly.

“You can trust me to take care of her, Bonfils. I hope you know that.”

Surely my new friend the enemy will reach me by morning, he thought. He watched as the night flung itself across the desert.

 

A day and a night passed.

On the third day Lapointe could hear the artillery more clearly, and more smoke was visible in the sky. A brief thrill of terror snaked it’s way through his body—what if I’m shelled before I have the chance to surrender?—and quickly subsided. There was nothing to shell on the rocky little hill, not even a dead tree for scant shade.

“Bonfils,” he called out over his shoulder. “This heat may be a bitch, but lucky for you it’s keeping the flies away. Lucky for us both, I guess. Help is on the way, my friend! I’m sure they’ll be here by the end of the day.”

“Which is excellent, because as I’m sure you’ve noticed, we’ve been out of water for two days.”

 

That night, Lapointe fell into a dream haunted by fever. Somewhere beneath the desert, water was calling to him, singing to him in a beautiful voice, in a language he did not speak but could somehow understand. All he had to do was dig in the dust and sand until he found water. The only problem was, in the dream he had no arms and so could dig using only his mouth. His mouth filled with sand again and again. Each time he spat the sand to one side, but the hole kept filling back up. He was drowning in the desert.

 

The next morning the shelling stopped abruptly.

Lapointe had grown so accustomed to the sound—comforted by it, even—that the silence filled him with dread. He scanned the horizon with his field glasses.

No vehicles.

No men.

Nothing.

Lapointe’s heart stopped in his chest.

They’ve gone round my position! Missed me completely!

It was the end. He was a day from camp, if camp still stood. He was many more so from the next garrison, if it still stood. And it did not matter anyway, for he was too weak to walk.

Lapointe stood up. Defeat was nothing new to him, but resignation was. He found it to be the grandest of drugs, filling him with an opiate-like golden glow and the knowledge that, whatever else, in a moment he would suffer no more in this world.

“Bonfils, my friend. I have done you a terrible wrong, it is true. But know that I have given you a nobler death than the one I give myself.”

Lapointe reached into his pocket for his last bullet and found only a handful of dust.

 

 

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45 Responses to The Footsoldier

  1. tripleclicka says:

    That was really intense. Great read.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. thinkinkadia says:

    Very nicely presented the internal conflicts and friendship in war.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. crow says:

    wonderful wonderful. I love the last line.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Absolutely stunning. We are gripped, and wanting him to get his comeuppance. You managed to surprise with it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. skat says:

    I really need a huge glass of water.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. skat says:

    This has the feel of one of those old Hitchcock tales. It really is well crafted and I was right there alongside Lapointe in his self-made hell. Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh my giddy aunt, there is so much here to love that I don’t even know where to start. And the image of him drowning in the desert is genius. I take all my hats off to you, mate.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. MC Clark says:

    All for nothing…that happens a lot in life. And death.
    Great story, O. Both entertaining and well-told.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Your superb tale summed up Plato’s quote perfectly. I loved the recurring sand theme, as well. It’s been said that sand is a cleansing agent, because it flows like water and burns like fire. LaPointe’s soul can definitely use some cleansing. The way you had set up your excellent story with dust mentioned on the onset and then again at the end, made me think of another quote: “From dust you were born and to dust you shall return.”

    Liked by 5 people

    • oglach says:

      Thanks. Lapointe found out about the wages of cowardice. Bonfils may be dead but he has found the end of war. Cowards may die but for them there is only eternal war and fear. I like your take on sand as a cleansing agent. I knew a soldier who went over a month with only sand to clean himself. I prefer hot showers. You can’t take your rubber duckie to the desert. Hmm. I’m started to sympathize with Lapointe….. 🙂
      Many thanks for reading and commenting, Rose.

      Liked by 3 people

  10. Wow! What a tale! And as always I read it twice 😉 There´s a deep meaning hidden in that line where he misses the sound of the shells, that something that should make him feel afraid even comforts him… I felt very much reminded of Edgar Allen Poe somehow – the creation of one´s own hell and all that. Great writing, Óglach! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Riveting and memorable thruout. The dream and the last sentence even more so.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. fictionspawn says:

    I read somewhere “give up and get happier”. I won’t, though. Happiness is overrated. Good, reflected story.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Wonderful narration. The sand was possessing him and I absolutely liked the tension and the dilemma he was experiencing in his sub-conscious mind. The last line …what an inglorious death for a soldier it would be in the desert.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. That was a fine read, excellent work! It reminds me a lot of an old CBS Escape radio episode from the 1940s about German soldiers trapped in the blistering desert and the breakdown between them, wish I could remember the title of it though. Thanks for posting!

    Liked by 1 person

    • oglach says:

      A great many thanks. I’ve never listened to the show, but I looked it up and there is an internet archive, so I will search it out. Your visit and comment are much appreciated, Neil.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. You Sir, are the Man.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Phil Huston says:

    Ain’t no easy way out. Nice environmental.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I hope you’re working on your novel, too. Or at least a place to stash these shorts. The beginning of this one will stick with me as much as the end.

    Liked by 1 person

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