A Better Life. Short Story.

Went out for my friend’s birthday on Saturday, was really nice. Ate at a tapas place (first time having tapas I might add) and it was all pretty delicious. I made her whiskey marshmallows for her present (vanilla too, should the whiskey ones fail to work) and they went over quite well. They had the taste of whiskey without any alcohol burn, there wasn’t a lot of whiskey in the batch, but I was worried that the flavour might end up a bit off, but they were tasty.

Ended up meeting up with another friend of mine and continuing the night out, it was unexpected but really fun, if not slightly surreal at points.

Really nice night over all.

On with the show!


Frank moved slowly through the night, not that anyone could hear him over that racket, but it still paid to be careful. He tried not to think of what happened here earlier as the mud gently sucked at his feet, trying to trip him up and pull him down. Around him were the low sounds of moans and the occasional piercing scream. The screamers never lasted long, starting strong then winding down as they finally died. Hands occasionally shot out of the darkness, gripping at his ankles with startling strength, the owner begging for help, he shook them off as best he could and kept going. He couldn’t help any of them. Not now. They were taking a break for now, but soon they would start up again, moving through the battlefield and dispatching any of the survivors. Somewhere to his right someone called out softly for water, over and over again, a maddening refrain, another whimpered for his mother. Frank ignored it all.
It was a suicide mission, it was crazy, but it was his only shot. Really, it was the only chance anyone had. He wasn’t the first to try this, nor would he be the last. No one knew if the others made it, no one would know if he made it. He hoped that he would see some of his friends again. Not just the ones that tried this, others who he hadn’t seen since the start of the war. The early days had been bloody, emotional, these days it was all methodical, cold. The army marched through lands, killing all the men, sometimes killing the women. Children were left to starve or were sold off as slaves. There was some amnesty in the beginning, they’d let people join them, offer sanctuary in return for lower social status or payments, but those days were gone. Too many joined with promises of loyalty only to try and destroy the army from within. There was no mercy now. However, if you could cross the lines you could try to blend in, there were so many displaced by the war that one more wouldn’t stand out. Frank knew that if he could just get across he’d be safe. There was nothing for him here anymore, nothing but death. His sister had run away a few months into the war, herself and a young man disappeared in the night, he expected her to elope, after all she was impulsive and their parents were refusing to give permission for her to wed the young man. No one had heard from them since. His mother had died of a sickness that had swept through the town and his father had decided to go off and fight in the war. Frank had pleaded with his father, begged him not to throw his life away, but his father still left. After that Frank did odd jobs about the place, kept himself fed and warm, but the fighting was getting worse, not better. The army was never going to stop, it would march over them all someday. So he did the only thing he could think of, he sold the house and left. He didn’t get much for it, not much at all, but it was more than he expected. He didn’t think anyone would even buy it and he’d just have to abandon it, after all, didn’t everyone know that the army would arrive eventually and probably raze the town? So he made his way towards the fighting, travelling at night and very, very carefully.
He heard the battle from miles away, the roar of guns and cannons. He had heard rumours and stories of how the army worked, they crippled the army and allowed those who were strong enough to move flee. Once the exodus occurred, they’d roll over the battleground like a wave, destroying anything and anyone that was left. This was the perfect place to cross, they wouldn’t expect anyone to be coming towards them, not after a battle, no one would be suicidal enough to try it. There was less risk of him running into a patrol than if he tried to go around. They wouldn’t spot him in the darkness, wouldn’t hear him over the noise of the dying. They would be camping nearby, but not close enough to see him. Once he was through the lines he could find somewhere and camp for a few days. Then he’d find somewhere to set up a life. Somewhere away from the fighting and death, somewhere that would finally be safe.


As he picked his way across he tried not to pay attention to the bodies around him, it was dark and easy to believe they were just mounds of muck or old logs. He never looked close enough to see if they were moving. Some of them were small, no doubt young teens who had gotten caught up on one side or the other. Off to the far left he could see a faint glow above the trees, where camp was made and where the soldiers now sat around fires, eating and drinking. The thought of food made his stomach roll. The only smell here was of death, blood and muck and faeces all mixed into one horrifying stench.
Finally, after what felt like days the bodies started to thin out, before he was stepping across something every few seconds, picking his way through, but now he could go around most of it. Soon he’d hit the trees then he’d be gone.


At the tree line he paused for a moment, breathing out his fear. He just had to go a little further, that was all. Listening carefully, he began to move through the trees.
It was dawn when he came to the river, there he stripped and bathed, washing the filth from his body and clothes, letting it all flow downriver. He lay out in the sun, clothes drying on rocks nearby. He dozed for a little while and when he woke everything was dry. He dressed and, smiling, he set off up river, towards a new life.


About Alan James Keogh

I am a 26 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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