• Testimonial of a Nameless Soldier

    an allegory to wildfire by Lauren Dykman

    I was born into the rough hands of hard times. The fields were dry, food was scarce, and the economy had gone to pot. Most working class people just hardened their muscles against the plough and waited for relief. But not me. I believed every man needed something to hope for.
    My hope came in the form of a man. He spoke so ardently, struggled so violently to the top, that I came to worship him like a god. He bewitched me, and many other men, with promises of wealth, strength, and riches until we thirsted for better lives. He said he knew the key to the success of the economy, and the path to crown our country as King of the world.
    Our moment in power came suddenly, as an assassin’s blade felled the former ruler. Quickly, my faction took power, and I felt the reality of promised riches.  We had all the money and food any person could want, and more. But I failed to see the dark reality of our regime. Past the gilded splendor of our capital city, farmers pushed harder against their plows, dropped to their knees in starvation. We had not strengthened the economy, we had merely taken and stolen and consumed.
    The man I had once worshipped began to appear a tyrant. The stronger he grew, the greater his appetite for more land, more land. Next he promised us the country directly to the west, promised that God predestined us to take it, because we were kings meant to rule the world. Being a young greedy fool, I agreed.
    Legions of men took up guns alongside me, raised the battle cry, and marched upon the peaceful, mountainous country to the west. When we arrived, we found no roads, no riches, no city, just small, scattered, native villages.  The Tyrant ordered us to take everything. He cared not what small insignificant prizes he won. He wanted nothing more than the world. And of course, we obeyed.
    Along the path to the coast, we destroyed everything. Ate or burned crops, bunked forcibly in farm houses, consumed the wealth and warmth of civilian hearths, and sent stolen money back to the Tyrant so he could live like a king. We ransacked towns, took peasant’s beds when we grew tired, and took advantage of their women. The people never tried to stop us for they feared the guns slung forever over our shoulders. Just as the Tyrant had promised me, I had wealth, power, and anything in the world that could be taken. But with hundreds of miles behind me, I grew weary.
    The Tyrant had sent campaigns into every country on the continent. His strength grew exponentially, and nothing could stop him. I took bullets, and walked on with the metal wedged in my flesh, branded by hell. I took on a limp, grew tough and sinewy. I fought, but I no longer had wealth. I was just another soot-stained soul, eyes hardened against violence. Each battle grew bloodier. I shot without thinking and watched bodies crumple, I massacred entire families while keeping a face as hard as stone. The towns in our wake no longer stood, but slouched and sprawled across beds of rubble, nothing standing but scorched chimneys.
    When we reached the sea, we anticipated victory.  A great cheer rose in our ranks, because we knew the continent belonged to us. But when the cheer echoed away, the world felt just as untamed, and we stood at the edge of an endless sea, and behind us, a labyrinth of crumbled civilizations.
    It quickly became apparent that, although the world belonged to us, we no longer had wealth, and no longer had power. Workaday people camped in the cold, homeless, the economy sat, rotting and stagnant. The Tyrant used up all the resources on the continent during the war. Took everything. Crumbled humanity.
    The end came rapidly then. Our empire, too large to support, imploded upon us. We sucked and sniffed out the last scraps of money from our commoners, but the economy and the conquered nations refused to cooperate. Our force, once so malignant, lost everything when the Tyrant took his last breath through pneumonia-ridden lungs. The man had once been my hero, but when news of his death reached me, I felt nothing but relief.
    The continent no longer belonged to us. I suppose it never had. With my leader dead, I looked back on the past and recognized futility. As a soldier, I had nothing, not even a free will. Only after the war did I realize that I had been a prisoner, not the kind behind bars, but the kind forced to kill. When the Tyrant died, I sat in a crude coastal military camp. Upon learning of the loss of our empire, I stood, grabbed my humble little pack, and simply walked away.
    On the long trek through now hostile country, I passed through one of the towns I had pillaged. The tumbled walls jutted out like teeth, only chimneys remaining erect. The morning light cast silhouettes through smoke from small campfires. Emaciated dogs slunk from one foundation to another, and equally scrawny children crawled from gaping basements to watch me with a level of suspicious wariness beyond their years.
    Around a corner, I caught a glimpse of a woman I recognized. With a pang, I remembered I had taken advantage of her during our raid in a nearby town. I had not forgotten her, because her beauty and resilience had stood out to me. Now she had a fragment of a brown military uniform tied around her head to keep her hair back, and she bent over a rusty metal bowl, rhythmically washing clothes with a baby tied against her back. As I watched her and the son I had forced upon her, I could not remember getting any pleasure from harming her, and wondered why I had done it.
    It occurred to me that the common people were always stronger than the armies that conquered them. The common people woke every day, went about their chores, and never failed to rebuild the empires that leaders trashed. I respected the strength of the nameless woman, for she brought my child safely through the depths of war, carried her burden with dignity, and now stood washing the town’s clothes in the midst of crumbled ruins. For a fleeting moment, I wanted to call out to her, but bit my tongue and decided to leave. Before I could make a move, though, she looked up from her work, and with the greenest, most beautiful eyes I had ever beheld, she leveled her gaze on me. Her face was so hardened and rugged, I blushed in fear and covered my face in shame. Then I, the all-powerful warrior, conquerer of nations, turned and ran away through alleys of my rubble.  In the outskirts of town, children played in and around old military wagons, wearing rusty guns, and hardhats. Our supplies had been reabsorbed by the people, and now would be put to use to rebuild.
    I suppose, if I had been wiser at the start, I would have recognized a pattern: Empires grow heedlessly fast, and stretch their limits to a breaking point. Greed brings the downfall of greed, as all resources get consumed. I know I have no excuse for my actions. I know I will never forgive myself. My only scrap of hope now lies in the people, because I trust them to rebuild this empire, and lay modern foundations where the old ones once stood. As I walk away into the solace of obscurity, I leave the world in their hands.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on January 14, 2011

    Topics: Young Writers' Corner

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