Unsung Hero

450 words –

The dim glow of a quarter moon filtered through the curtains and cast shadows on the walls. Walter’s eyes struggled to make out the shifting shapes that pranced across them in a creepy parade.

Were they scenes from his past? Was waiting to die a way to suddenly come into contact with that mystical part of the brain scientists and poets write about? Do revelations reveal themselves before you’re executed?

The promise of a sure death was a blow to Walter’s soul and very being. He knew only hours separated him from the firing squad and eternity. This last night wasn’t for sleep. It was a time to pray. A time to accept one’s fate bravely. It was a time to fight the growing panic that comes when a body is not ready to die.

The idea of being tied to a stake and shot like a target didn’t register with his reality. How could this be? He wasn’t a deserter! They were wrong! The reason he was the only soldier left alive was because he never stopped fighting and the enemy drifted away after two days of fierce fighting. He didn’t run away, and come back to the fort after the battle was over like the tribunal claimed.

It was a case of universal injustice.

The rising sun went from blood red, to orange, to yellow, and finally burst into an azure blue. Not a cloud in the sky. A beautiful day to die.

When he heard gunfire coming from the walls he stopped pacing back and forth in the tiny room they locked him in next to the captain’s quarters. Screams of surprise and pain! A sustained rate of gunfire told him there was an all-out assault on the fort.

The battle lasted all day, finally slowing down at dusk. Walter looked out his shattered window and saw fires burning in some of the buildings across the courtyard. Bodies were everywhere. Legionnaires and Arabs. He could see the front gate were breeched.

He took a chance and climbed through the window. Taking a rifle from the dead legionnaire who was once his guard, he moved cautiously through the courtyard – rifle at the ready. After hours of searching he discovered he was the only survivor. Before disappearing into the desert the Arabs sacked the fort and spiked the two cannons. He scavenged bodies for rations.

Why no one looked in his room during the fighting was a mystery. It looked like his luck had changed.

Two days later a relief regiment arrived and discovered Walter. He told them his story. After a 25-minute trial the captain said “Arrest this deserter! We’ll make an example of him!”