For Carlos Hoegg–
“It was a dark and stormy night……sigh.”
Lieutenant John Baker put the paper down, took off his glasses, and rubbed his eyes. His wife had insisted that teaching the creative writing class on Thursday nights was a great idea. He would get to interact with people who weren’t soldiers. He would get to talk about the written word again. He would rekindle the passion he had back in college, before the draft, before the war, before the world had gone crazy.
She hadn’t mentioned that he would have to plod his way through drivel that he would have been embarrassed to write back in middle school.
He sniffed, putting his glasses back on, determined to get through the stack of stories before him. They weren’t all bad. Some were actually quite good–inventive characters, clever dialogue, snappy pacing–all the things his degree had insisted were important when crafting fiction. But those classes seemed so far away now.
Reading these stories was a release, a break from the daily onslaught of reports from the field, some much needed creativity in a world that craved its former innocence. He envied the youth of his students, longed for their optimism, but knew that in a few years, they too would have to serve. The war wasn’t going well. Soldiers were needed again, and soon the recruiters wouldn’t be so picky. Warm bodies in the seats could be trained to enter the right commands to make the drones work.
He thought of his students, those fresh-faced boys and girls peering into the vidscreens, watching as skirmishes spiraled into battles–battles they could not win. They deserved more, he thought, more than the bleak days ahead. He was supposed to be encouraging their creativity. That sense of wonder, that fresh perspective was what they needed if they were ever going to win this thing. If he had to dredge through some trite plotlines to get them to that creative place, so be it. Everyone had to start somewhere.
He turned his attention back to the paper on his desk. And sighed. The “dark and stormy night” line was truly cliche. He thought he had focused an entire lecture on cliches and used that one as an example of what not to do. He dove in, hoping to find something more than an unusual event on a rainy night.
It was a dark and stormy night when the man sat reading papers at his desk. The hour was late, but the man was determined to finish reading.
A flash of lightning burst through the window, followed by the pounding of sudden rain. The low roll of thunder echoed in the Lieutenant’s teeth. He looked out the window, then back at the paper. That is odd. He’d collected these essays two days ago. There hadn’t been rain in the forecast. He turned back to the story.
The man knew that the war was useless, but he couldn’t keep himself from trying. There was nothing else to do.
The Lieutenant sat up in his chair, reached for the cold cup of coffee sitting abandoned on the desk, took a sip, and refocused on the page in front of him. The words were still there, little black hatch marks stark against the white paper. It isn’t possible. The civilians don’t know how badly the war is going.
As he took a sip of his cold coffee, he reassured himself that nothing was out of the ordinary. Lightning flashed outside, and the jolt startled him. He knocked the coffee cup over, spilling cold coffee all over the stack of papers.
Light flashed again outside the window, and it made the Lieutenant jump, hand carelessly knocking over his mug. He stared at the liquid soaking into the stack of papers. No. This is not possible.
Distracted by his accident, the Lieutenant didn’t hear the sound of the door opening, the soft sound of the enemy’s footstep covered by the echoes the rain outside. But he did notice the barrel of the gun when it pressed against his temple.
Lieutenant John Baker froze, sweat beading on his upper lip, as the cold metal ring of the weapon pressed against his skin. This is how it ends, he thought.
After the sound of the gunshot faded into the thunder of the storm, a delicate hand reached out and picked up the paper. Curious eyes scanned the last few lines.
This is how it ends, the Lieutenant thought, and then the trigger was pulled. The sound echoed loudly in the small room, but soon faded into the rain. The shooter noticed something on the desk, a paper that the Lieutenant had been reading, something so absorbing that he had not even noticed the door creaking open. As the suddenly nervous eyes scanned the page, a voice spoke in the silence.
The hands holding the paper began to tremble.
“It was a dark and stormy night,” a voice began.