Wahoo!!! Here’s my entry which got me into the next round! Get the tissues out! Thanks Urban Literary Agency – https://www.facebook.com/UrbanLiteraryAgency/?fref=ts
A Warrior’s Heart
By Samantha Cole (Copyright Samantha Cole)
No. Please, God, this couldn’t be happening.
All around him, the silence roared. Men were dead and dying, but he couldn’t hear a sound due to the last blast that’d come too close for him to avoid. The attack had come from out of nowhere. Jokes and laughter had been replaced by screams and moans of pain. Arguments over which teams were going to be in the World Series this year were changed to shouts for a medic. A routine patrol had turned into something far worse than sweating in the unbearable heat.
Five months left on his last tour in Afghanistan. Five more months until he could retire into civilian life. Five more months until the birth of his first child.
His wife and he had been trying for four years without success, but for Christmas, she had sent him a care package. Inside were the normal food, toiletries, magazines, and books. A few gag gifts had been included, so when he was unwrapping the last one, he hadn’t expected to find a pair of baby booties. Confusion had turned to shock. Shock had turned to elation and then at the top of his lungs, he’d bellowed, “I’m going to be a father!”
Shouts of congratulations had filled their barracks, in addition to back slapping and whistles. His captain had grabbed his arm, dragging him outside before taking off at a run. Using his rank and the good news, the man had gotten him to the front of the line of soldiers waiting to Skype back home. It had still been another half hour before he was face to face on the monitor with his wife. She’d been waiting for over two weeks for him to receive the package and open the contents. At her appointment three days earlier, she’d found out they were going to have a boy. The two of them spent his total allotted time, laughing, crying, and telling the other how their hearts were filled with love and joy.
That same heart now was fighting to continue beating—to remain alive. He couldn’t feel anything below his waist, but the thumping in his chest, which was slowing down with each contraction, he was all too aware of. Looking to his left through the smoke and chaos, he saw his captain had already expired. With obvious head injuries, he doubted the man ever knew they’d come under attack, with RPGs raining down on them from the enemy. Others had been thrown violently or torn apart, and the uninjured and walking wounded were doing their best to administer care and battle the insurgents at the same time.
He was dying. He knew it and there was nothing anyone would be able to do to change the inevitable. Anderson, the medic, knelt beside him. He still couldn’t hear and had no idea what the man was saying even though he saw his lips moving. Maybe it was false hope, that everything would be okay. Maybe it was a layman’s last rites. He didn’t know, but he did need to communicate somehow.
Opening his mouth, he struggled with what he wanted to say, hoping he would be understood. “L-Letter. L-Lock…er.”
The words must have come out because the man nodded as he continued to try to keep the life blood from pouring from the battered body before him. It was a request the medic had heard and followed through on too many times to count. Please deliver my death letter to my family. My wife. My parents. My…unborn son.
Thoughts of what he’d wanted to do with the boy filled his mind. Fishing. Playing catch. Teaching him his ABCs and then one day, how to drive. He’d wanted to show his son how to treat a woman with the respect she deserved. That was what his wife had told him first attracted her to him. He’d held doors open. Pulled out chairs. Walked her to the front door after every date. It’d been what his dad had taught all four of his sons to do. Hopefully the old man would be able to see through his grief and teach his grandson the rules of being a gentleman, in place of the father who wouldn’t be able to.
What day was it? They all seemed to run together out here in the desert. Someone had said it earlier. Through the darkness trying to overtake his mind, the numbers came to him. Oh, no. Not today, Lord. Any other day but Valentine’s Day. Please. No.
It was the day he and his wife had met so many years ago. He’d gone out with a bunch of his single buddies to a local pub and there she’d been, visibly upset. Some jackass she’d been dating for less than a month had stood her up on what was supposed to be the most romantic day of the year. After receiving no answer to her texts and phone calls, she’d gotten up from the table for two to leave and promptly spilled her purse. Being the gentleman his father had raised, he’d rushed over to help her. When she’d looked up at him with frazzled, tear-filled brown eyes, he’d known he was a goner. His heart had been hers from that moment on.
Two years later, he’d proposed on the same day. Cliché, yes, but she hadn’t been expecting it. He’d enlisted the help of a few buddies and the principal of the school where his wife taught first grade. Her class was brought to the auditorium where she thought there was going to be a ‘Military Day’ with soldiers from the base. But instead, when the curtain went up, there he stood in his dress uniform. With his friends playing the piano and two acoustic guitars, he’d serenaded her with Me And You, by Kenny Chesney, before getting down on one knee to propose. After she finally stopped crying, she’d said yes to the delight of her eighteen students as well as her folks, who’d been hiding behind the curtain.
They had wanted to have a Valentine’s Day wedding, too, but the military hadn’t accommodated them, so on November 1st, they’d tied the knot in front of their family and friends, three weeks before he deployed. That first tour after they’d started dating, and the subsequent ones during their marriage, had been hard on both of them, but thanks to their letters, emails, phone calls, and Skype, they had made it through. And each time he arrived home to her loving arms, he thanked God for bestowing upon him the greatest woman he could’ve ever asked for.
