A Short Story: Keys



The lone soldier, clad in green like the woodland surrounding him, felt the crunch of stray twigs shiver up his body. The sound accompanied by his footsteps cracked and popped the thick silence held by bare branches. All around him were rooted and effervescent signs of life and growth. The firs let out long sighs and exhales of sorrow, and fallen leaves hummed an unfamiliar string of notes. The soldier himself did not. He did not share the same exhausted sighs or melodious tunes. He did not find rhythm with branches and rhythm with the bark. He only walked.


The grey blotted sky yawned until the stars appeared and the sky resembled a charcoal pen. The soldier grew weary and his muscles grew weak. Five hundred and sixty seven steps later he found himself sitting amongst the now dead leaves. Under his backpack and uniform they crunched like broken bones. His stony hands groped the ground, easing once they met with his gun. The soldier gripped his weaponry, holding it tight to his body. Just in case. The cold stock of his gun stung at his fingertips, but he did not move. Just in case.


His eyes opened to the sound of twigs breaking. The soldier became tense and he readjusted his hands on his rifle. His muddied combat boots lifted him to his feet. His head snapped. To the left. To the right. Above. Below. A calloused finger tip shook as it met with the trigger. Just in case. The silence felt thick in the air and seemed to remain there. The soldier began to walk once again.


The familiar faces etched in bark whispered back to him. The same firs and evergreens and the same pines encircled him. The soldier continued to hold his firearm, it’s body unevenly balanced in the crook of his arm. The woods were vast and the treelines thick. The gun mimicked the weight of a boulder, straining muscles and pulling at the soldiers uniform. His hollowed eyes moved toward a figure in the distance.


The figure was large and boxy, but from a distance seemed smooth and delicate. He walked closer, over piles of dead leaves and fallen tree trunks, feeling moss squish under the weight of his combat boots. He walked until he became closer and closer and closer and closer. He walked until he could decipher it’s identity and he walked until he recognized an old friend.


His dirtied hands caressed the wooden side panels of the instrument, the feeling struck a contrast to the usual, mud and rocks and bodies and blood and metal triggers. The soldier did not question the pianos location, sitting alone in the middle of a forest, much like himself. He did not want to know the truth. He wanted to sit.


After days or months or years fashioning chairs of tree stumps and stones, the cushiony feeling beneath him was a feeling now unfamiliar. He brought his fingers to the keys, the cool sensation of ebony and ivory provoked a slight twitch to the corners of his chapped lips, a smile.


    This smile was a stranger. It cracked his skin and drew blood. Then the soldier moved his fingers, first slowly, playing soft scales and light chords. This was the same smile of his five year old self. And that of his six year old self and that of his seven year old self. It was his smile until eighteen years had passed. It was a smile he had forgotten.


  The stresses and the tensions and the bruises and the bandages melted off him. The forest grew loud and harmonious. The firs hummed Mozart and the twigs snapped in various metronomes. The simplicity of the music, and of the past vibrated through the soldier. His combat boots eased on the damper pedal and the woods were alive. He found rhythm with the branches and rhythm with the bark. He shared the same exhausted sighs and melodious tunes. The soldier rose to his two feet and removed his rifle from the straps around his shoulders. Gently, and with shaking hand, he placed the gun down. With kicks he attempted to bury the firearm, under leaves and twigs and moss. The soldier did not look back, he only walked.


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