Vote for who you think has best responded to this week's theme: poppies / remembrance

Poll closed Nov 24, 2007.
  1. abolethmage - A True Dragon Slayer

    1 vote(s)
  2. crs - What I Remember

    0 vote(s)
  3. crashbang - The Poppy Bats

    0 vote(s)
  4. jayger04 - Poppies in The Wreath

    2 vote(s)
  5. Roxie - Sea of Poppies

    0 vote(s)
  6. annabannannna - Never Knew It Would Be This Hard to Reach Hell

    1 vote(s)
  7. foxbrains - Arlington

    2 vote(s)
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  1. Gannon

    Gannon Contributor Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England

    Voting: Short Story Contest (13) - Theme: Poppies / Remembrance

    Discussion in 'Monthly Short Story Contest Archives' started by Gannon, Nov 21, 2007.

    Short Story Contest (13) - Voting: Theme Poppies / Remembrance

    The winner will be stickied until the next contest's winner is crowned.

    Voting will end 24th November 2007. It is possible to vote for yourself, but I would hope in the name of good sportsmanship that you would only do so if you have read all the other stories and given them your honest evaluation. You gain nothing if you base your vote solely on how you feel about the author or whether you have personally invested time and effort in the story. In the end, your conscience is your only judge.

    Please consider how the entrants have responded to the theme in your decision making.

    Any entries under the word limit will be flagged as such - they are still entered in to the contest. It is for you to decide whether they are still worthy of your vote.

    Good luck to everyone.
  2. Gannon

    Gannon Contributor Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    abolethmage - A True Dragon Slayer

    Jon Vogl

    The light at the mouth of the cave grew softer as the warrior continued traversing the cave of his enemy. Sounds of his metal boots clinking on the cold rock floor filled the cavern. The piercing darkness hid everything in the lair.

    Pushing through the thick darkness, the warrior continued his quest for revenge. The path began to descend further under the mountain. From the stories he had heard, the path should continue to descend until it opens into a large chamber of treasure where the ancient beast sleeps. His armor made walking the steep path more difficult.

    The air started to warm up to dangerous levels. The scratched heavy armor he wore made him feel like he was being boiled inside a can. He was told to expect this type of heat when hunting these creatures. As he descended, the heat began to become overbearing. His thoughts raced. Flashbacks of his childhood filled his mind…

    * * * * *

    “Dad! It’s too hot,” the young boy complained. The bright sun reflected off his awkward fitting plate armor. Drops of sweat moistened his hair and made him smell of some beast from the depths of the nearby mountains. “This armor is too big, the sun is in my eyes, and …” a sharp glare from his father silenced the young warrior.

    His father was dressed in the larger, ornamental armor of dragon slayers for which his family was well known. Unlike his son he filled his armor with a muscular build common throughout the ranks of the dragon slayers. His mottled, dark hair dripped of sweat and his stern face only made him look more intimidating. The emblem on his chest plate of the dragon impaled upon the lance was burned into the young boy’s mind.

    “Stop whining, Tyric!” his father snapped. “This is nothing compared the breath of the infernal beasts…”

    Tyric stopped listening. His father gave him this speech before, about how he was when he was Tyric’s age. The young boy learned not to listen to it, for it just left him feeling like a failure. His father continued talking and pacing the training area. Down the hill, the quiet village sitting next to a sparkling lake filled the child’s mind with thoughts of swimming and feasting.

    The young man snapped to attention, he saw his father pick up a sharp rock. “You don’t deserve to be a dragon slayer,” he shouted. Tyric stood still with tears in his eyes, as his father scratched the crest of the dragon slayers off of the oversized armor he was wearing. “Give me this…” he grunted, and wrenched the antique sword from Tyric’s armored hand. “You will never end up like me!” he shouted. With one last sharp look to his son, he mounted his steed and slowly trotted down to the village.

    “I’ll show you,” Tyric swore. Blinded by his tears and rage he found a large stick near a neighboring tree, and finished his sword training by himself.

    * * * * *

    Tyric sat down and regained his composure. His head always began to hurt whenever he thought about that day long ago. He sat for a while, and quickly became used to the heat. Slow to get to his feet, he got up and continued his quest.

    The path started to level out. Tyric gave a sigh of relief as the walking became easier. He held out his hand and noticed the walls began to widen the path.

    A dim light glowed at the end of the tunnel. Tyric calmed his thoughts, and drew his sword. He ran toward the light, thinking of his late father he roared the war cry of the dragon slayers…

    * * * * *

    Roars of the infernal beast filled the air. A slithering, red monster circled over the village. Shadows of the serpentine creature sliced through the town. Shrieks of terror pierced Tyric’s ears as he made his way to the stables.

    His tight armor and bad knee made the run to his horse a painful endeavor. He looked up to see the dragon fold his wings back and begin to dive. Tyric reached the stables just as the dragon breathed its fire on the small buildings of the village. The beast returned to the air to prepare for another attack.

    Inside the stables Tyric found the other dragon slayers already mounted on their steeds. His father sat on his steed with a sheathed sword in his hand. White hair dangled in his eyes. He ordered the other dragon slayers out to battle and beckoned for Tyric to come to his side.

    Tyric walked up to his aged father as the slayers rushed out to battle their ancient enemy. His father fixed him with a stern gaze, which only added to tension of the situation. A loud chain of villager’s screams broke the silence between the father and son.

    “You prove yourself this day, my son,” he handed the sword to his son. Tyric took the sword from his father with a tight grasp. “Show that beast no mercy!” He drew his sword and raced out to the battlefield.

    Sword in hand, Tyric mounted his horse. A feeling of pride swelled in his heart and filled him with courage. He braced himself. Yelling the ancient war cry of the slayers he dashed outside to join the battle.

    The sky turned sinister red. Droplets of dark red blood and white ash fell from the soaring dragon. Nearly all the village buildings were set a flame or collapsed from the powerful gusts from the dragon’s bat like wings.

    Tyric searched the air for his enemy. Near the outskirts of the village the beast circled and landed next to the group of dragon slayers. He could see his father at the front lines leading the slayers into a fight of steel, fire, and claw.

    Tyric began to move foreword, but a panicked group of villagers surrounded him. Scratched and burnt faces looked up at him and begged for help. His gaze shot back and forth between his father and the villagers. Conflicting voices filled his head. After a few moments he made his decision.

    “Follow me,” Tyric shouted and steered his steed toward the abandoned mines at the edge of the town. The villagers followed close by. The more composed villagers helped calm people and gather more survivors.

