I Used a lot of what I’ve already written this time. I guess it’s fine to use it, if it’s good and I think I have come up with a way to know if they pass the test or not. When I come to a part where I’ve done a lot of description and dialogue already, it’s extra hard to let go of that part, that’s why I read it, then I rewrite it, very shortly, only doing the narrative. Then, if the story takes another turn, I am forced to write it all over again, but if there are only minor changes, I add the new ideas and keep the old. That way, the narrative is clear, which allows me to make fixes later on once the story is done. This is chapter 4 and 5, unedited: You can keep track of my progress HERE.
It seemed like they were all pretty much the same age, at least in his barrack. They were between 18 and 21, some were over 30, but they were few. Nobody seemed to have an illusion why they were hear. They knew they avoided the war, but they were also pleasantly surprised when they learned that they were doing something important. Not everyone was excited, or friendly, for that matter, and just kept to themselves. The man in the bunk above him was one of them. He had gone right to reading when they chose their place, ignoring anyone who approached. He was still in bed when they all left to have dinner in the cantina. Banks didn’t try to convince him. There was no convincing those that wanted to be alone. Mailen was apparently a navy man, had served three months onboard transport vessels before he decided to join. Nerves had failed him as the risk was large that they would be attacked by submarines. It was the most dreadful voyages, he said. Every trip was tense and you’d never know what was coming until you were struck. There was no help coming if it happen on the open sea. He did work that was important, he knew, but eventually, he couldn’t take it and almost wished his vessel to be struck. It was then he decided he should find something else. His commanding officer let him, having seen the deterioration in his mind.
Mailen didn’t see it as escaping or cowardice, however. He had done what he could and that was all anyone could ask. Banks agreed. It was like waiting blindfolded before being executed. It gave him even more respect to those that still man the ships, and those that were brave enough to make the journey over. As they got inside, Banks noticed that the building was rather new. Fresh, even, as the wood was pale and smelled sweet from newly cut wood. The cantina was bustling as they got inside, the other barracks already eating. As they got their food, Banks excused himself to go find Hjalmar. He preferred sitting with him, made him feel confident around him. He looked around for a moment and found him surrounded by a bunch of people. His voice boomed above all others as he told a story: “So there I was, with just the clothes on my back and a stick in my hand, I was all alone to find my way down the mountain. It was getting dark and I could hear rustling in the undergrowth. My only guide was the stars, but at least they pointed me in the right direction. I’m telling you, the wind have never sounded so menacing when you are alone in the dark, in the wild and the the only thing I could do was to keep moving.”
Banks had heard this story before. He liked Hjalmar’s stories, but he was never sure if they were true or not. People doubted him, naturally, not that it mattred, they were entertaining. Banks wanted to believe they were real, it made Hjalmar seem very dependable dependable as the stories were often about himself. He must’ve had a very interesting life, before the war… The table where Hjalmar sat was almost full, except for the edges as people gathered in a cluster around him to hear better. Banks saw James sitting alone and placed himself next to him. “They are eating out the palm of his hands,” banks said.
“He’s like that,” James said.
“Are you old friends?”
But before he could answer, a large man walked up next to Hjalmar and placed his large hand on his shoulder. Another friend, perhaps? Banks thought. Hjalmar looked over his shoulder with a raised eyebrow. “That sounds like a load of hogwash,” the big guy said.
Hjalmar shrugged. “You’re free to believe what you want.”
“Thanks. I believe you don’t have the chops to survive alone, is what I think.”
There was a tense moment and and everyone was silent when Hjalmar suddenly smiled. “See you at practise tomorrow,” he said.
The big guy let his hand off Hjalmar’s shoulder and said. “Yeah…” and walked off.
Banks respect for Hjalmar grew even more then. He had encountered bullies before in his life but he had always coward or run from them. Hjalmar, on the other hand, had stood his ground without confronting or cowering. His remark had defused the situation. “Do you know who that was?” Banks asked.
James shook his head, wearily. “As far as I know, you and I are his only acquaintances.”
It seemed that James was not an old friend then. There were so many new people, Banks believed that few even had met the other. But people are group people, and as they are forced to sit with one another at lunch and work together, they have already started to divid themselves into groups. As far as Banks saw, they kept among the people from the same barracks, but soon, they would find the people they relate to and stick to them like glue. Banks felt fortunate that he had somebody he had somebody he knew, too bad so many other had set their eyes on Hjalmar too. Banks noticed now that it was quiet on his table and most have returned to their seat to finish their meal. Banks picked up his plate and placed himself closer to Hjalmar. Hjalmar’s eyes shone. “There you are! Did you see that freak? How huge was he?”
“Did you know him?”
“Never met the guy. Seemed like he was asking for a fight, didn’t he?”
