Damn, I cannot help to edit… Whenever I start a new day of writing, I re-read the last chapter so that I get back into the flow, but when I do, I often find new things I want to add so that is what I have done. You are not supposed to, but I find it fun… Here’s the edited version (and significantly longer) chapter 1. You can keep track of my progress HERE.
Banks was just 18 when he joined the war. Conscriptions were common, but the very young was mostly spared the drafting, unless the war went really bad. So far, the conscription age was 21 but Banks insisted to join the effort. How could he not? Propaganda was everywhere, spewing its patriotic rhetoric on the radio and town meetings, urging the country’s finest to join the cause. Banks father was a veteran: Lt. George Fair, was his name, and he was infamous among his peers to be ruthless to his men, but most of them also came back home alive, which couldn’t be said for most Platoons. George was a revered leader for those that knew him in the army. Those that knew him in civilian life would not say the same. Away from the frontlines, he was quiet and a loving father and husband, patient and not prone to violence even when confronted by it. It was strange how somebody could change that much in a couple of years, but then again, the battlefield was a different world entirely, something that those that had been to war knew all too well.
When Banks learned about his fathers reputation, which was much later in life because George didn’t like telling stories of his time in the trenches, Banks felt the need to prove himself. But to whom? His parents? The last thing they wanted was to see him sent off to war; to his friends? They didn’t want to go anymore than other kids, his age; to himself? Most likely, why? Even his father couldn’t figure that out. He tried to convince him every which way, telling his son in minute details what war was about, but he couldn’t see the horror that awaited him, as any that had lived their lives is the safety of their home. But Banks was no fool. He knew the risks involved, as much as anyone that hadn’t been to war could know. But there was one thing he wanted to change about himself, and war seemed to be the only way he could. He was a coward, plain and simple, he had been all his life, it seemed, he remembered being called so on several occasions. He would rather run than to face danger, but the war seemed distant enough that he could muster the courage to take the leap into danger where there was no return. It was cheap, and delusional tactic, but it would work all the same. He would come back from the war a man, he promised and become his father’s son. To prove he could be just as brave.
But things rarely turn out the way we imagine. The first weeks on basic training was hard on him. He had trouble following basic directions, his mind had a tendency to wander, but he wasn’t weaker than anyone else and could keep up well enough during training. He was a decent marksman too, that is, until tragedy struck. They were having a mock battle in the forest and they were running from one point to where the enemy lay hidden. They used live ammunition for this and they would pretend the targets set out for them were real people, simple enough, tiering, but simple. It had been raining the day before and one could easily lose their entire boot in the mud. Banks was careful not to put his entire weight down as he ran with the others, while still trying to keep up, it worked somehow and they were almost at the flashpoint when somebody in front tripped and there was a bang, and then there was blood. Banks didn’t comprehend what happened at first, but as his comrade fell like a sack of potatoes in front of him and he bent down to help him up, he saw red gush out of his head. He was dead. The comrade that had tripped had forgotten to put the safety on and had pulled the trigger. He was reprimanded afterwards with negligence. He didn’t go to prison, these things happened and it would be a strain on the system to jail every which mistake which would land you in prison if you were a civilian. He was forced to leave the army, however. He wasn’t sure if that was punishment or not. It didn’t matter, however, because it was the first time Banks saw death, hell for all he knew, it was the first time he saw blood! Something changed within him, then. He first noticed it at the gun range. The targets were formed like people but they didn’t look anywhere near human enough to spark anyones imagination, but his did. He saw a person before him and he saw what he was about to do with him, fill him with holes. No matter how much the captain barked at him, he couldn’t pull the trigger. He was punished for it, and he would have gun to jail for it if they weren’t in the middle of war. That’s something strange, isn’t it? You don’t get punished for killing your comrade but you do get punished for not killing the enemy, an imaginary enemy, that is. After a while, he was able to fire a couple of shots, but only because he closed his eyes right after. He didn’t hit much with this tactic but the captain was pleased, saw it as a step in the right direction, but Banks wasn’t sure. Something had changed inside of him, or maybe seeing death truly brought out the person he really was, a coward. He knew then he would never fire a gun at a mother human being, not to save his life. Would he to save somebody he loved? He wasn’t sure, it was possible, though, he didn’t see how this changed anything.
