The following short story was one I wrote back in high school. It won an honorable mention in a county-wide contest, which was remarkable enough to post my picture in the city paper. I was surprised because I honestly hated this story, loathed this character I created, and still do. But to this day, it’s one of the few works of mine that has been recognized as an achievement. So continue on and I hope you enjoy.
Beautiful Destruction on Glory Road
He had dreamt for years of coming back. Had it been centuries? No, he knew it could not have been that long, though it felt that way. The feeling of that came from his aging bones and the lines of time that had snaked themselves across the skin of his face, that weary face. It wasn’t particularly time that had done that, nor was it time that had paled his once sun-soaked blonde hair into the powdery gray it was now, but his time in the skies and time in the camps. Now here he was, in that one place of wonder he thought was lost after his fun. The old veteran had never thought that this Glory Road would be just as beautiful as he always imagined it to be, but it was so much more than what he could remember, now that he stood at its corner, like being face to face with the monster that you were afraid of as a pathetic child. He remembered being given a drug at one of the camps, during a break hour of course, and never could he have thought to find anything else that could unravel him like that.
The road was dark asphalt, like coal, and though he had seen this color his whole life, it was more beautiful than any other paved road. Not that this Glory Road was perfect, but it was in some ways. Yes, it was perfect in his glassy, pale blue eyes.
This road brought everything he could remember back with a throbbing pulse drumming in his temples. He remembered thinking those years ago that he would someday return to this sacred ground, but he had to stay out of sight for so long. Hiding himself in rundown flats through an enemy city, a city he had helped attack, kept him from thoughts of imprisonment and very likely death by the Chair. The old man knew, of course, that he and his own buddies were some of the lucky ones who ran through the European countries, escaping death.
The chilly air breezed around him, like cold arms and smooth palms caressing his face, but his skin had become so much like rough leather that he could hardly feel the air. Battles had changed everything about him, both spiritually and physically. Only that was then and this was now. Those were just fond memories he had carried with him up until now and would probably still be carrying with them all the way to Heaven’s gate.
They didn’t matter.
For now, only the houses that lined either side of the Glory Road mattered. They sat in perfect rows on both side of the sacred road, facing each other. A hollow feeling radiated from the houses. That’s all that they were; houses, or prisons. They used to be homes, but now they were ghosts. Ghosts that watched him with their glassy window eyes, like accusing oversized monsters. They accused him of a long ago act, an act that he cherished and thought about almost every day in his long life. Oh, how he loved that act as much as his own life.
His heart was accelerating, pounding harder with each beat, like a deaf drummer trying to see if they could hear the drum beat if they only just pounded harder. His sand-dry mouth was agape in awe as he glanced all around at the accusing ghosts and shadows. His left hand gave a twitch. Even his bad right knee began to feel swollen.
He only stood at the end of Glory Road, though. The beginning, really, where another public road ran adjacent to this one. There was no other soul around, none from what the old man could see now, and the choking silence that hung above his head like Damocles’ sword reminded him of that in this waking moment. It was alright, though, because he wasn’t afraid of ghosts or houses that resembled giant monsters for he had seen worse than standstill monsters. The old man had seen Hell erupt before his eyes in the forms of bullets, bombs, and grenades. Besides, he wasn’t standing on the dark coal asphalt…yet.
His pale eyes cast down to the start of the paved road, and he moved the foot of his bad knee forward, resting the sole of his worn boot on that dark street. He put pressure on it, pausing at the moment; he had always imagined this, coming back to the memorable ground he had dreamt, loved, and obsessed over for the past years…years that were like centuries that had now seemed like eternities.
He felt a shiver pass from the sole of his foot up to his bad knee, and he shuddered in delight from the feeling; it was better than he had dreamt it to be. It was more of hype than when he was a small boy, listening to stories of his father, the rich heart surgeon, had told him about all of his risky operations. His father had told him a lot about those surgeries, maybe too much to tell a dangerously curious boy of eight. With the knowledge of his father’s stories, he had tried his own hand at the surgery. God only knows how many of his mother’s chickens had been ‘attacked by a rogue dog’.
“I came out and scared it away, Ma,” he had told her. “And it ran away before it could eat more than that chicken’s breast.”
His mother had looked at him with her blue-gray eyes that mirrored his own. “You should never approach a dog when it has blood in its mouth; they turn to beasts with that taste in their mouth. If you see that dog with one of our chickens again, just let it go. They are only stupid fowl.”
