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Friday, June 13, 2008

Winter

I just finished revisioning a short story I wrote about 4 years ago during my freshmen year in college. I know this isn't a typical post for this blog, but I really want give this a shot, and see how it is received. This is a strange story, but it is important. Notice what is in the story, but then also notice what is intentionally excluded.

I woke up stiffly, with a sharp pain in my neck. It is fairly common for me to wake up in a place I don’t remember falling a sleep, but I have never seen this place before. With a tremendous slam, the door flies open, and the snow follows a strange older man into the room. Like steam rising from a boiling pot, the cold emits from the man as he proceeds in. All that I have on is a towel, with my head relaxed on the arm of an uncomfortable chair. The chair’s plush damask decoration glistens in the batting light from the fireplace I must have obviously tried to warm myself by. Everyone in the room has their eyes fixed on this odd old man as he paces the floor without addressing us. He is mumbling in a strange language I can’t translate. As you listen you get the strange lyrical sense of foreign languages on virgin ears, he is not pleased with the current state of affairs. In mid-stride, he freezes. He stomps his right foot soundly on the misplanked wooden floor. Everyone, including myself which I more than anything followed the rest of the boy’s reactions, jumped to our feet immediately after this gesture from this weird old man.
“MARCH!” the old man yells in a foreign accent, “MARCH IN A STRAIGHT LINE!” He yells so loudly it hurts my ears. The voice that flowed from this man did not suit his body whatsoever. It was a deep, baritone voice that a man twice his size might not be able to produce. “MARCH!” As this broke from his mouth in stinging fashion, we all scramble for the door. I was near the back of the pile of terrified and confused boys, behind a boy a little shorter than me,
“March? March Where? Whe…” a small boy cried out before he was swiftly downed with a kick to the chest, I wasn’t even to the door when my spot in line was quickly shot up a number, seeing the young boy quickly knocked to the floor by a big black boot to the chest. We all knew then that we were not taking our towels to where we were going, nor would we speak up again. “MARCH!” he yells again. I was in the third row of the formation, two boys, who were just as tall as me, were in front of me, and then another row was just ahead of them. They were lead; I would never have picked lead. My row was third, and we were followed by three rows of boys, the last being incomplete because of the boy who was sacrificed to save us.
I had nothing covering my feet when the pain of the snow first touched them. The pain of snow against bare skin is one of a fiery tingling. Beneath this snow must be thumbtacks. “MARCH!” he yells in his gruff foreign voice. “MARCH, AND SWING YOUR ARMS!” he exclaims again. Swing our arms?! None of us have any clothes on, and until now we were doing a great job of hiding that fact. “MARCH! AND SWING YOUR ARMS EVEN THOUGH YOU ARE EXPOSED!” The new winter air stabs my pride.
We march into darkness. The house shrinks away from us. The inviting smoke from the fire place, the towels, the chair, the boy we left behind fall away from us now, into the blackness, into the cold we march.
We continue to march on this high burmed path covered by snowy pine trees on both sides. We have only been marching for a little while when my feet really started to feel the affects of the snow. My feet numb themselves to avoid the pain, frostbite hasn’t set in yet. I notice that I am starting to limp. My right foot is not holding up as well as I thought it would. I can’t help but baby it.
“March! And swing your arms!” he shouts again, “MARCH! SWING YOUR ARMS AND STOMP YOUR FEET!” he screams again. He must have seen me, and knew I would be the next to fall out of line. “MARCH! AND SWING YOUR ARMS! MARCH, AND STOMP YOUR FEET, LET THEM KNOW WE ARE COMING!”
As soon as he finished the ing in coming, a boy directly in front of me winces in pain, a “hsss” sound escapes his lips as he pulls his left foot from the snow, and quickly remembers his place, and tries to cover up his fallacy. It is too late, and our guide was already on top of him as soon as he returned his foot to the snow. With a violent shove, our young comrade is thrown into the darkness, and the last we heard of him is a splash, indicating to me that below is a reservoir filled with not yet frozen icy water. Straighten up, Straighten Up. That could be you.
“MARCH! MARCH AND SWING YOUR ARMS, STOMP YOUR FEET AND SHOUT!” he yells his command as he continually adds to the list of ridiculous things. Shout? What does he want us to shout? I don’t know what to do. Every step I take, the snow feels like tacks. My feet are turning white, the first sign of frostbite. I don’t know where we are going, but I am sure by the time we get there my feet will be completely frostbitten. “MARCH! SWING YOUR ARMS, STOMP YOUR FEET, AND SHOUT!” Straighten Up.