    He slid off his steed and escorted the survivors to the back of the mine. The darkness strangely calmed everyone as the dragon fear slowly began to fade. Tyric rushed back outside. Villagers continued to fill the mine.

    Tyric looked to the sight of the battle against the dragon. Many of the slayers laid on the ground in either charred lumps or heaps of crushed bones. Only his father and the infernal beast remained fighting.

    He remounted his horse and raced to his father’s aid. Sounds of exploding fire and clashes of claw on mettle got louder as he approached. Tyric let out a battle cry. His father’s gaze shifted to him. “Turn back,” he shouted to his son.

    Tyric halted his charge, and stifled his war cry. He saw his father turn back to the fight only to be engulfed by a jet of flame. Through his tear blurred eyes Tyric could see the flesh melt from his father’s body. The dragon, satisfied with his victory, took to the air and flew back to his lair deep in the mountains.

    The smoke soon cleared and only a burnt skeleton lay where his father stood. Tyric rode back to the village. He entered what was left of what used to be a smithy, and grabbed an undamaged shovel. He slowly walked to the battlefield, and began to dig his father’s grave.

    * * * * *

    Tyric reached the end of the tunnel. He charged into a vast chamber filled with ancient treasures and gold. Golden scepters studded with diamonds, magnificent thrones of kings of old, intricate wooden chests, and swords and armor of ancient heroes glowing with magic powers sat upon mountains of sparkling gold coins. A pool of magma filled the room with a sinister red light.

    The warrior searched the room for the dragon. Light shining off the gold made his eyes hurt. He heard a snort and felt a puff of hot air on his breath. He spun around and witnessed his enemy up close.

    The terribly, magnificent beast reared up to its hind legs. It spread its tattered wings, instantly doubling its size. Scales of dark crimson glowed a deathly red. The dragon’s protruding teeth and curved horns gave the creature a devilish look. A grin seemed to form across its face as it began to open its great maw.

    Tyric trembled. A short prayer passed through his lips as the dragon took a deep breath. Tyric looked down at the scratched off emblem on his armor.

    Flames from the dragon’s belly engulfed Tyric. Once the smoke cleared, the dragon picked at what was left of the warrior.

    * * * * *

    Tyric opened his eyes. A vast cloudy terrain spread out before him. Light, puffy mists rose from the ground up to the endless sky. A sense of comfort and ease filled his body.

    “My son,” a calm voice said from behind him. Tyric spun on his good leg, and saw his father, still dressed in the armor he was wearing the last day he was alive. “I’m proud of you. If it were not for you our homes and friends would not have survived.”

    Pride filled Tyric’s heart. “Follow me,” his father continued, “I’ll show you around. Your mother has been waiting for you for a very long time.”
    He continued talking, but Tyric stopped listening. Tyric looked back at his childhood. The hot day when he defied his father stuck out in his memories. He smiled to himself as he thought of their conversation that day.

    Tyric interrupted his father, “Remember when you said I’d never end up like you?”

    His father nodded in reply. A large grin grew on his face, “Looks like you did end up like me,” he began to laugh, “We both are charred up lumps!”

    “Just like mom used to joke,” Tyric remarked, as they walked together as warriors, dragon slayers, and as father and son in the afterlife.
  3. Gannon

    Gannon Contributor Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    crs - What I Remember

    What I Remember

    My Grandfather never went to remembrance day ceremonies. I remember being envious of the other kids at St. Francis Elementary; the kids whose grandfathers would be attending our school’s remembrance day function; the kids who had stories to impress the teachers and class. I knew back than that I didn’t fit in, I was routinely separated from the others for being "disruptive." I had very few friends. I remember thinking that I couldn’t even relate my Grandfather to people who didn’t accept me.

    St. Francis took pride in its Remembrance day ceremony. Out of three other Elementary schools in Armidale, St. Francis was the only school to attract the attention of the local media. This was because each year all the children from third grade and up would construct hundreds of tiny white crosses lined with poppies, and plant them on the lawn in front of our school. I remember hating remembrance day for that. I hated it because it would take up all of our art class time, and art class was the only class where I was happy, where I was just as good and often better than the other kids. Making these crosses didn’t involve a skilled hand, it was nothing more than glueing popsicle sticks and bristle board together, and pinning on poppies; it was manual labor, and the sort of thing that often got me into trouble because it lead me into daydreaming. I remember relating my teachers around Remembrance day to my mother when my family was getting ready to go to church, I didn’t know the cause, but I knew that it wasn’t hard to upset them.

    When the big day came we would all sit cross-legged on the gymnasium floor, a few kids would recite war poems, the teachers would keep a close eye on the students -- ensuring none of them stared at the cameras, and I would look about the vets who sat lined up against the wall on small plastic chairs. I would search for my Grandfather, even though I had no reason to believe he would be there.

    My Grandfather never told me much about the war. There were only a few lines I can recall. I remember sitting on his couch, chewing the seemingly endless supply of mints, and toying with his Cloisonne balls. My Grandfather's voice would rise above the chimes, “people don’t start wars, leaders do.” I remember him telling me that he was stationed in North Africa, and how he had to shake his boots in the morning to make sure there were no scorpions inside them. I remember him telling me how he saved a British pilot from a burning plane, and how the two wrote each other for years after the war. I remember the story of how he escaped a POW camp and was guided by an nomadic tribe across the North African desert. I remember him telling me how he was captured a second time, and befriended a Jewish officer in a POW camp in the United States.
  4. Gannon

    Gannon Contributor Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    crashbang - The Poppy Bats

    The Poppy Bats
    Leo stood alone in the poppy field. He smelt the wonderful smell, so nice in the setting sun. He walked through the small ridges between the red clovers, tips of his fingers lightly brushing the stems. He didn’t want to be breaking the things now did he? An old thought indeed. Very old.
    The sun was falling on the poppy field of Feldkirk, casting its orange light. The poppies remained red, the red of ancient blood and the blood of angry men. Leo continued to walk. He remembered.

    Rich was laughing as he joined the line to sign up. Leo as a child could remember the advert behind his head, a young girl saying ‘What did you do in the great war, father?’ Rich pointed at it. ‘See? We all need to help.’ Rich looked down at his younger brothers face. ‘Don’t worry mate! It’ll all be over by Christmas...’
    A letter came four months later.

    Dear Mr/ Mrs Bellman
    We regret to inform you that your son, Richard Bellman, private in the Feldkirk brigade, was confirmed killed in action on the date of December 20th, 1915...

    Leo didn’t remember the rest of the letter. His mum screwed it up in tears, stamped on it, stamped on it again, and howled her misery. ‘Your son...killed in action’ was probably the worst bit for his mother. The worst bit for him was mum’s howling sobs, hunched in her little kitchen wooden chair. Those sobs...they seemed to crumble the world around, make everything worthless...

