The Soldier

📅 Published on August 27, 2021

“The Soldier”

Written by J.C. Fields
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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Mind-numbing white light from simultaneous shell bursts scattered the men, some dead before they hit the ground others screaming for a medic.  The soldier flinched and involuntarily turned his head away, using his hands to shield his eyes. Beneath him, the earth rumbled and shook. More men appeared beside him running toward the source of the unrelenting volley of enemy bullets. An explosion above them rained forest debris down on those beneath. Unsteady, he glanced to his left to see a fellow GI’s chest explode, raining blood and tissue on anyone near him.

Vertigo rocked his senses as he tried to get a grip on place and time. He fell facedown onto the snow-covered, leaf-strewn forest floor. The clatter of tanks, human screams and orders shouted in panic overwhelmed him. All around, the chaos of mechanized warfare bombarded his senses. Flashes, followed by the cracks of bullets on their way to unseen targets created a violent thunderstorm in what otherwise would be a quiet woodland.

Run, his mind screamed. Despite the cold, sweat stung his eyes. Wiping his forehead with his sleeve, it came back smeared in dirt and other men’s blood. Survival instincts took over as bullets whizzed by over his head.


A glance behind and another ahead overwhelmed him with indecision. Do something, this will get you killed. The shouts of his fellow soldiers intensified as more men succumbed to the withering barrage of bullets. He decided to escape in the direction from which he’d come.


He couldn’t. The soldier drew an unsteady breath. The only thing stronger than a need for self-preservation remained his fear of being called a coward by his fellow soldiers. As men raced past him toward the chaos, he rose to his knees, bloody knuckles pressing into the dirty and leaf-littered snow. Finally, he pushed himself to a standing position. Off to the left, a large tree offered a temporary hiding place to check himself for injuries. He slipped beneath the wide branches and patted down his body. No significant wounds.

Every explosion in the nearby forest shuddered the ground beneath him. He pressed his back into the mighty oak, but found no reassurance. He shut his eyes tight as bullets struck nearby trees creating geysers of loosened tree bark to sting his exposed skin. Clamping his palms over his ears, he gasped for a breath. The tightness in his stomach intensified as he could still hear the cries of dying men calling for their mothers.

“Franklin, get your ass going, this isn’t break time.”

The voice of his squad’s master sergeant on his right, snapped him out of his paralysis. He stepped beyond the safety of the tree just as he heard a muffled grunt. The master sergeant fell to the ground next to him a gaping hole in the man’s chest and lifeless eyes pointed toward the sky.

Dusk descended over the woods, which added a surreal quality to his surroundings.

Desperation for survival prevailed over his worry of being considered a coward. He picked up his rifle with both hands and ran from the carnage.

Navigating through the growing darkness and trying to avoid stumbling over bodies made for slow going. Finally, he broke out of a tree line. He stopped at the edge of the dirt path, looked both ways for the enemy then glanced at the sky where the moon glowed through a thin layer of clouds. He crossed the narrow opening into another canopy of trees. Relief settled over him when he saw other men, just like himself, fleeing the battle. An unknown force pushed him forward. He stumbled. Searing pain traveled up his spine. He fell to the snow-covered ground. Breathing grew difficult and a calmness swept over him. Finally, he lay still.

* * * * * *

He stood in a kaleidoscope of swirling colors. Within the lights, he heard voices beckoning him to approach the brightness. His long-dead mother called his name and he felt her hand on his cheek. Scenes from his childhood flashed past as he walked toward the center of the brilliance. He gasped with the next vision. His girlfriend offering her unclothed body to him on the night prior to leaving for boot camp. He watched as a door closed. The bright colors ceased and cold engulfed him once again. His heart skipped a beat when he witnessed the events of that fateful night in Chicago. His final image before total darkness overtook him, was the gangplank on the ship he would board for the journey to the battlefields of Europe.

* * * * * *

Struggling to regain awareness, he remembered the date to be December 16, 1944. The location he and other members of the 9th Infantry Regiment were assigned by Allied Command, was the Ardennes region of northeastern France. History would record this date as the start of the infamous Battle of the Bulge.

Drifting in and out of consciousness, he lay in the snow succumbing to a feeling of ultimate peace. Against his wishes, he awoke. Silence dominated his surroundings. He rose to his knees as cold stiffened joints quickly turned the effort into a painful ordeal. Challenged by the agony, he struggled to stand. The butt of his M1 Garand lay close by. When he reached for it, pain seared through his body. Slowly the agony subsided and he used the rifle to push himself erect and surveyed his surroundings. Except for unmoving bodies posed in grotesque statues of death, he stood alone. The snow-covered forest floor, crimson with the frozen blood of dozens of his fallen brethren, met his gaze.

The vertigo returned. Trembling, he reached into his front pocket for his compass, but found the glass cracked and the needle clattering around inside the small container. With a curse, he flicked the useless object into the brush.