“March, swing your arms stomp your feetandshout!” That is all I could think of to ‘shout’, was to repeat what he said. I yelled as loudly as I can, but the frigid air stings my throat and I choked at the end. Drawing breath to quickly in a frigid air is like swallowing fire, and I do my best not to cough too loudly, as this would be a grievous offense worthly of exile.
“MARCH, LET THEM KNOW WE ARE COMING!” he yells directly in my face as if what I said were not good enough for him.
I see in slow motion, the heel start to slip, the weight shifts, and the boy tries to regain his balance awkwardly. He flails his arms, and draws the attention of our guide. After this happens, the boy realizes his futile flailing will only draw a worse punishment and concedes the fall. He lands on his back, and the brutal leader peers down at him with hatred. “YOU HAVE FALLEN, YOU ARE NOT MARCHING.” He exclaims in an embarrassing manner. With the injury coming, the insult seems crippling, and I am embarassed for him. He delivers the same fate sealing kick to the chest, the same downward tumble, and the same inevitable splash.
Our formation doesn’t change. We can see the holes were the two boys left, caverns of shame, places in line I will not soon forget. Though I did not know them, I will remember the fear in their eyes, the same fear I feel costantly. I hope my empathy will survive this cold. They are a reminder to us, that we can not make a mistake. As we continue to march, and continue to get closer to our destination, I begin to feel the affects of the cold against my flesh. I cannot recall the last time I was warm, the last time I wore clothes, the last time I was not marching, the last time…No warmth could ever undo this cold. This cold is so deep, if I were struck; the blow would shatter my brittle bones. My feet have grow more white proceeding up the foot to the ankle, and the bottoms have turned a slight gray transformation. Don’t look down, look only ahead. The soles of my feet are completely black. A black I don’t want to see again. A black worthy of fear. My footwork has become sloppy because I cannot feel my feet; the pain has shifted up to my shins. It feels like my shins crack open with every new step I take. Eventually the crack will widen so far that my I will end up crawling to where we are going. Even if there were nails beneath the snow, I wouldn’t feel it, they would pierce my flesh and I would simply take them with me.
“MARCH, AND SWING YOUR ARMS, STOMP YOUR FEET AND SHOUT!” he yells again. It seems like he is getting louder if that is at all possible. My limp is getting really noticeable, and I am, subtly shaking. “MARCH! LET THEM KNOW WE ARE COMING. THEY MUST KNOW WE ARE COMING!” With the end of that command comes a turn in the path. The path veers to the right, and the tree line breaks away. As soon as we complete the turn, a glow of light is revealed to us. It must be a town; it must be where we are going. I was so taken in by the origin of lights, city on a hilltop, that I didn’t think about the trees not being there. Now we are on an open plain. There is nothing around us to shield us from the wind. A gust quickly shoots up and shakes our formation. I, for a moment, lose my footing, but quickly regain unnoticed. A boy two rows behind is not so lucky, and falls on his back. “YOU HAVE FALLEN LIKE THE OTHER, THIS IS NOT ACCEPTABLE. YOU CANNOT FALL, YOU CANNOT FAIL!” He delivers the same fate sealing kick to the chest, the same downward tumble, but this time no splash follows. Eight of us remain. “MARCH, SWING YOUR ARMS, STOMP YOUR FEET AND SHOUT! LET THEM KNOW WE ARE COMING! THEY MUST KNOW WE ARE COMING!” he yells again. The black continues up my feet toward just below my ankle. My shins have split completely, as the more steps we take the more my shins have split. I cannot feel the snow brush against my feet nor the tracks I leave. The wind is getting worse, and my shaking is getting more frequent.
On an open plain the wind whips violently. The wind has no feelings; the wind doesn’t care how cold you already are. The wind is the wind, shapeless, nameless, faceless. I wish I could stop it, find where it comes from and burn it to the ground. I hate the wind, the wind will feel my wrath. The wind keeps blowing despite me, and we keep marching toward the town ahead in the distance.
The path we are walking is poorly illuminated by the reflecting moonlight. You cannot see anything ahead of you except the lead boys, and our guide. A boy steps on a stick, and he almost tumbles to the ground. The snow is not freshly laid, it has been there for long time, and crunches under our feet, as it does after it freezes and becomes compact. I cannot feel the crunch; I can only hear it when my feet stomp through.
