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The Man

A Story

By Dean F. HardyPublished about a year ago Updated 9 months ago 9 min read
19
The Man
Photo by Jared Short on Unsplash

He sat and cast his eyes out across an endless blue. The enormity of it brought a sense of unease that seemed out of place in its serenity. The water was calm. The sun, perched high filled his naked flesh with warmth. Waves crawled around his toes and flirtatiously receded back to where they came. He allowed his eyes to wander.

Blue.

He lowered his head to his haunches and rested between drooped arms and listened to the waves caress the shore. A nervous energy throbbed in his gut and rose in conflict with the tranquility of everything around him. He took his finger and in the sand he carved a question mark deep into its damp surface.

Where am I?

He lifted his head and the blue pierced his vision. He lowered his head once more with a sigh. The waves came in and out. He watched them gently consume the mark of his thoughts. Until it was no more.

***

The promise of stars lurked behind the fading sun. He watched them emerge and not before long, the night sky was alive with their brilliance. He had never seen anything quite like it.

He threw pieces of dead palm onto a fire he started and listened to it spit and crackle. Glowing embers spun upwards in swirls of smoke and danced momentarily with the fires of other worlds.

In the distance, gunfire whispered on the midnight surf. The ocean carried it to him. How many men have you buried? He lay back on tattered rags of uniform and tucked himself closer to the fire. Returning his gaze to the stars, he wondered what happened to the souls of men who killed other men.

Are we forsaken to this world? Forced forever to cast our eyes to the heavens and wish for a time that would never come? Never to see our loved ones again. Never to be at peace?

He imagined the loneliness of such a thing. The waves whispered their message once more.

Could I already be dead?

He turned onto his side and the fires glow embraced him. He felt for his heart and it's rhythmic thud assured him that his time was still to come and then he drifted into sleep.

***

Shoulder to shoulder, they bobbed and weaved with the waves. Guns and helmets rattled in sync with chattering teeth as they approached. The sun battered them from above, their uniforms glued to their skin.

He raised his head and saw a dozen more LVTs splitting the Pacific. Armed with the souls of confused young men, they barreled forward into a destiny unknown.

With every passing moment a spec of land grew larger. A wild, vibrant green. It levitated atop the waves. It was beautiful....

The man to his right lurched forward and vomited. Some men to the rear huddled in hushed prayer. The rest gritted their teeth and white knuckled their rifles. To the front the lieutenant stood and faced his men. He began to speak and the men all rose to hear the final instructions from the man who trained them.

Fighter planes scorched over them toward the island. The men roared and cheered. Then there was gunfire and the bone shattering echo of explosion. No training could prepare a man for this. The explosions reached the water and the manned boats began to vanish in sudden crashes of erupting light. Cheers became prayers and before his prayer left his lips there was a high pitched whistle and then there was nothing.

He woke.

***

The sky was a deep orange. The rising sun cast heavy shadows across the rockface that stood over the beach front. The morning silence was broken by the sound of metal on rock. He sat up and listened.

clink! clink! clink!

He looked down the shoreline in its direction. A collection of boulders not forty yards away sat in the shallow surf. As he approached them it grew louder.

CLINK! CLINK! CLINK!

He mounted the boulders and clambered his way through their uneven terrain, scanning between the crevices occupied by shallow pools of crabs and seaweed. He drew closer and then spotted it. Trapped in a small valley of jagged boulders hanging from its leather strap was a helmet. He stood with a rapid alertness and ran his eyes far and wide.

"Hello!? Can anybody hear me?"

Louder you fool!

"HELLO! HELLOOOO!! IS THERE ANYBODY THERE?"

He scrambled down to the helmet and on his belly he reached for it. Waves rushed up the boulders and bounced it against the rock like a pin ball. With outstretched fingers he scooped it up. He stood and raised it into the light of the sun. It had been shattered at the back. He rotated it and felt a panic envelop him. His fingers brushed it before his eyes discovered it. The star mark of the Japanese Army.

The helmet fell to his side as he ducked down into the crevices of the boulders. His breaths came in short bursts. His mind rushed like a waterfall at a cliffs edge. Was he being watched? Had they seen him already? Was it just one man or were there more? No. They would have shot you.

He peered over the rock face into the wall of jungle beyond the strip of beach. He scanned his surroundings like hunted prey in the wild and saw nothing. He lowered himself back down out of sight between the large mounds of stone and remained there until the sun was high in the sky. No movement occurred other then the waves at his back. He retrieved the helmet once more and sat there and studied it.

You're here, aren't you.

The sun touched almost everything beneath it. He wore the broken helmet to cover his head from the heat as he searched. Some of the fissures dropped down at least six feet with the tide out and opened into miniature caves underneath the hefty stones.

He found him in a large space between two boulders that looked like they were lovers holding each other. He stopped and watched him a while.

He's dead.

His uniform was ripped and torn. His body looked to have floated in on the tide and became stuck down in the shadows where the sun could not reach. He moved closer.

"HEY! HEY! ARE YOU....DEAD?"

He's dead.

He got down into the gap and crouched over the man that was his enemy. He rolled him over and saw his face for the first time. He was young. Perhaps only twenty. He brought his fingertips to rest on his face and felt a profound sadness that this is what life had given them.

He's breathing.