James came right after and sat beside them. “There’s always one in every group,” he said.
Hjalmar nodded. “Anyway, what’s up with this place? Pretty creepy, eh?”
Banks saw James turning a bit pale. “Don’t you start,” he said.
“Hehe, sorry, but you have to admit, it is pretty strange. Did you see the expression on the staff? It’s like they haven’t see the sunlight in years!”
“I’m sure they are just working hard… Imagine sitting behind a screen inside a bunker all day,” Banks shuddered.
“Yeah… Wonder what we’ll do tomorrow.”
“Marching,” James said. “Like you always do in the military.”
“Hehe, that’s for sure.”
“Our assignment seem pretty important, though,” Banks said. “I hardly think they’d choose anyone to protect something so important.”
James snorted. “Still on your high horse, I see.”
Banks glowered at him. “Think what you want, but I like to believe we are doing something important, if that makes me self-absorbed then so be it.”
“Fair enough,” James said and kept eating.
“Now, now, don’t fight,” Hjalmar said. “We are in this together. Let’s do a damn good job and come home with our heads held high, eh?” He said and raised his cup.
“Yeah!” Banks cried and clinked with Hjalmar’s cup. They stared at James who sighed. “Fine, but I don’t have to like it.” he said and they cheered together.
Sleep came easy to them, that night. They were all exhausted, somehow, even though they had only done some marching from the harbour to the base, all the new impressions had struck them like a bomb and they were tapped out, mentally. They woke early, at 5 AM to do the morning training. They changed into their training clothes and as they were heading out, Banks noticed his Bunkmate above him remained in bed. Was he sick? Banks thought it wasn’t his business and headed out with the others. Nothing disturbed them, not even themselves and they were full of optimism as they gathered on the courtyard to do the morning routine. They stood in formation with their training overalls on and listened to the national anthem, followed by news of the war. The war was going well, on all accounts. Their boys were pressing deeper into enemy lands and they had opened up a new front at the southern shore and they expected them to have full control of the western coast by the end of summer. Banks felt proud about them, and a bit guilty as well, for not being there. But he knew he would be useless if he were and die in vain. He wouldn’t be able to kill anyone anyhow… He glanced at the people next to him and saw people cheer for the countries success against their old nemesis.
They started training by doing jumping jacks, followed by push ups, then sit ups and more jumping jacks. Banks breathed heavily at the end of it but he didn’t stagger as they were ushered back to the barracks to shower and change of clothes. His Bunkmate was still in bed, awake, this time, with a magazine hiding his face. Banks shrugged and entered the showers. In the shower, somebody standing next to him said. “It’s Banks, right?”
Banks jerked his head around and tried to identify the man. “Yes and you…”
“Harry, you know, we met at the boat when Hjalmar forced to introduce myself.”
“Right, right, sorry, I didn’t recognise you naked.”
They didn’t say anything to each other and it was a bit awkward. Everyone had somebody to talk to and mostly it didn’t bother him being alone, but when you are surrounded by people that are friendly with each other, he couldn’t help feeling left out. As they got dressed, Mailen, his comrade next bed over was talking to somebody in the bunk above his and it made him think about the quiet one above his own bed. Banks thought he’d at least introduce himself. He stood and saw that the man laying with his magazine, a different one this time, reading intently and hiding his face. He felt Banks gaze and he lowered the magazine an inch and peaked at Banks. “Hi,” Banks said.
The guy raised his magazine again.
“Aren’t you going to get ready?”
“Why don’t you mind your own business?”
Banks didn’t know what to say and could only heed his advice. They got ready and left the stranger alone in the barracks. Mailen walked up to him on the way out. “Don’t mind him. He doesn’t talk to anybody.”
“I haven’t seen him around…”
“He does what he wants.”
“Shouldn’t we tell the captain?”
Mailen shrugged. “If you care.”
Banks searched his feelings and he decided he did care. They didn’t seem to take this assignment seriously, but he did. He would find the captain and report him. On the outside, Banks turned around and stared at the Barracks entrance, hoping that he bunkmate would be there. But it was empty. He sighed, dreading to see the captain.
They gathered in the courtyard, where they formed a circle around the Megaphone where Captain Jackson stood and directed them. A couple of minutes later, Lt. Baxter came and everyone went silent. Jackson did a salute and was handed a pile of papers which was he distributed evenly. “Does everyone have a map?” Baxter said.
Everybody grunted in response. “Good,” he held his own map infront of him. “This is Lillie Island. Over here is the docks where you landed, but as you can see, our location is missing. This was intentional. But it is easy to find once you know where it is.”
Banks agreed. The cliff stuck out like a nail, or a sickle out of the island.