    Leo reached the cavern. Or at least, reached into sight of it. It lay in the smallest of valleys, a slope from all sides down into the dark cavern. He remembered the first time he came here, when the people of the village came to watch the sun fall, a few months later, to commemorate their fallen. The names were shouted into the skies by Robert the vicar, and the sun fell.
    ‘Edward Lokin, Gerald Keyes, Richard Bellman...’
    And as the priest chanted those names the bats flooded out of the cavern. Thousands and thousands of them, a spiralling storm in the sky which stretched into the horizon. Chittering in their way, filling the sky like a wild chorus. Perhaps they were simply the souls of the lost, wandering until life itself was extinguished.

    Leo watched and waited. The congregation would arrive soon, but he preferred the time alone for now. He didn’t have long anyway. He could hear their voices, hear the mumbling, not chattering, that signalled a sombre audience was arriving.
    He remembered nineteen-forty

    ‘You have to get on! They’re coming! Barry screamed, wading through the water, trying desperately to get to the ships. Not organised, not armed, not armoured. But crewed by brave people, rescuing soldiers from Dunkirk. Leo rushed toward one such ship, barely a ship, a tiny fishing boat compared to some that came. But it was there none-the-less.

    ‘GET DOWN!’ Barry screamed, and Leo threw himself beneath the water. The salt stung his eyes, and he thrashed around, blind in pain, as he heard the chatter-chatter-chatter of a kraut machine gun.

    After a few seconds he rose, desperately rubbing his eyes, and looked over to Barry. Were his eyes blurred? He wasn’t there. Leo scrubbed like a madman and his vision cleared.

    Barry was there. His blood misted in the water around him.
    ‘COMEON BARRY, COMEON!’ Leo screamed, louder than he had ever screamed – He couldn’t lose his baby brother, not at eighteen.
    He pulled Barry, desperately wishing soldiers didn’t carry so much, hauled towards the little fishing boat, floating in front of all the others. Leo never noticed the other soldiers around him, struggling through the water to the boats. But Leo was so close – his speed had slowed to a crawl, but it was within reach.

    That scream of the aircraft. The chitter-chatter of the guns. Leo dived. A bullet stung his leg, and he thrashed around again. He kept hold of his brother – he wouldn’t have let go for life itself.

    He got up out of the water again, and with his left hand ahead, stumbled blindly forward. The water was up to his heart now, he could feel it thumping beneath the water, but he didn’t let go.
    He found rope. He found the life belt. He grabbed on with one hand, he didn’t let go of Barry.

    He barely remembered after that. He remembered a medic standing over him. ‘Tend to him, the other ones done...’ Leo heard faintly, and knew Barry was alright...

    Leo watched the people gather around the tiny valley. Heads bowed as they looked down into the cavern. The sun would go soon, but not before the great spectacle.

    ‘Y, alright?’ quietly said Barry came up and stood beside him.
    ‘I’m right. It’s been a while.’
    ‘Well I could wait forever truth be told.’

    Twenty years on from Dunkirk, Leo and Barry stood and watched. They could see their mother, over the far side. She still cried after Dunkirk, all of these years since Rich had gone. But now there was someone to comfort her in her old age. Frederick hugged her as she cried softly, wizened features in mourning as well.

    ‘She’ll do fine.’ Barry assured, Patting Leo on the shoulder. ‘We must go.’
    Together, as the bats took flight, Leo and Barry left those mourning. It was time to let them simply remember. Their mother would never cry again. She had moved on, she didn’t need them keeping her company anymore, how much, for twenty years, they tried not to admit it, didn’t want to admit it.

    And they both knew she had needed to move on.
    Barry and Leo left all the living behind. And moved on themselves.
  5. Gannon

    Gannon Contributor Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    jayger04 - Poppies in The Wreath

    The poppy. A most magnificent flower, blood red and standing tall in a beautiful green meadow. The little girl, blonde ringlets cascading down her back with one hand holding the hem of her dress as she skips through the flowers. Her energy parting the tall flowers as she breezed through them. A young couple gazing lovingly into one another’s eyes, while feeding each other delicate imported cheese. The poppy field, it does look innocently spectacular. But it didn’t to Yvette.

    She turned the picture over. The director of the funeral parlor had given her a stack of postcards of flowers to choose from. No, that is not entirely true. He had actually asked her to sit in front of his computer, where he had these pictures prepared for perusal. She had declined the offer. Somehow sitting in front of a computer was impersonal to her, she was likely to check on her listings on Ebay rather than choose funeral flowers. He had explained the meaning and symbolism of each flower, it’s origin and myths associated with each one. There was the carnation, a flower that symbolized engagement. The iris, the pretty blue flower was too feminine for this occasion. Roses, the many varied hues represent all kinds of emotion from love and friendship to infidelity. No the rose was a definite poor choice. She had never loved him, in the sense of the word, nor had she felt friendship.

    The poppy was the best choice. Very fitting for his funeral.
    “I’ll choose the poppies for the casket. And I’d like a wreath made using red poppies too. Could I ask one favor of you though?”
    The funeral director looked at her, his head tilted down, sympathy acting in his eyes. She met his look directly, a slight smile turning her mouth up.
    “Oh course you may Mrs. Davis, we try to accommodate everyone in their time of need.” He said using his best concerned voice. He placed his hand over hers, something he had been taught by his father a long time ago. Representing his concern for the grieving, showing them he cares.
    He gestured towards the fresh cup of tea he had put in front of her, watching her place four mounds of sugar in the cup. Lifting his own unadorned bevaridge to his lips he took a sip, biting the side of his tongue to stop from showing his surprised reaction to the sweetening of her tea.
    He noticed she was again looking at him again, had sighed deeply.
    “I would like the wreath to have syringes included amongst the arrangement.”

    She watched with amusement as the director nearly dropped his cup. Isn’t it his job to know the circumstances in which each client graces his parlor with their presence? He had not mentioned once how James had passed.
    “I don’t think that would be particularly…what is the word?” Yvette could sense him searching his funeral vocabulary.
    “Fitting? Of course it is. And scattered amongst a wreath of red poppies. I couldn’t think of anything that would be more suitable Mr. Landy. James will be buried as he lived.” She made to stand up, scooping her bag up from under her chair, ready to get on with her life now that the arrangements had been made.
    “Please see to it that this is fulfilled. Oh...and just one more thing.”