For the next year, he had seen that ‘rogue dog’ more than enough for his parents to sell the rest of their birds and simply go to the market
But that was a different time, and it didn’t matter for now.
He carefully glanced around the deserted Glory Road, not thinking or feeling, just experimenting. But he stepped on, slowly but not yet trudging. No, he would never trudge down Glory Road. He had yearned for this for so long, and he was going to enjoy his time here. He drank in the steps over the hard asphalt, the cool air, and the gray skies overhead. He took notice of the picturesque houses, the prisons, and the perfectly trimmed yards that were dead. It was in the middle of winter, the grass and trees dead, the colors of pale ash ranging to a dirty brown being their avatar colors.
It was perfect.
He watched the accusing monster houses that stared him down.
They seemed to say: You…you…you…
It felt as if the houses would start chanting that aloud, screaming it at him, but they only stood still where they were planted into the dead grass.
‘Me, Me, Me’ he countered, his tongue thick in his mouth like it had swollen up. ‘Here I am, living, and there you are, ghosts. Guess who won that round?’
He smiled slightly, but it vanished as he came to a precise spot, down the middle of the road. His bad knee seemed irritated, the kneecap restless and unable to stay in one still spot as he had walked, so it just rotated in different areas of his knee. It threatened to buckled.
But that didn’t matter. Nor would it ever matter.
He had come to the house that he craved to see the most. The house that he had more dreams of visiting than anything else here on Glory Road.
The house had its own picturesque scene of dead grass and shrubs that shriveled in front of the front windows. One white door cut the house in the middle, a stone step it’s only welcoming matt. A cobblestone pathway led to it, splitting the yard in two equal parts. The man smiled at it, and had no problem that there was no address or numbers put on the plain white mailbox.
It didn’t matter. It never did. It was nothing compared to this house.
In a split moment, he fell in love with the house. A better love than Romeo and Juliet. This was obsession, and it was more pleasurable than basic fairy-tale love. It was even better to be obsessed with something that only you could treasure.
It was everything he had dreamt it would be.
He hobbled down the path, taking in the fact that there were no curtains over the windows, none at all. But that did not matter. It was what was inside that mattered, right? Of course.
The man hesitated as he climbed up the one porch step. He hesitated at the brass doorknob. It seemed gloomy and accusing towards him, too. But the rest of the house seemed inviting. He just had to avoid staring into the glassy window eyes of it. He was about to go through the mouth.
He reached up with his arthritis-stricken hand, his fingers trembling with pain and ecstasy. He grasped the doorknob in a tough and hard grip as if it had turned into a live grenade right there in his hand, not that he didn’t know that feeling. He was afraid it would explode right there in his hand in hell-hot embers. But he twisted it, his wrist screaming with pain as he did, and he shoved the door open in a rough manner.
It flew open, but as it hit the wall it made no sound. It wasn’t supposed to. Nothing but the eerie sound of calm breezes was supposed to sound. That did matter in this. No sounds until later. Just like he dreamt and lived it. This was his fantasy now, and even if he couldn’t recall every little bit of detail, he was going to enjoy himself. He had thought of this moment for much, much too long. It was going to be too heartbreaking to sit and try to think if that door had ever made a sound. No, too painful to let this moment go of walking through this house of all things.
He peered inside the blank house. He thought it blank because it was; nothing but ivory and white showed in the carpet, the walls, or the furniture that greeted you in the living room that stood near the door, like a blank painter’s pallet that was waiting for the artist’s brush to stroke it in color and glory. This house had been stripped of that. He stepped through, feeling as if he just left a completely different world behind. Who knows? Maybe he had. He might as well have been a million miles away from the country known as France.
But had he left Glory Road along with it?
‘No,’ he thought. ‘This is a part of that Glory Road. Even here I could never leave it.’
This much was as true as his knee was throbbing.
The house was also blank because no paintings or shelves lined the white walls. But there weren’t supposed to be anything there on the walls, was there? No. Nothing at all was to line those walls. That much was certain, no matter if all the walls had been covered with art or whatever else at one point in time. That time is gone now, crumpled like sand.
The man didn’t mind the living room, the furniture that curled around the fireplace in a crooked circle, nor did he go towards the kitchen. An unblemished, carpeted staircase stood by the door to the right, like a crooked tongue leading you deeper into the stomach of the house, but closer to the heart.
