This story is by khloi sandidge and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The pencil brushed my thenar space. As it slowly filled the back of the photo, I kept of Debra. It flowed to each side so smoothly like a fish’s tail. Covering up the stains of the memories the image kept, with my grey led.
North Korea July 15, 1951
“Dear wife, my sunshine, the love of my life. If anything shall happen, the thought is saddening. I do not wish to leave, for leaving is never seeing you again. But if I do, heaven is where I wait. If I die, don’t waste your life on grief, get remarried. Have what I was never able to give you. You deserve it. Even if the time we shared was very brief, your smile shouldn’t be either.
Your love, Levi
“Codey take this letter, mail it at the outpost!” I yelled, trying to get his attention. I remembered her ocean blue eyes, my sunshine. My hand outstretched as I reached to give him the letter. “Make sure it gets mailed, it is important.” I kissed it, knowing it could be the last.
A Korean had me at gunpoint. Before I could dodge, his last bullet skimmed the top of my shoulder, leaving me in agonizing pain. It only took seeing his evil eyes to take me back to reality. I yelled, “Everyone, fall back! Find a defensive position!”
The fog was rolling in, leaving the Koreans a significant advantage. Most of us made it to the outpost. But everyone knows not to look back; they’re likely dead. That is the person they have created us to be. But not me. As the squad assisted those in need, I collected as much ammunition as possible.
Lieutenant Bernard wailed. “Levi, what do you think you’re doing?”
He rested his hand on my shoulder. Using his bulky fingers, he turned me around. Barnard’s face glistened with gunpowder and stunned with apprehension. His watery eyes devoured my every thought. He already knew what I would do. “Don’t go.” His lips moved, but nothing came out. He stared at my reflection in the rain puddle beneath me. As if he was afraid to look up.
“Every minute there is another dead American I cannot sit back and let that happen! I shouted.”
“I always knew your energy was boundless when helping others.” Rapidly raising his head, Bernard knew there was no changing my mind. “Good luck country boy.” He chuckled. “Thank you… for everything.”
With that thought, I walked back to the tree where I found shelter. I let the fog consume me. Until in the enemy’s eyes, I was another dead soldier. The branches surrounded me. Giving me cover as if it was filling my horror-filled heart with hope. My eyes fiercely rolled side to side like an eagle finding its prey. The slightest movement I had to execute using a rifle without thinking twice. “Bam, pow, crack, bam,!” The rifle pounds on my wounded shoulder as I shoot enemy soldiers who walked out of the bushes.
The crack made my stomach sick because it meant I took life from this world. “But it wasn’t me that took it, it was the hate they created in me.” “I am sorry, forgive me.” Those words slipped out of my mouth. But there was no one to hear except the fog that surrounds me.
I blew my cover and couldn’t take the chance of staying here. It was life or death, and I couldn’t go down without a fight. My eyes search for a place of cover. Trying to see past the thick fog, there in the distance is a ditch. It is a 50/50% chance Koreans are crouching claiming it before I could. Without thinking further, I run to the nearest tree, then the next. I was working my way to the ditch. Psalms 23:4 floated in my mind. I remembered the tender whisper of my mother’s voice as she repeated to me the Psalm.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death …”
The leaves rustled as I shuffled to the next tree. “Crack,” I fell on my face as a bullet punctured the side of my thigh. Vomit gushed from my mouth, leaving the revolting taste of black earth and the stale crackers. The dirt gritted underneath my teeth as I raised myself. Letting my fingers search through my vest to find and rip my undershirt. I used the stick next to me to make a tourniquet. The blood slowed as the pain increased. The adrenaline flowing through my veins is the only thing keeping me alive.
I thought back to Bernard and what he taught me.
“If you cannot walk, you crawl, if you cannot crawl, you would have to be dead. Life always has a way of moving forward, it’s you that has to keep up with it.”
I pushed myself up again and started to crawl my way to the tree closest to the ditch.
“I will fear no evil, for thou art with me…”
As the feeling faded away, my leg drug behind me and the bleeding impeded.
“thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.”
I arrived behind the tree that separated me from the Koreans that were killing my men. They will kill Bernard if they haven’t already. I reached in my pants and pulled it out. My blood covered the thing that would kill them. I quivered at the thought of what I had to do. But it was necessary to complete my mission.
“Boom!” The ground shook beneath me. As I laid there helpless, hearing the blasts of land mines and machine guns. The cries of people dying and injured made my heart drop, knowing I couldn’t help them. A Korean soldier stood in front of me, looking into my eyes as if deciding what to do. I could feel myself dying when I felt the cold press of the barrel on my bare chest. I watched a tear streak from his eye.
I whispered, “Debra, you are my sunshine.”