    _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

    Leaving the funeral parlor Yvette was so sure she had made the right decision.
    The funeral had been organized for this coming Thursday, only three days away. She had placed the funeral notice in the paper, advised everyone who may have been concerned for her brothers welfare. Or lack of it, she thought to herself.

    Driving towards her favorite café near the beach, she decided to take the rest of the day off work and indulge in an Irish coffee.
    With her left hand resting on the steering wheel she flipped her cell phone open, dialing her older brothers number.
    “Hi Dan it’s me. I just finished with the funeral arrangements but I need you to get hold of James’ mates.”
    “Yeah no worries, but what for Yvette? Those losers won’t be interested.”
    “Well…just get them interested. They helped him get here so they can help bury him too. Tell them James asked you once to request their presence.”
    After hanging up from her brother she dialed her husbands number. They arranged to meet down at Plumes for a coffee.

    _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

    “I'm feeling closure. I know we’ve discussed this day for the past twelve years honey, but I feel a weight has finally been lifted.” Yvette sat with her husband Simon in the café. This was their latest haunt, Plumes café that looked out at the long pier of St Kilda beach. They enjoyed watching the roller blading couples, laughing hysterically when they toppled over from their unnatural feet. But this time they weren’t doing that. Each lost to their own memories, reflecting on the twelve years of stress and pain that Yvette’s’ brother had encroached on them.

    It was confirmed and bought out into the open Christmas day five years ago. Up until then it had been secretive and rarely discussed. If the topic was approached it was soon diverted. But that year it all came out.
    Dan had taken him down to the pub, both coming back to Yvette’s house, where the celebration had been nominated that year. Stumbling drunk and loud, slab of beer on James’ shoulder they both slumped down onto the couch, ready for an afternoon of merriment. Yvette remembers scowling at them, she was a teetotaler after all; her family had drank enough over the years to make up for her lack of it.

    She recalls that less than an hour had passed and James hadn’t been sighted for a while. His car was gone, and so had he. Drunk. Disappeared.
    “Why would you take him to the pub Dan? You know he can’t hold his booze and now he’s taken off in the car.” She screeched at her brother. Yvette was known for her wild temper and uncanny ability to say it as it is. Her siblings and parents used to call them wobblers.
    “Yvette’s throwing one of her wobblers.” They’d laugh to one another, avoiding and ducking the inevitable punch or pinch that was coming.
    “I also gave him some money.”
    “You did what?” She screamed louder. “Are you stupid or something? Why on Earth would you give him money? Thanks for wrecking our day you stupid idiot.”
    “Don’t blame Dan please Yvette. He has been itching to go all day.” This from her mother, sitting up there like the Queen Mother. Yvette looked from her mother to her brother, then at her husband. Thinking she was the only sane person in this family. Mum never acknowledges James’ or Dans’ inability to be normal. Neither has worked since she could remember, had never possessed the ability to hang on to material things. Yvette now owned Dans washing machine he decided to leave somewhere or other, deciding not to put it away for the future. Her mother was always judging her.
    Her kids are unruly; ‘They need a good smack’ she’d say to Yvette, nodding her head at one of the kids when they were having a moment.
    Like that did a lot for James, Yvette thought to herself.

    They were sitting outside smoking cigarettes, taking advantage of the warmer weather that had graced them this Christmas, when Dan’s mobile trilled.
    Pulling it from his pocket he read the message he had received.
    “It’s from him.” Yvette sat forward in his chair as Dan read the message aloud.
    “Sorry Bro, the ****’s got hold of me again.”
    Sorry to Dan! Sorry Bro. He was the imbecile who’d given him money to go and score, Yvette thought to her self. She lit another cigarette and went inside to make fresh coffee. Where was her sorry? Isn’t she owed an apology? This just continues to happen, she was the one who took him in and showed him some sort of family inclusion. Even taking him to midnight mass the previous evening.
    She had had James staying with her and Simon for over three days, he had looked lonely, waiting for their mother to arrive from interstate and they’d felt sorry for him.

    So as usual, the rest of the holiday was spent discussing James and his addiction to heroin. Dan had shown them other text messages received from him. “Please. Come save me.” “I’m saying goodbye, I love you.”
    Blah, blah, blah thought Yvette, rolling her eyes at them. That’s nothing. How about organizing a lawyer and attending court with him two weeks ago to obtain visitation rights of his daughter. Simon had even been a character reference for him, standing up in court telling a judge that James had been reformed. How about driving him to get his dose of methadone each day, as he was supposed to be clean. Yvette was furious. She felt used and embarrassed. They appeared to be in on it together, why hadn’t anyone advised her and Simon of just how bad it really was.

    And that’s how it continued for the next five years.
    They rescued him from squats, absolute hovels where you wouldn’t let a rat live let alone live there yourself. Received psychotic messages on answering machines at 2am in the morning, and then to lay awake all night wondering if he was still alive or not.

    Yvette and Simon had given up their weekends, hauling their kids thirty kilometers away to visit James in the rehab center. They were the only ones to visit. Mum and Dan never rang or visited once. Celebrating his birthday in there, supplying the cake and presents, still no call from his own mother.
    They also kept contact with his ex girlfriend Pauline, all so that the children would know one another and not lose contact. Pauline hated it, as she had been betrayed too.

    After his six month stint in rehab James lived with his sister. Then bolted a week later, reasons according to him were that he just wanted to relax. All they asked him to do was join a drugs anonymous group.
    He showed up forty-eight hours later, in the presence of Dan, both drunk again.
    Yvette and Simon discussed all these episodes. Reliving each one, remembering times that they gave so much and received nothing in return. They held each other’s hands in the café, reveling in the fact that this was finally over.

    _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

    The funeral director greeted Yvette and Simon, shaking their hands and bending down to say hello to the kids.
    Taking Yvette aside, Mr. Landy whispered in her ear.
    “Mrs. Davis I have done what you requested. I kept the caps on them though just so nobody sticks themselves when lifting the wreath.”
    “I sincerely thank-you Mr. Landry. It’s what he would have wanted. Now where are they?”
    She did all the duties a sister in charge would have done. Mum had passed two years ago so she was becoming pretty good at this. Greeting the few guests who had arrived to pay their respects she laughed to her self, looking at the Hamilton’s sitting there whose house was robbed a few years ago. Unknowingly they had supplied James with about of week worth of dope.
    Dan was there. And then she noticed Con and Beck, James’ drug buddies. Well at least they bothered to show themselves, she thought to herself.

