The Unknown Soldier
Prompt: a story set in the 1920s
In June 1918, I died.
It was at the Battle of Belleau Wood. I was just one of the 1811 killed.
The bullet wounds hurt as they ripped jagged holes in my skin and pierced my internal organs. I was only hit in the stomach, nearly cut in half by machine guns, and it took me a whole, seemingly everlasting minute to die, writhing on the ground with my blood pouring all over the mud. That is the only thing I remember. The pain, the agonising pain. I cannot even remember what my name was. Perhaps that is a side effect of dying.
Dying was not like how I expected. It was not white as some people think. It was grey. Swirling grey in front of my eyes, until I flooded into nothingness. And then…I was nowhere. Floating.
I turned and could see my body, mangled and broken, full of bullet holes. An empty corpse, only identified by a bloody US army uniform.
And then, I forgot. The body below; I did not know who it was. I did not know who I was. I just knew that I was rising, and then I was amongst others, like me. The dead.
I am pretty sure I have a body as I am now – I can move around and do all sorts. But I still do not know who I am.
Others remember. Maybe it is me. Maybe it was my fault I forgot. Perhaps, I think now, perhaps I wanted to forget. Maybe I was a bad person.
And now I watch the last body I saw being placed in a tomb at the Memorial Amphitheatre. I guess that it is me, but I still do not know his name. I have followed this body around whilst I am enjoying being dead. Being nothing. It is great, being nothing; there’s no pain, or conscience.
If I was that soldier, I guess I must have killed some people, but right now, that does not bother me. Strangely. I reckon it is because I am dead. I died, like the ones I slaughtered did. We are quits.
I am not sure if I would rather be alive. I would like to have all my memories – family, friends, who I actually was. We even have birth and death days in this place I am in (for I do not know what it is called) but, because I do not know mine, I am always left out. I have been given a death day, of course, the day I arrived, but because I was floating in nothingness for a seemingly long time, I do not know if that is the actual day.
I can watch what is happening as if through a translucent veil from where ever I am. Through the nothingness as other souls join us silently above the Earth. I have even met Napoleon as I float around.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is what they are calling it. A body, brought from France, being laid, to act as a memorial to all those unknown soldiers. The body that I think is mine just so happens to be the lucky one, and has not just been left on the bloody battlefield to rot.
I can hear the cannon firing now, as a mark of respect. The troops march. I stay.
Floating down (because you can do that in the nothingness), I come to a stand in front of the tomb. People walk through me and pay their respects. I do as well. But not to me: I am not that vain.
I pay my respects to all the fallen soldiers on the day of November 11th, 1921. I thank them for all they did – even the German ones, for I know that many did not know what the cause they were fighting for was. I have met them. I know.
During my time in the war, I climbed over bodies as they were strewn over barbed wire to protect myself. Once, I even used a dead man as a shield to stop myself dying, holding him by his bloodied shirt. I retrieved weapons that had been discarded from cold, unfeeling fingers, and used them to kill more.
I am the Unknown Soldier. I do not know my name, or who I was. I know some of what I did during the war, the most recent memories. Sometimes, I regret what I did. I regret taking lives. I am not proud of it, but I cannot take them back. And as I float up into the nothingness for the last time, an image of a boy comes to mind. I do not know who he is, but he is young, with brown hair and intelligent blue eyes. He is kissed on the head by his mother as he marches to join his regiment, a rifle hastily slung over one shoulder. That boy was me, and I am him. I may not have lived for a long time, but I did my duty and that is something I am proud of. Finally, I have been buried; my body is at rest.
And now, I am, too.
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