Project 52: Toppling Atlas

1 short story a week. 52 weeks a year.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Week Forty Eight: January 24th - January 30th

Fortune Favors Those Who Die Young

     “It feels just like yesterday,” an old man says to himself while staring at his gnarled old hands. “ I can sometimes still feel the grain of bark against my young hands, or the smooth touch of my first love. Those are long gone now though.” he says, sinking back into the warm water of his bathtub. He pulls his head under as he once did when he was a child, and exhaled into the water, sending a shower of bubbles to the surface. His smile is quickly replaced by a frown when the joints in his hips ache from the position he's laying in. Emerging, he whispers “Fortune favors those who die young”, and slips into his robe and walks to his bedroom; trumpets sound a song of defeat.
     Sitting in a tall-backed chair in front of the fireplace, he stares at the smoldering embers, and says “That's right. Today is my birthday isn't it? I suppose I'm too old to break tradition now”. He pulls out his leather-bound book, and picks up his pen to start writing under a large header of “Year 72”. After only three lines, he places the pen back inside the spine of the book, and sets it down next to his chair. The motion of setting the book down brushes the pages from beginning to end showing a flip-book of gradual apathy. The first few pages are written in full, but page after page – year after year- they grow smaller in substance and meaning. He doesn't even bother to try at this point. Closing his eyes, he falls asleep, his head full of the same thoughts that have haunted him since he could remember: inevitability.
     His dreams are the same as every night since he could remember. He was a young man again, flying a P-51 Mustang over the coast of Western France during the second World War. A browned picture of a beautiful woman with loose rings of black hair sat in his steering wheel, so that if he went down, she would be the last thing he saw. With every metal tooth he sunk into the hide of opposing German planes, he would tuck away the thought of running his strong hands up her smooth thigh, as he kissed her passionately on the neck. Beside returning to a woman, what other reason would a man have to stain the sky with blood and metal day in and day out?
     The war was long and bloody, and the boys who walked into it with youthful courage, left sullenly as men, carrying in the bags on their backs a lifetimes worth of demons. Jumping in a cab near the dock, Will gave his address to the driver, and sat back to stare out of the window at a city that had changed entirely in his short while away. The ride took a good twenty minutes, but he was used to long distances of traveling while being left to his own thoughts. If his tone didn't block any advances of conversation from the driver, his sullen face did. It wouldn't be until they pulled up outside the third story apartment he shared with Alice that the reflection on the window would show a smile. “I'm home Alice” he muttered to himself, giving the driver too much money, and nodding his head in confusion when offered change.
     Walking to the front door, Will patted his coat pocket to make sure the ring was still safely tucked away inside. He smiled to himself, and laughed when he realized it was the first time being nervous wouldn't lead to fearing he would never see his Alice again. He almost reached the door, and frowned when he saw a Chysler Saratoga parked on the side of the road. “Whose car could that be?” he thought to himself as he pushed open the door. Doubt had finally found a way to plant itself in Will Pascal. His pace quickened as he walked the stairs to his old room, and his heart was pounding louder than anything except for his own fist on the door. The sound of romance filled the outside hallway.
     Opening the door, Will found a man with a greasy smile, and oil-slicked hair buttoning up his pants, while Alice sat with the bed sheet pulled up to cover her breasts. “What's the big idea? Bargin' in here like tha-” and is cut off when the light of a passing car shows his face to her. “Will” she whispers, “I figured you would have been long dead by now”. The man, looking between the two of them did not understand the situation, and puffed up his chest as he walked over to Will. “Listen here army boy, Alice is with me now, so scram.” Alice's scream muffles the sound of Will's .45 caliber that illuminated the room for a split second. Clutching his chest, the man sinks to his knees, and is casually pushed out of the way.
     Turning to Alice, Will's face contorted between the horror of what he had just done, and anger at why it had happened in the first place. “Will.. do- don't kill me, please. I'm sorry” she murmurs through a wall of tears. “Sorry!” Will demands. “Every day out there, every day butchering men, and hoping I could make it home to see you. Every day, staring at your picture, the thought of coming home to marry you being the only thing keeping me together! And I come home to this? The ghosts of my past are going to haunt me for the rest of my life, just so I could see you!”. Turning to the door, Will looks over his shoulder at her and says “how could I have misjudged a whore like you.” and strolls from the room laughing as if finally understanding some great cynical joke. She sees him put the silhouette of a ring back into his pocket as he strolls from the room. Two different Alices began to weep in that room, dimly lit by moonlight.

     Waking up, Will sees a flash of faceless men, bloodied by his own actions, and vomits into a small pot near his chair. Wiping off his mouth, he picks up his book, and tosses it into the fire. Ominous, in that he wouldn't live to write another chapter anyway. The last two months of Will's life were bitter, and full of wishing to try his youth all over again. To stop being haunted by the ghosts of all those he killed, and so that he could finally wash the memory of Alice's naked body off of his hands. In those last days of his, the thought of that woman would lead him to scrubbing his hands together until the skin cracked and bled.
     Will died alone, not because life was harsh to him, because it is harsh to everyone. Will died alone because he lost most of himself in the skies above Europe, and the rest of him was left in the stained sheets of that third story apartment bed. Had he only been an adult when he started to kill for his nation instead of a boy. Oh god, one can only weep for the dead bodies of children like Will that would walk around not knowing it for the rest of their lives.


  1. I like the part when you say, "Had he only been an adult when he started to kill for his nation instead of a boy." Because it's true, when people do things for the wrong reason the outcome is sometimes less meaningful to the individual. Which is where regret kicks in.

  2. Mm hmm. I've always been attracted to the fact that young men (adults) going war, were still just children. It's an example that in life, like you said, just because you can deal with something hard at the time, doesn't mean it won't change you for the worse later. It's just funny to me that killing people would be easier than trying to grow up afterwords.