    “I thank you all for coming to the funeral of my little brother James. He was not a happy person, lived his life to the extreme. Even from when a young boy, he was always getting into trouble for this and that. He died in unfortunate circumstances but we as a family, are happy he is finally at peace. Happy that his struggles are finally over”
    She motioned to Mr. Landy to turn the music on that she had selected and bring out the wreaths she had created.
    The sound of Jeff Buckley’s Last Goodbye was playing in the background whilst the old funeral director and two other people carried out the wreaths. They placed one on James’ casket as requested, and then proceeded down the mock church lane towards the two buddies.
    Yvette looked over at them. Both had looks of horror on their faces when they realized what was on the wreaths.

    They had really done an outstanding job. The beautiful blood red poppies, adorned with syringes on a background of dark green ivy. Placed in the middle of each wreath was each boy’s name. Con on one and Beck on the other.
    Yvette had written their names herself, using red nail polish so it closely resembled blood. The same color of the poppies.
    “Poppies have been known to symbolize death, but they are used in Britain to remember and mourn those that had died in the First World War. Anyone here who is familiar with the beautiful poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ by John McRae will remember the line ‘If ye break faith with those who die, we shall not sleep, though poppies grow’.” Yvette addressed the small gathering.
    She took a breath and approached the two boys, holding their wreaths awkwardly before them, not knowing whether to put them down, to run and leave this crazy women who had turned her brothers funeral to be about them.

    “These wreaths have been made for you and James. To remind James how he lived his life, to be buried with how he lived his life. But they were made for you two as well, so you know to not break faith with how you all lived, to learn from James’ death and to hopefully give you both a glimpse of how your own funerals may look unless you change your ways.”

    The two boys were crying, probably more from embarrassment than from sorrow. “On a happier note, the poppy also represents fertility. This flower has the ability to grow strong, multiply and is easily tendered. And I want you boys to learn this leave here and stand tall like a poppy. Don’t end up like my brother.”
    Yvette finished her eulogy. She stood down from the small platform at the front of the funeral parlor and rejoined her husband and family. Later at the gravesite, Beck and Con helped bury James, placing his wreath upon his casket before it was covered with the dry earth.
  6. Gannon

    Gannon Contributor Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    Roxie - Sea of Poppies

    Sea of Poppies

    Have you ever sat in the middle of thousands poppies feeling the softness of the delicate petals upon your face. Looking at sea of red and black, standing proud before you left you hollow for you knew that these beautiful flowers were covering the crosses of your fallen comrades.

    I remember a time when I did. My body was trembling and my mind was so weary. All around me was a nightmare. The sunset glowed orange that night yet the poppies shinned a crimson red. It looked like the land was bleeding all the blood of the fallen soldiers. My own blood was seeping through to the sod. Soon there would be a cross bearing my name with poppies intertwined.

    This train of thought was unnerving to me. Here I was 16 years of age and life was seeping out me. I did not want to be just a memory. I wanted to be a survivor. Not to be crowned hero - no simply to survive and to live my life to its fullest capacity.

    As I was sitting there, life slowly draining from my body I recalled how foolish I was thinking that war would be a grand time with me mates. All of us lied about our ages, joined forces with any militia groups who accepted us in their ranks. Who were we kidding? Now almost two after shipping off all of them were in the ground. Each and every one of them died too young to have known life’s greatest pleasures.

    I owed it to them and all of the other thousands soldiers who gave up there life in this great battle to survive. I needed to make sure that our stories be heard. Let it be not all about glory and fame but the truth of the fear, the pain, the loss, the remorse that each of us was faced with on the front lines of this war.

    I found the courage to live. Taking action I tore out my shirt, dirty as it was and tightly wrapped it around my leg to stop the flow. On wobbly legs I stood and walked across this sea of poppies. Tears of pain, lost, and regret streaming down my face. I made way in and around the poppies and remembered the days my friends fell.

    Quietly weeping I kept on going. The excruciating pain numbed my limbs; I fell down at the edge of field and closed my eyes for a moment. Behind my heavy eyelids I could still see it - the crimson sea of the poppies dancing in soft breeze.

    Till this day I will always remain grateful to the family who took me in and treated my wounds. Without them I would not be standing before you all today at 108 years of age and remember with you our fallen heroes and the sea of poppies where they rest in peace.
  7. Gannon

    Gannon Contributor Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    annabannannna - Never Knew It Would Be This Hard to Reach Hell

    Never Knew It Would Be This Hard to Reach Hell (word count: 2910)

    After 2 months of having the Air National Guard telling me to ‘be ready to go any day now’, and cleaning off my civilian work desk 3 times due to false preliminary phone calls from my military unit, I finally got the official phone call telling me to drag myself and my gear down to a military base located 400 plus miles away. I’m given a leisurely 48 hours to close up the house and my life, and report-in for an all expense paid trip to Balad, Iraq.

    Hour 0

    Saturday 0500 (which translates into the civilian time as 5:00 too darn early) our 8 person team met at the base to catch our bus to the Denver airport. Most people’s families showed to say their final goodbyes. It was pretty emotional for the adults. Our bus ride to the airport was pretty sobering. The guys who are usually joking around were very quiet. In the morning darkness I wasn’t sure who on the bus was sniffling, but it was coming from several different directions.

    Some kids also showed to say goodbye to their dads (I’m the only woman on the team). The kids didn’t have the reaction I expected. I think the departure of the team was harder on the adults than the kids. The little ones were wired with excitement and running around chasing each other. The older ones stayed in the cars to sleep some more or just laid down on the ground. One guy said his teenagers’ attitude was more like ‘OK, it has been two months since you said you were going to first leave. Why aren’t you gone yet?’ He justified his children’s outlook. It is not because they didn’t care, not because they didn’t comprehend where Dad was going, but just because they were teenagers.

    The little kids have no or little understanding. One guy called home today and his 7 year old answered the phone. Familiar with Dad’s business trips, he asked Dad if he had checked into his hotel yet. He said, “No son, I’m in a tent.” The kid replied, “Like camping Dad?” “Yes, like camping on the moon (the dust in Iraq is awful) with lots of other people.”

    As our team’s light packer (who says girls pack everything but the kitchen sink?) I came to the airport with 3 - 50 lb bags and 1 - 70 lb bag, a gun case, and a carry on. Delta Airlines and the other people waiting to check-in were not too happy to see the 8 of us come in with our mountain of luggage.

    We arrived to the airport plenty early anticipating airline security problems with our weapons and atropine (the shot series you take to neutralize the effects of nerve agents). Surprisingly that all went smoothly.

    Instead airline security jacked up our LtCol for having an empty 9 mm clip in his carryon. When security asked him if he had packed that in his bag the LtCol said, “No, I have no idea how that got in there.” That was definitely the wrong answer. He had to fill out a report with security, will be receiving a fine in the mail for attempting to carry firearm parts onto the plane, and got his clip confiscated. Security told him that he had gotten off lightly. We now call him LtCol Clippy.

