I looked over at her as she looked out the window. Miles and miles of birchwood forests and snow. Snow, snow, snow, it won't stop snowing, not for many years. We'd be lucky if our great-grandchildren see green grass.
"Sera, what're you thinkin' of?" I asked her.
she just stared out the window, all bundled up in her woolen trench
She was one of the few people who honestly looked good in this gear. Dark grey boots, dark grey canvas pants, dark grey uniform, dark grey woolen gloves, and a dark grey woolen trenchcoat. It was standard winter issue uniform, or it was two years ago.
"So how long have you been in?" I asked her, hoping to make some conversation while our cargo truck bounced down the snow covered slushy mud road.
"5 years," she said.
"I thought you were only 21 though?" 18 being the minimum age of enlistment.
"I lied about my age. Gotta fight. I wanted to kill." I couldn't see her face, except for what was reflected in the window. She wasn't smiling.
We drove past some ruined concrete bunkers. A frozen arm rose out of a snowdrift.
"What about you?" she asked, turning to face me, looking at me with those cold grey eyes of her's.
"Three years, I joined when things were going good. It seemed like the best thing a man could want. We were rolling on our way to complete victory... Who would have thought... " I said to her. She turned and looked straight out the windshield. She started digging through her pocket and pulled out a small box of cigarettes, all handrolled, which was the only sort anyone had these days.
"Care if I roll the window down?" she asked me.
"Sure, not like we have heat anyways," I laughed a bit.
She lit up her cigarette and took a long drag on it.
"You know those'll kill you?" I asked her. I hated the fact that she smoked.
"Mhm... That's the idea..." she said.
We went around a corner.
She looked out the window again, staring at the ragged barbed wire
fence that ran along the side of the woods, separating nature from
man. I could tell by her jumping eyes that she was counting the
crooked wooden fence posts, well weathered by years of being exposed
to the elements.
We drove past a blackened blasted out tank that was crashed through the fence, it had toppled a few trees in its destruction.
"I took out one of those once," she said. "MCRR-2118, double 30mm machine guns, single 60mm machine gun, 120mm forward cannon. It was a suicide run. We were rushing an enemy trench, the thing came out of no where, guns ablaze. Everyone was dying. I ran at the side, climbed up, opened the hatch and shot all the poor souls inside: 23, 24, and 25. I'll never forget the looks on their faces when they saw me looking down inside there. Fear. Everyone fears death."
I nodded. "Ya get anythin' for it?" I asked her.
"Three more kills to mark up. I rather enjoyed killing people, perhaps I still do. I'm a heartless bitch," she blew some smoke out the window.
"You're no less than anyone else..." I said to her.
"Don't try to make me feel good about myself, 'cause it ain't gonna happen. I am who I am, and I'm happy with it, whether I want to be or not."
"That makes no sense."
We drove in silence for a little while. The windshield wipers slowly streaking fat snowflakes across the windshield.
"We got a radio?" she asked, searching the dash.
"Yeah, think it still works, if there's anything broadcasting."
"Ah," she turned the dial, searching through the static.
She found something, "ALL GLORY BE TO THE REPUBLIC!!! ALL HONOR AN- fssshhhh."
Back to static.
Then she found something else. It was a violin, it played slow and sweetly.
"Just like the old days, huh..." she whispered.
I wondered what she had seen in her days.
It played a slow sad song, you could hear the bow draw across each string, slowly, sweetly.
"Nichtziek's masterpiece," she said.
Then she whispered something, it sounded like "Looka" but I wasn't sure.
"What did you just say?" I asked her, curious.
"Luka..." she said, taking her hand off of the dial and looking out the window again.
"What's Luka?" I asked.
"Girl I knew."
Whatever..." she said, letting her cigarette slowly burn.
She really did have nice brown hair, and somehow, that smell of smoke comforted me. I wanted to hug her sometimes, I really did.
"What happened to her?" I asked.
"Shot through the chest two years ago. I held her as she died. Pity the poor thing. She was so noble, and I was so weak. Ain't life just funny?"
"Mmm..." I nodded.
"War is a terrible thing," she said. "But I'm sure you already know that. Despite all, I think I've enjoyed it."
She threw her cigarette butt out of the window.
She stared out at the passing fence.
"You really want to keep on with this?" she asked.
"What do ya mean?" I asked in reply.
"Well," she pulled out a map. "In three miles take a right," she said after studying it a bit.
"But that's not on our route."
"Don't care. I outrank you."
"No you don't."
"I've been in longer, yes I do. Take a right in three miles."
We drove in silence those three miles. I saw a little road sort of amble off to the side and turned the big truck just in time to barely make it.
I slowly pumped the brake, up ahead there was a rusted metal gate, the sort you'd find on the old tobacco farms in the Republic. Not like I'd ever been there though.
"Go open it," she said.
"Fine fine," I said. "We're going to be demerited for being late though."
"We won't be late."
"Because we will never arrive. Our truck just hit a patch of iced-over ground and we slid off the road and died. Not like they give a fuck anyways. We are nothing, never have been, never will be. A soldier is nothing, and nothing will change that."
