The story below is a winner from our Fiction Fantastic Young Writers Contest, open to all youth in Lane County. For more information on this contest, including how to enter, visit here. Support this program with a donation.
You can purchase this story in the 2020 Winners Anthology Fueled By Fire here.
“The No Named Soldier” by Peyton Tyner, Eugene Christian School
First Place, Middle School Level, 2020
The No Named Soldier
By Peyton Tyner
Eugene Christian School
“RPG!” someone yelled. . . . BOOM!!!
A massive explosion capsized the rear member of the convoy, followed by several more missiles that caused the other two trucks to erupt into flames. Only my vehicle was left unharmed, but I knew that it would not be long before another incoming missile blew it up. I grabbed my partner, John Stephens, by the arm and pulled him over to me, before nearly tackling him off the back side of the armored truck less than a second before it was hit by a missile. The blast from the explosion sent me flying backward nearly forty feet, and the shock of the event made me lose grip on John.
I hit the ground incredibly hard, sending a sharp pain throughout my body. Then everything went black as I tumbled across the sand, and I was out cold, lying like a fish out of water.
While I was out, I remembered a very specific point in my life that changed the way I thought about the world. I was nine years old. My dad told me he was going to be back before I knew it; he even promised it. But when I heard a knock and answered the door to a pair of soldiers, I received the horrible news. My mom was not far behind me when the soldiers took their eyes off me and looked at my mom. They did nothing but shake their heads when my mom cupped her face with her hands and began to cry. Then I realized what had happened: He was gone. I would never see his face, listen to his jokes, or hear his voice again. He was gone for good, and all that I could do, being a Christian boy, was blame God for his death. I never stopped to think that he was in a better place now. A place without evil or anger. A place without fighting or war. A place of peace and serenity. Until one day, I thought about this and decided I was going to do something to make this world a better place.
Ten years later, I joined the military, and two years after that, I was assigned this mission. What I believe is that if you don’t know the names of whoever died, there would be no sorrow or mourning, which is why I became the No Named Soldier in remembrance of my father, and I would stick with that title until my last breath.
The memory faded as my consciousness returned to me and I began to see the real world again. I shifted my head and saw half of my body layered in sand and the other half hidden by a long metal scrap of one of the trucks. As I struggled to free myself from the earth’s grasp, I remembered my partner. I began to vigorously dig my way to the top of the sand and almost shed tears as I struggled to bring myself to my feet. But it was no use. I was unable to escape the natural trap and live on my father’s legacy, so I allowed myself to calm down and stop trying . . . until I heard a cry for help.
“Please!” a faint voice cried in the distance. “Somebody help me!”
“John!” I called back. A sense of urgency filled my body, and after less than five seconds of struggle, the metal scrap began to budge. Inch after inch, I was able to push the chunk of the vehicle into the earth beside me. I scraped the remnants of dust off my body and lifted myself to my feet before nearly collapsing back into the sand from the loss of blood. I glanced down at my leg to see a long scar-to-be that stretched across the top of my thigh.
Grimacing at the pain, I limped over to where I heard the call from, and saw John lying in the sand with a look of horror on his face. I examined his body from yards away and saw multiple metal shards and rods piercing his abdomen. Cuts and bruises marked his face beyond recognition, but when he turned his head and saw me standing only yards from him, excitement replaced the pain, and the thought of rescue overthrew him.
“John!” I cried again, dashing as fast as I could to his resting place.
“I thought that I lost you, soldier,” I told him.
“Well, I’m glad that you didn’t,” he joked.
I knelt beside him and surveyed the land for something of use. A first-aid kit would have been a miracle. I told John that I was going to go look for supplies and that I would not take long, but it took nearly ten minutes only to find some gauze, a half-empty flask, and a Glock 17 holding thirteen rounds.
I wrapped the gauze around my wounded leg and returned to John.
“Not so long, huh?” he asked.
“Sorry, I couldn’t find much, but at least I can wrap your wounds with this gauze,” I took the water bottle from my utility belt and handed it to John. “Here, drink this.”
John took a sip of the bottle and cringed at the taste. “This isn’t water,” he said. “This is whiskey.” He handed the bottle back to me.
“It will dull the pain.” I poured the whiskey onto one of the metal rods that pierced his abdomen and listened to his awful scream. Then I applied pressure to his chest and yanked the rod out in one quick motion trying not to cry from the sound of his screaming. I covered his piercings with gauze and lifted him to his one good leg to help him hobble back to the site of the crash.