Every morning at training, they passed a pay phone at the kiosk near the gate. He stared at it as they passed, increasing his lung capacity for a mission he would be unable to do. His father had told him he could call any time, that he could get him out if he changed his mind. He apparently still had connection within the military, he would figure it out, he had said. Looking at the pay phone brought him a pang of disappointment as he considered calling, but every time he decided not to. He would break through this curse of his, he always thought, but as the months passed and the only thing the captain complained about was his aim, he realised he would be good for nothing on the battlefield and he refused to be a burden, on top of all else. It was evening when he reached for the phone and called the number. His heart beat faster as the tone beeped and he wondered what he was going to say. He could hang up right now and try again tomorrow, he told himself, somehow, admitting defeat was harder than trying to shoot somebody. It’s always hard to face the truth and hope always lingers and drives you to do crazy things, like joining the army even though you are a coward…
As he waited for the phone to ring, he noticed a poster on the billboard. It was large and colourful and he wondered how he could’ve missed it until today: It called for people of special talent. It didn’t say specifically what that talent was but it said that anyone who signed up was to be sent on a special mission off the coast of Gordige, which, incidentally was far from the frontlines. A top secret mission, it said. Banks hung up the phone, even as he heard his father answer on the other end and felt bad a bout it for a second before hope spurned within him. He could not possibly encounter the enemy so close to our border, could they? He tried to picture the great ocean between them and he came to the conclusion that it was unlikely. Would they take him even with his bad track record? He wondered and noted down the time and place. He decided he didn’t even care what sort of mission it was, if he could serve his country with little risk in seeing actual combat, he’d do anything.
He was in high spirit until he walked up to the building the meeting was held and waited in the hall. He was sure they wouldn’t take him, a special mission demanded special people and he wasn’t extraordinary in anything the military held value, he was certain. There was a few other people waiting in the hall. They kept to themselves, long distances between them and Banks held his gaze to his feet, only glancing slightly as he passed them one by one, hoping to get a glimpse of the kind of people they were. But he couldn’t discern anything. They seemed confident, though, loners, dangerous people, he decided and he waited furthest from the other end of the hallway. One by one they were called inside. Their reaction didn’t tell anything if they passed. Perhaps it wouldn’t be decided then and there? He was the last person to be called in and he was greeted by three military men, officers, by the looks of it, sitting behind a table with one stool placed in front for him to sit on. He placed himself nervously. “State your name and rank, soldier,” a voice said.
It was hard to distinguish them from one another with the sun at their back. “Bank’s, Fair Bank’s, he said. Private in training.”
They scribbled down his name. The one in the middle leaned to the one on the right and whispered something he couldn’t hear. They were discussing something, then they said. “Why do you want to be on this mission?”
Banks had prepared for this, if anything, they would ask his reasons and he had practised. “One should do what they can to the motherland. No matter what you ask of me, I’ll do it without fail.”
They seemed to like the answer as they murmured amongst themselves. As it seemed the interview was over, the one in the middle leaned forward and said. “Does your father know you are accepting this mission?”
Banks swallowed. To think he would encounter a friend of his fathers! “Y—Yes! He’s very proud of me for doing it,” he lied.
The officer didn’t seem to buy it as he hesitated, but the one on the right said something in a low voice and the middle guy nodded. “You can go,” he said.
Banks stood and hesitated. “Did I— did I make the cut?”
A short, “Yes,” was the only answer and Banks took a breath of relief and headed back to the barracks as if a large boulder have been raised from his back. He was in much higher spirit then. The rest of the training he performed well in everything, except the gun range, which he still closed his eyes at every shot. The captain was pleased with his progress and told him he would do well once his life was in danger, he would make his first kill. It was remarkably similar logic to that he had had before joining the army, he thought, and he wasn’t so sure it was true anymore. In any case, basic training was over and they would be shipped off to their destinations within a few days and Banks decided to head home and share the good news.
