Alive- A Short Story
A bullet whizzed by James as he ran through the forest. The enemy soldiers had finally seen the lone man sprinting between the trees, dodging his way through the foliage as he made his way towards the clearing where they had pinned down an Allied patrol. He did not even flinch as he flew through the trees, willing himself to ignore the whistling iron as it screamed past his head. He could hear his heart pounding in his ears, feel the beats in his chest, as if it were a drum, beating in time with his booted feet.
He glanced behind him for a moment, looking for any sign of pursuers, and he could tell that the handful of enemy soldiers who were chasing him were not as quick as he was. He was a taller man, and he had always been fast. His blonde hair was soaked with sweat beneath his helmet, and a few droplets dripped down his face, stinging in his green eyes. The trees grew denser as he ran onwards, but he did not slow his pace. Time was everything in war, and he knew that the patrol ahead did not have much time. He had to get to them soon, very soon, or they would not have even a chance of survival.
The War to End All Wars. That was what the people were calling this great monstrosity in which the world was so deeply entrenched. Millions had died, and many more wounded. The fighting had been going on for over three years now, although America had only recently become an active member in the war. He had been among the first to sign up, partially out of patriotism, partially as a way to get out of he hellhole that he had lived in for so long. He had been sad to leave his wife, but the job at the bar had not been easy or kind to him. He had leapt at his first chance to get out of there, and the pay for this was great, much better than his old wage as a dishwasher. He had convinced Kate that they would be able to start a family as soon as he got back, and she had finally agreed that he should go. She was about the only thing that he missed from his old life, aside from his dog, Skippy.
Another shot rang out above his head, and he ducked a little lower as he dodged around a tree. He had not seen the men coming from the east. They were much closer than the ones behind him. He hurdled a fallen log, and he heard another bullet thud into the soft wood behind him. They were getting too close. He could hear shots up ahead, and shouts; he was almost there. He had to take out the machine gun; that was what was really holding the patrol where they were. The men had taken refuge within a ravine, but the German patrol had pinned them down and the machine gun was positioned up on a rise on the rim of the small crevice. If he could take out that small turret and distract the guards then the men would be able to fight their way out.
Suddenly, the trees ahead began to thin, and he could make out the edge of the ravine. He scanned the rim for the machine gun, and finally spotted it, on the southern edge. Six guards, all toting rifles, surrounded the weapon. They were all looking down into the ravine, rifles held at the ready. James slowed and began to stay within the trees, hoping that they would not see him. He glanced behind him for any signs of the pursuers, but he could not see them, nor could he hear their footsteps, as he had been able to before. He stopped completely, scanning the woods behind him. Nothing stirred. He did not know if he had lost them; they had been just behind him moments before. He began to feel uneasy.
Suddenly, out to his left, a German soldier stepped from behind a tree, rifle raised and aimed at James. He saw the man’s finger tighten on the trigger, almost as if in slow motion, and as the muzzle flashed and the bullet thudded into his chest, James knew that he would die. The force of the impact knocked him to the ground. The air whooshed out of his lungs, and his head began to spin. The pain was incredible, and he moaned as he tried to move his legs, which would not respond. He could make out footsteps approaching him, and after a moment, the soldier who had shot him appeared in his field of vision, standing over his fallen body. The man looked at him a moment, nodded, and then took off towards the ravine. James tried to call out, but he began to feel blood in his throat, and he coughed, trying to clear his airway. A small spits-worth of blood splattered from his mouth, but for the most part, it did no good. He could feel the piece of metal in his chest, and as he put his hand on the spot where it had penetrated his torso, he felt warm blood gushing out of the wound. He was bleeding out.
He moaned again. A ray of sunlight hit his eyes, breaking through the canopy above him. He did not want to die. He could not die. As much as he hated his life back home, he could not bear to put Kate through this. He just wanted to be able to come home to her, to show her that this was the right decision. He really wanted her to know how much he loved her, how much she meant to him. And here he was, on this battlefield, thousands of miles away from where she was, bleeding out for a war that he really could now care less about. He could not die, not like this. The ray of light was still shining on his face.