“Who were those guys?” John asked as we scavenged for any supplies that I may have missed.
“S.C.O.R.P.I.A agents,” I answered. “They must’ve known that we were coming. But how could they have known?”
“I don’t know, but we need to find some cover for the night,” John said looking up at the sky.
The sky was beginning its cycle from day to night as the red dusk sky slowly faded from sight and the black night became dotted with faint, white stars. I continued hitting my communications system with my fist, trying to receive a signal to call for backup. To our dismay, my radio was broken and the communications systems inside the vehicles were either destroyed or surrounded by flames.
“My comm system is busted,” I said. “We got no way to contact headquarters.”
“What do we do about the mission?” John asked.
“Going to Afghanistan? Please, we’ll be lucky to find a place to sleep,” I responded.
“There should be a town not far from here,” John reassured me. “We can camp out there until morning.”
“That should be fine as long as we don’t run into any S.C.O.R.P.I.A agents.”
“Or a bear,” John joked, making me laugh for the first time all day.
Nightfall was at its peak when we finally reached the town, or what was left of it for that matter.
“What happened here?” John asked, concerned.
“Yeah, less of a town and more of a graveyard,” I replied. “Come on, we should be able to find a building that’s not in ruins.”
We entered the town and wandered around until we found a half run-down house that was missing an entire story. The ground level floor acted as a fine place to stay for the night. I dragged John into the doorway and closed the remains of the door behind me when I heard the faintest sound in the distance. It sounded like a voice, but I was unable to make out any words. I ignored the disturbance after a short while of standing and scanning the horizon and sat down beside John.
“Let’s just get some rest,” John whispered.
“Yeah, you’re right. I’ll look for a way to contact headquarters in the morning and find some food and water.” I rolled over in an attempt to fall asleep, but the sound of a stone rolling towards me interrupted it. I opened my eyes and glanced at the doorway. A shadow crossed through the crack of the door and stopped only seconds later. My heart began to race.
Someone’s here, I thought.
I backed into the shadows as quietly as I could, when I heard John groan and reposition himself. I thought that whoever had been outside may have heard John.
“John,” I whispered. “John.”
No response came. I unholstered my pistol and positioned it in my hand while pointing it at the door, waiting for someone to set foot in the building.
I began to lower my gun when I heard another set of footsteps.
They’re not looking for us. I thought. They’re patrolling.
I devised a plan to figure out who was here with us. I waited for the set of footsteps to pass directly in front of the door and then counted to 317 before I heard them again.
“Five minutes,” I whispered to myself.
I counted again, but this time only to 265 before I heard the footsteps again.
“Four and a half.” I thought for a moment before figuring out a logical conclusion. If I wait for two minutes after the footsteps return to my location, I could easily exit the building without any distress.
It’s only about a third of a mile for them to walk, which gives me a clear opening at 142 seconds. . . . Agh, what am I doing? I glanced at my wrist before remembering that my watch had fallen off during the ambush.
Thinking about the ambush made me wonder how the S.C.O.R.P.I.A agents even knew the route we had taken. I brushed the thought aside and refocused on my current, self-devised mission.
I took position by the door and patiently listened for the passing patrollers. I held back for two minutes and then made my move.
I quickly dashed towards the nearest cover, which happened to be a burning truck similar to the one that I had been in. Realizing that I was easily visible, I stood for a few seconds behind the car, surveyed the area, and then sprinted to a tall, run-down building.
I ducked behind a trio of rusty barrels and peeked over the top when I spotted the returning soldiers. This time, instead of bypassing John’s whereabouts, they paused under the nose of where John lay. I watched as they began to converse and occasionally glance back at the building.
I knew that I had to act fast if I wanted to keep John’s position secure, so I decided to create a distraction. Searching the earth frantically for a useful object, I began to panic. I heard the soldiers talking louder and soon they began arguing amongst themselves, which handed me the time I needed to find a weathered can on the ground only feet from me. I peered back at the soldiers, who were only seconds from entering the building when I hurled the can near the soldiers to draw their attention away from the building and John.
I waited anxiously for a reaction from the soldiers. And then it came. The near second that I waited felt like an eternity as I watched the soldiers advance to where I had tossed the can. Then I continued on my way, heaving a sigh of relief.
After maneuvering through old, dilapidated buildings, I finally found the site where the central activity went down. Soldiers in uniform and heavily armed with illegal weapons loaded and unloaded trucks full of crates. I was unable to decrypt the writing on the crates, but I knew they contained items capable of unimaginable destruction.