I opened the door, slightly kicked it open, since the frame was bent, and stepped outside. My boots crunched against the snow that had not been cleared in a long time, if ever. The path had obviously not been used for ages.
I walked over through the gate and looked at it. It was just a simple metal latch, so I opened it and walked the gate around to the full open position.
I stood there for a moment and tried to look down the road, my breath crystallizing in front of me. I couldn't see very far though, since the road curved again not far in front of us.
I tromped through the snow and hopped back up into the cab, where I found her once again staring out at the nothingness and snow and birch trees.
"Shut it once we get through," she said without moving, her head propped up on her gloved hand. Her breath formed tiny little crystal lattices on the window. Tiny snowflakes crinkling up the scratched and dirty glass.
"Fine fine," I sighed as I gunned the truck forward a bit. The ancient diesel engine groaning under the weight of the years. It was an old prewar model, one of the few things left from then, simply because it was too outdated to have been used on the Line.
Once I passed the fence, I hopped out, and once again closed the gate behind us.
I got back in the truck, by now the radio was playing a combination of a piano and the constant hiss of static. A signal not well received.
"What if someone sees the tracks and follows us?" I asked as we wound on down the road.
"Are you kidding?" she said, then mumbled: "It snows... It always snows..."
"So how far is this?" I asked. We seemed to be climbing up a mountain, the large knobbed tires keeping us from sliding back down the gooey ground.
"About sixty minutes."
"Oh..." I kept silent and drove.
"I'm going to go to sleep, you'll know it when we get there. Wake me by then if I haven't already."
She leaned her head against the ice cold glass and closed her eyes. I wondered how she could sleep in such freezing cold weather, I could see my breath inside the truck, since the heater had long since died.
I looked over at her, and noticed a scar on the side of her neck. It was from a bullet, it was obvious. It must have just grazed her, looked like it burned her pretty badly.
I wondered about her a bit sometimes. She must have seen so much in those years. Though I was older than her in years, she had seen much more and had lived through many things I knew I could only hope to never see.
I drove on, listening to the radio and climbing the mountain. There were endless trees on all sides, and I could see nothing but birchwood and that seemingly infinite barbed wire fence.
On the radio there was another violin, playing another sad song. It seemed like everyone had a broken heart these days.
"No..." I heard her whisper.
I looked over at her. Her face scrunched up for a moment, before returning to normal. Normal as could be anyway. She wore such a hollow look, I wondered what she looked like back in better times, back when her youth was still fresh and everything was green.
I drove onwards.
After about forty-five minutes I heard her groan. I looked over, and she opened her eyes.
"Ya'll right?" I asked her.
"I'm fine." she said.
She took out another cigarette and stuck it in her mouth. She took out her matchbox and lit it up, taking long slow drags on it.
How much can a person dream in forty minutes? I guess a little too much.
"There it is," she said.
And there it was. The old unused road opened into a clearing with a small abandoned house. It was an old house, built many years before the war. The siding was falling off of it, had been for years. It looked like the sort of thing an old man might go to to escape into the wilderness for a few months during the summer.
There weren't many old people anymore though.
I parked the truck outside.
"Leave it running?" I asked her.
"No, kill it," she said. "And hand me the keys when you're done too."
"Just do it."
I killed the engine and handed her the keys.
She hopped out of
the cab and stretched her arms and legs, breathing the sharp
Then, she threw the keys. Threw them as hard as she could, against the wind and into the snow many metres away.
"But..." I protested.
"Just give up and come inside," she said.
I had no choice so I followed her. She walked up to the door and after jiggling the handle a bit, it opened. It had been locked so long it wasn't that hard.
She stepped inside and I was right behind her. The snow melted off of our boots onto a rust colored shag rug. The walls had false-wood panels, depicting scenes of pheasants, quail, and deer. The whole house had a musty smell from not being lived in in a very long time.
There was a couch on the far side of the room underneath a print of a forest lake in the fall. Everything was dark and looked warm, although it was probably not much warmer than the outside.
She looked around the room a bit, and after spying the stone fireplace, commanded me to go fetch some of the old dry firewood that had been piled up outside for years.
I went outside and grabbed five pieces and brought them inside. I closed the door behind me, and locked it the best I could, so as not to let anymore of the outside air in than necessary.
She had walked into a different room, perhaps to look around a bit.
I set the logs down by the fireplace, and noticed that she had left her box of matches and her cigarette box there beside it as well.
I put some logs on the fireplace and started a fire using her cigarette box.
She walked back in the room holding some heavy quilts and two pillows.
She set them on the floor by the fireplace, and spread them out nicely.
I had a fire going by now, and took off my gloves to warm my hands.
She kicked off her boots and threw the over by the door. Grey woolen socks, just like the rest of the uniform. I guess joining early, she had it pretty good. She must have had first pick to the supplies.
The overcoat came off, then the socks, then the pants, then the shirt.
She crawled beneath the layers of quilts wearing only the unflattering military issue undergarments.
She curled up and closed her eyes.
"My war is over," she said.
I smiled a bit, a crooked smile broken by the years.
I undressed and curled up beneath the blankets as well. I started to feel some warmth in my bones for the first time in a long long time.
"My war is over too," I said. "I think we won."
She did not reply though. She was already asleep.