A strange tale of unusual affinity with nature held by a special family. Contest entry.
|Word count: 1936
The Alvarez Affinity
"...Mama said she'd raised me better."
And with that, Lt. Alvarez summed up his tale and laughed heartily, as did Sergeant McGovern, Corporal Henderson, Corporal Weiland and the few others of his platoon in earshot to hear his telling of how he knocked up Betty Lou Marlburg before storming off to Europe to fight the Huns.
Sergeant McGovern continued to chuckle while he performed the seemingly futile task of cleaning the dirt from his carbine. "That all she said?"
"What more could she say?" The men laughed again.
"Well, you know... Moms are never satisfied unless their schoolin' ya."
A quirky look suddenly came over Lt. Alvarezes' face. He cocked his head to the side and seemed to drift away in thought.
"See. I knew it! What where her words of wisdom?"
The Lt. fidgeted, his jocularity now gone. "Well, you know," he said, turning serious and solemn, "it was kinda strange actually. She got all serious-like on me." He hesitated, wondering if he should quit now while he was ahead.
"Common, spit it out, man," said Henderson.
"Well, she went into some strange ramblings, from what I remember. Said that our family held a very special, um... stature...? No. Wait." He stopped and thought a moment.
"What are you on about, Alvarez?" Corporal Weiland spoke up, suddenly interested.
"Yes... that WAS the word she used," Alvarez continued, "Stature. She said we held a special stature with nature - meanin' us Alvarezes' - and that now that I joined in the cycle of life, you know, by makin' a kid, that I was bound to the land. Said I should work it, respect it, and never forsake it."
They looked at him quizzically, speechless. A quiet fell over the bomb crater.
"And..." he began, but hesitated.
"Can't wait to here this," McGovern snickered.
"Your mom a drinker, Alvey?" quipped Corporal Henderson.
"She said that if I fed it properly, our family would never lose our stature, and forever gain succor."
"What the hell does that mean?" blurted Weiland, dumbfounded. "Is that some kind of gypsy speak?" Weiland scratched his head. "I didn't know you came from gypsy stock, Lt."
"What..." blurted McGovern, "...this Kansas, prairy-land bloke? Hmph. Probably more injin blood runnin' through those veins than anything else." He ceased his cleaning though, waiting for the Lt.'s reply, fascinated.
"I didn't catch her meaning at the time, and she didn't see fit to elaborate," said Lt. Alvarez. "Damned if I know... ain't never did figure it out."
Lt. Alvarez lay bleeding in the mud. It had happened. Oh, God dammit!
He never believed it could happen to him.
He'd been mortally wounded by a glowing red piece of hot shrapnel - a gift by one of Keiser Wilhelm's well trained artillery squads. A gaping, red-black hole of torn, burnt flesh adorned his side. When he had the nerve to look at it, he could see part of his ribs sticking out.
But he could not accept that he was about to die. He loved life too dearly to be able to even submit upon his mind the idea of his own cessation. Surely he would hold out. He had to.
He would leave this war-torn land, hang up his rifle for good, and find his way back home, back to the grandeur of his past life - the one with Betty Lou and their boy before the war stole him away. Back to that of caring for them and tending the fertile fields of corn and cabbage, the vast, green expanse of which always awed and inspired him. Back to the people and the land that he loved, the life he'd grown to cherish.
Even having witnessed intimately the horrors and brutal savagery of war, still, he loved life.
His eyes were drawn to the little plant rooted beside him where he lay. He and it were the only living things in the war-torn field of mud. His platoon, holed up together in that filthy bomb crater, had taken a direct hit and was decimated. Only he was left still breathing. He and the little plant.
In the grip of pain-induced delusions, he imagined that it was offering solace and succor to him - the sudden memory of that long ago talk with his mother, brought on by the telling of his tale only moments before the murderous, German shell erupted in their midst, taking hold of his mind.
Its leaves where strong and healthy, verily quivering to embrace the sunshine; its stalk, green and vital, sparkled fresh with dew. He loved that little plant in the withering moments of his life - took comfort in its company. It spoke in volumes to him about the beauty and grace the world had to offer, the beauty and grace he knew was out there, beyond the battles. If only he could get away from this wretched war.
He reached out and touched it, feeling its delicacy, its life, and he was shamed when he saw that he had stained it with his blood.
Then he died.
That was in 1918, in a lonely field on French territory. His body was never found, and slowly, his flesh was eaten away, adding to nature's inevitable advance by becoming building blocks for maggot bodies, and fertilizer to the beautiful plant by his side. His bones bleached and weathered, and in time became buried in the soil beside the plant.
But the plant survived the war. It had grown to a sapling and then to a tree, and its strong roots had weaved in and around Lt. Alvarezes' bones beneath the ground.
