The Writers Voice
The Safe House
A bullet rang past my ear, and I knew I could stay here no longer. The enemy stared blankly at me with their cold black eyes. All I was to them was a target to be shot. I didn’t want to die! Oh God, no!
Baily slowly paced backward, his eyes locked on the Germans. I tried to mimic him, but I couldn’t stop shaking. I should have expected this, shouldn’t I? I should have thought about this beforehand, but I hadn’t. I thought we’d just be chasing them down and raking them with bullets. Reality was far from that.
“What?” he screamed over the ear shattering gunfire..
“I…I wanna get out of here!”
Dirt sprayed up from the ground as a dozen shots hit near my foot. The roar of airplanes overhead drowned out all my thoughts.
“Don’t be a coward, Jack. Just keep firing. We’ve got to stop their advance.”
I vomited right there in the heat of combat. I felt ashamed, but I could not help it. I was a coward, and I deserved to die. How could Baily be so brave? How could he stand there while his friends were shot like dogs? The loss of life was so massive and so pointless. What would happen if we stopped their advance, anyway? We’d just lose more men trying to hold our ground.
There was a little steel building off to my left. It was a bomb shelter. It was safety. It was life!
I backed away from Baily, whose face still held that firm defiance that he always had in the face of death. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to stand before the Germans and fire my rifle and forget death or pain or suffering like the others. I could not.
I swung the door open and shut it behind me. Then I locked it. There was no one else inside. I was completely alone, but safe. My hopeful mind said I could just wait here until we won the war, but my logical mind cursed my idiocy.
I made my way down the stairs, deep into the depths of the shelter. My heavy steps clanged on the stairs, echoing through the narrow passage. If only I had a light, I might have been able to see anything I might need to survive the many days I assumed I’d be here.
Poor Baily would probably die before an onslaught of enemy fire, but he would die proudly, gloriously fighting to the last, his dignity shining brightly like an invisible badge of courage. He would be remembered for his cool confidence in the face of overwhelming odds.
What would I be remembered for? Well, I’d be remembered for hiding in a little shack, praying that things would end, hoping that the horrors of war, of life, would just pass me by. Yes, that’s exactly what I was. I fled from life’s problems like a doe at a gunshot. I was the biggest coward that ever lived, that’s what I was.
Could I keep hiding forever? No, of course not. So why was I still there, trembling in the darkness of the shelter? I was being selfish! That’s exactly what I was doing, and I didn’t even realize it. That’s the only word that can be used for self centered desires such as mine, and there is no excuse for that.
So… I stood there wrestling with myself. My dignity, my self esteem, and my very reasons for existence hung in the balance. If I did not go out there, I realized that I would not be a human at all. I would be an animal. Humans fight for what they believe in even if they know they may die. Animals flee from the slightest danger. Rabbits flee from the bear. They do not rally together and fight to keep their families safe. No, they are far too individualistic, too self centered.
I began to weep for myself and everyone above me. I wept for the horror of the two choices I had. I wept for knowing that if I went back up there, I would be shot and die… for what? My country? I’d never been that patriotic. So what if the world was taken over. At least, I was still alive, right? I moaned and screamed into space. I was once again being selfish. It made me sick. Then it occurred to me. Baily would never be remembered for fighting the way he did. The rest of our comrades had been shot. There would be no one left to speak of it. This thought struck me sharply, like a knife through my chest.
With all the courage I could muster, I came to my decision. I sucked up my tears and threw away my fears like one who is just about to jump from a high dive for the first time. I walked up those steps, my chin held high. I flung open the door and stepped into the gray morning light, into reality, into the roar of bombs and bullets, and back into my life.
When the end came, I admired the man I had become.
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