His parents greeted him warmly, but soberly, they knew his time for battle was soon but they were remarked how calm he was. Banks revelled in the praise and held his information to himself for a couple of hours before he told where he would go. His father stared at him, expressionless but his eyes wide, as if he remembered something. “What’s the island called?” He asked.
“They wouldn’t say,” Banks stammered.
George went quiet and left the room. Banks could hear him pick up the phone and was talking with a muffled voice through the walls. His mother sat and tried to be friendly, offering cookies and tea but she couldn’t pretend that something hadn’t upset him. They suddenly heard a loud thud and his father came out breathing heavily. “Useless fool,” he snarled beneath his breath.
Banks had never seen his father so angry, he had very rarely seen his father even furrow his brow, and he was struck with uncertainty, he didn’t know how to handle him when he was like that, Banks realised.
“What’s the matter, honey?” His mother said.
One look at his wife George soften his expression. Banks had always wondered how his father kept calm during his many shenanigans, now he knew.
“It’s nothing… Would you mind going into the kitchen for a while? I need to speak with our son?”
“Oh, okay,” she said and left. They had a remarkable trust, Banks noted, they complemented each other perfectly. Then he turned his attention at his father who placed himself in front of him, looking grave.
“I want to tell you something. I hope to god that I am wrong on this, but if it turns to the worst, you should know something.”
Banks froze, all his attention where on listening.
“When I was in the military, before I was shipped off across the ocean, there was a rumour floating about about ship full of men was sent to somewhere off the coast of Gardige and came back empty in the docks the next day. Several rounds of people disappeared that way. At first we believed the were sent to do labour somewhere, they were convicts after all. I didn’t think much of it then because I was sent shortly after to the war. When I came back home, I encountered a friend who was the happy go lucky type, friendly and full of energy. But when I encountered him back on land, he was different. His eyes were sunken in, like they were trying to hide inside his head, like they were scared of the outside. He slumped and though a smile crept up when he saw me, it was a meagre smile for him. The war had changed him, I thought, I was only half right. He told me that he had been in charge of the ferries that took those prisoners to some island of the coast, and he returned with them after the war in body bags. They had all died, every single one of them. Well, except one, he heard. But that was all he knew, they didn’t say how or why, but my point is, hearing the name of Gardige coast again sparked this memory and now my son is being sent to some mysterious island of the same coast, I can’t help being concerned.”
Banks tried to look serious as his father truly felt scared for him, but in his mind, he drew a sigh of relief, that was all? Some ghost story from his past and conspiracy theory. They could’ve died in a million ways! Banks pitied his father then, it must be hard to have children, to concern about them always. He didn’t say any of this and smiled softly, reassuring him that he would be careful. His mother returned to them with a couple of sandwiches and then he went to sleep. It felt nice being in his old room again, the sun was still high late in the evening and he watched the light move like a sun clock until it was dark and he fell asleep content with life.
The last day came for him and he packed his gear and shouldered his gun at the door and waved his parents goodbye. They stood at the porch for as long as he was visible, and probably even further too. He could see the docks from the hill where their house was and he lumbered down the steep slope. He remembered when he first got his bike and how his parents had made it seem that he would die if he came near the slope, which wasn’t far from the truth if one simply let go and rolled down it. He still felt a little apprehension, he noticed, going down the hill, perhaps he was nervous of finally going to war? Well, not really war, he hoped. He didn’t really know what their mission was, but if it was this secret, it must be important. His chest swelled with the thought and he grinned widely as he approached the docks, where a scruffy officer stood with pen and paper in hand. “Name,” he said.
Banks thinned his lips, trying to act serious. “Bank’s sir, Fair Bank’s.”
The officer eyed him. “You’re late. Get on board,” he snapped.
“Yes, sir!” He said and hurried on the boat.
© Christopher Stamfors