He pressed his ear against the man's chest and listened. He couldn't tell. He sunk his fingers into the man's neck and felt for a pulse.

"Jesus."

He has a pulse.

***

The fire burned bright and the flames licked the underbelly of crab that lay across it on a stick. He reached down into a halved coconut where some torn cloth sat in sea water. He strained the excess water and brought the cloth down onto the gash across the man's skull. He dabbed the wound with care and precision and re-wrapped it with a makeshift bandage from the man's shirtsleeve. His chest subtley shifted up and down as air filled and left his lungs. He continued to live.

The man's canister was half-full with water. He lowered it to his lips and let the liquid trickle lightly into his mouth. He did the same for himself.

Leave him to die and keep the water for yourself you fool.

Two days had passed since he had found the man. The water would last another two days. What then, he did not know.

Yes, you do.

He broke the crab with a sharp rock and pulled out the delicate meat. He ate and rested his head to the sand. He watched the man and felt a longing to speak with him. To ask him what it was that had brought them both here in this moment.

They attacked us, you fool.

If he had a family. A loved one waiting for him.

Fuck his loved ones. Fuck them all.

What he did before the world decided to go mad. If he had dreams for the future.

These people don't dream.

If he hated him.

He'd gut you like a fish if he could.

Were these thoughts of his own or the thoughts of something else? Thoughts of the machine of war. Before he had time to form an opinion of the War he was given a rifle and told who to kill. He had never met a Japanese person before. Not a single word had ever been exchanged and suddenly one day he was told it was time to exchange bullets.

An immense grief descended upon him but his body would not allow the tears to come. Resentment and rage filled his spirit. He jumped to his feet and yelled out across the waters.

He dropped to his knees beside the man and slapped his face and gripped his throat and sank his bodyweight down through his wrists.

Kill him.

"DIE!! DIE YOU FUCKING BASTARD!!"

The fire danced its shadows across them. The moon and the stars watched.

What happens to the Souls of men who kill other men...

His tears came and dropped singularly onto the face of the man. Tears rolled down the faces of both men. As he murdered him, he became aware of the horrid intimacy he felt between them. An intimacy most men live and die without ever experiencing. His grip loosened until he let go and fell onto the man's chest and wept.

He's not done. Fucking kill him!

"Oh God, I'm sorry," he sobbed.

He took the man's face in his hands and held him tightly to his chest with great anguish. He checked for his pulse and felt it throb back to life at the tips of the fingers that almost took it away. He crawled across the sand to the edge of the treeline and gagged and wretched.

The moon and the stars continued to watch.

***

Five days passed. Barely conscious he sat in the shade, weak and hungry and without water. Bomb blasts had rang through the night and flashes of explosions illuminated the distant night sky. He had watched the sunrise, too sick to sleep. The last of the water he had given to the man, who's life still remained.

He faded in and out of a dream like state.

You're dying.

He lay his hand on the man's chest beside him and felt for his heart. He felt it flutter softly in an uneven rhythm. He looked out to the blue and it no longer scared him. It stretched out beyond the horizon and beckoned them to their final journey. The waves whispered a song of the deepest sleep.

He bid the man farewell.

Short Story
19

About the Creator

Dean F. Hardy

Writer from Dublin, Ireland.

*All work here is owned by Dean F. Hardy*

Reader insights

Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  2. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  3. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

  1. On-point and relevant

    Writing reflected the title & theme

  2. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  3. Masterful proofreading

    Zero grammar & spelling mistakes

  4. Expert insights and opinions

    Arguments were carefully researched and presented

  5. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

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Comments (13)

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  • Veronica Coldiron8 months ago

    I am so bewildered by this. Blisteringly honest and formed so deep in humanity, it literally breathes when you read it, and that makes the end all that much more painful to read. BEAUTIFUL work!!

  • Dana Crandell8 months ago

    I can see this vividly as a short film. Roll credits!

  • Naomi Gold12 months ago

    Ok WTF… you don’t get to write fiction this good and also master poetry. This is now in my top three favorite short stories I’ve read here. I’m glad I’m procrastinating writing by reading older Vocal stories.

  • So well written, so sad

  • Lamar Wigginsabout a year ago

    An amazing take on the challenge, no matter the outcome... It could definitely be the premise for a screenplay. The hurt, the confusion, the encounter, the thoughts, all woven together in a cinematic tale. This was great!

  • Dana Stewartabout a year ago

    Such an aching and tormenting reckoning. Stellar pice of writing! You have a new subscriber!

  • Beth Sarahabout a year ago

    Another brilliant story.

  • Loryne Andaweyabout a year ago

    What war reduces us to is so ugly, yet you write with such sad hope that there's at least something worth honoring in the end. Haunting and lyrical.

  • Alex H Mittelman about a year ago

    Wow that was intense! You write like Ernest Hemingway! Very well written!

  • Christiane Winterabout a year ago

    My heart aches after reading this. What an absolutely masterful job you've done, I thoroughly enjoyed this.

  • Cathy holmesabout a year ago

    Speechless in awe! Wow

  • Gina C.about a year ago

    What an amazing entry! I really love your writing style. :) Great job!!

  • Heather Hublerabout a year ago

    Wow! This was excellent. I felt everything in your storytelling, emotion, compassion, honesty. Loved it! This very well could be the winner :) Great work, Dean.

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