And it was the heart that the man wanted to see of this monster of which he had now entered. Yes, he would enjoy a look at the heart. He shut the door, not knowing why he had bothered, but battled with his trick knee and bad joints getting up the stairs. The steps were simple, but his body had been used up, and it fought with him with every movement.
It was darker up the flight of stairs, but the level up seemed smaller than the downstairs; it was just a small hallway. A darkened hallway with three doors on the left and right. The man didn’t bother with too many of the doors, really. He was just there to visit one; the heart of the house.
Or the only room that mattered, for the while. All of the house would be important later. He stared to the one door at the very end of the hall, last one on the left. He stepped down over the thin carpet, not letting his mind wander. He wanted to be in the most clear of thought as he explored this room. It was the only one that mattered for now. All the other doors disappeared, the one room on the left side and the last. The furniture downstairs disappeared, the stairs and door disappeared, and the windows with no curtains disappeared.
Him and that room were the only things in existence.
He felt more caught before this door than he had before entering the house at all. He didn’t even turn his shaking hand to the doorknob; the door was already an inch-crack open. He pushed a shaking finger to the door, and it swung open slowly with ease.
He was amazed by the sight of it.
A small bed, with its head to the wall and its foot facing towards the middle of the room, made the already-small room tiny. It wasn’t large at all. And why would it be? This was a child’s room.
He smiled a toothy grin at that.
He entered the room, not bothering to close the door behind him, and examined the white room. Colors for this room didn’t matter as much of the contents inside it. If there were any colors at all, they existed on the children’s books that halfway filled the small bookshelf on the other side of the room, in the upper right corner. A chest of drawers, only three-feet high, child’s sized, sat at the head of the bed. A little vanity with a mirror sat by the wall right next to the door, to the right. The only thing that sat next to the oval mirror was a small brush with a metal handle.
He picked it up, fingering the soft bristles, and plucking out a strand of brown hair. He put it close to his face, his eyes scrutinizing it, and then his fingers released it. It flowed in a curly swirl to the floor, disappearing among the white carpet. Placing the brush down, he went to the bed next, and sat down. Another color that existed in the entire room was a small brown, stuffed bear with black-button eyes and a red ribbon tied around its almost non-existent neck.
He picked it up, the bear’s fur clean and neat, and he stared down at its button eyes, sewn into its face with black string.
The bear, like the houses, seemed to stare at him, accusingly, too.
You, you, you…
‘Me, me, me’ the man thought. ‘Guess who won?’
The bear needn’t answer, and the man knew that he was the victor.
The man noticed something on the wall above the head of the bed. He hadn’t noticed, because it was a simple white paper with a simple symbol of one blue color taking up most of the middle of the page.
The Star of David.
The man laughed at that picture, laughed harder than he had in many years, his voice wheezy as if rust had grown in his throat, corroding his vocal chords and once youthful voice. He laughed hard, shoulders shaking. His hearty laughter died down after a few moments and let out a happy sigh, and he placed the bear back in front of the white pillow of the completely white bed. (Colors didn’t have a purpose here in this prison anymore.)
The man stood up, his knee making a slight painful buckle, but he walked towards the door, ready for a finale.
The hall appeared again, but the other doors did not. The stairs appeared, along with the blank walls, but the front door was gone. But that was alright; he didn’t need it anymore, now did he? Nope.
There was another battle between body and will on the stairs, but the man had made his way down the last few steps without a stumble.
Guess who won that round?
The man walked through the bare living room, the furniture gone and not coming back, and he made his way past the kitchen and towards a glass-sliding door. He shoved it open with a jerk and stepped out into the cool air of the backyard. The backyard was just a yard of grass with a wooden fence blocking it into a small square. Not even a small tree or shrub.
Because those things didn’t matter.
The only things that mattered in this case of his journey were: the house behind him (along with it’s room as a heart), the neighboring houses visible around it beyond the fence, and the small concrete slab of a back porch with a lay-down cushioned chair.
The man laid down jerkily in the cushion, relaxing, his breath escaping in huffs.
‘I’ve gotten old,’ he reminded himself. ‘After all, this was long ago.’
Then he settled peacefully. Nothing sounded at all but the calm gentle breeze of icy winter air. Not even a bird was around to make a chirp.
They didn’t matter.
It had all been peaceful here, before. And that did matter.
The man could have fallen asleep in that cushioned lay-down chair.