“As you can see,” he continued,” there isn’t much else. This is to our benefit. The more inconspicuous we are, the better. But it doesn’t mean we cannot prepare for the worst which is why you’ll learn the topography until the map is unnecessary. You’ll be drilled everyday for several months until you remember it. Therefore, you’ll be divid up into 5 man teams, each with their own team leader. Your task will be to find the flags that we have planted for you. Any questions?”
Everyone was silent. “Good,” he said and turned to Captain Jackson. “Divi up the teams and chose a team leader for each.”
Capt. Jackson saluted. “Yes, sir!”
The Lt nodded and limped away.
Banks watched him disappear and found himself wondering how he got his wound, but he dismissed the thought as he tried to muster up the courage to talk to the captain. He was so concentrated that he didn’t hear his team being picked. “Banks… Banks!”
Banks looked to the voice and saw Harry beaconing him. Banks hurried. “What’s wrong with you?” Harry said.
“Sorry,” Banks said and looked at his teammates, some where from his barracks, others not. They nodded at each other. Harry seemed to have taken the responsibility as team leader seriously because he acted the part and gathered everyone around the map. They took the time to study it, but all the while, Banks couldn’t get the thought of talking to the captain off his mind. Harry saw him glancing at the captain and sighed. “Get it over with,” he said and pushed him out of the circle. Banks glowered at him but he knew it was true. He wouldn’t have the courage if he waited any longer. Banks caught the captain as he moved between groups, answering questions. The captain looked at him, sternly and Banks found himself stammering. He hated himself for doing so. He told about his Bunkmate who hadn’t been on the morning training and still were in bed. The captains eye flashed. “And you’re telling me now?!” He boomed and walked briskly to the barracks.
Everyone turned their attention away from the map and saw as he disappeared into the barracks. They could hear him shouting, and moments later, Banks bunkmate was thrown outside where he was forced to do push ups with the captain on his back. They laughed, but Banks suddenly regretted what he’d done. He knew he would get shit for this sooner or later. Harry called him over. He was trying to hide a smile. “Are you happy now?”
He handed him the map. “Study it. It’s our turn soon.”
Banks wanted to sink into the earth and he couldn’t concentrate on the map at all. And as they marched outside, he couldn’t recall anything. But he was glad to have left the base as it was only his team mates who could make fun of him. Though they did at first, the eerie desolation of the island kept them quiet and they focused on finding the flags. The sun was high and the morning mist had settled, allowing them to see far over the landscape. Banks could see flowers popping up between the weeds and rocks. Most of the island was made out of hearth and ones in a while, he could see white spots of sheep gracing in the distance. It was pleasant and Banks almost forgot what was surely waiting for him when he got back to base. It turned out the flags were rather easy to find as they were red and stood out like a sore thumb. Unless they had hidden them, they could see the flags from a distance and it lightened the mood. Harry tried fruitlessly to keep the people in line, but because they barely knew each other and because they would change group eventually, they didn’t respect his authority over the group. They took their time, feeling they had plenty, when they came to the last flag which they had trouble finding. Time was running low and the circled around until they narrowed it down to a steep hill. They stood below it and watching quietly, their eyes asking who will go up and get it. Banks saw Harry knew he couldn’t make anyone go so he took a step forward to go himself, but Banks felt a little sorry for him and volunteered instead.
Harry cast a thankful glance at Banks as he headed up the hill. It was a steep climb. He was forced to use his hands and walk like and animal on all fours, at least it wasn’t a mountain where every step could mean death. It was noon and hot. Even the wind was still, which was rare on the island. Sweat trickled down his lower back, his shirt and uniform already soaked through. The rocks were lose and he stumbled a few times, with hoots and jeers coming from below. Banks made a rude gesture and continued to ascend. He crawled up to the last part and saw that the flag had fallen between some rocks. Banks was surprised the officers hadn’t tried to be assholes and dug it up, but as he did, he saw somebody in the distance. It was a young women. Her hair and dress billowed in the wind, and though she was quite the distance away, he could still see the contours of her body as her dressed licked against her in the wind. Everything else that bothered him, the heat and the tiredness, seemed to wash away. What was she doing there alone? She was motionless, staring out the ocean, letting the wind grace her face. He was brought back to his senses as he heard his comrades calling for him from below. He glanced at them but when he looked back, the woman had already gone, moving away in the distance. Banks sighed and headed down. “What took you so long?” One of them asked. Did you pass out?”
“Just admired the view,” he said.
They bashed him for making him wait but he didn’t feel like describing what he saw. He had suspected that somebody lived in that mansion he saw the other day. Could there be more civilians on the island that he didn’t know about? In the end, he didn’t care, for he had seen true beauty and he was silent the way back, trying to perserve the image in his head for as long as he could.
© Christopher Stamfors