Orienting himself, he looked to the sky to find a grey overcast so thick the globe of the sun remained hidden. He knew the north-to-south path he crossed earlier lay behind him. So, he turned to what he guessed to be west and set off to find other soldiers and an aid station.

Thirty minutes into his trek, he reached behind for his canteen, only to find a huge hole. Tipping the container up, not even a drop of water remained. After taking a deep breath, he let it out slowly and stood still for a moment. Studying the terrain, he listened for distant sounds of men or tools of war. Silence. Even the sound of birds and animals was missing.

Putting one foot forward, he started to walk. After navigating the woodland for hours, he could not tell if he was making progress or just walking in circles. Several times he thought he recognized a fallen, burned oak he’d passed earlier. The sensation unnerved him.

As dusk approached, he determined maneuvering through the thick timberland at night would be a fool’s errand. He stopped to gather leaves and a few pieces of dry wood, no easy task as much of the surroundings were covered with snow. Eventually, his hard work paid off when the pile of wood and leaves flared. Satisfied with his efforts, he watched the flames grow. With the fire established, he used his mess kit to melt snow for drinking water. No matter how much melted snow he drank, his thirst would not subside.

Time passed slowly as the only discernable light emanated from the flames. The snap of a twig nearby brought him to full alert. He grabbed his rifle and pointed it in the sound’s direction. “Who’s there?”

“Can ya spare a wee bit of warmth with a fellow?”

Standing, the soldier kept his weapon trained in the direction of the voice. “Come into the light, slowly. Show me your hands.”

The firelight flickered on something to the soldier’s right. Pointing the gun in the direction of the object and voice, the shadow materialized into a man as it grew closer. The glow revealed a guy dressed in a mud-caked khaki uniform with leggings, a Brodie helmet and an Enfield rifle in one hand.

The man said, “I didn’t mean to alarm ya, laddie.”

“I’ve heard that accent before, South Side Chicago. You’re Irish, aren’t you?”

“Aye. You’re a doughboy, right?”

“Haven’t heard the term for a while, but yeah. That’s a strange uniform you’re wearing.”

The man shrugged. “Only one I’ve got.”

“Sit, rest for a while.”

“I believe I will. Thanks.”

The soldier said, “I’m with the ninth infantry.”

“Seventy-seventh Division, First Battalion for me.”

“Wish I had food to offer.”

The Irishman tilted his head. “Aye, I know what you mean.” He paused and gazed at the fire for a few minutes. “How long ya been out here?”

“Yesterday afternoon. We fell under attack and I got separated from my unit. I’ve been out here all night and day, lost. Yourself?”

The newcomer didn’t answer right away. “Yesterday, huh?”


“You mentioned Chicago, that where you’re from?”

The soldier smiled. “The name’s Franklin.”

“I’m from Dublin, myself. O’Reilly’s mine.”

“Nice to meet you, O’Reilly. I’ve never been to Dublin.”

“Nor I Chicago.”

“You haven’t missed anything.” The soldier kept his attention on the fire and placed a few more large tree limbs onto the flames. “I can’t seem to get warm.”

“It’s winter in France, laddie. No one can.” He poked at the blaze with a stick. Sparks scattered and glowed with the disturbance. The Irishman looked at his companion. “Good fire. Thanks for sharing.”

“You’re welcome.” He paused. “What’s Dublin like?”

The Irishman smiled. “Warmer than here.”

Franklin shivered. “Why is it so damn cold?” He paused as he concentrated on the flames. Finally, he asked, “Have you looked for your unit?”

“Yes, but I’m sure they pulled out a long time ago.”

“You can hook up with mine as soon as I find them?” The soldier frowned as he observed the Irishman. He said, “You don’t have an overcoat.”

A shrug answered the question. He held his hands closer to the fire and then studied the soldier. “Have you seen much combat?”

“No, this is my first.” He paused. “I’ve seen death up close before, but nothing like I saw yesterday.” He took a deep breath, avoiding the Irishman’s eyes as he let it out.

O’Reilly did not respond except to stare at the flames.

The two men remained silent for an extended length of time as the glow and the crackling flames seemed to be their only connection to the world. His thoughts drifted back to one night in Chicago. Finally, the soldier said, “Chicago can be a rough place.”

“Aye, so can Dublin.”

“Yeah, I can imagine.” He looked at his companion. “Can I tell you something?”

“Not a priest.”

“I know that. But I need to tell someone.”

“Go ahead. I might not listen.”

“That’s okay.”

The Irishman concentrated his attention on the flames.

Franklin said, “I got into a little trouble one night on the docks of Lake Michigan. You see, I used to work for a man who owned several bars in downtown Chicago. One night he sent me and another guy down there to pick up a load of bootleg booze from Canada. It seems he still had his contacts from prohibition and a way to increase his profits by buying untaxed whiskey.”

Turning his attention to the soldier, the Irishman’s expression stayed neutral.

“Anyway, a couple of cops interrupted us.” Wiping his mouth with his coat sleeve, the soldier continued. “Damn it’s cold!”

