He curled deeper into the trench - into the damp, cold, putrid darkness. The sounds of the battle above him continued to rage. He exhaled slowly, thankful for the respite.
The man could not remember when he had chosen to leave the battlefield and crawl into this place. Had it been the enemy - lined up within shouting distance, armed with deadly weapons, eyes filled with hatred - that had driven him here? Hunger and thirst had also taken their toll as his strength slowly drained. He could not remember ever feeling so empty, weary, spent.
More likely, though, his moment of surrender had been when a sniper took careful aim and fatally struck down his comrade and friend. Yes, that could have been it. The instant when all that is just, holy, and pure seemed to vanish like the morning mist.
Whatever the reason, he had had enough. He needed sleep - a peaceful slumber, saturated with dreams instead of nightmares. No horror…just escape. The soldier closed his eyes.
The dream carried him away: a grassy meadow sprinkled with daisies, dandelions, and butterflies; a mockingbird singing a beautiful medley; a bubbling stream. He lay on his back and watched the clouds float in the clear blue sky, weightless and unhindered by the burdens and battles of the earth down below.
Another explosion, closer this time, jolted him awake. He whimpered and pressed his cheek into the dank stinking dirt of the trench. His fingers clawed at the mud as his cries swelled into sobs - soul-shaking wails of anguish, anger and longing.
“Why have you brought me here, God? I cannot go back out there. I WILL not go back out there! I’m tired of fighting. Just turn me over to the enemy, I really don’t care anymore.”
He wiped his mud-streaked cheeks and shifted his body to a more comfortable position. Machine gunfire interrupted his thoughts; fear strangled his heart and captured his mind. He closed his eyes again, willing the battle to stop, just stop.
A different noise met his ears - a voice, a barely discernible whisper.
“Who’s there?” he said, trembling in the dark.
“Pete,” a man’s voice drifted over to his hiding place. “It’s me - Pete. I’ve been shot, Joe. Could you give me a hand?”
Joe crawled over, groping around in the trench until he found the man.
“Pete, what are you doing here? Where’s the rest of the squad?”
“I don’t know, man. I got confused out there in the field, saw you jump in this hole. Then I got shot - right here.” Pete patted his chest, while Joe scrambled for his mini-Mag Lite and turned it on. The small beam revealed Pete’s wound - a massive chest injury.
“Geesh, Pete! We’ve got to find you a medic - now!”
“Forget it, Joe. This is it, man. I think my time’s up, you know. Just let it go.” His chest jerked with a spasm as he struggled to suck in some air. “I’m not afraid to die. I mean, I’m ready to head on home. Joe…” he gasped and grabbed hold of Joe’s arm,
“look in my jacket pocket. My Bible’s in there. I want you to have it.” A trickle of blood oozed from the corner of Pete’s mouth. “Look up Romans 8:37, Joe. We’re in a battle, you know - here, on this earth. But the war’s already been won, man. Look at the cross, Joe … look at the cross.” Pete’s hand loosened its grip on Joe’s arm and fell slowly into the mud.
Joe held the worn out Bible and read the passage through tears, the tiny light illuminating the words, the truth, his heart.
The morning finally broke, bright and clear, and the old veteran slowly opened his eyes. A mockingbird sang outside his bedroom window. He crawled out of bed and opened the blinds. There it was, sitting on a tree branch, singing a medley. It seemed familiar to the man, an echo of something past…and something yet to come. He remembered the dream - the flower-filled meadow, the blue sky….the Words.
“In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
A smile, slow and weak, tugged at the corners of his mouth. He turned to face the dawning day, and shuffled toward the ordinary everyday battles that lay ahead.
“It ain’t over yet,” he thought, a peace warming his soul like a gentle rain.
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