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The Stand

the colonel's epiphany

By Mary Ann CallahanPublished 3 years ago 6 min read
The Stand
Photo by Adelin Preda on Unsplash

The engine turned over immediately, purring softly as he adjusted the seat and looked into the rear-view mirror. He pushed the buttons to open all the windows at once and opened the cover of the sunroof. The softness of the leather seat and the sound of the stereo system were like a balm, easing the tightness in his muscles. He allowed himself to relax, even if just a little, and ran his hands over the bumps underneath the steering wheel. He was close to making the "brrrmm, brrrmm" sound that children make when they play at driving, but restrained himself on the off chance that one of the neighbors might be looking. It would not do for a newly retired colonel to act in such a manner.

As he looked at himself in the rear-view mirror, he did not recognize the face that stared back at him. He was definitely older, the deep lines in his forehead a combination of squinting at the desert sun and the burden of command in a dark and ferocious place. It had happened somewhere in the last few busy years, he thought. He had become old, really old. What was worse though, was that he had also become cynical. He hated that more than he hated the wrinkles, or the gray hair and the stiffness he felt when he moved. His heart had hardened, and he wondered if he could ever look at the world like he had before. If that were to be the case, then the enemy would have won, and that thought was unconscionable.

He shook himself and put the car in reverse, taking care that none of the neighborhood children were anywhere near the driveway as he pulled out. Most of them were not so small anymore, at least the ones he remembered, but best to be careful. He had seen more than enough tragedy.

The smoothness of the road, the responsiveness of the car, and the clean, crisp brightness of the day made the drive through the pleasant tree-lined streets seem surreal. He was home, but he was not. The sights and smells of war still lingered, and the knowledge of what really went on in places like that would probably never go away. Everything he had ever believed had been challenged as well. He was still at war, not with an external enemy, but with the conflicted feelings he harbored inside himself.

The highway entrance was filled with orange barrels and the road was uneven where the road crews had made temporary patches in it to accommodate the diversion of regular traffic. The noisy sounds of construction accosted his ears with a familiar kind of intensity. He had to remind himself that this was good noise, noise that meant that things were being built up and not destroyed. He smiled at his own paranoid thoughts, which never seemed to leave him these days, becoming the constant companions of his waking hours. Get off it, dude, he thought as he moved into the passing lane once he had cleared the construction work zone.

He set the cruise control to five miles above the speed limit and turned up the radio a little more. He looked up for a moment at the open sunroof and sat back, letting the wind whip around him, cleansing and caressing. He needed to feel free of it all, and he needed to feel it now.

Yet, it seemed that the harder he tried, the more the dark images pressed in upon him. He could still see the swirling sands of the storms and the shadowy figures of the enemy moving like snakes through it, their weapons poised, their fearlessness intimidating. He could hear the rattle of the guns as his men mowed them down and the strange, eerie quiet following an attack, that moment of indecision that came when the shooting stopped. He could see the bullet-ridden bodies of the enemy. They were the twisted faces of young boys, boys who had probably not even known what they were actually sent to die for, who lay next to their older, bearded compatriots. He remembered the wails of the women who came after the attacks, smashing their fists against the compound walls in their grief, maddened with the thought of how hard life would now be without their men.

He remembered the still shining faces of the tiny children who used to come around the compound gate and the bloody corpses of two of his men who had dared to care about them and who had been blown up along with them when one of their little tricycles had been rigged with an explosive device.

He tried to dispel those images by looking out the window at the rolling hills, the red barns and silos, and the small groups of spotted cows that rolled past him. He breathed deeply of the rich earth smells that engulfed him, the aroma of manure and fresh-cut grass, and felt with gratitude the cooler country air as it whizzed past him. He took an exit and was soon on one of the secondary roads that wound like silken threads through this green and peaceful land. He enjoyed the feeling of days gone by that the farms kindled in him, and waved as he passed an occasional farmer who would shift his slow-moving tractor to the side of the road to allow him to go ahead of him.

The late afternoon was giving way to evening. The golden glow of the sun illuminated all it touched, and he almost wept at its beauty. This was how he remembered it, and he was so grateful that nothing had changed it.

He came to a crossroad and sat deciding which direction to take when he noticed a small red-roofed stand on his left. The hand-printed sign tacked to the roof read: Corn $4/dozen, Potatoes $3/ bag. The stand was piled high with plump green ears of corn and small bags filled with light brown potatoes. He pulled the car over and stiffly got out. He walked over and picked up one of the ears of corn. He ran his fingers along its ribbed covering and let the smoothness of its silk sink in. As he waited for someone to come out, he noticed a small, faded yellow fishing tackle box whose handle had been cut out, leaving an open slot at its top.

As the minutes went by, it slowly dawned on him that he had only to leave the money in the tackle box and take what he had purchased. No one was coming to assist him. No one would count the number of ears he took, or check to see if he really had put money into the jagged slot of the tackle box. The people here trusted each other. They lived their lives filled with the belief that those around them would do the right thing. They believed in doing to others what you would have them do unto you. It was the simple code that they lived by.

The realization of it hit him harder than any ordinance percussion could have. He stood for a moment, a dozen ears of corn hanging limply in their plastic bag from his right arm. He looked first at the farmhouse with its lace curtains and wide front porch and then to the field in front of it across the dirt road, now filled with browning cornstalks. He felt one hot and heavy tear fall onto his cheek, and he involuntarily shuddered. He blinked hard, looking around at the enchantment that surrounded him as someone awakening from a nightmare.

In the silence and glow of that wonderful place, he somehow knew that it would be okay, that all he had done, all he had endured, had been done and endured to preserve this. He knew at that moment that it had been worth it. He had taken his stand.

Short Story

About the Creator

Mary Ann Callahan

I live in Upstate New York, one of the most beautiful places in the United States. But I also have spent many years working in some of the most broken places on Earth.

My hope is that those expereinces will produce great stories .

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    Mary Ann CallahanWritten by Mary Ann Callahan

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