Lt. Alvarez lay bleeding in the mud. It had happened. Oh, God dammit!
He'd been hit by a silent bullet swishing throught the air - a gift by one of Hitler's well trained infantry. The bullet pierced his thigh, and while it hurt like hell, he clung to the hope that it wouldn't kill him.
But it bled. It bled fiercely. It bled so thick and steadily that he was surprised he carried so much blood within him. It struck him that he would die from blood loss if he didn't find a medic soon. But he was all alone. Where was his squad? He screamed for them. He peered intently upon the horizon in all directions, but he was alone.
The earth was ravaged around him, pocked with craters filled with tepid, brown water, a wasteland of battle-torn terrain for miles around. The only thing of beauty was the tree he had fallen beside. Though even it was battle scarred with rips and slashes across its trunk and frays of singed bark peeling away in many spots. He was grateful for its shade, for it blocked the torrid sunshine that threatened to bake him dry. God help me, I'm so thirsty...
"I need help over here," he shouted weakly, his voice cracking like a gangley adolescent boy aproaching puberty. But there was no one to hear him.
"God... where are you guys, dammit!" He shrank back propped against the tree, fatigued, his life-blood draining away. "Oh God dammit..." he sobbed, "...I need help..." the words trailing off to but a whisper.
As he lay back, it struck him that he must do something to save himself. What the hell was he doing just laying there? "Get a tourniquet on that leg, you fool!"
He reached for his combat knife and began slashing at the hem of his shirt, endeavoring to make strips that he could use to tie off the bleeding. But his fatigue had grown to the point where even that simple act was impossible for him.
In a moment of rage at his own uselessness, he plunged his knife into the trunk of the tree, depleting much of his reserves of energy. It sunk deep, becoming stuck there, and his hand listlessly slipped off the hilt.
Moments ticked by.
But he could not give up like that, for he loved life too much. "Try again... got to try again."
He reached up for the knife and pulled it out of the tree with every last bit of energy he had. As it came out, he stared, watching sap oozing out, thick and wet, soon becoming more a flow than a trickle. And it was... RED? What?
He rubbed his eyes and looked again in disbelief. He wasn't sure if his mind was playing tricks on him, but the sap looked exactly the same as the thick, scarlet fluid rushing steadily down his pant leg and seeping into the ground around him. He tasted the sap, and tasted a fleshy, irony flavor, like eating raw liver.
It was blood! Life-giving blood... or so he chose to believe in his torpor. All of a sudden, a woody, pine-like needle fell from the tree's branches and into his lap. A moment after that, so too did a section of vine fall. And Lt. Alvarez be damned if it wasn't hollow. Green and strong and hollow. Tubular!
Lt. Alvarez was tire and weak. His head was spinning. Dizziness threatened to make him pass out. He was slipping away. He had nothing left. And so he gave in to disbelief. He knew he was hallucinating, knew he was on the verge of death, but he found sanctuary in the idea of playing out this tranced dream which had come upon him. It felt like the right thing to do.
He hastened to proceed with a transfusion. A magical transfusion.
Lucky for him, his brain was too blood-starved for rational thought. Because rationality at that particular moment would have been his death sentence. If he could have become removed from his body, looked on from a distance upon the scene of him lying there against the tree, his wounded body letting blood into the soil around him, and saw, with the full extent of lucidity his mind was normally capable of, what he was about to do, he surely would have put a stop to the insanity.
He pressed one end of the vine-tube into the seeping hole in the tree and waited. Before long, blood-sap began trickling out the other end of the tube. He fastened the piney needle to that end, marveled at how perfectly it fit and, without the slightest hesitation, plunged it into the bulging vein running along his forearm.
He lay back, closed his eyes, and let the strange, magical, life-giving event come to fruition.
And while he did not know it, could not know it, would never know it, it would be pure folly for this writer to deny that it was the blood of his father - who's bones lay buried directly beneath him, strewn and held securely amid the tangle of the tree's vast network of roots, roots which had soaked up all the victuals contained in that soldier of long ago and incubated it for love of a special family - which young Lt. Alvarez injected into his veins, and in so doing, received the succor due all Alvarezes, as promised by the land upon which his singular family held a strange stature with.
In time, Lt. Alvarez limped away from the muddy field of battle, the tree and it's gift but a fading whimsical tale swimming through the riptides of delirium which sundered his thoughts, and he dissapeared over the horizon forever away from that place.
And after he took his leave, unbeknownst to all, the tree died. It died in a mostly peaceful way, its consciousness ebbing slowely, glad of its intimacy with the Alvarez men and honored by its service of succor, but, alas, wholly sickened by war.