A short story written for the prompt “stand” – 10/8/16
I sit at my precarious post on an adobe wall. I’m given guard duty tonight; I get guard duty most nights. Probably because I’m the youngest man here, and the rest of them are completely exhausted.
I shift my rifle to my knee, spending more time looking at the faces inside the Alamo rather than watching for ones outside it. If the Mexicans come at us again, I wouldn’t be able to see them until they reach the wall anyway. This blasted darkness has already cost several good men their lives.
I hear a baby cry, and I see my mother pacing the ground below, bouncing my sister on her hip. I can’t see her face, but I know her lips are pursed and there are tears in her eyes. She shouldn’t be here, nor the baby. But every attempt to smuggle them out of here has failed. I pray we will be able to hold out until more troops arrive from Gilead.
Dawn begins to light the distant rim of the sky. As always, I am amazed at this wide open land. Texas is so different from Tennessee, where the trees branches lace together like a cage, blocking the sky, until you feel like a prisoner – looking up from Hades, heaven just out of reach. But here, there is nothing to block my view, I feel free.
Free, except for the silhouettes of Mexican soldiers a short distance away. I bite my tongue, for the first time wishing myself back in the woods.
Officer Travis’ strong voice distracts me from my thoughts. He’s calling the men to join him in the middle of the fort. I take one last look over the wall, then obey.
I know immediately that whatever he’s going to say will not be pleasant; his eyes are moist, and his voice is scratchy and low. He’s come to know all of us as his friends and family, and he’s taken it upon himself to ensure we come out of here alive.
But tonight, Travis says he’s done everything in his power, to no avail. It will be every man for himself. He reads us the conditions of surrender.
He takes his sword, and draws a line on the ground. The beige Texas sand is dusted with black gunpowder, dribbled with dried blood. Travis steps to the right.
“I have chosen to fight to the death here, rather than surrender. I am now asking for volunteers to do the same. This is your last chance to leave, and I will not blame any of you for doing so. If you choose to stay, cross over the line.”
Again, my hands are sweaty, my heart races, I feel dizzy. Yet I can still feel the piercing pain in my stomach, demanding more food than I had to give. I was so tired of this place, endless months of deprivation and war inside the dreary confines of the mission. Was surrender truly worse than death? I wished desperately for a middle ground, but there is no gray between the lines of freedom and slavery.
A murmur goes through the crowd: the first person has crossed the line. I glance up, and my eyes meet my mother’s gaze.
She is standing beside Travis, across the line from me, hugging my sister close.
Suddenly, my life seems a small price to pay for the freedom of a nation. The freedom to work, love, and worship as we chose. The freedom to bow to no king but God.
My spirit wills me forward, but my feet refuse to move. The baby laughs, and I am propelled forward.
My little sister has no idea that she will die tonight. Ignorance is indeed bliss.
Before long, only one man is left behind the line. He hangs his head, ashamed; and so do we. Because, secretly, we all would rather surrender than die. But our heritage will last longer than any of us will ever live.
Officer Travis smiles. I didn’t even know his strained, weather-beaten face was capable of such a maneuver. He puts a hand on my shoulder, and calls out:
“All right, boys, let’s answer the General’s letter!”
The Mexicans had been waiting for a response to their letter of surrender, and we gave them one: a cannon blast directly towards their camp. Scurrying like a pile of ants, they respond with the bugle call, “No Quarter.”
Or, less romantically, “throat-cutting”.
Soldiers on both sides rise to action for the last battle. The Mexicans are coming, bringing every troop and weapon against us. We all know we will die fighting, yet everyone is cheerful. The days of monotony are ended, we are paying a heavy price for a worthy cause.
Again, I scramble up to my post, and watch the rows of blue uniforms coming against us like a tidal wave.
I stand tall, a knife in one hand, and a gun in the other. I will give history a day never to forget.
I will make my last stand, God help me.