Young Writers Society

Home » Literary works » Short Story » Realistic

Learning to Live

by mckinleysa21

The lightning crackled overhead, momentarily illuminating the coal black sky. This darkness in which we resided had lingered eerily in the sky for years now. No sun, no light, we used the faint glimpses of moonlight to find our way. The lightning roared on and on as the sheets of rain continued to fall. We had been living in this hell for what seemed an eternity.

With no explanation in sight for the weather, we had only God to turn to. Daily, I prayed, hoping for a clearing of the skies. I waited and waited, but God did not deliver. Perhaps He was busy, plotting some other great miracle, but as time went on I began to grow impatient. I had questioned religion before, but never this bad. I could only hope that He would return, and all would be well.

Several days ago, my house was torn to shreds by the weather. The lightning struck and singed my home, and it was soon rendered useless. I departed on foot, bearing only the essentials. My trip so far was going surprisingly well, but I knew soon that would change. My supplies were running low, and I grew weaker and weaker. I was headed towards the only sanctuary I knew. Standing in the middle of Factor Fields, seated right next to the Citadel, was the Church. I figured if God didn’t want to come to me, then I would go to Him.

I was headed there to find salvation. I hoped God would forgive me for my sins. The fortunes of war, the disbelief in God, I had done my fair share of sin. Five years ago, I was in the war. Then, it all felt so necessary and right, but now I wasn’t so sure. I left the war and went homeward. Returning, I thought about myself in disgust. I came to the war a strong and resilient young man, and left, weakened and in a state of paranoia. I’ve seen bloodshed, I’ve killed men, but I have a phobia that someone, or something is always near. This fear of the dark begs to ask the question of whether or not I’m sane anymore. I wished so badly for this fear to go away, but it seemed as though it was here to stay.

As I ventured further in the night, the lightning and rain continued. I stayed under the cover of trees, but the rain still poured rapidly onto me. The rain, matching the drab mood, was here to stay. A strong sense of hopelessness washed over me, and reality sunk in. I’m all alone, I sadly thought to myself. I was mentally approaching the edge of darkness, and I needed some escape. I decided ultimately to push these thoughts away, and that I needed some rest.

I found a covered spot underneath a tree. Cowering under, the rain continued to fall. I tried my best to get comfortable, but there was no use. Sitting there for what felt like hours, I eventually plunged headfirst into my inner thoughts…

I’m a criminal. It isn’t visible, but blood covers my hands. The aftermath of this hellish crime permeates through my mind. I try my best to push these negative thoughts away, but they always return. I don’t want to live life in constant fear and shame, but it’s either that or I get over it. The latter seemed impossible right now. I laughed weakly at this. During the fights, I often asked myself, After the war, what does a soldier become? I now knew. A soldier becomes half of the man he used to be. His mind is clouded with nothing but fear, pain, and remorse for his actions. He is no longer whole, but merely a shell of once was. I am a heartless monster, just a man on the edge. All of my life, I have believed, that the judgement of heaven is waiting for me. I hope my visit to the church ends these cruel thoughts. I can’t bear to live with myself anymore. I need some release to make me feel whole again. I want forgiveness, but I don’t know if God will grant it. I can only pray that he accepts me for who I am.

The rain loosened when I awoke. The lightning vanished, and I was thankful for the cover the tree provided me. The sky however still remained dark. I got up, struggling against the weight of my soaked jacket. I took the jacket off and wrung it out, the water adding to the puddle. I bent over to pick up my belongings, when I saw myself in the puddle. Sullen and pale-faced, I was horrified. My appearance was undesirable. What have I become? I thought to myself, but could find no answer. I had no friends, no family or will to live, and yet, I still found a way to carry on. This desire to drive pain and fear entirely out of my life must be it. I still hope happiness is out there waiting for me. My thoughts were quickly cut when I realized the rain had slowed. A faint mist still fell, but for the most part the rain had gone. I was confused, but nonetheless thankful. It seems like years since it’s been clear. The sky still held no sun, but there were dim bits of light present throughout. I came back to reality, and left, leaving the forest behind me.

The alluvial ground lay untouched. The only thing squishing through the boggy dirt were my feet. The thick mud caked my shoes, making me think about the ground that I had killed men on...

Those days were overcast, the ground was always damp and moist, the lightest of steps penetrating through. There were waves of rain that poured through, providing the ground a day's worth. I was dressed in my standard uniform, clutching my gun but not intending to use it. The enemy troops approached, and I cowered in the corner behind my fellow comrades. They all looked at me, laughing and grinning stupidly. They called me names because I didn’t want to kill anyone. It sickened me knowing that they were perfectly okay with just shooting anyone. I sat there and tried to find a way to justify this, try and see the humanity of it, but could see none. We left where we were stationed, and prepared for battle. I stayed in the rear, watching my fellow soldiers shoot and kill every enemy in sight. I hid behind a pile of ammo, hoping and praying for it all to end. My gun clattered to the ground as the gunshots grew louder and louder. I scrambled around and picked it up. An enemy turned the corner, and we locked eyes. For being so afraid to shoot strangers, it was easier than I thought. The man I had just shot fell limply to the ground in front of me. I turned away to avoid looking, but I had already seen everything. His neck oozed blood, his eyes staring straight at me as if he were in a trance. His head eventually dipped back, and he lost consciousness.

“I’m sorry God. I’m so sorry.” I repeated this for what seemed an eternity, but it failed to alleviate my guilt. With barely any time to think, I cleared my mind momentarily. Enemies were coming, and I had to act. I shot dead three more men, that same sickness in my stomach remaining.

