The Sword

“I don’t want to go to the park,” complained Mark. He glared at his mother with all the anger a twelve-year-old could muster. “I don’t know anyone in this stupid town. I want to go home.”

“This is your new home,” she sighed. “The other kids at the park will be your new friends, so you need to go out and meet them. Now, get your jacket on and get out into the car.”

Mark knew he could keep arguing until it was too late to go, but then his mother would be in even worse of a mood. With a defeated sigh, he took as much time as he dared to take his jacket off the moving box, then sauntered out to the car.

During the drive, Mark sat in a sullen silence. His mother gave up on trying to engage him in conversation for the five minutes it took to get to the park. As they pulled into the small lot, she pointed out into the field.

“Look, those boys look like they’re about your age. You should go and play with them.”

Mark gave her the back of her head a dirty look, which he cleaned up before she turned back to them. “They have swords. I don’t have a sword. How can I play with them?”

“I’m sure they’ll share with you if you ask them to.”

Mark looked at her doubtfully but got out of the car anyway. Then he turned to her.

“Aren’t you coming?”

“No, I have to unpack the kitchen so we can have dinner when your father gets home. You’ll be fine here.”

Mark started to object but realized that it was useless. Instead, he turned towards the group of boys, half-hoping that they would ignore him. He waited for the game to slow down a bit, then called out.

“Um…Hi. Guys? What’re you playing?”

One of them waved his sword. “Knights. Duh.”

“Can I join you?”

“Where’s your sword?”

“I don’t have one.”

“A knight without a sword? I know, you can be the princess and we’ll rescue you.”

“I’m a boy. I can’t be a princess.”

“You want to play knights without a sword. You can’t be a knight without a sword. Therefore, you must be the princess.” The boy exaggerated his speech, as though explaining to an idiot. “If you get a sword, maybe you can be a knight.”

Mark thought about this for a moment. “OK. I’ll find a sword.”

Mark looked around and noticed the woods. There should be a few branches there that he could use as swords. He went over and looked around. He found a stick on the ground that was about the right length to be a sword. He picked it up and went back.

“I found a sword.” He held the stick up triumphantly.

The boys laughed. One of them hit the stick with his sword, breaking it. “That’s a stick, not a sword. I know. You must be the court jester. Make us laugh some more, jester.” Mark dropped his stick. The boys laughed some more. “Good boy, jester. Now, you may watch the tournament.”

The boys started swinging their swords again, ignoring Mark completely. He turned back to the woods. Since he couldn’t play with the boys and he wasn’t sure how to get to his new home from here, he decided to explore the woods.

Mark didn’t know much about woods, other than that they had trees, flowers, and maybe some deer. He knew from watching movies that some had bandits, but he didn’t think that there would be any bandits here. But if there were, maybe they would let him join them. Then the boys would have to let him play with them, right?

As Mark wandered the woods, he daydreamed about joining with a group of bandits. They would teach him how to use a bow and arrow. That would be much better than a sword because you can shoot someone who can’t hit you back. He imagined firing arrows while the other boys waved their swords at him. Reality reasserted itself when he tripped on an oddly shaped rock.

Mark picked himself up off the ground. He looked at the rock closer and saw that it looked more like a skull with something sticking out of it. An even closer look and he could barely believe his eyes as he saw a sword sticking out of the top of the skull. He looked back towards the boys in the park. Now, this was a real sword. No way they could stop him from playing now.

He dropped the branch that he was still carrying and grabbed the handle of the sword. It was freezing cold, and rough with pieces of stone. It was also firmly stuck through the skull and into the ground below. He pulled harder, but it wouldn’t move.

Crestfallen, Mark tried shaking it, hoping the side-to-side motion would loosen it. It didn’t. The sword just stayed there, tempting him, looking like a carved piece of rock itself. He stared at it, trying to figure out a way to draw it from the ground.

He tried throwing other rocks at the sword, but they bounced off. Sticks used as levers snapped instead. He had nothing to dig with, and the ground was too rocky anyway. Finally, defeated, he gave up. He walked as straight as he could back to the park, hoping to remember a path to return to the sword.

Mark arrived at the park and noticed that he wasn’t far from where his mother had dropped him off. He looked at the trees and memorized the ones on either side for the path entrance. Then, he went up to the parking lot to wait for his mom. She came back about ten minutes after rhetorical got up there.

