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Forgiveness

An old soldier seeks forgiveness

An old man sat in the back of a decrepit yellow taxi. The driver, a young east Indian man, chattered aimlessly over the staticky radio that was forcing out a garbled version of what the old man could only assume was 80's rock. The young driver needed only short replies thrown in randomly to prompt him to keep talking so the old man was content. Rain from the heavens above poured down in sheets, causing ribbons of water to dance along the windows of the car.

"Here we are suh"

The old man dragged himself out of his memories and smiled wanly at the young driver. Slowly, gripping the polished head of a wooden cane, he clambered out of the car and tossed a few bills at the driver, knowing that he had paid at least triple his fare, and started his lone journey down the asphalt road that lay before him. He limped slowly, old age and a sickness that held his body in a vice like grip slowing his pace to a crawl, but he pushed on, desperate to finish his quest. A large, rusted metal gate loomed before him, chained in the middle with a giant shiny padlock and flanked on both sides by a high brick fence. The old man knew what to do, moving slightly to the left, where a small door stood alone, a silent sentinel to the coming and goings of the cemetery.

An even longer concrete path stretched in front of the old man as he proceeded through the doorway. With his cane clicking on the hard ground, the old man made his way up the path. Soon, a grassy knoll crept into sight and the old man paused. There was no turning back know, at least not until he found what he was looking for. Slick grass made traversing the hill difficult, but with the help of his cane and time, the old man eventually made it to the top, where the knoll flattened out with only a slight decline into the graveyard below. Crosses rose up from the grass in uniform rows, just like the men who lay in the graves once did. Swallowing his nerves, the old man began the slow descent down the other side of the tiny hill.

He found himself surrounded by the dead, and as he limped through rows, he could swear he heard the gunshots and explosions that had taken so many of these young lives. Guilt bubbled in the pit of his stomach, though he forced it down quickly.

The man's path through the graves was slow and painful, but he forced himself to keep walking. The crosses seemed to blur as he desperately searched for the one grave he needed to see once more. Disappointment filled his veins after his search went on for longer than he had expected. He readied to leave with his mission unfufilled, but as he turned, he came upon a cross he had previously missed.

Captain Arthur Callahan

1911-1943

The ground tilted at an odd angle and a dull thud reverberated through the near silent air, as the old mans knees hit the ground. The worn wooden cane lay forgotten beside him.

"I'm sorry," he choked out as he forced down memories of the man's death. Moisture covered the old man's cheeks and as he raised an arthritic hand, he realized that he was crying. His frail body was soon racked with guilt and a salty wetness stained his wrinkled, scarred face. "I'm so sorry," he whispered. What was he?? Who was he to shoot this man, the first of a too long list. The red that stained his ledger was there to stay. Faces of men that he had shot and killed danced through his vision. Each face so achingly familiar.

Eventually the sobs lessened and the old man was left leaning over the grave that lay beneath him as if in a prayer for forgiveness.

With a shaking hand, he reached into his soaked wool jacket and pulled out a small pistol. As he stared at the worn barrel of the revolver, he wondered who would miss him? A worthless' war hero past his prime, with a mind too blemished to ever be salvaged. His wife was dead, as were many of his family, and his three grown children were out in the world, living their lives. With a bitter laugh, the old man realized, that he barely even knew his grandchildren.

All he was was a shell shocked old man, haunted by his past, a war that had been fought nearly 60 years ago. Death was a familiar friend of the old man. He has seen comrades die, himself taking to many lives to count, and if he believed his doctors, he himself barely had a year to live, if he was lucky. His life had been long, and the past painful. He had tried to put it behind him, as so many told him, but it was a part of him, a piece that he could never cut out.

The barrel was cool from the rain, but the acidic taste of metal invaded the man's senses. His last thoughts, just as he pulled the trigger, were simple.

"This is my apology, and my redemption. Goodbye."

