Archive for the ‘ Writing ’ Category

The Unfinished Short Stories

As I get back into the rhythm of college life (aided in part by taking some time every evening to calm my racing mind through the magic of yoga), I admit my mind has not wandered much into the realm of current events.  Aside from all the academic-related ventures I participated in (ranging from the ever-crucial Dorm Olympics, to advising freshmen on what courses to take, to figuring out what courses I should take myself, to helping dozens of people connect to our new wireless network), I have also been working a little on a short story I hope to submit to a contest someday (provided it can be spruced up a bit). Let me know what you think of it:

11 September, 1649

Sean’s no soldier. He joined the Irish Confederates because he wanted Irish independence, and because scouts have seen so many English troops coming that the army is taking anyone who can hold a gun. Not because he can fight. People are dropping dead at his side, soldiers who are –were– better than he could ever be. Sean realizes how big of a mistake he made.

Every sound makes his skin crawl and his heart pound against his ribs. He is paralyzed in a dank, humid watchtower, his eyes glued to the chaos outside him. Why’d they put him in the towers? He isn’t cut out for this; why did they put him up here? He doesn’t want to die; he still wants to go to school. Gunshots. He doesn’t want to die. Screaming, agony, more gunshots. He doesn’t want to die, he doesn’t want to die…

“We can’t do this much longer!” one of the leaders is yelling from the wall. “We need to surrender!”

“No!” another cries. “Surrender’s not an option! Either we win here or we die here; there can be no other outcome!”

Die here. No. No, no, no, no. The man is right; they cannot win. They have to stop; try again later, maybe. They need to stop before it’s too late to stop.

One of the English generals yells something, and the English pull a cannon out to the front of their lines. Another yell. A deafening boom echoes from the machine as a cannonball flies through the air into the fortress wall, and Sean grips his ears. Will the English get in? They might. Oh, God.

Another crack. Part of the wall collapses as the English load their cannon again. They broke through. God help us, Sean thinks as he clutches his gun. A few of the soldiers run down the stairs, ready to go try and help the ground forces while some of them try to fix the gaping hole in the wall. Why haven’t they surrendered? Why in God’s name haven’t they surrendered?

“We ought to surrender now,” one of the remaining soldiers mutters as he loads his gun. “There’s no way we can win now.”

“What’s Aston thinking, dragging this out?” another soldier agrees. He peers outside to get a glimpse of the mayhem. “Damn them; they’re ransacking the town.”

“Forget Aston; I’m not getting killed for this.” One of the soldiers throws his gun on the ground and tears a piece of cloth from his white tunic.

“You’re right,” another says as he follows suit. Most of the other soldiers stack their guns and push all the weapons to the side. Then they wait. Sean drops his gun, numbly, his eyes glued to the soldiers sitting near the window. Those soldiers look outside and report on what they see, but for some reason Sean can’t understand what they’re saying. Will the English accept their surrender? What happens if they do? Will they become prisoners? Servants? Will they go through the shame of slavery?

Yelling. The clanging of weapons attached to running men echoes in the stairwell. An English soldier appears, then two more, then three more. All have guns aimed at the Confederates, while a few of the soldiers are frantically waving their white cloths. The English get the idea.

“Knock them out,” one of them says. They start hitting the Confederates with the butts of their guns. Sean cowers with his head in his arms, not wanting to watch. He feels a sharp pain at the back of his head. He feels dizzy. His vision grows dark.

?

He wakes to hushed whispers. Still alive. His vision is blurred, but he sees figures hovering near him. English? He struggles to focus. Can’t move his hands. Can’t move his hands! Sean realizes he is tied to a chair. Oh, God.

“Look, our friend is awake,” he hears someone say. English accent. God help me.

Sean sees faces now, staring at him. Watching. He wonders what they’re looking for. Whether some blemish on his skin or some look in his eye is the key to his salvation.

God help me, he prays as he stares at his boots. He almost jumps when someone asks him,

“What is your name, young man?”

“Sean,” he replies carefully. He can’t remember his last name and panics.

“How old are you, Sean?”

“Twenty-one.”

“Your eyes are not those of a fighter. What was your trade before you joined the army?”

Sean hesitates. “My father is a blacksmith,” he answers. The soldier smiles.

“A blacksmith, eh?” Sean nods. “That is a fine trade, son. A reliable trade. Why would you leave it for something as cruel as war?”

Sean hesitates again. What sort of answer is this man looking for? “I wanted to help make Ireland independent of England,” he recites warily, quietly. He doesn’t know what else to say. There is no change in the soldier’s face.

“Of course. But why else did you do it?”

“Excuse me?”

“What were you looking to get out of it?”

Sean is quivering in his chair. The soldier doesn’t like his answer, but he doesn’t know what else to say. What should he say? What should he say? “Indep–”

“Never mind, let me ask another question. What do you want us to do with you, Sean?”

Is this a trick question? Sean doesn’t understand. He keeps silent. The soldier grins.

“No reason to be quiet, boy. Do you want us to let you go? Kill you?”

“I’d like to live, sir,” Sean whispers numbly.

“Speak up, boy!”

“Live,” Sean manages. A laugh.

“You want us to let you live? Hm?”

“Yes…”

“Well then! What if I were to tell you that we are willing to let you out of this prison? Alive?”

Sean stares at the soldier. Sean is uneducated, but Sean is not stupid enough to think he can go for free.

“Why?”

The soldier laughs, and Sean flinches at the sound. “Let us say we could stand to benefit from the arrangement.”

“Which is?”

“You agree to join a special battalion of our army, and we will let you live. In fact, we will also give you everything you need in order to live comfortably. Including a considerable amount of wealth.”

That’s it? He joins their army, and he gets all that?