    Hour 0330

    At 8:30 we get onto our first flight heading east to Atlanta, Georgia.

    Hour 0630

    We lounge for an hour at Atlanta’s airport. Then we head for where we were suppose to check in for our chartered military flight to a military base in Frankfort, Germany. This is just like a commercial flight with civilian flight attendants and pilots. However, all the passengers are military.

    The check-in line was not what we had expected. It consisted of 300 plus people, all carrying the same amount of luggage as us. The line switch-backed up one side the hallway and down the other, trying to fit us all in the terminal. Although everyone was in civilian clothes; their drab green luggage, weapon cases, and high and tight crew cuts gave us away as a large military group. One man walking through the terminal made the comment to his wife, “Welcome to the barracks.”

    Check-in lasted 3 ½ hours.

    Hour 2000

    The plane lands at the Air Force base in Frankfort, Germany to get cleaned, picked up more passengers, and fueled. Frankfort is one of the major mobility terminals for the military and it is set up with several comforts like a cafeteria and a USO. The layover was to be one hour.

    We should have known they were lying as soon as we walked into the Air Force terminal where flight delays are their standard. The first vision inside the terminal was a bunch of bags sitting on the chairs, but no people. I looked again. All the people were out of sight because they were sound asleep on the tile floor in between the rows of chairs. Like most terminals they put in arm rests to keep us from laying down and taking up valuable chair space, so you have to sleep on the floor or sleep sitting up.

    We grab some food (the military isn’t stupid, they don’t have bars in their terminals), sleep in our uncomfortable chairs (I doubt if the floor was better), and two hours later (already an hour delay) we finally hear the announcement that our plane will be delayed for another hour. Another two hours go by, we get a second announcement that our plane is broke but they have another plane for us. They ask for a group of volunteers to hand unload the plane’s 1500 pieces of luggage onto a truck and then load it up into the new plane. Although the volunteers were enticed into the job by being promised 1st class seats, I doubt if they will ever do that mistake again.

    Because we were getting onto a new plane, everyone who was on the original plane had to board and get their carryons. This was done in no military orderly fashion, it was done in gaggle fashion. People were let out the terminal’s door 40 people at a time to retrieve their belongings and claim a new seat on the unbroken plane. Because the new plane had a different seat configuration than the old plane, we lost our seating assignments and it was going to be a free for all. The 300 passengers rushed the door hoping to be in one of the first groups and get choice seating and a place for their carryons in the overhead compartments. When we thought the mass of people were moving it was just us compressing as everyone was trying to get closer to the door. I was amazed there were no trampling deaths. Several people started mooing. See, I’m not the only person who thinks of this as one chaotic roundup.

    Hour 2630

    The plane leaves and is now full after it has picked up an additional 200 passengers in Germany.

    Hour 3130

    It takes only 5 hours to get from Germany to Bahrain. We make an hour stop there to fuel up. Getting off the plane the air slaps me in the face. I can’t breathe it, it is so thick. I think Bahrain is an island off the south coast of Saudi. Here it was late at night and it has to be at least 90 degrees with 90 % humidity. We get herded into an area on the flight line that is enclosed with concrete barricades (to contain us) adjacent to a small building with AC. About half of the people cram inside. The other half sweat outside in order to claim an area of their own space, stretch their legs, lay down on the ground or on top of the barricades using their carry on as a pillow, or grab a smoke.

    Hour 3300

    Welcome to Qatar where its 1 am and the temperature outside is verified to be a balmy 103F with 88% humidity.

    I knew it would be hot but where did the humidity come from? Isn’t this the desert?

    This base is a major dispersal point for people going to Iraq and Afganistan. However, it doesn’t have a nice terminal like Frankfort. It is a dose of reality. It has a tent with folding chairs and some plywood siding which is covered in graffiti. We wait there for a quick briefing on how we are to catch the next plane to wherever the people are going. Here on out, small groups of people like our team are stuck with flights that are primarily standby. You wait for a plane going in your direction and if it has seats you get on. We are told there is an estimated 5 day waiting list for Balad, Iraq; but the list is not up to date. They said that they haven’t checked their manifests for the last couple of days to figure out if all the people on the list are still on base or have gotten onto planes. Our job the next couple of days is to show up as a whole team for each flight heading toward Balad in order to see if there is available seating.

    Info we gathered at the terminal for the next show time for possible planes heading for Balad (nothing like flying standby in order to get into a combat zone):
    o Next show times for planes leaving for Balad is the next day at 2:30 am and 3:30 am.
    o There were probably no more flights for the next two days, however, that may change so we needed to check the schedule at least once in the morning and once in the afternoon.

    After the briefing we go back outside to try to find our luggage. Typical military baggage handling is to take the baggage and dump it and let the passengers sort through it. This was no easy task considering with our full plane (500 people) there was over 2500 pieces of luggage. From experience we had marked all of our team’s bags alike with red tape and duct tape hoping to make them stand out in the crowd. After slowly finding our bags we drag them into an area out on the parking lot marked Balad. There they would be in a non secure areas so at our convenience we could accesses them (and anybody else can too) to get what we needed to live off of the next couple of days.

    Hour 3700

    In Qatar life is good. I have a trailer with a 12x12 room with 2 bunk beds and one room mate. It was suppose to have 4 people in it, but like the terminal, billeting has no idea who is there and who has checked out. When billeting stopped by in the morning to ask how many people were in our room, my room mate said, “3 or 4 not sure.” So the guy said he would put us down as having 4 people in the room, meaning no more room mates. This lack of what seems normal knowledge is not totally billeting’s fault. Since people show up to the terminal for standby flights never knowing if they are on the plane or not, they never check out of billeting. You definitely do not want to lose your room in case the standby flight doesn’t have available seats.

    I thought what prevents people from getting lost in the Qatar system and staying here a couple of days. Sure it’s damn hot, but there isn’t anybody shooting at you here. I have OK housing. The shower trailer is spacious and clean. Movies are shown every couple of hours day and night in a big permanent brick building. The gym has nice equipment. There is a BX, Subway, Burger King, pizza, coffee house, and swimming pool. You get a beer ration card for 3 beers a day, which I got to use for one night.

    What prevents people from just hanging out in steamy Qatar and avoid the combat zone? I have no idea except that Qatar is butt ugly. The base consists of tan tents covered in tan dirt/dust and tan corrugated sided trailers covered in tan dirt/dust. The landscaping is tan dirt/dust, some gravel roads and walkways, a little concrete, and a little asphalt. A goat would starve here. The only vegetation is next to an old permanent building which is tan and covered in tan dirt/dust. It consists of several palm trees that are also more tan than green since they are covered in tan dirt/dust.

