“Time Soldier” – first published story

Photo courtesy of Suat Eman

Below is the entire version of my only published work to date (errors and all). It appeared in the Fall 1991 edition of “Philae,” a tiny literary journal based in Colorado. The story is short, about 1500 words or three single spaced pages.

Content explanation: This is an early attempt at contemporary fantasy/time travel. If the core story concept holds interest, I have considered expanding this into a novel at some point. So, your feedback on the story idea or concept is very welcome.

Time Soldier by Mark Taylor

The man in the olive drab army jacket awoke in a daze. He sat up and looked around suspiciously. He was in a small park near a line of rusted railroad tracks. A slight breeze barely moved his dusty, unkempt hair. He looked down at this chest and thoughtfully watched the flow of blood slow to a trickle. In an instant, his life’s liquid dried and the hole in his chest sealed itself up like punctured bread dough. What was left was an odd numb sensation.

He heard voices and saw some college kids tossing a frisbee and laughing. Didn’t they know?, he thought. Of course not. They never knew. They never even suspected.

He stood up slowly and wiped the dirt and leaves from his uniform with absent swipes of his calloused and grimy hands. His thoughts went back to where he was before he had passed out.

War. With M-16 rifle in hand and body in a foxhole, he waited. There was always waiting. He remembered the thunder of artillery fire and the hail of mortar shells all around him. He couldn’t recall who they were fighting, or whose side he was on. He just knew he was scared. A cold, mind-numbing terror.

“Hey, hey you, toss us the frisbee will you?” Somewhere outside his head, a voice called out. He ignored it. Now he heard his sergeant and saw his face as clearly as if holding a photograph. The sergeant with the scar that stretched from his left ear to the corner of his mouth stood in front of him. He was close enough to see perspiration running along the ridge of that hideous scar.

“We got no room for pussies in the army. You listening to me, private? I have a feeling you’re going to be a private for a hell of a long time.” How right he was. “Now get yer thumb out of yer mouth and fight like a man.”

The soldier closed his eyes and wept silently.

“Hey, army dude, are you deaf? Throw us the frisbee.” An insistent voice said, closer.

This is my last chance, he thought. The last war this world will ever face started in a few hours, and he had to fight in it. He had fought in every war since the American revolution. He was a coward and a deserter even then. But, they found him. They always found him. That was when he met Luke. Luke was to supervise his “rehabilitation,” and through some incomprehensible power, Luke cursed him to fight in every war until the last. This would be the last. The world would go up in nuclear ashes.

He had only a vague recollection of past wars. Mostly just images and sensations of déjà vu and neverending fear. He had no idea what happened to him between wars, but he hadn’t aged physically. He was still a lanky 21 year-old with ratty brown hair and the shadow of a beard on his sunken cheeks. He didn’t care to wonder why he always survived to fight again. He only knew that he would be free from the curse if he displayed some form of unselfish bravery.

He blinked and his eyes focused on a well-built kid wearing a blue fraternity sweatshirt with yellow letters picking up a white frisbee not five feet from where he stood.

“What’s your problem? Are you some kind of whacked out Vietnam vet?”

The soldier just stared past him into the creamy blue sky.

“Hey, I’m talking to you, punk.” The college boy took a step forward. The soldier flicked his eyes to the figure in front of him and spoke.

“What is the year?”

“What? Where have you been? It’s 1992. What year did you think it was?” He smiled absurdly.

“I don’t know.”

“Sheesh, man, you’re whacked out.” He turned to walk off.

“Are you prepared to die?” The soldier said with such melancholy and surety that the college boy turned around.

“What?”

“I said, ‘Are you ready for the last great war?'”

“Now you’re talkin’ crazy, man.” He said as he clenched his fists. A pretty girl in blue and gold sweats jogged up and eyed the stranger sympathetically.

“What’s going on, Todd?”

“This lunatic is mouthin’ about some war and everybody dying.”