“What’s special about it?” he asks. The soldier laughs again.

“We require you to agree to the deal before we go into such details,” the soldier replies. He adds, almost as an aside, “If you do not accept, your alternative is to be killed. As I see it, agreeing to the terms is the most logical choice.”

Sean hesitates. He has a suspicion that they are trying to trick him. But he doesn’t have many options, and at least one could allow him to run away, if necessary.

“I’ll do it,” he decides.

“Of course you will,” the soldier says with a glance at his friends. They pull Sean to his feet as he is told to report to training at sunrise. He is given a large bag of gold coins. He is led to his new house and to a dozen other locations, but he’s so excited about the fact that he escaped death that he barely pays attention to where they drag him off to.

Thank you, God.

15 March, 1650

Sean had heard not long ago that near everyone in his town had been slaughtered, even the civilians who had tried to take refuge in the church. He still feels a pang of guilt for continuing to live, when so many other soldiers had chosen death rather than the sovereignty of their country. For continuing to work for the country that killed his unarmed family and friends without mercy. But he tries not to think about this. He must work hard to become successful, to bring honor to his family name so it may honor those he has lost. If this means working for the English, he must endure it.

True to their word, the English had let him live, and live much more comfortably than before. His home now could have housed his father’s smithy in its foyer. He has more gold in his coin purse than his father had earned in his lifetime. He is being educated every day as part of his training, and is learning how to read and speak properly. He has not yet been put in another battle (they still did not trust him, Sean guesses), but he trains as though he will fight in one at any moment.

After a few months of training Sean is asked to come to therapy sessions. Sean is brought to a dimly-lit room in the military compound, where a middle-aged man asks him questions. They explain it’s to gauge how well he’s adapting to life as an English soldier, and while Sean finds it slightly degrading, he’s thankful they aren’t doing anything more drastic to test where his thoughts lie.

“Your name, please,” the man always asks him first.

“Sean Reid.”

“How old are you?”

“Twenty-one.”

“What is your current occupation?”

“Member of the Queen’s Special Guard, first battalion.”

“What was your last occupation?”

“I was a blacksmith.”

“What was your father’s name?”

“Kieran. Kieran Reid.”

“And your mother’s name?”

“Ana.”

“Do you have any siblings?”

“No, I was an only child.”

“Do you have a wife?”

“No.”

“Do you have any pets?”

“No.”

“When is your birthday?”

“July twelfth.”

“Of what year?”

“Oh. Of…1628, I think…?”

“What is the color of your shirt, right now?”

“White.”

“What color are your eyes?”

“Green.”

“Do you have a history of drug use?”

“No!”

“Are you religious?”

“Yes.”

“Do you feel as though you are fitting in with the rest of the battalion?”

“I suppose.”

“Do you have any problems with your assignment?”

“Not really, no.”

“Do you harbor any resentment towards the English for how the war turned out?”

“…No.”

“Will you continue to serve England and the Queen?”

“Yes.”

“Do you swear to devote your life to Her Majesty?”

“…Yes.”

And, after a few more promises to remain loyal to the crown, Sean is sent on his way. Sean must repeat the ordeal once a week, with the same questions each time, asked by the same man in the same room. He figures that the English ought to know after the first two months whether or not he plans to rebel against them, but he guesses they just want to be thorough. Or, perhaps, they’re just waiting for him to slip.

31 October, 1650

The man who usually asks Sean questions is sitting in his normal seat in the dim-lit room (Sean has never been offered his name and has a feeling he will never get it). Standing next to the man are the two usual English soldiers, and two men Sean has never seen before. Sean has never seen people like them; they have fine black hair and small eyes, and one (dressed in strange robes) is muttering in a high-pitched language that he has never heard before.

“Your name, please,” his questioner asks.

“Who are they?” Sean asks, his eyes glued to the muttering man.

“Pay no attention to them. What is your name?”

“What are they here for?”

“Nothing important; just answer the question.”

“If it’s not important why won’t you tell me?”

The questioner stares at Sean and sighs. He motions a solider over and whispers something in his ear. The soldier leaves. Sean warily watches him leave.

“Where is he going?”

“To get you some tea,” the questioner replies. He sighs and points to the foreigners. “They are men from China. They are going to see what sort of work we do here.”

Sean stares at the man in robes again. He seems to take no notice of anything happening around him. The other man, in normal English clothes, stands silently next to him, staring at the ground.

“Now your name, please.”

Sean hesitates. “Sean Reid.”

“How old are you, Sean?”

“Twenty-two.”

“What is your occupation?”

“Member of the Queen’s Special Guard, first battalion.”

“What was your occupation prior to the war?”

“Blacksmith.” The familiar sequence of questions calms Sean down a bit. The soldier who left comes back with a teacup and saucer in his hands. He hands this to Sean, who takes a long draw from the cup.

“What was your father’s name?”

“Kieran.”

“What was your mother’s name?”

“Ana.”

“Did you have any siblings?”

“No.”

“Do you have a wife?”

“No.”

“Do you have any pets?”

“No.”

“When is your birthday?”

This takes Sean a little while. “The twelfth of July.”

“What year?”

Sean’s mind is starting to get fuzzy. He’s aware of some humming noise that seems to come from far away, and it’s making him tired.

“I….1624, I think,” he replies, confused.

“What color is the shirt that you are wearing at this moment?”

Sean can’t remember. He looks down. Everything seems to be blurring together. This can’t be right…

“White?” he murmurs.

“What color are your eyes?”

“What is happening to me?” Sean asks, struggling to stay awake. He grips the table in front of him.

“What color are your eyes?” the questioner asks again. It sounds as if he’s miles away.

“What color…”

Sean closes his eyes and feels himself falling…

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