    Hour 5900

    I know I have to be waiting for a standby flight at 2 am. I don’t even bother going to sleep. I eat some BBQ, listen to some music, drink some beer, and talk to some people.

    At the terminal show time for the first plane passes, and it’s announced that the plane has no available seats. These aren’t passenger planes. These are mostly C130s (cargo planes). Where space is available, people get put in what they call jump seats. Remember those seats they show in WWII movies before they parachute out? That is what we sit in.

    An hour later the second standby plane comes in. It has 20 seats. We wait to see where our 8 person team falls in the standby queue.

    I’m glad there is graffiti on the walls of the terminal tent. We read it. Most are slogans for different army, air force, marine units. Some are from foreign countries that are also here helping with the effort. Some are just funny. Here at the terminal is where I saw the saying ‘I never knew it was this hard to reach hell’. I found it very fitting.

    Hour 6300

    The terminal announces our names. We are on the second standby flight. Do the baggage handlers drive a truck over to parking lot where everyone going to Balad has their bags stored? No, we have to hand carry (drag) each bag 2 blocks to where they are building the cargo pallets. . So I’m glad I’m a woman and getting on in the years (I just had a birthday a couple of days ago so feeling a little old). I had someone in the terminal feel sorry for me and help me carry a couple of bags.

    Hour 6600

    Living up the Air Force standard the plane was late. Actually the plane was ready, the crew was late. Our team tried to get released from the terminal to get breakfast but was denied. They didn’t want us out of their sight. We just sat there and read graffiti and even wrote some of our own. I now hate graffiti.

    To get on the plane, for the first time we had to wear full battle rattle and our uniform. Battle rattle is a Kevlar helmet and flak vest. We had to load up onto the plane from the rear where they put in the cargo. It was awful. I was weak with hunger, still suffering from dragging those bags 2 blocks in stifling heat, was now stewing in my very heavy and hot gear, and getting blown backwards with a hot searing wind coming from the C130s engines/propellers. On the plane the heat was even worse. The air was still and full of fuel fumes. I was glad when my sweat finally felt like it was freezing to my body as the plane climbed in elevation.

    Hour 6800

    Now I know why they didn’t want to feed us. The plane approached Balad using evasive maneuvers in case they received fired. It was the worst roller coaster ride I have ever experienced. Banking this way and that way; climbing and falling. Nobody lost their breakfast (because we didn’t eat). But if they had lost it, I’m sure there would have been several people joining them in a chain reaction. Many faces had hues of green or were pasty white when disembarking.

    Hour 7100

    I moved into my new home (tent) surrounded by a quaint 3 foot high sandbag fence intended to stop shrapnel. Balad is endearingly called ‘Mortaritaville’ because of the shower of rockets and mortars lobbed onto the base. I didn’t find this fencing to be very adequate, so I piled stuff like my 2 flak jackets and helmet on the top bunk in hopes to keep shrapnel from raining down on me as I slept.

    While unpacking I hear my first explosion. A minute later (after the fact) the warning sirens go off. Not knowing what I was suppose to do, I just laid down on my bottom bunk and read a book.

    Hour 8100

    I report in for my first day of work near the base’s main gate. At the gate leading off base is the cardboard sign written in black magic marker, ‘Is Today the Day?’

    The talk at work was about the explosion. It was an IED planted just outside the gate, and a soldier died. For a brief second, I sympathetically think about his life and family. Then I think math and statistics and what is my probability of getting eaten by an IED. I silently thank the soldier and hope he didn’t suffer. I figured he had just improved my odds for survival.
  8. Gannon

    Gannon Contributor Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    foxbrains - Arlington


    The cab ride was shorter than Laurie thought it would be. It turns out that Arlington National Cemetery is much closer to the Arlington Metro stop than she remembered it.

    “Do you want me to wait?” asked the cab driver with a heavy Middle Eastern accent. “I can take you to monument. I can take you back to Metro.”

    “No, that’s OK. I am sure I can get another cab back to the Metro.” She said as she started to get out of the cab.

    “Not so sure. Here is my number. You call when you need ride.” He said somewhat eagerly as he handed her a business card.

    “OK. What do I owe you?” Asked Laurie as she gathered her hat, her uniform jacket, and her walking stick.

    “Five dollars. I come back for you. USA My home.”

    She handed him a ten and walked into the visitor center.

    The moment she walked through the gates and into this garden of stone, memories started to come back to her, piecemeal at first. The last time she was here was almost 2 years ago. It was a rainy day, or at least that is how she remembered it. Then again, it seems like every funeral she ever went to was on a rainy day. On that particular rainy day, she had foregone the visitor center, and was transported directly to Columbarium 3, where her wheel chair was rolled right up to the formal funeral area just outside of the actual graves by an orderly. In actuality, Technical Sergeant Laurel James did not remember much. She was transported against medical advice from Walter Reed Medical Center to the funeral of her fiancée, Staff Sergeant Aleks Strawinski. She was heavily sedated and pretty out of it on painkillers when he was laid to rest.

    It was a standard military funeral, with an honor guard, a flag, the presentation of arms, and the playing of taps. She couldn’t remember who had attended the funeral; there couldn’t have been that many people, since Aleks had no surviving family. Laurie didn’t have any relatives either, as she was a foster kid who never had a memorable foster family. She seemed to remember a few men in uniform, but she couldn’t remember who they were, they could have been military, or they could have been cops that she worked with who knew what happened. She remembered being asked if she was OK with representatives of Military Moms coming to aid her and to mourn the son who no longer had a mother of his own. At the end of the service she knew that she was presented Aleks’s flag, but she wasn’t sure if she remembered it, or if she just knew it, since the flag sits in an oak case above her fireplace with Aleks’s picture.

    When her turn came at the visitor’s window, she was a little dazed as the elderly woman wearing a vest that said Volunteer on it approached her.

    “How may I help you, Sergeant?” She asked in a grandmotherly way.

    “I need directions to a grave. I don’t remember how to get there.” Said Laurie, as she struggled with the memories that were starting to flood her mind. “Staff Sergeant Aleks Strawinski, was his name. He died about 2 years ago. Ma’am”

    After a few moments of misspelling, and finally properly spelling his name, the woman came back with a location. “He is interred in Columbarium 3 Row 1 space 1013. He was buried with several other members of his unit.” She said as she took a good look at Laurie, and noticed the overly loose uniform and the walking stick. “Pardon me for asking, but will you be driving? The directions are a little different if you are driving than walking” she said as she took a map from the pile.

