One Soldier's Reason | Audio
By Terry Light
Terry Light's stories have been accepted by ShortStory.me, Sonar4, Golden Visions, Bewildering Stories, and Orion's Child. His website is LloydDistrict.com. He worked in a cemetery, as a paperboy, grocery bagger, and medical supply warehouseman. He repaired library books, worked in audio and video, sold magazines door-to-door, rolled doughnuts, manufactured telephone cable, managed restaurants in a nationwide hamburger chain, served in military intelligence in the army and at NSA translating arabic to english, worked in mortgage banking, was a pioneer on the internet, taught as a professor and is now content to write stories and novels.
I stood on the sidewalk between a busy urban street and a brick building with doors to a Mandarese restaurant, a beautician, and a pawn shop. At the far end of the block a small sign jutted out above a simple glass door.
"Army," it said.
When enlistment was up, the Army sent a soldier home, even if he wanted to sign up for another tour and continue fighting alien Bugs. It made no difference if that soldier was a man or a woman, he or she had to be a civilian for thirty days. Only then could they find an Induction Center and reenlist.
My thirty days were up, but I wasn't going inside the office at the end of the block. I wasn't. I was near the induction center because...
...I didn't know why.
I wished I could choose because if I had a choice, I'd rather be like civilians.
Battery cars and zoon cycles whizzed by on the busy street. Some filled parking spaces along the curb. The sidewalk in front of me was filthy, littered with inhaler butts, drink caps, branches, leaves, dirt and dark gray splotches of melted old chewing gum. The green leaves on trees that paralleled the street were the only saving grace. Otherwise, the city looked bleak, ugly and old.
There were no posters in the window of the Induction Center. Most soldiers thought the government didn't want us to reenlist.
They'd be right.
People who eventually signed had all kinds of reasons for the decision. They liked order, rules, a code they could live by and know what to expect. All those were great, but what I longed for most was an outlet for the rage.
I couldn't tell anyone about the rage.
Once upon a time, I believed I had a limited reservoir of patience. When it got used up, I turned mean. Now I knew different. I had a reservoir of rage and it leaked. It colored and poisoned the good reservoirs, turned their clear water brown and muddy. I tried to keep my fury bottled tight, but failed.
After five years in the Army, the anger was worse. During battle, the rage helped. It coated me with a film of fire and nothing could get in. Nothing could hurt.
People might think the rage grew uncontrollable. Never. I could direct it. Except for use against the enemy, there were rules. The rage could not be used against someone smaller. It could not be used against the undeserving. It could not be used first, but only when provoked.
Civilians could see that I was infected with something. They could tell by my tone, the way I answered, my curtness and shortness, my unwillingness to compromise. I was mean, but I didn't take the full force of my anger out upon them.
That was only my voice, my mood, my...
It was not my fists, elbows, a knife or a rifle.
Against civilians, once the rage was provoked, the first and only rule was to win. There was nothing about fighting fair in my "code." I fought against the bully, on behalf of the underdog. Sometimes the underdog was me. Once I determined a person deserved my ill will, I did whatever it took to show them their place in the hierarchy of goodness and badness, even if it took extreme measures.
I didn't care.
Who decided upon the target of this venomous fury?
Outside the induction center's office, I bent my knees, picked up a stone and looked along the ground, trying to decide whether I should go in or not. They had one door, a glass door. Stainless steel around the edges, it had a bar across the middle. The office probably had a bell that tinkled when someone entered, maybe a computer buzzer.
If I reenlisted, the Army had rules, but I knew those rules. My rage worked within those rules. With other soldiers, I could relax because someday, I would be in battle again. The enemy could suffer my rage.
Of course, I hated battle, too. Troopers lost limbs, got wounded, screamed, and gave up their lives. I knew some of them.
Civilians made the mistake of thinking I was unintelligent. I understood the big bang and realized there was a limit to my comprehension. I could converse with a geologist about continental drift. I knew ancient history. I played most challengers at chess and beat them. That last wasn't fair. Chess was a contest and I was good at contests.
During the last thirty days when I met people I used to know, they thought I was hard to understand. After a time, I seemed angry. I was, but not at them.
Couldn't they see that?
It was frustrating.
Why didn't I reenlist?
I'd seen soldiers older than me. Some privates were older. Sergeants were older. If a soldier was too old, he died, maybe caused others to die. How old was too old? How would I know? Most importantly, would I still feel the rage when I'm old?
I stood up, looked at the recruiter's office on the dirty street. It was nestled under the row of trees that paralleled the roadway, all in full bloom, their green leaves provided shade, darkness, and comfort. I turned around, saw the street in bright sunshine, traffic zooming by on the one-way street, businesses across the way, one young man outside a restaurant, sweeping.
I had a decision to make.
It hinged on one thing.
What happened if I still felt the rage when I got old?
I didn't know.
I'd get killed before I got old.
I turned around and headed for the recruiter's office to reenlist.