Still, 1916

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The sentinels stood in the stillness of winter and waited for death.

I was sent out to see who they were and where they had come from. It was information I would remain ignorant of.

Dusk settled in the rest area, and the men and a gnarled tree appeared. Two stood near the tree, the other in its branches.

They were immobile, rigid in their focus.

I approached them slowly, rifle at the ready.

I had only to establish the identities of these men, what their unit was, and why in the hell they were in our rest area.

As I moved closer, bringing the rifle up to my shoulder, the air became colder, the temperature sinking. My breath exited my nostrils in great plumes, and the sight of the vapor brought me to a stop.

No such vapor escaped the mouths and noses of the men by the tree.

With the stock of my weapon still tucked into my shoulder, I came to the closest man and saw his eyes dart wildly from left to right as they attempted to fix on me. I moved to the man in the tree and then to the one farther out. They, like the first, were alive, though they could neither move nor breathe.

Standing near the last man, who was little more than a boy, I heard a soft laugh, and then bloodless letters were scratched into his cheek. As the flesh split open and a word was formed, I stepped back, my thoughts racing, searching for the translation.

Majko.

Mother.

“Another Hollow,” my mother’s voice coiled and snapped in the cold air. “Smaller. Little more than this hill. But I can find you anywhere, Duncan.”

I spat on the ground and blew out the soldier’s brains.

My mother let out a screech as I turned on my heel and shot the other two men.

The snow snapped up into a whirlwind around me, but I paid it no mind as I stomped to the tree, whose bark was old and brittle.

As my mother attempted to blind me with snow, I struck a match, leaned in close, and set the tree on fire.

My mother’s voice went silent, and the tree disappeared though the bodies remained.

With my rifle in the crook of my arm, I returned to camp and gave a report in which nothing made sense.

Published by

Nicholas Efstathiou

Husband, father, and writer.

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