Here’s another 20 minute story using a deck of cards called The Storymatic I gave my daughter for Christmas. I drew two copper and two gold cards, and this post is the result. I won’t tell you what the cards said, but why not guess?
On the soldier’s last day, all the prisoners had been liberated save the one who refused to leave.
Everyone knew that prisoner well, as he’d been an author, he said, and told great swaths of his novel’s complicated plot in a stream of whispers like smoke. He always ended in snorted laughter and a promise to tell more later.
All the other soldiers left too. One remained behind because he’d volunteered, promising to stay long enough for someone to pick up the prisoner or for the prisoner to waste away at last or for the company to double back as they returned from their patrol. The prisoner lay in a bed of gray straw, stacks of relief cans and boxes forming a castle wall around him. They’d tried to make him eat, and he’d accepted their offerings promising to. Each day the walls grew a little higher as he grew weaker and promised again.
The soldier knew more of his story than the others. Only he really listened, knew the characters’ names, the events that made them, the conversations placing them in the same world. One character, the soldier convinced himself, was the prisoner’s daughter, a girl named Sabina who’d perished of fever during a heavy snow, her father trudging, pointlessly, to a village for a doctor who wouldn’t come.
Periodically, the prisoner’s laughter—mixed with coughing—rose from his nest.
“You are with me sir!” he said, “You read my story. You know it.”
The soldier knew only the value of company, the relief of a last moment with another.
“You remember how the spring came, how daisies sprouted in the black soil and brought the sun back,” the prisoner said, “You remember love, how it meanders like lost roots seeking a sky and a chance to make faces to meet light. You remember.”
His eyes reminded the soldier of creosote, iris and pupil mingling in deep brown.
“Listen.” the prisoner lifted his arm, so thin to be so heavy, and beckoned the soldier over.
“You love her, right? My Sabina. You see how she waited in hope and smiled even to the last. He wasn’t there, but they told him that, made sure he heard that even if the rest of the world was white and silent.”
The soldier nodded, and the prisoner laughed again, his head tipping back to reveal a mouth full of black teeth, the pit of his empty throat.
Shuddering, the prisoner was by then so light as to seem a moth, the rhythm of his coughing no more substantial than paper wings. The soldier couldn’t be sure but was convinced he died before he finished laughing. The prisoner’s eyes drooped, and his faint smile drooped too, but remained in echo.
The soldier would have a long wait before the patrol doubled back, but he had plenty to eat, and he thought, “Whatever the company is, it isn’t bad.”
He reached for one brick of the prisoner’s wall.