There was a loud bang, and the old man sat up. He looked down to see that instead of the old man he had been in his last days, he was once again a young, vibrant soldier. He stood up slowly, noticing his old frail body lying on the ground, blood soaking the already damp grass. A feeling of youth and revitalization took over the man, and he couldn't help but smile as he peered around the graveyard. Where it had been empty before, it was now filled with young men. All soldiers if the old man was to judge them by their costumes alone. Some stood, clear as day and others sat, leaning against crosses or their comrades. A few walked around, searching the writing on the crosses, as if seeking their own grave. Others sat doodling on small pieces of paper or talking with one another.

A few the old man noticed, though not many, simply sat staring into space, or at the crosses that marked their final resting place. Most of the men who did this were faded and increasingly harder to see. Occasionally one would disappear, often with a smile covering his face.

The old man looked around and noticed that it had stopped raining, and in fact there was nothing, not even a slight whisper of a breeze. The graveyard around him was clear, but as he peered out to the surrounding hills and trees, he noticed that the tops blurred slightly and he was left confused. What was this place he was in? A small cough behind him caused him to turn, and the old man swore loudly. The cough had come from a large heavyset man with thick, unruly black hair. His eyes were a warm brown, like spiced rum. His uniform was old and one the man recognized from World War II.

Memories he had forced down bubbled up and he was soon lost in the roar of his own mind.

It was the first time he killed a man. Nothing had prepared him for the moment a man's life left his eyes. No hours of training or assurances that what they were doing was for the greater good could soften the blow. Never would he forget the dead, brown pools that stared up at him, as the death played in repeat in his mind.

The look on the man's face as a bullet tore through his stomach, or how his hands had shot up, as if to stop the bleeding. As the dying man's legs collapsed from under him, he stared with anger and vengeance in his eyes, but also sadness. The young soldier turned to leave, he didn't want to watch a man die, but a soft grip on his pants forced him to stop. Sinking to his knees beside the dying man, the young soldier could not help but be repulsed at what he had done. Death wasn't glorious, no matter what they promised.

"I'm dying."

It was a garbled cough and the young soldier had to struggle to understand the muddled English that the man was speaking. He said it slowly, as if they were two acquaintances discussing the weather.

"I'm dying, and I will never see my baby son again."

His voice was more disjointed, and the wounded soldier looked as if he was struggling for the energy to speak.

"I am dying and it is your fault....." he broke off with a hacking cough before continuing "I don't want to die" The man's eyes grew vulnerable and with a weak pull, dragged the young solider in close, so that he could smell the blood that was gurgling in the man's throat.

"Plea..se tell my wi...fe....I...lo...ve...h...eee.."

He tapered off before he finished, and the solider was left alone with a promise he couldn't keep, and a dead man beside him. Slowly raising himself to a crouch, he lifted a shaking hand to pull the man's dog tags from under his shirt to read the name.

Captain Arthur Callahan

As the young man read the name, he knew that he would be haunted by the name, and the cold dead eyes for the rest of his life. Grabbing his rifle from where it lay behind him, he stood, once more becoming aware of the gunshots and explosions that rocked the world behind him, and the putrid stench of death that would stain the land. Slowly he turned back to the fray and into the battle


"Pl...please forgive me"

The old man stumbled over the words, as he stared into the face of the first man he had ever shot. The former soldier's gaze was warm and his lips were lifted into a soft smile. He clapped a hand on the older man's shoulder, and for a moment both were silent.

"Forgiveness is earned my friend, not given."

A bright light blinded the old man for a moment, and when his eyes opened, he saw he was alone once more, body laying in the grass in front of himself. For a moment the old man could only stare at the lifeless puppet that had once held his soul. A sharp pain emitted through his skull and he fell to his knees holding his head. It slowly dulled, and the now young man grew warm. Sleep tugged at his limbs, masking the pain. Slowly he made his way over to his body and laid down on the ground inside it for one last time.

His nearly lifeless eyes slid closed, never to open again.
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