“MARCH! SWING YOUR ARMS, STOMP YOUR FEET, AND SHOUT!” our leader screams again. There are a lot of things to keep track of when you are this cold. “MARCH! LET THEM KNOW WE ARE COMING! THEY MUST KNOW WE ARE COMING!” Straighten up! Straighten Up! He is looking straight at you. “YOU ARE NOT SWINGING YOUR ARMS! YOU MUST SWING YOUR ARMS! THAT WAS THE SECOND COMMAND. YOU HAVE TO SWING YOUR ARMS! THEY MUST SEE YOU SWINGING YOUR ARMS!” He storms toward me with the same enraged, teeth-grinding expression. I was swinging my arms, I know was swinging my arms, I know I was. God! I was, I am not afraid, I know I was swinging my arms. If anything, I would think he was punishing me for this incessant limp. “THIS FAILURE WILL NOT BE TOLERATED!” our guide brushes past me in a fury of anger. He omits no warmth, no heat, and with a shove, open-handed to the chest, the boy is sent flailing downhill in to the darkness with a thud. I swore he looked straight at me. “YOU WILL ALWAYS SWING YOUR ARMS! YOU WILL ALWAYS STOMP YOUR FEET! AND YOU WILL ALWAYS SHOUT! THEY MUST KNOW WE ARE COMING!” This line of command sounded like it was shouted directly in my ear. “FAILURE WILL NOT BE TOLERATED! MARCH! SWING YOUR ARMS! STOMP YOUR FEET! AND SHOUT!”
“March! Swing your arms, stomp your feet, and shout!” we cry back in unison. This is what it feels like to fall into line. We reverberate his commands as if we have known them our whole lives.
“You were not shouting, you did not complete the command. You have failed. This will not be tolerated!” our leader exclaims, and the same sequence is initiated, the storm toward the weaker link, the contorted fear shaped face, the open-palmed shove, tumble, they are no longer with us, they do not deserve to be. Our numbers grow thin. 6 are left to approach the city. “THERE IS NO ROOM FOR WEAKNESS. NOW IS THE TIME OF OUR GREATEST NEED! NOW IS THE TIME FOR US TO ANNOUNCE OUR PRESENCE! NOW WE TRULY MARCH!” he cries out now and repeats the same order as since the beginning we have heard. We repeat it with vigor and intensity. “MARCH!” “March!” “SWING!” “Swing!” “STOMP!” “Stomp!” “SHOUT!” “Shout!” I yell back until my voice breaks. There is no warmth. There is no cold. There is no pain. I am the rhythm. I am in unison. I am a cog in this machine whose purpose is to let ‘them’ know we are coming, the ‘they’ is not important, the why is irrelevant, the cold has been rendered useless. My feet are black, rock-like, and solid. I do not feel the crunch of the snow, the piercing of the wind, the, used to be, unbearable cold. My fingers turn white, and the process will start again.
“MARCH! SWING YOUR ARMS! STOMP YOUR FEET! AND SHOUT!” we all yell together! We are together, we are one in the same! The accent, the vigor, the power, the blend.
We are approaching the city with haste, as quick as marching will allow us. As suddenly as I say this to myself, I feel my legs tearing away from me, and feel myself fully engulfed in this procession. I feel myself running with determination, as I pass the boys left and right of me. The city’s walls grow taller and taller in the horizon. A large gate stands in the center of these walls, and is lead up to by the path we are on.
“CHARGE AND YELL! CHARGE AND YELL! CHARGE AND YELL!” I scream to my comrades, my brothers, I have become the leader, and our guide has fallen into ranks. “CHARGE AND YELL! CHARGE AND YELL! CHAAAARGE!” I cry out again. We are nearing the large, dull gray, metal gate. We can see men on the walls, we can see people behind the gate. Our yell has turned into a barbaric yalp! It is just a noise, a cry, an assertion to let them know we are coming!
As suddenly as we reached the gate, I hear the first of us fall. I didn’t see it, but I heard the loud shot, and a boy cry out. I turn backward to see what happened, and a boy grabs for his chest, and blood pours through his fingers, and down his naked body. A marksman shot him through the chest. Blood spurts out and soaks into the snow, red and white and pink and black. He falls to his knees with a horrid blackness filling his eyes, and his mouth ajar, not crashing but sinking into the snow around him. Frost bite is no longer his concern. Just as soon as we all turn to face the gates, a hail of gun fire rains down on us and strikes and kills several of the other boys in the same fashion. Our guide and I are all that remain, now for the remainder of the bullets that will hurl down at us. He looks at me with fear in his eyes, and I know now that this was not planned.