Writing inspired by the SWC creative writing prompt: The Last Soldier

The Last Soldier 

By Natasa Pap

The year was 1945. It was mid october, and the chill in the air was a clear sign that autumn had arrived. The wind was howling this night, making the window frame shake on occasion. It had been three weeks since Jonathan left the army and returned to the village where he grew up. His wife Louisa welcomed him with open arms and a smile filled with warm tears of joy. His daughter Emma didn’t even recognize him at first, probably because of his beard. 

Tonight was another one of those nights when he just woke up from another nightmare. Louisa was sleeping soundly next to him. He didn’t want to disturb her, so he went into the kitchen and poured himself some alcohol. He hoped that the strong drink would erase the horrors he kept reliving after he closed his eyes for the night. But the images of war, spilled blood, the battlefield, his dead comrades, the roar of the firing weapons and the exploding bombs kept coming back to him almost every night.

He was resting his face in his hands, unsure of what to do or how to make the memories stop when a small creak of the floorboards told him that he was not alone.

“Jonathan…” Louisa’s voice echoed in the small room, or maybe it just seemed that way to his exhausted brain. “Does the alcohol help you with the nightmares?”

Damn she’s sharp, he thought as he slowly turned to look at her. “I thought you were sleeping,” he said.

“Did you really think I wouldn’t notice that you’re struggling to readjust to normal life? No one keeps waking up in the middle of the night for no reason, Jonathan.”

“You never thought that I needed to use the bathroom, or get a glass of water?”

“If that was the case, it wouldn’t take you hours to come back to bed.”

She knows me too well, he thought. Couldn’t hide anything from her to save my life.

Louisa approached him and gently placed her hand on his shoulder. Her hand was warm. It felt good to have it on his shoulder like this. It was…comforting. Still he trembled. She knew how he suffered, and he did not really want to hear what she would say next:

“It’s alright to cry, Jonathan, there is no shame in it.” 

She said it–the words he dreaded to hear, but right now they didn’t seem so scary. She held him tightly and securely in her arms, the same way he held her when she needed him to. He cried like a child, unable to hold back even if he wanted to. It was like his soul had finally been released from carrying a huge burden, but he could tell that the feeling of guilt was still lingering.

When Jonathan finally stopped crying, Louisa still held him as if she was afraid that he would disappear if she let him go. She refused to lose him to the war that was already over. 

After they went back to bed, he told her about his comrades, his childhood friends that died in battles. They were all younger than him… and yet they died and he survived. “Why?” he wondered.

“I don’t know,” she replied “but I’m so happy that you’re alive.” She pressed her body against his, and he put his arm around her. He knew they both wouldn’t be able to fall asleep unless they could feel each other.