“Did you have fun today?” she asked as he got into the car.

“Oh, yes. I want to come here all the time now.”

“Good,” she replied. “Tomorrow we will walk here, so you will know the way.”

Mark smiled and started making plans to retrieve the sword.

Image Credits: Vladimir Krisetskiy.

The Bus Stop

It was the last night of leave, which was always somewhat depressing. John caught a glimpse of his reflection in a window. Although he’d shaved every morning, he had let his hair grow out since he came home. He definitely needed to see the barber before he saw the Sergeant-Major.

He looked up and realised that his wandering had brought him into a bad area. Graffiti covered every surface, including other graffiti. Few windows were intact, and boards covered many more. He noticed a bus stop up ahead, and decided that it was a good time to head home.

He sat on the bus stop bench, trying to ignore the indescribable odours that assaulted him. It was obvious that someone hadn’t bothered to look for a washroom before taking care of business. It wasn’t the worst scent he’d ever smelled, though.

He heard a scream. Rational thought fled. He found himself reaching for a weapon that he wasn’t carrying, looking around for the source of the scream. His heart raced, his muscles tensed for flight or fight. Then, he saw her.

She was sitting on the bench, looking at him with calm black eyes. She was tiny and pale. No, not pale. Pure white. Her skin, her clothes, all pure white. Except for her hair and shoes, which were black as the grave, and her eyes, which were even darker. Then, he noticed blood dripping from the roof of the shelter. It landed on her, and she didn’t flinch. He would have said that she didn’t notice it, except that she smiled with every drip.

John leapt to his feet. As he did, he felt strands of…something touching him. He looked and saw a nearly skeletal figure, kneeling on the ceiling of the shelter as if it was the floor. This creature was as white as the girl but naked. Its eyes glowed, a counterpoint to the girl’s deep black orbs. John jumped back out of the shelter and saw the bodies on top of it.

He gasped as he recognised some of the bodies. People he had seen die. People he had killed. He realised that the girl, too, was one of the many casualties of war. John heard another scream, and only barely recognised it as his own.

Someone was speaking to him, in the calm way you do with someone who could be dangerous. He heard the soothing tone in the voice, then saw that a bus was there. The driver was talking to him, asking if he was OK.

John looked at the bus stop. There were no bodies, no creature, no blood. Not even a little girl. He boarded the bus to return to base and the promise of new horrors to come.

Image Credits: David Sladek.

Failed Execution

Cold sweat runs down my body as I’m strapped to the bed. I thought I’d be able to face this with dignity, but fear has an undeniable grip over me now. The guard says something about it being over soon, but my brain isn’t in the right place to understand his words. The only thing that matters is that IV line, sitting on a surgical steel table. I feel my last meal coming up, but force it back down. Pride. Honour. I need to die with dignity.

Now I see the doctor, standing in my line of sight, blocking my view of the IV. A priest is blessing me, but his voice is just a droning buzz in the background. The doctor, a betrayer of Hippocrates, has his hands on the poison, preparing to break his sacred oath to do no harm. Fuck him.

I feel a sharp pinch as the needle slides into my arm to find a vein. I struggle against it, but the straps are too tight – these guards know their job. Now, everyone leaves my line of sight, leaving me to see my reflection reveal itself in the one-way glass as the curtain opens. I know they’re out there – my false accusers gloating in their victory. My lawyer and family are probably there too unless they’re trying to get me a last-second reprieve. I glance at the telephone, defiantly silent.

The warden asks me for a final statement. “I know that you know who killed her. My family knows it wasn’t me, and so do you. I’ll see you join me in this room.”

The curtain closes so the audience won’t be disturbed by my death spasms, even though I know some of them have seen it before. I hear a click of a button being pressed, then the sound of the pump pushing poison into my arm. I expect to feel the cold of death coming to me.

It doesn’t happen.

There’s a pressure in my arm, the same as every time I’ve received a shot. A little more pressure as more fluid is pumped in. Then, nothing. The doctor comes in, and I look up at him. He quickly leaves the room. He returns with the warden and the priest. They confer in the corner, but I don’t hear their words. One of them – the doctor? – gestures at the curtain, but the other two firmly shake their heads.

After a few minutes of conference, the warden goes to the phone and dials it. Again, I can’t hear the words he’s using, but I can imagine the tone of his conversation. By now, I notice that the curtain is open. What do they think outside?

