An image of a desert contrasted with the orange sunset shivering on the horizon. A Marine ran in a straight-line, raised dust with his feet, trying to get away. Dry. His mouth covered in flakes of dried skin couldn’t take enough air. His radio was punctured, as was his backpack, helmet, and water can. He ran.
The way his boots hit the sand, the clank of his gear attached to his vest, panting; cacophony of these sounds was diminishing while the gunfire noise was amplifying behind him. Around his head, bullets were whistling, passing his left side. A pause, then the shots started buzzing away. The Marine didn’t turn to spot the enemy; he kept running. With shallow breath the soldier ran, weary legs, the pain panged his feet, thighs cramped, his neck ached. He ran.
A careless step brought the Marine to the ground and filled his mouth with dust. Exhausted, he remained prostrate and then got on his knees. With all of his might, he got to his feet and begun running. Struggling to move, he got a few feet away, ignoring the silence. His vision changed. The hills turned black; a thin smoke ran up from his vest, everything coated with a shade of grey. He ran.
After a few more steps, the Marine came to a full stop, his gaze captivated by the stillness of the terrain. He looked back over the shoulder, realizing his legs won’t carry him anymore. Behind the trail of dimples in the sand laid the body of a soldier. White-glowing smears in the shape of desert fighters orbited the carcass. With the last atoms of strength in his legs, the Marine approached the group. Standing above the soldier, he saw the entry wounds, hole in the radio, backpack, helmet, water can, and the one in the chest.
Inaudible noise went by his left and then by the right ear. His eyes played mental games until reality settled in his mind. Too tired to feel anything but pain, his mind couldn’t grasp the situation in full. His facial expression failed to show emotions.
“When did the night fall?” it went through his head like a sharp end of shattered glass. Specters evaporated in the thin air, leaving him alone with the body in the sand. At the first glimpse of the sunset, the Marine spotted a full solar eclipse. “What happened?” another thought flew by; “Is this Hell?” it dawned at him.
A scream reached the heavens from the desert; it didn’t echo, an endless silence suffocating the sound. The Marine began walking back to the settlement, just a few clicks to the north. Upon reaching the dune from where he could see the sandy cubes rising from the ground, he looked at the place entangled in locks of smoke, slowly streaming upwards. Everything that was around him, rocks, bushes, animals shot dead and burnt vehicles, all puffed thin streams of smoke. He ran his hand over it, the thread broke, and a new one instantaneously began oozing up. “Is this Hell?”
He went down the street; white specters roamed from corner to corner, with not a sound to be heard. He tried to touch a soldier-shaped glow, someone who he might have known. The thing remained motionless, oblivious of him standing there. A whisper, or a voice in his head, called for a bird. Others waited in the tallest building, with low-glowing lights in a dark-burn cloud, not enough to count them all. Going up the stairs, his comrades stood like statues, white pillars set in darkness. He called them, screamed while passing from one to another, yet nobody registered his plea. “Is this Hell?”
Crumbled on his knees, whimpering came through his breath while the endless stream rose from his back. Like before, specters evaporated, he didn’t notice when. Alone on the roof of the building, nothing could explain what just happened, nothing seemed logical. He got up and begun walking due west towards the sunset. Solar eclipse, the Moon, and the Sun hadn’t shifted an inch from before as if the celestial bodies were stationary. “Strange,” he thought but kept walking across the desert, never getting closer to another village.
Desperate and confused, he stopped in the middle of nowhere. Dreaded silence was consuming his mind, feeding on his thoughts, erasing his ability to think. Where did the wise go? Is there anybody to explain to him what had happened? Was that body in the desert him? Did he die? Is this Hell? “Somebody, help me!” scream didn’t pass the lips, and if it did, the tone was absent. He could only move his mouth, but not let the voice out. “Is this Hell?”