We had won the battle, but at what cost? I had shot and killed men who were just like myself. This sense of terror radiated all throughout. I was sad, and scared and soon fled, deserting my fellow troops. I felt like a coward, but I could not go on.

I had dreamed of being so much more than what I became. In my youth, I didn’t expect that by my twenties I would have killed another human being. I am mentally in my own world, ignoring my actions. I’ve become so used to these ideas, that they seem a reality now. But I must forgive myself, for how can God forgive me if I can’t?

The ground was getting softer, my feet were sinking in further than before. The rain had picked up once more, darkening the sky. Waves of ice cold water showered down, chilling me. My jacket on tight, the water bounced off, splashing up onto my face. My hair fell down upon my eyes, temporarily blurring my vision. I ventured onward at a slow pace, the ground seemingly pulling me down. A great tug was forced upon my leg, and I nearly fell over. Wind began to pick up, and I was freezing. I stomped the ground with each step, hoping for an end. The rain showed no signs of slowing however; in fact, quite the opposite. It’s pace quickened, torrential downpouring, washing everything in sight. Giant heaps of mud kicked up behind me with each step, my legs were growing weak. I fought through the pain, hoping for some clearance.

Up ahead, through the weather’s shroud, I saw beams of light. The light was copious, emerging from a lonely cabin. I felt, for the first time in weeks, this was a sure miracle. The rain still poured, and the wind wildly whipped my hair around, but I no longer cared. I was hopefully finding a place to stay, finding a way to deal with myself, and learning to live.

I approached the door, using the copper knocker I heard a voice yell out.

“Who’s there?” The voice sounded menacing.

“My name is Moore, James Moore.” I replied hastily as the door swung open. Greeting me coldly with a stern face, was a man who appeared to be in his mid forties. His face was gouged with scars, some still bleeding. He opened the door a bit more, and asked me what I wanted, sounding much more angrier.

“I need a place to recoup myself,” I said, pleading as he shook his head, “Please sir, you’re my only hope.” He grunted and swung the door open the whole way. Stepping aside for me to pass, I cautiously entered his home.

Broken shards of glass littered the floor; the windows had been smashed in by the weather. The man slammed the door behind me, locking it firmly. He stared at me for a little before finally speaking.

“Why were you out there all alone?” He asked. I fumbled around for some excuse, some alternative reason, but ultimately told him the truth.

“ I can’t live with myself anymore. I was in the war, and the horrors I faced still haunt me to this day. I need a saving grace, I need God to forgive my sins. I set out to get to the church in Factor Fields.” There was an awkward pause after this. The stranger gently poked at a fire, encouraging the flames to keep on burning. He eventually paused, and looked at me once more.

“You set out in that weather, just to find God?”

His words struck me. I had never thought about it that way. I wanted to find salvation, but in some sick sort of way. All of this time, I thought God was the only answer. I have ignored the truth. I need to find closure mentally. For years, I had chained these feelings of hatred towards myself. They laid dormant, growing hungrily by the year. Years passed, and I think it’s finally time to set them free. Unchain them, and never let them come back. I responded to the man after a break, not finding the proper response, I simply blurted out:

“Yes.” His facial expression changed from a look of confusion to a look of awe.

“I have never, in my life, met someone so devoted. But James, you don’t need God to forgive yourself. You need to find closure inside your mind. That closure is there, you just have to find it. You don’t need a church, you don’t even need a prayer, you just need some healing.”

As I sat there, I didn’t quite know what to believe. I had been hoping to reach the church to cleanse myself of this pain. I desperately didn’t want to listen to the man, but I couldn’t help but wonder… what if he was right?

We chatted a bit more, and then parted ways. The more I thought about my struggles, the more relief I earned back. I don’t have to keep these thoughts chained up, I can free myself at last from this mental prison. For so many years, I thought that God was the answer, and while yes, he may be good, I can be content with myself. This journey, while on the surface seemed pointless, introduced me to a wider sense of thinking. I don’t need to be ashamed for what I’ve done, but instead, I can heal and move on. I’ve disbanded my hatred for myself. My moment of catharsis has opened my mind and I am so thankful.

I set off for Factor Fields, not for the church, but for the endless amounts of possibilities there. I can be whoever I want to be, I don’t have to view myself as a war criminal. The road ahead looked barren, but the skies lit up and the sun came into view. Shining there, bright and beautiful, the world was warm again. I walked, but I didn’t mind. I was ecstatic for the future. I had learned to live, now I must start living.

Note: You are not logged in, but you can still leave a comment or review. Before it shows up, a moderator will need to approve your comment (this is only a safeguard against spambots). Leave your email if you would like to be notified when your message is approved.

Is this a review?



Random avatar

Points: 274
Reviews: 3

Sat Nov 21, 2020 3:36 am
View Likes
Lov_lyFicti_n22 wrote a review...

I find this to be quite close to me. I can relate to having to learn to let go and live. I feel unsure about the detail of the weather and the darkness. I felt as though it would have a bit more importance to the story overall. I figured the weather would shift upon his realization that he needed his own forgiveness for his sins to truly be free. Yet, the weather felt more like a story in its own that could be told. I feel you could've used the weather more to show the impact on him and the man rather than a brief description of the scars on the mans face and the state of the houses. I feel it was a plot device that could have a broader use than you gave it.
That is really my only critique. The descriptions used really drew me in and flashes to his past in the war really captivated me. I love your writing style!

When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.
— Abraham Heschel