Finally, the priest comes over to me. “My son, the courts of man have found you guilty of murder, but it appears that the courts of Heaven have granted you clemency.”

The door opens, and two guards come in. They start unstrapping me, but they cuff and shackle me for transportation. I’m helped to my feet – it’s amazing how weak my legs are, almost like they’d given up on the idea of ever walking again. Then I’m marched back to the death-watch cell.

I’ve sat on death row now for two years since my first execution. They tried again, of course, on the theory that something was wrong with the drugs. Then they tried a double execution. The other guy died as normal – I watched his death while they pumped me full of the same drugs. I’ve become a bit of a celebrity since then. Doctors have taken so many samples of me that I’m surprised there’s anything left. Nobody knows why I’m still around.

My lawyers have tried to argue that I should be released since it’s obvious that Someone doesn’t want me dead yet. The judge told him that since I haven’t been miracled out of jail, it’s obvious that I’m meant to be here. Further appeals got nowhere.

I later heard that the investigation into the murders hasn’t restarted, despite my requests. The state has determined that there’s a guilty party – me – and they don’t feel inclined to prove themselves wrong. Well, I guess that I’m just going to rot here in this prison.

I look at the noose that I made from my bedsheets. Hopefully, I’ll die this time.

Orders of Last Resort

Real-world letters of last resort are given to the commanders of nuclear submarines, in case of the loss of national command.  A few years ago, a prompt was made on the Writing Prompts subreddit to make a fictional set of orders.


To: Ship’s Commander

Subj: Last Resort


If you are reading this, national command has failed. As such, this may be the last order you receive from His Majesty and the government. This means that, until you are able to determine otherwise, you are the lawful government of the nation.

If the government has indeed failed, there is no consequence to failure to obey. Therefore, your actions must be guided by your conscience, your knowledge of international law and the Laws of War, and these written guidelines.

If a senior commander of His Majesty’s military is available, you are to report to that commander immediately. As with a fully functioning government, the senior commander is His Majesty’s representative, and his orders are law.

If an allied senior commander is available, contact them. They may have been able to establish communications with His Majesty or his representative. Allied commanders are not His Majesty’s representatives, but they may be his messengers.

A list of allied governments, in order of precedence, was issued prior to your departure from His Majesty’s domains. Seek guidance from the senior existent government. If you are unable to establish a chain of command with His Majesty, you are hereby transferred to the command of the senior government.

If you are unable to establish any form of command, or if you are the senior available officer, you are to prosecute the current action to the best of your ability in order to restore His Majesty’s or his lawful successor to the throne. If you are unable to restore the line of succession, establish a safe haven for His Majesty’s subjects. Use of all available weapon systems is authorised. Rules of Engagement package is unlocked, all ROE are granted.

In trust,
Sir I.M. Boss
Prime Minister to His Majesty

Waking up

He wakes up to the images he can never erase, of men killing and dying under his command. Not yet fully conscious, he gropes to his nightstand, finds the one thing that helps blur the images. One mouthful, he tells himself, knowing that it won’t be.

Through the bottom of the bottle, his room slowly comes into a focus of sorts. His uniform hangs in the closet. It’s the one article of clothing that is always proper. Everyone knows his standing order, that his uniform is always perfect. He looks at the row of medals, each a testament to the men that he has lost. His mind loses its focus again, and he looks around for his bottle.

Empty. How did it get empty already? He only had a mouthful, didn’t he? He opens a drawer, pulls out another bottle, breaks the seal. Just a drop, that’s all he needs, then on with his uniform.

There’s something important happening today. What was it? Another medal? Too many medals already, too many men dead. Don’t need another medal, need another bottle. Don’t want to remember them. Don’t want to forget them. Why do they call? Where’s his drink?

He stands up again. He looks in the mirror. When did his uniform get on? It’s perfect, as usual. He sees a steward behind him in the reflection. Medals shine from both chests. Why did he have the medals? He wasn’t the one who died. Another swallow, for the memory. A voice, just a faint murmur. More medals, right. Would the right people get them?

He can’t give the medals to the deserving. They’re in the ground. He can’t give them their drinks. He raises his drink in a toast to the dead, and the steward takes the empty bottle out of his hand and guides him out to face the living.