a Short Story by Raquel Swann
The soldiers march according to plan. All in a line and in the correct order. Their feet touch the ground at the exact same time.Their hands hold the rifle in the exact same spot. Their pace quickens and then slows but they are always in sync. A man shouts from the distance commanding them to do so. For he was a soldier once and so they shall follow in his footsteps. Marching and chanting, and in unison, and in perfect harmony, and all by the man that commands them. The soldiers shall become the same person the man once was and this is how it will be because his words are infallible. Undeniable and absolute. Finite. After all, the man was taught this from another man, who learned from another man who learned from another man. And so on and so forth. No one can remember who the predecessors were or what they may have said- the soldiers just know that this is the WAY and the way it shall be forevermore.
The man that commands knows right from left, up from down, and back from front. No one can tell him different because there is no alternative. The way he has been taught is correct. He wasn’t there in the very beginning, yet he has been told that he must march in this way. He must hold his rifle in this way. He must stay in sync with the other soldiers. And when he is old enough to train his soldiers he must teach them everything he has learned and he will.
The man sees something he has never seen in all his years and has never heard of in all his wisdom. He begins to bellow from deep within his soul. He does not yell at everyone but someone. He yells at a lone soldier whose uniform in disarray.
This solider does not hold his rifle in the exact same spot, nor does he march at the exact same pace. His feet touch the ground before or after the other soldiers but never quite at the same time. This solider has the same uniform on, the same boots, the same gloves, the same hat, the same rifle, yet he breaks the line.
He wants to walk left when others walk right. He is compelled to march forward when others go backward. He feels it more comfortable to hold his rifle slightly lower than the other soldiers.
The man knows this is wrong because it has to be. No one has ever walked backward when he commanded forward. No one has ever went right when he shouted left. “This is the way it always was and always will be,” he says aloud.
The lone soldier takes a long hard stare at the man. His lips curl up, forming a smile on his face as he begins to speak.
“How many others were there before who wanted to march left when you called right? How many others were there before who did not wish to walk in straight lines? How many others were afraid to do so because this way, YOUR WAY, is the right way? I must walk my own path for those who came before me who could not. I ask for nothing in return. Just to wish me well along my new path!”
“You are wrong. There is only one way and it is this way,” shouted the man who was nearly in tears,”You will never be a real soldier and can never be anything but dirt. Dirt and nothingness is where your path lies now. Be gone with you and learn for yourself that this is the way it is, and should be always.”
After a long pause, there was no answer. The soldier walked in the other direction without the thought of looking back. A few other soldiers followed him because they had always felt the same. The other direction called to them and they wanted so badly to walk along a new path.
There was uncertainty and angst, but this is the way it will always be from this day forward. Perhaps if they taught the new soldiers that there were now two paths from which they can choose, one or two may decide to take a third path if they felt so inclined. However, from this day forward that would no longer matter.