This time was different though. This Valentine’s Day his wife would become a widow with a child on the way. He wished he could have seen her one more time. Her eyes. Her smile. The way she crossed her arms and cocked her hip to the side when she was exasperated with him for some reason. He wanted to be there for when she would be screaming and panting in childbirth. He yearned to hold his son just once. Would he have blue eyes like his dad and beautiful dark hair like his mother? Would he know how much his father loved him and hated the fact they would never meet? Would the boy know the dying man’s last thoughts were of him and the wife he was leaving behind?
After finding out they had a child on the way, he’d revised his death letter. In it, he’d added some notes to be given to the boy when he was old enough. Lord, please let him forgive me for not being there for him. Let him understand the reasons I had to leave and not to grow to hate the men who’d taken his father from him. It was hatred that had brought him here in the first place. Hatred for people who thought, dressed, prayed, and lived differently. He wished by the time his son was old enough, there was peace throughout the world. He hoped there would never be a time the boy would experience the perils of war, although he’d be proud if his footsteps were followed. Just not to this point. Not to the point of dying in the name of freedom.
He’d come from a long line of military men. World War I. World War II. Korea. Vietnam. Desert Storm. Operation Iraqi Freedom which then became known as Operation New Dawn. And finally, what had led him here—the War in Afghanistan. Fathers, sons, grandsons, uncles, cousins, brothers, and even one sister from his family had fought for their country and each returned to grow old in the states. But that was about to change. He would be the first in many generations dating back to the 1800’s who wouldn’t be walking off a boat or plane and into loving arms. Instead, his body would be returned within the confines of a pine box, draped with the American flag he’d duly respected and saluted every day. That flag would be folded with precision and handed to his crying wife as an officer thanked her for her husband’s service. Taps would be played. Shots would be fired. Fond memories would be told, and a pint or two would be lifted in his honor.
He knew the love of his life well—she was a true military wife. Despite her grief, she would place the triangular bundle of red, white, and blue in a glass and wooden display box, along with his citations. The same medals he’d proudly worn on his dress uniform, as well as the ones he would never personally receive—the Purple Heart, a combat action medal, and any others the powers that be decided to bestow upon him. She would explain to their son what each one meant and how they had been earned. He’d learn how to salute the American flag, say the Pledge of Allegiance, and know the sacrifices made so others could be free.
It was getting harder to breathe. The time he had left was becoming shorter with each desperate beat of his heart. Anderson had done what he could before moving on to the next mortally wounded man. Another person had taken the medic’s place by his side. The new kid. Nowicki, wasn’t it? He was on his first tour and was still wet behind the ears as they say. But despite his ashen face, painted with dirt, grime, and blood, the boy had become a man today and clasped his dying brother’s hand while praying for his soul. Would this be his son one day? Scared out of his mind, but compassionate enough to fake it?
How many more wars would take place in this world before the human race destroyed itself? Was peace just an illusion? A fantasy someone had created thousands of years ago, just to give people false hope? No. He knew good will existed. He’d seen it many times in his life and had been on the receiving end on numerous occasions.
A few months ago, the night before this last deployment, he’d taken his wife out to their favorite restaurant. Nothing fancy, but that was how they liked it. Relaxed and homey appealed to them more than crystal champagne glasses and fine china. He’d still been in his uniform from an earlier meeting and, because it’d been getting late in the evening, he’d opted not to change. While waiting for their food, they’d chatted and held hands, wishing time would slow down so they’d have a few more hours before saying goodbye. A young boy of nine or ten came over to their table and handed him a note, before saluting and then returning to his seat a few tables away. When his wife and he had looked over at the family consisting of a mother, a father, a set of grandparents, and two children, the older man just nodded and winked in their direction while the others smiled. Opening the note, they’d found words of kindness, prayers for his safe return from wherever he may be going, and gratitude for his service. The kicker had been their meal had been paid for. Neither one of them had been able to keep their tears at bay.
That hadn’t been an illusion. A fantasy. It’d been real. That family respected the flag and those who sacrificed everything in the name of God and country. In his heart, he knew someday his wife would see a young couple, with one or both of them dressed in a military uniform, and she would send their son over with a note that said Thank you for your service. Your meal has been paid for. It’s the least we could do for keeping us safe. We’ll be praying that God will watch over you and return you to your loved ones.
Those words resonated through his mind as his sight dimmed. They had not been written in vain. The afterlife was waiting for him. He knew it. The last moments of his life on earth had come. Soon he would be watching over his wife as she gave birth to their son. He’d do his best to guide the boy as he grew and he’d pray his child would know only peace. But if that wasn’t possible, he hoped the proud warrior’s heart, which had been passed down through generations, would beat in his son’s chest until he was old and grey.