Short Story: Eyes Forward

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I've been writing off and on since 4th grade, but mostly longer, chapter-style stories. In my freshman year in high school, I wrote my first standalone short-story, titled Eyes Forward, in order to get into the school's literary anthology. Therefore, this is the first piece of writing I ever allowed strangers to read. Very nostalgic, although I have to struggle not to throw it back on the chopping block and fix everything.

~ Eyes Forward ~

With a scream of pain, the horse fell out from under him. Dumas felt himself flying forward, and with a muted clank he hit the ground and rolled into a tree. For a long moment he lay there, breathing hoarsely. It would be easy to just lay there, so very easy. They would find him here, and it would all be over. No more pain, no more guilt, no more suffering and sorrow.

Dumas opened his eyes, looking at the branches of the tree above him. There were no leaves -- the tree was dead, its branches dry and gnarled. Beyond the tree were clouds, gray and forbidding, a curtain across the sky. There was a heavy rattling of metal coming toward him, breaking through the underbrush. So easy to do nothing at all.

There was a brief glint in his eye, and Dumas opened his eyes wider, searching. The rattling was growing near now. Had that been the sun, yet shining beyond that murky veil? The weary soldier closed his eyes. His pursuers were almost upon him, they would find him. He was ready to die. Dumas opened his eyes again, troubled by that thought. He was ready to die -- but not like this.

Lurching to his feet, Dumas drew his kryss, just as the enemy scouts broke through to him...

Moments later, the warrior stood leaning on his sword thrust partway into the ground, breathing heavily. Four more lives lost, to spare his one. So many lives... Was his own life worth such bloodshed..?

Having no answer, Dumas looked toward the south, feeling despair once again. When he looked back northward, though, he fell to his knees in shame. Dumas rocked back on his heels, clutching his head. So many men, so many lives...

Standing up swiftly, Dumas grabbed his kryss and sheathed it. He could shed no tears for them, not yet. Walking over to his fallen steed, Dumas managed to pull out the crossbow bolt with a grunt of effort. He patted its shoulder one last time -- the horse had given him everything it had. There was no looking back, though... he must keep his eyes ever forward.

Moving into a light jog, Dumas began to run onward toward his destination, trying to set a pace he could sustain. His mind would give him no peace as he ran, but he deserved none. It had always been a game to him, an exciting challenge. It was no game: this was reality, this was suffering, and pain, and the will to fight against it. This was a battle for freedom and for life. A battle for life, like all of those lives that were just lost, lives that were lost because of him.

He alone had broken through.

Dumas wished he had died beside his men.

He might have just given up. Dumas turned to look behind him, imagining the bloody battlefield left miles behind him, beyond the trees. He still could. Dumas turned his eyes forward as he continued to run.

Dumas had responsibilities to the land he had lived in for nearly twenty years, obligations to the land that had given him a new life when he had lost his old. To the men who gave their lives for that land, who gave their lives following him into battle, to them he also had obligations.

But would it not be easier to just let it end? He looked over his shoulder again, at the gray, lifeless forests behind him. Just lie down and die, leave the troubles of life behind him. Dumas turned his eyes forward again. Leave the troubles of life behind him, to burden another.

The sight of his destination brought him out of his dark thoughts. Dumas ran faster now, hurrying to reach the clearing around the tower. At last, he reached the edge of the lifeless forest, and scanned the lay of the land. A denser forest grew to the east, to Dumas's left. To his right, in the west, ran a good-sized river, dotted with small ships.

Men-at-arms patrolled everywhere. It would be nigh impossible to finish what he was sworn to do.

Dumas looked west, towards the boats on the bank of the river. If he could steal one, he could make his way back home. Once there he could get more soldiers, or have his lord send someone more capable. Wouldn't he only be jeopardizing the mission were he to attempt it alone? His fist shook as he turned his eyes away from the boats. Many more would have to die than already had. The men had pledged their lives in defense of their home, but it was not yet their time. Dumas turned his eyes forward, to the dark stone tower.

Soon, his eyes began drifting to the left, towards the forest. He could go into that forest, find someplace to rest, regain his strength. Wouldn't his odds be better if he were well rested? Dumas ground his teeth, and turned his eyes forward. There was a good chance he would be found, and then he would have failed.

His best chance was to use the element of surprise. If he didn't have that, then he had nothing.

Abruptly, a thought came to his mind as he looked toward the ground. Why was he risking his life for this land? The faces of those who had fallen during the night, some this very morning, ran through his mind, and his back straightened. For them. That was why he was doing this. He turned his eyes forward.

Dumas checked that his kryss was clear in its sheath. Reaching over his shoulder, he pulled out the crossbow. He loaded a bolt, and then paused. He looked toward the murky skies, waiting for sunshine, preparing to pray for success.

He stopped, then. He had only himself to depend upon -- he would help himself.

Dumas lifted the crossbow, and drew back the bolt. Taking careful aim, he lined up his target. Dumas took a deep, calming breath.

Eyes forward, Dumas, he told himself as his finger tightened on the lever. Eyes forward.

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