The soldier looked down at his feet long enough to cause the others to fidget impatiently. When he looked up a tear welled up in his right eye. When it broke loose, it cascaded down his scruffy cheek, carved a trail in the dirt and disappeared in the stubble. He met the girl’s gaze. “It is true. You must prepare. We haven’t but a few hours before the whole world goes up in flames like the sun itself.”

“Are you okay?” She said sweetly. “You look hurt.”

The soldier felt something inside that made him forget for an instant his torment. He tried to smile, but it had been too long. Instead, he looked into the pretty girl’s eyes and was mesmerized by the life and light they possessed.

“You better keep those crazy ideas to yourself, army dude, or they’ll lock you up like a stray dog. Let’s go, Amanda.”

“But Todd, he’s hurt—” she started, but was cut off when the college boy grabbed her arm and led her away. He was laughing and mocking him just like people always did. Their clothes were slightly different and their dialects were varied, but their disbelief was always the same. They thought America too powerful to be harmed. Too late to warn them. That would be a waste of time. But the girl, Amanda, had a shine of hope and a love of life in her expressions. Too bad it would never be realized by her college boy.

He sighed deeply and painfully and trudged across the grass to the lavatories. He washed his face and hands and thought back to his first war.

The colonies had been victorious when Cornwallis surrendered in Yorktown in the fall of 1781. Washington was praised and the colonists were ecstatic, but one young soldier wept bitterly as a man known only as Luke pronounced an inhuman curse upon his head. Luke held pity in his eyes, but his judgement was swift and the young soldier’s damnation complete.

“You’ll benefit far greater from quick reform than from drawn out lamentation, my friend.” He had said like a disappointed father. How utter his punishment had been. Dozens of wars later, he was still a ‘whiteliver’. His self-deprecation had become more and more pronounced until he had become a shell of a man. He was filled with an empty regret that had eaten up his mind like acid and left nothing but the base instinct of survival and desperation.

Luke would come soon, he thought as he left the washroom and looked out beyond the railroad. He watched intently as a form in the distance moved toward him. As it approached, he could make out the unmistakable features of an old man in a gray robe walking laboriously with a withered staff for support. The soldier waited until Luke came up to him.

“Greetings, young one, the time has come.”

“I know, Luke.”

“And are you ready to free yourself? I can hear the wailing of your imprisoned soul. It pains me deeply.”

“Not nearly as much as it pains me.”

“Yes, yes. You know the consequences of failure on this your last chance, do you not?”

“I do. I’ll be banished to the dawn of time and must repeat the cycle from the first war to this, the last.”

“There will be no relief from your suffering. You cannot die. This you know.”

“I understand. And if I succeed?”

“Hello, what have we here? You have never queried about that before. What stroke of fate have we witnessed?”

“What if I succeed, Luke?” The soldier was amazed at his own insistence.

“You may go back home, to the place and time where we first met.”

“May I take someone with me?” He felt his bitterness and despair fall away like dead leaves and in its place the buds of faith began to sprout.

“What happened to you, my young friend? You look as if you’ve been smitten by Cupid’s arrows.”

“I’m not sure about that. But for the first time in ages, I have forgotten about my self. And it felt edifying. Am I going mad?”

“No my friend, you are perfectly sane. There is truly hope for you yet.”

“May I take her if I overcome my cowardice?”

“I have a feeling that you may do just that.”

“Thank you, Luke. Now, if you’ll pardon me I have a girl to save and a bomb shelter to find.

The old man smiled broadly and watched the young soldier sprint across the park and out of sight. He will not only save someone else, but he will save his own soul.

He’ll be home in no time.

The End

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4 responses to ““Time Soldier” – first published story

  • Nate

    Cool story, Mark. I was hooked from the beginning. I was pretty into it, but then it seemed to end abruptly. Also, I didn’t really believe that after centuries of cowardice, one short encounter with a pretty face could change this guy into a brave hero. I’m sure if the story had been longer you could have developed all that more.

    • Nate

      You should definitely keep writing…

    • MJT

      Yes, this story was written to submit to several magazines that had limited word counts, so that was my constraint. And yes, the character motivation for change is weaker than I’d like. Fortunately, I’ve learned a few things about writing since 1991.

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