Another Day

The sun fell lazily on the dim horizon as Brad sank down in the mud. The air became crisp and cool and the light faded rapidly. The sounds of the forest at night echoed around him and played like a symphony all in tune with one another. It was the same repetitive sounds that he heard every night as he struggled to stay awake or fall asleep. He was never sure which one was safer to pursue. He heard his comrades whispering loudly to his right and mysteriously dangerous forest songs to his left. He turned his ears from the forest and tried to concentrate on the familiar sounds of Brakoff and Donaldson quietly arguing on what they thought would be the first thing they would do when they got home. Brakoff spoke of his wife Eliza and his three young children and her home cooking. Donaldson on the other hand was more concerned about fishing, hunting, and trapping. Brad found this odd for the last thing he would consider is picking up another gun. He’d think twice next time about things of such caliber. He was young and naive once. The thought of his younger days fleeted into a fading memory as something grabbed Brad’s feet. Brad jumped into the air with his loaded gun and pointed at the dark black shadow.
“Raker!” said Donaldson laughing. “It was me!” Brad looked harder at the shadow and realized it was merely Donaldson’s empty ruck sac.
“Listen Donaldson, you want to pull another stunt like that you’ll find the barrel of this gun aimed straight between your eyes. Now shut up and sleep before it happens sooner than you’d like!” Brad sat back down and gently laid his gun by his side. He heard Brakoff snicker at Donaldson as he snorted and rolled over. Brad had never been a fan of Donaldson’s crude humor and liked his personality even less. He sometimes thought that Manuel Donaldson was a punishment from God, sent only to annoy and destroy all that was good and special in a person’s life. Brad thought briefly of all the things that had occurred in the past year and how he could point all mishaps straight to Donaldson.
“Hey, Raker,” whispered Brakoff. “You aren’t still upset with Manny over the Grimmson’s Hill incident are you?” Brad thought about his answer.
“Oh you know Grimmson’s Hill is nothing compared to the time at the battle of Lewdon, Renoldsville, Wickster, and Dedman’s field. Ask Manny about that, Brakoff, and when he tells you about them, come to me and I’ll tell you the truth. You’re new out here Brakoff and I respect you, but your choice of friends might just ensure you never taste Eliza’s home cooking again. Think about it and get some rest. We have some scouting ahead of us tomorrow.” Brad rolled over and faced the forest, deciding that it was better company than his comrades after all.
The sun had barely begun to peek over the ridge when Brad grabbed his gun and was ready to shove out. Most of his buddies were still sleeping or lazily rolling around in the muck. Brad had the sudden urge to kick Donaldson and scare the living daylights out of him, but he always repressed such desires. He decided it best not to sink to his level and with good reason. Donaldson in all reality had no level; he was thought to be the lowest form of human on the evolutionary scale, at least by Brad. Brad laughed at the thought and stretched. It was going to be a long day. Everyday was a long day to Brad but he knew somehow that this was to be the longest in the history of his life. He figured it was his whole run in with Donaldson the night before. He knew that Donaldson had given up too easily, and that it was surely not over yet; not with Manuel Donaldson.
“Hey man, you got a smoke on you?” asked Jackson Reed elbowing Brad. Brad and Jackson had been friends for ten years and were glad to be working side by side.
“No man, you know that I don’t smoke. What’s wrong with you?” Jackson laughed.
“It’s early dude, I don’t know what I’m thinking. Look at these guys, you think that we can get them into shape?” Jackson looked at Brad and laughed again.
“It just makes me so mad. If Donaldson had been more wise at Dedman’s Field then we wouldn’t have lost half our numbers. The man is incompetent and he should be shot!” Jackson’s jaw dropped as he began to laugh at Brad’s sudden outburst. “Wow, I never knew that I disliked him so much. It’s just so frustrating to be given an order and be doing your duty and having one of your buddies doing something else entirely. He nearly got us all killed. Now we have to deal with fresh blood. These new guys coming out of fancy training schools who haven’t been broken in.” He shook his head in dismay. “I don’t like Donaldson befriending Brakoff either. Brakoff’s a good and honest man. He’s a good worker and an eager learner. I just hope he learns from us and not Donaldson. I’ve just been thinking about that.”
“Well, I’d love to stay and chat about the lovelier things in life but it seems its time to move out Raker and I still need a smoke.” Jackson turned away from Brad and asked the nearest man for a cigarette.
Hours passed under Brad Raker’s tired feet. The sun was high in the sky burning all things under it. Brad wiped the sweat from his brow and opened his canteen. He shook it upside-down and when nothing came out he hit his head against it in frustration. Donaldson was leading the march not by choice but because of lack of leadership. He had merely chosen himself to be the leader for the day. Brad thought following Donaldson was more like willingly jumping off a cliff. He rolled his eyes and continued walking. Many thoughts crossed Brad’s mind and left just as fast. He started to wonder why he was following Donaldson again. The man obviously didn’t know what he was doing or where he was going and Brad knew that he himself had been an officer much longer than Donaldson. Brad hooked his canteen to his belt and silently continued on.
The air became thick and tasted of sulfur.
“The weather’s getting bad men, get out your rain gear!” shouted Donaldson. Jackson looked at Brad sideways.
“Rain?” he asked.
“No, gun smoke and powder. There was a battle here not long ago. We need to be on the look out.” Brad grabbed Jackson and ran to the front of the line. “Donaldson, we need to stay close together and near the fields. The forest is dangerous right now and we risk surprise attacks if we enter it. Our goal is to get to Fort Summons as soon as possible with our wounded and our reports so that we can get reassigned. Our goal is not to start an unwanted or unneeded battle. Supplies are very short and I fear if we don’t get to the fort by nightfall that we may not make it there at all. The wounded men won’t last another night out here.” Brad took a deep breath and stared into Donaldson’s empty eyes.
“You think that you are so smart Raker, like I didn’t know any of those things. I have taken them into consideration, and the forest pass is the fasted way to the Fort. I don’t think that we’re going to have a battle on our hands, because look around Raker, no one else is here but us. The rains are coming and we’ve battled worse storms than this.” Donaldson sneered at Brad.
“Rain? Storms? Listen there is no rain or storms coming. The air’s clogged because of gun smoke. Where have you been all this time? Can’t you tell the aftermath of a battle from the weather. The smoke is fresh and the field is littered with the blood of many. The regiment that was here moved west. You can tell because of the tracks that are visible. The others fled to the forest and are probably hiding out waiting for the right opportunity to attack. Waiting for a retarded officer to lead his sad group of soldiers down the wrong path. That officer is going to be you if you’re not careful.” Brad stormed off and walked back to Donaldson to wait for his reply.
“Come on, this way!” shouted Donaldson leading the men into the forest.
“You might as well grab your pistol and place it to your head Donaldson. At least you’d have the decency to do the world a favor for once!” shouted Brad.
“Shut up Raker! If you were half the man you think you are, these men would listen to you. Have a nice day!” Donaldson continued to walk into the forest.
“He’s a fool, a darn fool!” said Jackson as he stomped his cigarette out. “Well, I said my prayers. I wonder if Donaldson started praying now, if by the time he gets us killed if he’ll be forgiven.” Jackson groaned and followed the group. Brad stayed back a moment, trying to think of what the best thing in his life was. He couldn’t think of anything.
“Maybe, there is nothing worth saving in life. Maybe not even life itself.” He shrugged and followed his shadow into the forest.