A good friend of mine, P.T. Wyant, is doing a blog post every Wednesday called Wednesday Words with a new prompt for a bit of flash fiction writing, just to get in the habit of writing something, anything. (Even if said flash fiction is complete garbage at the time. Garbage is better than nothing though, right?) If you’re looking for some inspiration yourself or just something to aimlessly write, then go check out her blog for this week’s prompt!
With that being said, I am going to share what I came up with for this week’s flash fiction Shard based off a photo prompt. So here is my very rough around the edges minute of inspiration based off her prompt. I’d love to hear what you guys think of it!
(Please excuse any errors you may see, I said it was rough around the edges.)
This story is dedicated to each and every man and woman who has ever served, is serving, or will serve our country. You have given more for our country than many of us ever will, and you will never be forgotten in our hearts for your sacrifices. Our world may be backwards and shitty in some aspects, but there are still many out there who will have a hand on your back and a presence at your side. There are still those out there who support you wholeheartedly, for we owe you much.
In the wee early hours of dawn, winter’s breath was frigid and blustering through the park, ruffling drifts of snow in twirling ballerina dances. The wooden bench underneath him was rough and worn, and hardly comfortable to lay on. Another gust of cold air had him reaching shivering hands for the edges of a tattered, dirty wool blanket to pull it closer over his huddled frame. It was nearly impossible to stay even remotely warm in the midst of January’s squall, like it was every year.
When sleep would no longer grace his mind with peaceful ignorance to the world around him a weary sigh escaped him. Shifting around on the bench he sat up, shivering more and pulling the blanket tighter. Grey gloves covered dry, cracked hands as he reached for the paper bag that held a five dollar bottle of whiskey, the fingertips of almost every finger frayed and missing from years of use.
Lifting the bottle to his lips for a quick swig he found nothing left. It was empty. Irritation creased his face, wrinkles becoming more prominent. With a huff and sneer he tossed the bag and bottle behind him into the snow, grumbling as he huddled down. His shoulders pulled forward, back hunching up.
Displeased, angry eyes swept over his surroundings, coming to rest on a snowman across the path. He remembered the children who had spent the afternoon running around flinging snowballs at each other and building the lopsided thing yesterday. Parents had stood stomping their feet, hands shoved in pockets, and hoods up trying to stay warm while the munchkins ran around like a pack of wild dogs.
For a moment his eyes softened slightly as he thought back on them. He had watched them play, having nothing else to do to occupy his time. One small girl had accidentally thrown a snowball that went wide and had smacked into his shoulder. Poor thing had been nearly horrified at her mistake, had come rushing over to apologize.
“Mister, mister,” she had said in a rush, cheeks flushed with play and cold. “I’m so sorry. Daddy has always tried to teach me aim, for softball, but I cannot get it.”
She had shaken her head, looking at him with such innocence and shame that he hadn’t been able to stop the tiny smile quirking at his lips. Even now he couldn’t stop that smile. He had brushed the snow off himself and assured her it was no worry. He had even given her a few pointers on follow through to help learn her aim. As he was telling and showing her though — well aware of the mother’s eyes resting on them and thoroughly surprised she didn’t pull her daughter away — the little girl had seen something glinting in a rare patch of sunshine within the folds of his coat.
“What’s that?” she had asked, pointing to the pendant pinned over his chest.
And he had paused, following her gaze and motion to rest weary, grey eyes upon a medal of honor. A small stripe of purple ribbon with white trim, and an elongated heart-shaped gold pendant with a purple center. The face of George Washington himself sitting center in it with the coat of arms.
He had become solemn the moment he laid eyes on it, eyes go distant and body stilling. Even now a mistiness tickled at his eyes as he looked down at the medal, recalling so many memories. Some pleasant, but most horrific and unspeakable. But he had forced on a smile for the small girl, and unclipped the medal from his coat for her to see.
Then he had told her, “that there, little lady, is simply a token of appreciation from a fellow friend. I helped pull some buddies out of some tough spots as we made a run for it in life and that was Sam’s way of saying thank you to me. It was some…trying times.”
By then the mother had come to stand on the walkway, watching them with a saddened gaze, a touch of respect deep within. Her daughter was admiring the Purple Heart in her hands before she looked up at him and handed it back, then said, “sounds like quite the story, mister.”
