A handful of years back a war broke out. Nobody knew just why it broke out, or who started it, or where it should be fought, or even why it should be fought. It didn’t matter, though, cause the war was very popular. By which I mean that everybody just had to participate, from the ablest of boys to the most pregnant of mothers, who, I reckon, were there so their youngens wouldn’t have so far to walk to join the blamed thing themselves.
In all of this excitement was a simple soldier by the name of Marc. Now when I say simple, I mean completely uncomplicated in thought or deed. A blank slate had more information on it than what rattled inside this lad’s head. If you believe nothing else in this tale, believe what I said here. He worked at a store in my home town, and when I gave him a fiver he gave me back a crisp twenty. And I hadn’t even asked for change.
Now what Marc was doing in the war could be best left to the imagination. I hesitate to think even the Army was fool enough to hand him a rifle, especially after the one tour he did with the Marines. More likely he was sent from front to front carrying import documents from the generals and what not. Messages like “How’s it going?” and “Dashedly hot, what?” and “Would you two stop sending notes and start fighting?” Stuff like that was what ended the war, no doubt. Nobody likes getting stern notes.
Come to think of it, I might have seen Marc once or twice myself during this time. Couldn’t quite tell, for, to my misfortune, I was kept far, far from action. I could just see this long stick like figure dodging between cannon blasts and thought of him. How I envied him, living so close to death, while I sat safe and sound.
Now one day, about a few months before the war’s end, Marc was doing his business — that is to say carrying messages and nothing else — when he about tumbled over a fallen man. He got up and brushed himself off before noticing it was one of his commanding officers, one Sgt. Twan or Train or some such. Truth to tell, I can’t tell one Sgt. from another, and neither can you, if you’re honest. My father was a Sgt., and not only did he look like every other Sgt., I’m still not sure which one Mom pointed to.
This is getting a bit far of field, so we’ll call the Sgt. Twan. Twan, he had no trouble recognizing Marc. In fact, he let out a loud groan on the sight of him. Of course, the man was wounded something fierce, so the groan might have been due to pain more than anything else. Still, Marc took no chances. He apologized for the tumble as well as for his general existence. Which is something I’m going to insist he do the next time I see him.
Twan cut through all that noise. “Private,” he said. “I need to be taken to the rear and in a hurry.”
“Can’t sir,” Marc said at once. “Gotta get this message through.”
“That can wait. You need to carry me back to the rear, as fast as you can.”
“Can’t you do it yourself, sir?” Marc always fretted about getting in trouble with the brass, though I would imagine being in trouble with the higher ups would be a natural state for him. “This message needs to get through something bad.”
“Private,” Twan said, with a saint’s patience, “I can’t do it myself. Cannon blast took off my legs.”
Well, you could say a lot about Marc’s mother, like she was a drunken whore who didn’t understand what “No” or “I’m trying to sleep” meant, or that she resembled a farm animal’s posterior (perhaps pig), or than any man who slept with her regretted it for the rest of my… I mean his life. But the one thing you couldn’t say was that she didn’t instill upon her boy a sense of manners. Making a man walk when he has no legs is just plain rude. Not even a Senator would do that sort of thing without heavy bribes.
Being a well raised bastard, Marc bent over and swung Twan onto his back. As I suggested a little while ago, Marc was little more than his skin and bones. Yet he managed not only to carry the Sgt., but run as well. Truly a feat that should have shamed Samson. Though he tells me he isn’t that impressed. He might be fooling; you can’t always tell with him. His hair covers his face and you just can’t read him.
Back to the story. Marc had a good head of steam when the battle suddenly increased intensity. Rifle shots cracked, bullets whizzed — that is to say flew past very quickly and nothing else — and cannon balls slammed to earth. Explosions ripped the ground asunder. At one point, a blast shook the earth so bad that it nearly knocked over my tea about two, three miles away. You can rest easy, mind. I was able to catch the glass without a drop spilled.
Things looked bleak for our two soldiers as well. Another, smarter man might have died, but not Marc. He managed to zig and zag around the blasts, almost as if they had been called. Those that saw him that day said he looked almost competent that moment. There was a lot of smoke and fire that day, so their comments might have been honest mistakes rather the dirty lies you might rightly assume they’d be.
With all this going for him, you might have thought the whole matter would have gone well for Marc. Medals around. However, that lad managed to thrust victory down the throat of defeat. He zagged just right so that a large bit of shrapnel slid right through Twan’s neck, cutting it clean in twain. The Sgt. tried to let his rescuer know something was wrong, but by the time he could articulate, Marc was too far to hear. To this day, no one knows where the head ended up when everything was said and done. I heard it set up a grocery shop somewhere in the south, but I’m not sure how accurate that information is.
By and by, Marc managed to get what remained of Twan back to the back. Almost on entering the camp ground, an officer of his acquaintance ran up to Marc, mouth agape. Don’t ask me his name, for as we all know, officers make Sgts. look distinctive. For the story’s sake, we’ll call him Sammy C., though I’m sure his name started or ended with Q. Or maybe Z.
Anyway, this officer, Sammy, he says, “The hell you doing with that carcass, son?”
Marc, not quite understanding, replied, “I had to carry him to the rear, sir. The Sgt.’s lost his legs.”
“Lost his legs, hell! Man’s lost his damned head!”
“Oh no, sir, not at all. He hasn’t hardly screamed since the last cannon blast. Been real cool.”
It took about a hour or so, but Sammy managed to explain what he meant to Marc. It was another good hour before Marc could verify for himself that what the officer said was true. When he did, he turned to Sammy and said, “Well, he couldn’t have been that good a Sgt. then, could he?”
Not knowing the danger he was in, Sammy asked, “Why you say that?”
“He pitch such a fit about losing his legs, when he should have been worried about where his head went. Everyone knows a head’s more important than legs.”
“For some people,” Sammy said. “For some people.”
And that, my friends, is how we won the war.
Or did we lose the war?
Probably doesn’t matter. I got paid the same.
I can not tell a lie. This story didn’t spring full bloomed from my head. It’s inspired by something the great Mark Twain wrote. In his essay How to Tell a Story, he relates a comic story which is called, to your no doubt lack of surprise, The Wounded Soldier. Rather than having you search for it, I’ll reprint the offending inspiring portion below. Bear in mind, the story is supposed to be bad:
THE WOUNDED SOLDIER
In the course of a certain battle a soldier whose leg had been shot off appealed to another soldier who was hurrying by to carry him to the rear, informing him at the same time of the loss which he had sustained; whereupon the generous son of Mars, shouldering the unfortunate, proceeded to carry out his desire. The bullets and cannon-balls were flying in all directions, and presently one of the latter took the wounded man’s head off–without, however, his deliverer being aware of it. In no long time he was hailed by an officer, who said:
“Where are you going with that carcass?”
“To the rear, sir–he’s lost his leg!”
“His leg, forsooth?” responded the astonished officer; “you mean his head, you booby.”
Whereupon the soldier dispossessed himself of his burden, and stood looking down upon it in great perplexity. At length he said:
“is true, sir, just as you have said.” Then after a pause he added, “BUT HE TOLD ME IT WAS HIS LEG!!!!!”
Clearly my versions better, thus proving once again that I’m a better writer than Mark Twain, Samuel Clemens, and perhaps even Shakespeare.
Or maybe not. I am very tired as I write this, and my thoughts may have gone astray.