In his altered vision, a firm shape of a frightened desert fox prancing about the dune took his attention. From the back of his vest, a string of black smoke rose, reaching the sky as if he were bait in deep water, stuck at the bottom of an ocean. The fox laughed; the sound resembling a child’s giggle angered the Marine. Out of breath, out of strength, out of the will to keep going, he kept his rifle down, surveyed the fox from a few feet away. The animal lay on the ground, calm and not interested in the Marine; it looked at the eclipse above.
“This must be Hell.” First coherent thought flashed as the Marine assumed a posture and collected newfound courage to keep walking.
One step after another, the Marine continued west, and the fox followed him at a distance. A grayish landscape full of smoke appearing as ink lingered while the soldier pressed on to the last peak of a dune before a coastline opened before his eyes. He reached the graveled shore where suiting waves full of bubbly foam touched his boots. The fox whimpered from behind, waiting on the Marine. He looked back at the fox and the dune, where the wind covered his tracks as if he never existed.
“This is Hell.” The conclusion came belatedly.
This is the second part of the “Pieces of Hell” saga that I am writing, and as the previous part, this too is an artistic expression without a deeper meaning. I said before that these write-ups are not plot-driven stories and that these parts do not necessarily correlate. These stories are positioned on an emotional level, like fragments of images I got while brainstorming for a story idea. All I had were those mini-scenes that I turned into a writing project.
When speaking of fragmentations, the whole story came for a scene where a soldier walks the desert. I had to develop a context of why this man is in the desert. As you could have read, there is no significant motive for a soldier to be in that place, and I left it hanging. In addition to that, I have not even developed a character, just got him in the situation. Mystery around this specific Marine is present through the end, and we do not find out who he was. His present mission is to establish if he is in Hell or not. The quest our hero undertook is not his original choice, and the journey on its own is what fell into focus.
It is very unusual to create a story about someone walking without giving any context. However, I wanted to do just that, write a story about somebody walking. Having a soldier to do the heavy lifting in this story provided me space to insert question of the hero’s existence. The story would have worked even if I used any other occupation, but since I love military fiction… I took this option.
White-glowing specters and a ghostly plain came from the movie “Kingdom of Heaven” with Orlando Bloom, where he sits on the holy hill and watches at the people. This motif inspired me to present a parallel world reserved for ghosts. It would be too abstract to transform a soldier in a ghostly being because losing his original shape would be confusing for the reader. Instead, I projected the thought of how the ghosts see the living in the form of shivering light that never settles. The light could be seen here as life energy, and if we are speaking about energy, energy does not have a form, and it is not subscribed to a particular shape; therefore, a glistening shadow moving around is a good depiction of what life is in its core.
Black leaches of smoke threading every object is an artistic element I used to add more movements and color into the story. If life is light, death should be the opposite, yet somehow connected. Where is fire, there is smoke, you probably heard of that. Light is energy, fire, and smoke is a product of fire. Smoke, fire, light, darkness, it all has some relations one to another, but it is different enough to break those connections and show them differently.
Lastly, why desert fox? Why having an animal for an embodiment of Kharon, a ferryman from Greek mythos? It seemed proper since eternal knowledge is unachievable. Through our lives, we are in pursuit of knowledge, and we always learn, yet the eternal knowledge, the truth of why we are here, is stored in a safe place. Could it be that the information we are looking for is beyond our power of comprehension? If you want to hide something from the humankind, afterlife could be the perfect vault to use. Fox is a symbol of wisdom, and coincidentally, we can find foxes on every continent. If the Marine was stuck in North America, I could have used a coyote as a spirit animal to aid the fallen soldier cross to the other side. Other continents have different animals, and sure enough, every animal is perceived differently. All I am saying, there are options if I chose to have fun with different scenarios.
All in all, the Marine is not trapped in Hell, but in purgatory and the Hell is an entirely different plain. It still does not negate that this other side of life could be Hell, or a corridor before you enter Hell. The story leaves space for answers only a reader could find.
I hope you liked this part and will be here for the third story out of four that I have planned. After this saga is over, we can talk and find out if I should start writing a novel in a monthly chapter.
Until the next time, take care and bye.
– Shawn –
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