He turned his head to the side to get the glare out of his eyes and to hopefully allow the blood to run out of his throat so that he could breathe. As his field of vision shifted, he blinked suddenly. Do you hallucinate when you are about to die? He wondered. There was no way what he was seeing was real. There were three German soldiers running past his body, apparently on their way to help their friends in taking out the patrol that James had been running to rescue. What amazed him, however, was the young girl that they ran past. She looked not a day past ten, all dressed in white, long brown hair blowing in the breeze. The soldiers did not even seem to notice that she was there. The girl smiled at him as she walked towards him, and he knew that she could not be real. There were few towns anywhere near here, and those that did exist had been abandoned as soon as the trenches had been dug and the war had started. He watched in amazement as the girl knelt beside him and gently smoothed his hair. She certainly felt real. He tried to talk as she knelt in the mud, to tell her that she would get her dress dirty, but all that came out of his throat was a gurgling sound.
“Shhhhh,” she whispered, putting a small finger to her lips. She smiled at him. “James, I know that you do not want to die. I can let you live, if you want me to do that for you.” She said it so matter-of-factly that it almost unnerved James. Almost, because her presence soothed him somehow. He had no doubt that what she said was true. As much as he wanted to tell the girl that she needed to get to where it was safe, he felt that she would be alright. After all, who would want to hurt this precious girl anyways?
He tried to nod, to let her do whatever she said that she could do for him. He did want to live, to be able to go home from this and see Kate again, to kiss her, to hold her in his arms. And of course, he would love to see Skippy.
His head began to cloud, and her voice became slurred and soon he could not make out what she was saying. The last thing he heard before he passed out was her sweet, soft voice.
“Then you will live.”
* * * *
James’s eyes fluttered open, and he groaned as he awoke. He did not know where he was. The room he found himself in did not look anything like what he thought heaven was supposed to look like. The tile floor and white walls around him were bare, except for an American flag on the wall to his left. He did not know that God was partial to America.
Suddenly, in through the door walked a thin, young woman carrying a clipboard.
“Mr. Reid, you’ve finally woken up!” She smiled at him as she walked over beside his bed. Her red curly locks of hair bounced when she walked, and it made him smile for some reason. He supposed she reminded him of Kate. She picked up a small cup of water from the nightstand beside his bed and handed it to him. He suddenly realized that he was thirstier than he could ever remember being, and he gulped down the cool liquid as though it were the last cup of water on earth. The drink felt cool running down his throat, and when it was all gone he wished there had been more there. He sighed as he lowered the cup from his lips.
“How long have I been here?” he asked the woman, unsure of his surroundings. “Am I in heaven?”
The young woman laughed. “No, sir, you are in Medical Ward B. You’re back at the town.”
He marveled at her words. He had survived? He tried to go back to what he could last remember. He recalled the chase, the soldier stepping from behind the tree, and then the bullet in the chest, but there was something else that he couldn’t quite remember.
Suddenly it hit him, and he felt his blood run cold. The girl. She had saved him. He felt at his chest where the wound had been, but all he felt was warm, unblemished skin underneath the cotton shirt he was wearing.
“How did they find me?” he managed.
She began writing on the chart she held in her hand. “A patrol was pinned down close to where you were lying, and the men who were sent to rescue them came across your body. It was strange though, you were covered in blood, and your shirt had a bullet hole in it, but you were not wounded at all. You were perfectly healthy, besides being unconscious. “
He lay his head back, amazed at what had happened.
He looked back at the woman. “Did anyone see a little girl?”
She looked up at him, slightly confused. “No one mentioned anything, and you were in the middle of a war zone. I don’t think there were any little girls around.”
He nodded, and smiled to himself. Whoever she was, whether she was his guardian angel or something else entirely, he owed her his life. She had saved him.
He was alive.