A piercing whistle sounded throughout the skies, echoing like a firecracker but twice as loud and hurtful to the ears. But the man didn’t wince; he had been trained for this sort of sound. Only a second or two after the whistle, the house right behind the yard erupted into a fiery explosion of fire, smoke, roof shingles, brick, and soaring debris. The pieces of house flew everywhere. Some flew right in front of the man’s face, but he didn’t even flinch. It shot right through the glass of the sliding doors, shattering them into glittering pieces.
But none of it touched the man in the lay-down chair; he was completely at ease. His mind was in a place that was bliss.
His eyes shined from the moistness that had built in it; it was beautiful, watching the debris as more houses blew straight in the air as more whistles shot down from the skies. He could hear the planes, could hear them all firing their bullets and bombs down upon the neighborhood of once-upon-a-time homes.
His mouth fell agape, a smile tugging up at the corners of his dry lips. He smacked them in a dry swallow. He heard a familiar plane engine straight overhead, but this one went slow; all of time slowed now. And that mattered greatly, so it did.
A familiar whistle sounded like sweet, orchestra music cutting the winds and other sounds like a hot steak knife through butter. None of the other explosives mattered, none of the houses mattered, and none of the other bombs dropping from the heavens matter in the slightest. All that mattered was that one bomb and this one house.
But it dropped slowly, time slowing drastically so, and it pained him for the slowing.
Though, something else caught his eyes. He looked through a blurry vision that began to clear as the whistle sounded on and on. Four figures appeared before him, ten feet from the foot of the lay-down chair he enjoyed the scene from, though one kept separate from the others. The three that stood together he had never seen before, but he didn’t have to think long and hard to know who it was.
A man and woman, in their mid-thirties, stood behind with their hands on the small shoulders of an eight-year-old girl. The man and girl shared freckles which speckled their faces like painted raindrops, but the girl and woman share the same curly brown hair, the woman’s short above her neck and the girls long to her shoulders. The man, unfortunately, suffered from early thinning hair, the thin matt of hair a greasy blonde, but you could barely tell. They all wore plain clothing: the man in a dingy brown suit, the woman in a navy blue secretary dress that buttoned up the front, and the small girl with a pale yellow plaid dress that went down to her knees, a white dress shirt underneath to serve as sleeves, and with the classic black buckle shoes.
They stared at him with sorrow eyes and fearing faces…..
…but he only smiled at them as the bomb hit their house, the debris and glass and stone flying through the air. The wind from the explosion flung all of their clothes and hair around, but none of the character’s expressions or eyes left each other. Not for a second.
The man’s clever smile turned into a conniving grin. They were in his house, and he was the end of them. And he enjoyed every minute of this. He sat up in his chair to see them better.
His faded-blue eye gaze turned towards the other entity, and it surprised him none to see her. This one was another child, but different from the other. This one wore a dirty white dress, dirt everywhere that blood wasn’t. In the middle of her flat chest a gaping hole was torn open over her heart cavity, blood staining five inches around it and poured down the front of her dress and skirt. Her face was as white as snow, her eyes glazed over in a blind gray, and her once rich brown hair had a shade of white through some of the strands.
The man gave her a special smile too, though she frowned sadly at him, as any innocent child of seven years would give to a person who had wronged them. But he felt no shame.
He could hear them, now. In his head, he could hear their ghosts whispering: You, you, you!
“Me! Me! Me!” the man shouted at them, at their accusing apparitions. “Me! Me! Me! I won that round! I won it!” He was laughing again, harder than he had when he was in the child’s bedroom. He was screaming the laughter, and he wondered if a heart could be stopped by such a laugh. Those accusing faces were staring at him with somber, and he just laughed right back at them. He had won his round with them, and they were ghosts. The smell of smoke and fire was making his head swirl.
“Sir? Sir! Excuse me!”
And with that, the past spell upon the man had broken, his dream stopping and fading away within one second of time. The whistling of bombs was gone, that eerie, yet not as heavy, silence engulfing him. The smell of smoke was only faint now, like a smell that you couldn’t wash off a piece of furniture no matter how hard you scrubbed. The man stopped, pausing. He had turned frozen, his mouth still agape from screaming at the ghosts, saliva dropping from the corner of his mouth. He was still sitting up in a blackened charred chair and realized that his fists were in the air, shaking and trembling hard.
“Sir!” The outsider voice came again. “Sir, this is an off-limits zone. No civilians allowed.” The outsider’s voice turned almost sincere. “You can get hurt in all this rubble, sir.”