    “I’ll walk. Somehow this cemetery always meant more to me when I walked it.” Said Laurie as she clutched her walking stick a little more tightly in her hand.

    “Are you sure? It is a pretty good distance. If you want, I’m sure I can find someone else who is going that way who can give you a lift.”

    “No, that’s OK. I think I would rather walk amongst my fallen brothers and sisters than ride past them never seeing their names. I need to thank them all.”

    “Well if you find yourself needing help, just call the number on the top of the map, and we will see what we can do.”

    “Thank You.” Responded Laurie, as she again considered that she might not be ready for the finality of seeing his grave without pharmaceutical assistance.


    It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining, and the weather was nice and warm for a fall day. Her dress uniform was a bit big, considering all of the weight that she lost over the last two years, but she felt the need to wear her uniform to pay the proper respect to the fallen heroes that she walked past.

    With her custom made walking stick by her side, she began the long journey to the grave of her fiancée. As much as she wanted to put off this moment, she knew that she had to do it. She had to finally think about her demons so that she might be able to put them to rest. She knew it was time to move on with her life.

    She spent the entire hour that it took her to walk to the grave thinking about that fateful day when her life was changed forever.
    They had been nearing the midway point of their tour of duty, when Aleks asked her to marry him. He didn’t have a ring to give her, so he taped a cigar band around her finger. The proper engagement ring that she now wore came in a box a few months after his death when the military sent her his last possessions. She didn’t know where it came from, but didn’t ask; instead she dutifully placed it on her finger as a symbol of a day that would never come, a commitment that would never be recorded. She wished though for the simple cigar band that meant so much to her but was lost in battle only a few weeks later, when he died.

    They were reservist medics. Their job was to help those in need, and to save the lives of their brothers and sisters on the battlefield. They had given up their lives in the safety and security of home for the purpose of what they hoped was a greater good. They had saved lives. They had pulled untold men and women out of burning vehicles, and crumbled buildings. They had dragged their friends off of battlefields as their friends begged them to not let them die. They had patched up their brothers and sisters in arms because it was their job, because it was the right thing to do, because they needed to help make the world a safer place for everyone, even those people who did not want their help.

    It was one of those people who stole the Marine Corps ambulance. It was one of them who packed it with explosives. It was one of them who detonated it as Aleks ran to the ambulance thinking it was injured soldiers or civilians who needed help. It was one of them who nearly took her life as well.

    When the blast sounded, the first thing Laurie thought was that it sounded close, too close. She was off shift, and the blast woke her from a sound sleep. Her first instinct was to throw on pants and see who needed help. She never thought to throw on her flak jacket as well. All she thought about was rushing to the aid of whomever was hurt. At least she did think far enough a head to put on a helmet.

    When she saw the smoke and mangled ambulance, she immediately joined the chaos of searching for wounded, and trying to help. Nobody knew what happened, nobody knew if the ambulance ran over a land mine, or was hit by a rocket, or what happened. It was a Marine Corps ambulance. Nobody ever thought that it was loaded with explosives. Nobody ever realized that the enemy would sink to those depths.

    As she ran to the mangled ambulance, she realized something wasn’t right. The debris wasn’t right; the bodies around the ambulance were pointed away from it. People were screaming, to get away. People were yelling to watch the secondary. The first body that she got to, she turned over to look for any signs of life. From the appearance of the back of the soldier, there was little hope that they were still alive. When she turned him over, his face was covered in blood. He was familiar, and she immediately knew the worst had happened as she saw his name tag. Strawinski.

    Anger welled in her for what seemed like an eternity, but was really only for a moment or two. The next thing she knew, it all went black, as though this was all a terrible dream, interrupted by a merciful noise, or the need to roll over.

    Technical Sergeant Laurel James was one of a handful of survivors of one of the worst car bomb attacks of the war. She didn’t remember much, but what she read in the local papers upon her return home helped her to put the fragments of memories together.

    The painful memories of that day were something that she tried to block from her memory as she tried to focus on her recovery. She had worked hard to regain the ability to walk and to use her left arm. Her constant companion was a custom made walking stick that had been presented to her at Walter Reed Medical Center when her survival was not certain. The man that carved it was adamant that it be given to the woman who made it home, even if her survival was only long enough that she be buried with it.

    As the memories flooded back into her mind, she finally accepted the fact that she was visiting Aleks’s grave, to thank him for her life, and everything he contributed to it and to seek his permission to move on.

    It was his already dead body that had somehow shielded her from the secondary explosion. She was seriously wounded, but had it not been for his body absorbing some of the blast she would certainly be dead. It was he who had saved her. She had thanked him many times in her thoughts and in her prayers, but this was the final step that she needed to make in order for her to return to her life before the war, and to resume her life after the war.

    As she got closer to the grave, she saw the names of others in her unit, others that she had served with and that were not as lucky as she was, others whom she would have given her life to protect, but who had instead given their lives.

    When she got to space 1013, she stumbled as she reached down to trace the letters that spelled out his name. The tears flowed freely as she fell before his grave. As she sat on the ground in front of his grave, with her head leaning on the cool granite, she cried with a freedom that she had not felt before. She continued to cry, alternately looking up at the sky, and down at her hands. Alternately thanking him for saving her life and cursing god for taking his.


    A woman and her small child had entered the Columbarium to remember her brother, and the child’s uncle. The family had not been particularly close, and the child barely knew his uncle, let alone understood what they were doing. It was a struggle for the mother to keep the small child from misbehaving. The mother had hoped that the 4 year old would be quiet and stand still as she placed several poppies on her brother’s grave.

    When they turned the corner, the woman stopped and briefly stared at a woman in uniform sitting and crying at a grave. She quickly snapped out of her staring as her little boy suddenly released himself from her grip.

    He took the one of his Mother’s poppies that he was playing with and broke away from his mothers grasp. He ran to Laurie, as his mother rushed to try and catch him before he disturbed the woman’s mourning.

    As his mother watched in embarrassment, the little boy touched Laurie’s face, handed her the poppy, stepped back, gave her the best salute that he could and said, “Don’t cry.” Then he quickly ran back to his mother.

    Laurie had no idea how long she had been sitting there and crying when she felt the child’s touch on her face.

    Laurie held the poppy in her hand for a moment and stared at it, before she placed the single flower at the base of Aleks’s grave. With the help of her waking stick, Laurie got up, traced Aleks’s name in the stone and started to make the journey back to her old life, sure that she had cried her last tear for Aleks, and sure that she was cleansed of her demons.
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