Articles of War

Articles of War by Nick Arvin Read Free Book Online Page B

Book: Articles of War by Nick Arvin Read Free Book Online
Authors: Nick Arvin
Tags: Fiction
nodded. He moved to return it to his pocket.
    â€œPlay it, why don’t you?” said his neighbor. “Go ahead.”
    Heck wound it and opened the lid. The notes moved within the random noise of the wind, the artillery, and the truck’s creaking and shuddering so that sometimes the music was submerged and sometimes several notes could be heard quite clearly. It sounded extraordinarily beautiful to Heck. When the music stopped, the soldier beside him took the box from him, wound it again, and held it to his ear. When he handed it back, Heck allowed the last, slowing notes to play out, then closed the box and returned it to his pocket.
    A minute later the man beside him asked, “Are you afraid?” He spoke with a sympathetic tone, but also rapidly—an easterner, Heck guessed.
    Heck failed to respond. Pockets of orange light flickered on the horizon, and the corresponding percussion arrived several seconds after. An elbow nudged him and the question was repeated, “Are you afraid?”
    The voice spoke softly, but even so Heck was not certain that others in the truck could not hear. He said, “No, I’m not.”
    â€œI am,” said the voice, rising slightly in pitch. The truck shuddered through a rapid series of potholes. “I’m glad I am. As long as I’m afraid, I’m still alive.” The body beside Heck shifted slightly. “How come you’re not afraid?”
    Heck felt irritated and at first he was not going to answer, but suddenly he conceded, in a rush, “I guess I am a little.”
    â€œYeah?”
    â€œI guess.”
    â€œGood. That means you’re still alive too. I hope I stay afraid through this entire war, then go home afraid. I want many long years of fear after that, afraid for a wife, afraid for children—as long as I’m afraid for them, that means they’re still alive too, because you don’t feel afraid for someone who’s already died, you just feel sad and sorry. Then at a ripe old age, still fearing death, I’ll die. That makes sense, doesn’t it?”
    â€œSure.”
    In truth, though, Heck was so clenched up with nervousness he could hardly follow his neighbor’s line of thought. He glanced over at the man. All he could see were the eyes, which were large and protuberant, and the whites were a faint blue glowing all around the irises. They gave an impression of permanent startlement. “What’s your name?” the voice asked.
    â€œGeorge Tilson. But people have been calling me Heck.”
    â€œHeck? That’s a funny name.”
    â€œI guess.”
    â€œDon’t be offended. My name is Anthony.”
    The truck made a sharp turn that evoked curses and forced everyone to clutch at their rifles and sent packs sliding over the floor. Gradually things and people were restored to their places. The truck’s up and down and side to side had surpassed the point of causing simple soreness and had become a kind of torture. Heck accepted each new jolt with hatred. On top of this he might die tonight.
    Anthony said, “You’re still a little afraid?”
    â€œYes.”
    â€œMe too. I figure as long as we keep this up, we’ll be fine.”
    Now, suddenly, artillery shells were landing not far away, and in their flickering light the silhouettes of a town could be seen, buildings dimly visible on either side of the road. The truck slowed to a crawling pace but did not stop, and the corporal jumped out of the cab and came to the back of the truck, saying like a rapid chant, “Out! Out! Out!” The men stood, heaving up their packs. Heck was pushed out by the man behind him, and he flailed briefly in open space before hitting cobblestones with his knee, hip, and shoulder. He scrambled to get away before another soldier landed atop him. The truck never fully stopped, was in fact accelerating before the last pair of men had jumped out. Heck saw the others gathering

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