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Dry Is All That's Left

Boots on the Ground

By Gerard DiLeoPublished 5 months ago Updated 5 months ago 4 min read
1
Marching to a Different Drum

His boots trudged on the ground: his boots were the boots on the ground, of many, which trudged on. They were hardly newer than his feet that wore them. They trudged in unison with the other pairs of boots on the ground, over the individual grains of sand, each with a story long forgotten.

Each grain had begun as a boulder — a monolith of strength and gravitas — and of bravado; each an obelisk erected a priori as a memorial to some victory to come. A victory, envisioned in the eyes of the ones who conscripted the marchers and fitted them into their boots. The memorials were the stone meant to outlast the memories of soldiers and politicians, despots and leaders, wolves and sheep. Yet, they stood impermanently, all worn down by the endless series of boots on the ground. Paths of former boulders, worn granular and infinitesimal, eroded into the peaceful Earth, dry and loose. And smooth as glass.

His cause was righteous, as all causes borne by boots are. He was goaded in one direction, a North on his compass, true or not. He trudged on as part of the groupthink that grows dangerous on the continuum from patriotism and worthy causes to jingoism and hegemony.

And then it occurred to him.

What am I doing here? Where am I going?

Like a trap door, the party line dropped him into the stagnant swamp of rallying calls and conventional wisdom.

That's what I'm doing here! That's where I'm going! His boots were firmly on the ground, syncopating with the steps of the war dance. Yet, he was not allowed to lead.

Their battle song was a discordant and choppy melody, ominous in tone and rapidly percussive in timbre; and it blew in, over his head, and soaked him through to his very boots. The boots on the ground kept time, measured in heart beats, because each soldier was allowed only so many.

A comrade in arms whispered, "Eyes right." He kept his head forward but looked askance to his right. His eyes were right, as he led each step with his left foot.

"Beg pardon?" he whispered, but he needn't have worried. No one would hear their conversation. The song in the wind was too hot to allow the words to go far.

"What are we doing here? Where are we going?"

He returned his gaze straight forward. His comarade repeated the questions. "What are we doing here? Where are we going?"

The young man knew where he was doing here. He knew where he was going. He just didn't know how to explain it. Or how to fit it into the metered cadence of the forced march. He could neither sing nor dance. he could only accept and follow. But he knew such uncertainty was dangerous. To the cause. To the righteous cause.

"Onward. Stay the course," he whispered back. "Our cause is just. Our course is right. Don't be seduced by quandaries. They are false. Unjust."

"Still," his comrade said.

"Still is stagnant," he told him. Still is not progress. Still is backwards. Still is defeat!"

"Haven't we learned anything?" his comrade asked. The boots on the ground trudged on, wearing down the monuments to the victories and defeats long forgotten. Frictional attrition made mountains into molehills; magnetic lodestones into neutralized grains of sand.

"I learn only what I'm taught," he answered his comrade.

"Aren't you curious?"

"About what?"

"About what's not taught?"

"That's ridiculous."

"Yes, I suppose it is. That's why I will be leaving you."

"Leaving the cause?"

"It's not my cause."

"Of course it is. It's everyone's cause."

"Not the cause of those to whom we march." Then, his comrade added scornfully, "Our righteous cause."

The young man didn't like what he was hearing. It did not harmonize with the battle song on the hot wind over the painful boots on the weathered ground. And he remembered something else he had been taught:

Weak links are overthinks. Overthinks beget jinx. The slogan was antithesis, because God was on their side.

The young soldier became an automaton. His boots on the ground trudged on, the path of worn memorials now smooth as the looking glass that mirrored his self-appointed stature. It became slippery, and he struggled to keep his footing, to keep his boots on the ground.

He persevered and stayed his course. The course. He retrieved his sidearm and raised it to the comrade's head to his right.

"Are you willing to die for what you believe? Just like them?" he asked, with a jerk of his head forward toward their nebulous destination.

"I can die, true; or I can live a lie."

"It's not yours to decide," he told his comrade. "Choose what's right. What you've been taught."

"I don't really know what's right," he said. "Who really knows? Those who teach us?"

"We know! Eyes right...dies right," he said as he squeezed the trigger.

His comrade fell, boots last, with only one thought racing in his head. It was a thought that ran for its life, just ahead of the bullet that chased it:

Engulfed in the desert's parched silence, I was nothing but another grain of sand in the wind.

Short Story
1

About the Creator

Gerard DiLeo

Retired, not tired. In Life Phase II: Living and writing from a decommissioned Catholic church in Hull, MA. Phase I: was New Orleans (and everything that entails).

https://www.amazon.com/Gerard-DiLeo/e/B00JE6LL2W/

email: [email protected]

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  • Dharrsheena Raja Segarran5 months ago

    Oh I love how you made that ending line into a thought. I've been it as a narration and a dialogue. A thought was creative and unique. Loved your story!

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