“Lissa,” her mother had said softly, calling her back. “Let’s not disturb the gentleman now.”
The disappointed look that had crossed her face had nearly crushed his heart. She had looked from her mother to him and asked, “maybe sometime you can tell me that story, mister? I’d really like to hear it.”
His heart throbbed double time as he recalled her words, both in a lingering ache from the words of yesterday and a new stab of guilt. She was but a child, and war stories were not bedtime tales for small children. Perhaps though, if she ever returned, he could make up some gallant tale of dragons and knights in shining armor as a disguise.
“Ay,” he had replied though, clearing his throat against the rising lump that choked him even now upon remembrance. “Perhaps sometime I can.” Then he had pinned the medal back to his coat and told her to run along and play with her friends once more, and to keep up practicing her aim.
She had made him a full hearted promise to do just that then skipped off back to her friends to play. His eyes had remained innocently on her for a moment with a deep regret and longing, for he had lost his family some time ago. It wasn’t until he had realized the mother of the child had stepped up to him that he had looked away from her happy, glowing face so full of life and potential.
To his surprise, the mother had reached out and taken his hand, pressing a fifty dollar bill into his palm and closing his fingers over it. “Thank you,” she had said with tears in her eyes. They were two simple words, but held a heavy weight, loaded full of emotion and laced in more than one meaning. It had nearly brought him to tears as well. She had given his hand a squeeze and then gone off to join her waiting friends.
He reached into his coat pocket, feeling the crumbled fifty dollar bill as if making sure the act of kindness hadn’t been a dream. He had yet to use it on anything. Despair and depression had darkened him the rest of the day after the encounter, knowing he would never again have a life like they did, and would probably die on the streets. For that was the thanks his country gave him for his service. The loss of his family, his home, the lack of treatment and medication he desperately needed for his sacrifices.
The ache that chipped away at his left leg seemed to intensify just by thinking about it. Shrapnel from an IED was never a thing to joke about. He rubbed at the aching soreness and looked back to the snowman smiling warmly at him with pebbled teeth.
His mind wandered back to the family he had watched, the little girl. Then back to his own family, wondering where they were now, what they were doing. If they were warm and happy without him. His heart throbbed and cracked in his chest, eyes tearing up until the saltiness slid down dirty cheeks, nearly freezing upon his skin in the frigid temperatures.
Snow crunched next to him and he gazed up, expecting a light shining in his eyes and another police officer to tell him he couldn’t squat here. At least if he was taken into holding he would have a warm place to stay for a few hours.
To his utter surprise it wasn’t a uniform of blue he looked up to though, it was a family. The small girl from yesterday smiled warmly to him and held out another blanket. “Mister?” she said kindly. “Mommy and daddy told me more, about what that token of yours means, and I…” She looked up to her parents than back to him. “I wanted to help. No one deserves to live like this. Will you…let us help you get back on your feet?”
At first he could form no words, staring in disbelief. He was touched beyond the ability to function. Finally he tore his eyes from the girl’s face to look at the parents. They wore the same brand of kindness and desire to help him upon their features. A lump caught in his throat, hardly noticing the fresh set of tears slipping down his cheeks.
“You…really mean that?” he had to ask, voice catching and cracking.
The father nodded, putting one arm around his wife’s waist and the other on his daughter’s shoulder. “I have connections through friends to housing projects committed to helping homeless veterans reclaim their lives. I can get you into one, help you get settled in. What do you say?”
He sniffled, a light laugh of pure relief spilling from chapped lips. “I think…your daughter’s aim was my saving grace.” She shrunk a little in embarrassment and it nearly made him chortle in amusement, but he nodded. “Yes, I… I cannot repay you though…”
The girl’s father stepped forward, holding out a hand to shake. “Sir, you have no reason to repay us for a simple act of kindness. You have already repaid that debt a thousand times over to this whole country.”
He clasped hands with the father at the wrists, looking up to meet his eyes with a somber gaze as he unsteadily was helped to his feet. The father never let go while he gained his balance and suddenly he realized something. “You’ve served to, haven’t you?”
One stiff nod was his answer before he stood to attention and gave him a salute. “Welcome home, soldier. Semper fi.”
Now you can find this flash fiction work and others on my profile on Wattpad! Click here for my profile and go dive into a sea of Shards of Imagination!