A nod came from O’Reilly.

“The cops wanted to cut a deal, you know, let us go and keep the booze. They said they’d look the other way while we got the hell out of there. When I said no, they tried to arrest us.” Taking a deep breath, Franklin looked toward the cloud laden sky. “I shot both of them and slipped their bodies into the water. I joined the army the next day and left for boot camp a week later.

“That explains why you are here.”

“What do you mean?”

“When you told me, you hadn’t seen much combat, I wondered why you were here.”

“I’m not following you.”

“Do you believe in Heaven and Hell, my American friend?”

He shrugged.

“The fire doesn’t warm you, does it?” O’Reilly asked.

“No, it doesn’t.”

“And you’re hungry, right?”



The soldier nodded.

“You probably melted snow to drink, didn’t you?”

Another nod.

“Afterward you were still thirsty.”


“My friend from Chicago, you are in Hell.”

The soldier blinked rapidly. “What do you mean I’m in hell? You’re joking, right?”

O’Reilly smiled, “Am I? Think about it. You’ve been wandering around the forest for over a day looking for a road and can’t find it. You see a tree you recognize or a funny shaped rock you seem to remember. You walk in a straight line and still can’t find your way out of the trees. Am I right?”

“I got lost.”

“No, you didn’t.” He paused. “Get used to it. I’ve been wandering around this forest since 1918. I can’t find my way out. And neither will you.”

“Hell is supposed to be hot.”

“Who said so, your priest?”

The soldier frowned, “I’m not Catholic.”

“Doesn’t matter, hell is what torments us the most. I used to catch small rodents and roast them. It didn’t ease my hunger, so I quit trying. I can drink water all day and I’m still thirsty. I can sit by a fire like the one you made, and still shiver. We are doomed to walk this forest in the middle of winter for eternity.”

For a long time, the soldier studied the man who claimed to be from 1918. “I don’t believe you.” His trust in those words not as confident as before.

With a shrug, O’Reilly started to stand, but stopped and returned to the ground. “Makes no difference if you believe me or not. You’re in Hell, my friend.”

The soldier smirked and asked in disbelief, “Are there others like you?”

“Thousands, I see them wandering around at night. However, you’re the first one I’ve been able to have a conversation with.”

“You’re crazy.”

“Am I? Think about it Franklin. Where are the sounds of war? It’s happening all around us and we can’t hear it or see it. We’re not part of it anymore.”

Franklin’s eyes widened. He wiped his mouth with his hand, the lips felt cold. Studying the Irishman, he said, “This can’t be happening.”

“Oh, but it is.”

“I can’t be dead, I never got shot?”

“The only bullets you hear are the ones that miss you.”

“Stop it.” He placed his palms over his ears and stared at the man sitting on the other side of the fire.

“I didn’t hear the bullet that got me either.” He pointed to his head. “Got it right below me helmet.”

“How come I don’t see the others you mentioned.”

“You will, but they won’t talk to you.”

“You mean I’ll be alone?”

“Yes.” O’Reilly stood and started to turn.

“How come you’re talking to me?”

“Not sure, I saw your fire and thought I’d try.” He paused. “Maybe I’m being offered a form of clemency. If I show some kindness to you by explaining what’s going on, I might get out of here at some point in the future.  After I died, no one told me. I had to figure it out on my own.”

The soldier got to his feet. “Wait, I don’t want to be alone.”

“I get the feeling my time is limited to talk to you.”

“This can’t be true. I don’t feel dead.”

The Irishman chuckled. “How is dead supposed to feel, Franklin?”

“I don’t…”

“No, none of us know how death feels. Until we experience it.” He turned again to leave.

“Why are you here?”

The Irishman looked back at him. “I executed three German infantry men after they were taken prisoners.”


“No reason, other than they were German and no one was around to see me do it.”

Still not believing the man, he reached to stop him from leaving. His hand passed through the Irishman’s shoulder.

O’Reilly gave the soldier a sad smile. “See, I wasn’t lying to you.”

While Franklin searched for words, he watched the figure disappear into the night. For several moments he listened for sounds around him. Silence. No birds chirped or creatures scurried through the leaves. Only silence. He looked skyward. Clouds raced past a full moon. A tear leaked from his eye and down his cheek. He stood still, for how long he did not know. A mist formed as the fire flickered out.

By the light of the moon, another figure approached his position at a slow walk. Thinking it might be the return of O’Reilly, he stepped away from the tree and watched the form approach. The clothes were wrong, the Irishman had not returned. The figure wore a German uniform. Franklin raised his rifle and shouted, “Stop.”

The man ignored him and continued walking. Positioning himself in front of the oncoming soldier, Franklin shouted again. “Stop, or I’ll shoot.”

The figure did not stop or slow, finally it passed through him. The only thing Franklin felt was a cold breeze as he watched the specter disappear into the darkness.

Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by J.C. Fields
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: J.C. Fields

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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