“Yale, Peter”. the soldier, who had a neat haircut and a thick blonde mustache, called out. In his finely groomed hands (much unlike his companions with the guns or us, the townspeople), he held a list of names, each belonging to a boy, ages eighteen to twenty-four, all citizens of the city. It was not in any order, alphabetical or otherwise, and was simply random names of young men of our town. His superior, I would guess, was the one who had written the randomly chosen list.
I stood next to Nan, my girlfriend of two years. Before the war started, I had considered asking for her hand in marriage, but with the war in full swing and with no end on the horizon, I knew I couldn’t take any chances.
My name was going to come up…I just knew it. But I didn’t want to face the facts, to realize this. Sooner or later, I had realized long ago, when the war was in its early years, the army would not be “recruiting” any longer, but rather grabbing every able-bodied man they could. They, too, could not take any chances.
I glanced behind me, but didn’t catch Richard Peck’s eye. The whole town was gathered here, in the central square, in a closely-huddled circle. The soldier and his list stood in the center, by the statue of our town’s founder. Richard Peck, I knew, was the baker’s son. We had been in school together for many years, until he dropped out to help his ill father run the bakery. Mr. Peck had contacted a disease from the drinking water that many believed was caused by passing soldiers using the water as their toilet. I dropped out also to help support my family. The economy suffered a major blow thanks to the demands of the war, and nearly put my father out of work. My family had been killed in the last raid when soldiers burned my house down. Nan was all I had left.
The soldier’s cold eyes never left his list…how long could it possibly be? Could the army really take every man in town?
I looked into Nan’s worried eyes. Without me here, to protect her, she would probably be killed. The war had ravaged the supplies as bands of soldiers raided small towns along the countryside like ours for more supplies. Once, I heard, soldiers took over a town, killed all the males…and took the women. They were all used, young and old alike, as slaves to the soldiers. The generals got to pick out a woman each, and the rest were left to the brutes.
Norman Paulson…I knew him also. He was the younger brother of a Sandra Paulson, who was the replacement mathematics teacher at my high school when the previous, Mrs. Ganders, was murdered along with her husband by raiding soldiers several months ago.
The men whose names had been called hugged their crying families and broke away from the circle, to go and stand in a line behind the armed soldiers.
The teen who answered to “King, Edwin” pushed past Nan and I, tears running down his dirty face. Streaks of clean, healthy-looking flesh appeared on his face as the tears ran down.
Finally, the soldier with the list craned his neck around to look at the bunch of sorry-looking farmhands and apprentice bakers and brothers of teachers that had become recruited to the noble cause. For a brief moment, I thought I saw a flash of a smile come across the bastard’s face.
I breathed a sigh of relief as he turned back around and began to roll up his list, but then, he paused. He read the last name…the one he had almost forgotten.
They called my name. My knees went weak and my heart started to race…I could not think straight…I watched him read my name off, and it felt almost like slow-motion. Seeing the words formed under his thick blonde mustache made my stomach twist. The hair on his caterpillar of a mustache bristled as he pronounced the “s” in “Thomas”.
“No! No! No!” Nan suddenly screamed from next to me, snapping me back from my dream-like state. She clawed at my shoulder. Her hair flew back wildly in all directions as a strong wind blew, pushing heavy, dry leaves up against us and the crowd.
“I won’t let them take you, Tommy!” she cried, tears rushing down her face like a running faucet.
“Nan, stay quiet!” I demanded. “They’ll hurt you!” I tried to hug her, to pull her close to me to shush her, but she pushed away.
I saw the soldier with the list, who had rolled it up at this point, motion to his comrades and point in Nan’s direction. My god…they were going to kill her.
“Nan, you must go, now! Run while you still can!”
She still resisted, not noticing the two hulking men coming her way.
“I can’t leave you Tommy, I can’t!” she said, thick tears coming down her face and bubbles of snot forming in her nostrils. Like “King, Edwin”, you could see her pink skin in streaks under her dirty face.
“They will kill you…” I began, but she nestled herself into me, shoving her hair into my mouth and silencing me.
“Separate them!” a harsh voice barked behind me. I turned to see the mustached soldier, list in one hand, gun in the other. It had been pulled from the holster on his leg.
Nan cried and screamed and kicked as the two soldiers took each arm and pulled her away from me.
“Thomas!” she screamed helplessly.
I attacked one of the soldiers, and he fell to the ground, taking Nan with him. The other one turned towards me with his weapon, but I fell to the ground then, a horrifying pain suddenly hitting my leg and warmth spreading all over it.
I cried out as the mustachioed soldier’s gun lowered, smoke rising from the barrel. As two more soldiers took me and led me away, leg useless and dragging along the ground, spouting blood, I saw the two earlier ones throw Nan to the ground and cock their weapons.
I screamed Nan’s name well after the shots rang out, and I was thrown into the darkness of the enclosed truck along with the other unfortunate souls that were recruited alongside me that cold day.
The doors of the truck shut, plunging us into darkness, the vehicles started to move and we were led away from the only home I had ever known. Through the little slits in the canvas I could see more soldiers going into the town, some with torches, some without, all with weapons and nasty attitudes.
The bells of the church rang out, and they were the last thing I remember hearing before everything faded away into darkness. They had called my name, they had ruined my life.
The truck drove me into the unknown.