The soldiers were S.C.O.R.P.I.A agents who had been transported from their main headquarters in Saudi Arabia to intercept my team’s convoy before we reached our rendezvous point in Afghanistan.
The same question filled my mind for a moment. How could they have known where we were going to be and when we were going to be there? The thought left as soon as I heard another set of footsteps signaling that I was in imminent danger.
I emerged from my dark lookout point swiftly but silently as the footsteps approached.
I watched through a large crack in the wall to see only one soldier pass by.
I knew that I needed to get closer to the main site, so I rushed out of my enclosed hiding spot to attack the soldier. The soldier must have heard me approaching as he unholstered his pistol from his belt and turned around like a whirlwind and aimed his gun directly at my forehead.
Little did he know that I was a soldier and expected him to turn around, so I disarmed him before he could pull the trigger by grabbing his wrist and bending it to the point where his fingers gave out and dropped the gun. Then I took his clothes and utilities before I secretly infiltrated the compound. I wrapped a thin scarf around my face to conceal my identity and made my way over to the loading site.
I shook uncontrollably as I marched over to the loading site when a scrawny man wearing my exact outfit began to shout and yell foreign words in my direction. He approached me angrily, continuing to yell, when he finally pointed towards the unloading site and motioned me to go over there.
I nodded and hustled while trying to blend in. I grabbed a crate from the back of a truck and followed the other soldiers. We walked down a staircase into a dimly lit room. Shelves were stacked with weapons and handheld explosives lined the walls. I glanced to my left and saw a steel door with a square window dividing me and what seemed like an important room. I parted from the line of soldiers without anyone paying much attention. I took a deep breath before turning the doorknob and entering the room.
The room felt cold and brought a feeling of guilt upon me. The walls were empty and there was nothing but a wooden desk illuminated by a single lamp. My heart pounded as I approached it. On it sat a manila folder scarcely revealing a thin set of documents. I caught a glimpse of a nondescript figure on the corner of the page as I began to flip open the folder. I recognized the figure’s bodily structure but I couldn’t pin-point his name.
I continued reading until I skimmed over a paragraph that caught my eye. As I read, my thoughts wandered and my mind raced. I could not believe what I read.
It made sense, but I fought to accept it. It was impossible for me to accept. I just . . . couldn’t. But then I came to my right mind and gave in to the truth.
John Stephens worked for S.C.O.R.P.I.A.
I played and replayed the past event in my head over and over as I raced back to John’s location undetected.
John told them where we were going and how to stop us? The thought perplexed me. For what purpose? Money? Power?
Rage and disgust filled me as I thought up the most rational reasons for why my partner and best friend would betray me and the organization.
When I reached the rundown building, I forgot about the soldiers patrolling the site, but I could have cared less at that moment. I spotted the patrol officers out of the corner of my eye, and I reasoned that they saw me, too, because they pointed at me and began to run after me.
I panicked. Without thinking, I made a break for John’s resting place only to find out that he was gone.
I cursed under my breath as I devised a plan to escape my pursuers. I hurried to a set of weathered stairs and bolted up them. Then I found a doorway to a separate room and waited out of sight of the staircase and stood by, until the soldiers entered the doorway.
As soon as I saw the barrel of his rifle enter the doorway, I pushed his gun to the side and kicked him down the stairs on top of his partner who was close behind. When I saw that they were thoroughly delayed, I continued to run back to the loading site.
When I reached the site to see John being escorted to a helicopter, I was furious and filled with adrenaline.
“JOHN!” I yelled as I sprinted towards the helicopter.
I evaded assault rifle shots and explosions as I dashed to my ex-partner, firing my thirteen rounds of pistol ammo at the origins of the bullets. I saw that few soldiers protected John, and that many of the bullets had stopped coming not long after.
I felt an instant sharp pain surge through my left shoulder, but I pressed on. I fired my final three rounds at John’s escorts, which connected almost immediately, leaving John unharmed but on the ground clutching his abdomen.
I slowed down as I neared his resting place. Sweat dripped down my forehead as I removed my disguise from my face, and I breathed heavily as I approached John.
Panting, I said, “Why did you do it. Why did you betray me?”
“Why! John? For the money? The power? Why?”
“Go ahead, shoot me.” John said from the ground grimacing. “I’ve brought you nothing but distress,” he said. “I’ll never be able to change what I messed up, so just . . . shoot me.”
“I can’t,” I replied. “I won’t.”
“Just do it! Why can you not?!”
I lowered my gun. “Because I know your name.”