The man found himself breathing hard, his episode now gone forever. He let his head turn to look all around. All the charred and crumpled houses, fences, and trees stayed down, all destroyed from bombs and gunfire, now lying like a graveyard instead of standing like accusing ghosts. But no bodies would be there anymore. They were long gone from so long ago, from years that would never come again for the man.
He turned towards the youthful officer who, dressed in his blue French uniform, climbed over much rubble to reach the old soldier. He looked like a figment that didn’t belong, but then again this graveyard was one lost in time now. He spoke in the irritating, snippy language of French. “Come on, sir. Let me help you get back home.”
The man understood the language well enough and did not resist the youth’s hand. He grasped it with gratefulness, knowing that he could go no farther with his dream now. The dream was over, and he had gotten to see it to the end. Though, as the young officer led him over the years-old rubble of houses and prisons for old ghosts, the man did know he would never come back to the area for the rest of whatever life remained for him. He was led down the barely visible road, so much destruction clattered down it’s sides and sometimes blocking all of it. The old man wondered how the youth had found him.
As they managed to climb over the last bit of rubble that seemed to serve as some kind of barrier around what had once been a quaint residence of , the old soldier couldn’t help but chuckle under his haggard breath at an old road sign that stuck out from the middle of the rubble.
‘Glory Road’ the sign had said.
The old man returned to his small home. It was now late. Time for usual bed and restless sleep. He believed he would dream more of Glory Road tonight, but not with as much wonder as he had had before every time he had dreamt of it. Now he knew how he would react in his dreams of it. After all, he just went through it, in his own way.
He changed in the bathroom, and looked at himself shirtless. Age and years had done no good to the soldier’s body. A swastika tattoo marked his upper left arm. It, too, seemed to sag, but it still made the old man smile, showing his crooked and yellow teeth. He could still remember, not just the dream of Glory Road, but how it felt to actually do it. He hadn’t gotten to watch it take place as much as causing it along with fifty other of his soldier equals. He could remember everything; his draft, the training to use weaponry, the searching of the houses.
He could even remember his surgery back at his second assigned camp, something that occurred a few years after his draft. That had been a good night. His sergeant had been a lazy bastard who only took to his own accord of entertaining himself with a few of the Jewish women that were kept in the common bunks. So the man was never caught when he had taken the little child from the line of Jews that had been brought in to be either sent to the ditches or to the camp holdings. The girl had lost her mama and papa, if they were ever with her, in the round ups. She also was weakened by the trip, so it wasn’t much of a fight. It had been just like with the chickens back home, almost. The chickens at least stopped bleeding after a good while, while that little child seemed to be filled with an never-ending supply that kept leaking out onto the soldier’s hands as he had cut her open from the top of her flat chest to the top of her gut.
So much blood for such a small child, yet it was worth it. Oh, yes, it had been indeed, and how his father would have been proud to see him not vomit once from the stank that wafted from that cavity in that ‘patient’ of a girl. Yes, his father would have been very proud.
He hobbled to bed on his bad knee, which pained and groaned under his weight, and it never felt better to slide under the cool sheets of his single bed. For a moment he just lied there, remembering all those memories. There had been the ambush by the Allies in those woods, and he had somehow, a miracle by God no doubt, escaped and hid into the keep of the woods. In a way he had betrayed his country, not staying to fight, but he knew it was worthless, for they had marched those prisoners for days to get away from the enemy and were much too weary to stand a chance. It had been another miracle to make into the heart of France, ridding of his uniform and wearing a long-sleeved shirt at all times to hide that tattoo. That was the only evidence that all of it hadn’t been some painfully slow dream. It had been so many years since then that he had had a real peaceful night’s sleep.
That night he did sleep peacefully, as a baby lamb tucked to its mother’s side.
For another time, like a lot of nights in his life for the past several years, he dreamt of flying over Glory Road, spreading that beautiful chaos that he had done when he had seemed younger; back when his hair was a glossy blonde, before streaks of gray painted it into an old man’s hair color, and when his body was in good enough shape to run miles, unlike now when he could only hobble.
The Glory Road he had just seen was in shambles still. Wreckage is all that is left of that road. They could rebuild it, yes, but it would never be with the same ‘glory’ as it had been deemed with that battle from the skies. With the knowledge that Glory Road was scarred, and it was him who scarred it, the soldier slept deeper until his eyes would not even open with the coming dawn.