The Drill Sergeant

The drill sergeant kept walking down the line, getting closer, he could tell because the sighs and metallic, bodily crunches were growing louder ever so slowly. He is the only boy moving, the others look dazed, or maybe they are only exhausted. Above them are lines and lines of fastened barbed wire, and to their sides the posts linking them are driven deep into the ground, far too close to push through. He tries to push them apart or over, or pull them up, but they don’t budge. He tries the same moving backwards, pushing with his legs on the other side, but they don’t budge. This distance is too wide to brace himself onto both sides to push harder. As the noise grows closer, he scrambles away from it, and begins pushing himself over, under, or around the seemingly endless boys trapped underneath with him.
For the past few days they had been warned, the elderly Mrs. Ricci had quietly told another boy that the sergeant was cruel, that he could not be trusted, let alone obeyed and assisted. They hadn’t believed her, they thought she was too old for the sergeant to want to do the things she had claimed he’d done to her. He remembered that now as he made another boy cry out softly, pushing him against the wire to barely squeeze beneath him. He found tears were pouring from his eyes, he tried to straighten out in order to move around the boys more easily from now on, to move faster. It maybe helped a little.
They had also seen that cunning little fox, and as the boy thought of that he saw the fox was running, almost dancing, along a laundry line hanging parallel to their enclosure, it looked down at him and kept alongside him as he struggled. When he stopped the fox did what it had been doing, increasingly frequently for weeks, spun itself in a circle and shook its head violently back and forth. The boy wanted to say, I’m sorry, I wish we had understood, I wish we had listened but just then the fox had stopped its seemingly constant movement and looked sorrowfully down at him, and at all of them. Please don’t give up on me. But the boy watched the fox move, less whimsically now, to a spot between hanging military jackets, where it performed its most uncanny skill, flopped and appeared to deflate, looking exactly like a fox skin hung out to dry.
Despite his struggles, and his current exhaustion, the noise grows closer and closer. Down the line we can see the gangly limbs of the drill sergeant walking impatiently down the line, stopping at each boy and driving his heavy, sharply-angled, keenly-sharpened metal spade down into their bodies. His bony arms driving it easily, and with measured slowness, through their chests or their throats, sinking into the mud below before it rises back up. The boys moan into the muddy, bloody, unclear water as they sink into the soil and into death. They can only really tell what is going on as the sergeant comes close enough to be caught in their lines of sight which are only straight up or straight out. In their hopelessness they only moan or cry or mutter a few quiet words. As it has grown closer the boy has understood a strange and common refrain, every few boys he hears, I understand now, coming out of the fading throats.
The boy starts to struggle again but he cannot get under the next boy, large and robust, and as he tries and tries to push under him he succeeds on inspiring the boy to come out of the seemingly universal stupor just enough to push him back hard, sending his open mouth down into the mud and water. The drill sergeant’s tall, gangly form grows closer, as do the moans and schinks of the shovel’s work.
The boy can sense the movement in his peripheral vision now. He grows quiet and looks as far up to the bright, blue, cloudless sky above. In his gaze he sees the fox, head lifted from its skin-like camouflage form, and in its eyes a terrible unreadable blackness. A blackness in which he sees the reflection of too many other boys making the same mistakes, too many others falling or submitting to the whims of a sergeant. The man grows close enough and the fox flattens its head back down, its fight cannot and will not be lost this day. The boy closes his eyes and breathes deep as he, for the first time that day, feels the warm sun on his face. He feels its pleasure. The lines of his face grow less tight. I understand now, he mutters before the shovel comes down and sends him to his final rest with a long and soft moan.

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