“Andrew” by Tia Markovich

Andrew knew that he was dying. None of the other soldiers had any illusions either. He was facing death, it was staring him straight in the face, and he almost welcomed it. Blood trickled down his neck to his shoulder like raindrops slowly flowing down the side of a window. The bullet had hit his chest with the fury of one hundred men beating the breath out of him all at once. He struggled to push himself up against a rock while the blood seeped from his body.

As he leaned against the hard cold surface, he looked down at the wound that he knew would end his life. It looked unreal, like some kind of a hallucination, for he didn't seem to feel the pain he thought he would after he examined it. He took a deep breath and felt his lungs giving out inside of him. He coughed an unbearably painful cough and watched with distress how the blood seemed to pour all around him.

Andrew looked around at the nightmarish scene that surrounded him. There were boys and men, boys and men that were his friends, his confidants, his buddies dying all around him. Some had been shot and lay motionless on the ground. Some were still dying, twisting and turning around on the dirty ground begging for mercy from a god that didn't seem to care. Andrew closed his eyes, for he couldn't bear to look at the horrors that surrounded him.

In his mind he played the tape over and over again. His father's words played again and again like a skipping record.

"Real men become soldiers, and soldiers die. If you go to war son, there is a chance you may not come back, but at least you will have served your country. Like me, and like your grandfather."

He then laughed to himself while he thought of his response to his father's words.

"But dad, I don't want to be a soldier. I want to go to medical school. I want to help people, not kill them. Soldiers kill, I don't want anyone's blood on my hands. I want to marry Sophia, to have kids and be a doctor."

And yet here he was, bleeding to death of a bullet wound in the chest despite his protests to his father's wishes. How foolish he felt, how ignorant. War was one big nightmare, a nightmare he had sacrificed everything to be a part of. There was no way out of it now; he was trapped in his own hell.

He struggled with all his being to reach into his back pocket. The pain in his chest had now spread to his arms and legs. His neck felt as if someone had their hands gripped firmly around it, for he had to struggle with each breath. He felt around in his pocket until he found the small metal object he sought so desperately. A silver locket. Once so shiny and beautiful, now tarnished, scratched and marked with his blood and perhaps the blood of others.

His shaking hands opened the locket. He peered inside to see the beautiful face before him. Sophia was the most beautiful woman he had ever met. So fair, so lovely. Her beautiful golden hair and bright green eyes. She truly was breathtaking. His heart sunk as he realized this photo would be the last time he would ever see this beauty again. He would be leaving her a widow. A 19 year old widow. A 19 year old pregnant widow.

He fought with every ounce of strength he could muster to fight the tears, but they rolled down his cheeks like a faucet. The salty tears washed some of the blood and dirt from his cheeks, and he wiped them away with his gritty hand. The tears trickled over his hands onto the picture, and seemed to erase it from his sight. His vision was becoming blurry. The loud noises and screams around him were beginning to fade.

He slowly started to close his eyes. Those beautiful crystal blue eyes. Sophia had noticed those eyes before anything else about him. There he had sat at the local diner eating his breakfast, reading a medical journal when she approached him. He was stunned that a young female of her beauty would ever approach someone like him. After all, he was just the local bookworm with his head buried in a medical journal.

"Hello darling." She said to him with an air of confidence he had never observed before in a female. "I'll tell you what, you buy me a cup of coffee and I'll let you take me to the movies tonight. That is, if I can stare at those beautiful blue eyes all night."

What a girl! He fell in love with her instantly. She was everything he had ever dreamed of. How he wished he could've been there when she found out she was pregnant, how he wished he could be with her when their child was born. Instead, he was here in this never-ending hell. He had left his new bride for the Army two days after they were married.

The pain was becoming too much to bear now. His eyelids closed, almost sealed like a dungeon door. Visions danced through his head. He lay there fighting to breathe. Waiting patiently to die. Imagining the child he would never see.

Sophia took deep breaths, but the pain was unbearable. She so wanted this child, but didn't know if she could handle another contraction. She had had a dreadful pregnancy. The stress of Andrew being gone, as well as not having received a letter, a note, not a word from him in weeks.

At night she had terrible visions of him dying on a battlefield somewhere so far away. In the morning she would wake and cry and cry. She would pray to God that Andrew would make it back home alive, that he would see his child, hold her again.

Her mother wiped a cool washcloth over her forehead. She took deep breaths like the doctor ordered, and hoped that this pain would soon end. It was ripping her apart. Her mother's reassuring words and the doctor's coaching were all fading into the background. Suddenly her heart struck with panic. It hit her like a bullet in the gut. She felt as if she would nearly faint, and she could feel her mother pushing her back against the pillow so that she wouldn't fall forward.

He was dead. She was sure of it. Andrew was dead. She had never felt anything like this before, and she knew she was right. Like a sign from above, her darling Andrew was trying to tell her he was dead.

The contractions continued, and the doctor's voice was no longer reassuring, but loud and commanding. He was telling her to push and to concentrate. Her mind was a fog. She could hear the doctor and her mother speaking to her but she couldn't answer. Her lips wouldn't move. She couldn't breathe.

She felt as if a bullet had pierced her in the chest. She could feel warm fluid tringling down her chest and down her knees. She was dying. This was it. A horrible sadness swam over her.

"I love you Sophia, I love you so much! I am sorry I left you. I love you and our child with all my heart." She kept repeating this over and over. She was becoming delirious, and the doctors wheeled her into another room.

Her whole body went numb. The room became so dark. So very dark. Her ears became deaf. She could no longer hear her mother or the doctor's words. They had all left her. She tried to reach out, but there was nothing but empty space around her. She felt a sharp object in her arm, and lost her fight to stay conscious. She drifted into a dark cold place.

As Sophia opened her eyes, the blurry room began to come into focus. She looked around and saw her doctor in front of her and heard her mother's voice in the background. There was warm sunlight coming through a window and touching her cheeks. She tried to speak, but the doctor gently put his finger over her lips and began to talk.

"Don't try to talk too much Sophia, you have been through a lot."

"Is it over?" She asked in a weak voice.

"Yes." The doctor said. "And you have a wonderful new gift to show for it all."

"A gift?" She asked confused.

Her mother then walked closer to her bed with a bundle in her arms. She leaned toward Sophia and turned the bundle so that Sophia could see it. It was a beautiful little baby. A boy. Sophia's heart felt a warmth she had never before felt and reached her arms out to touch the little angel.

As she cradled him in her arms, she cried with tears of tremendous joy. He was the most perfect specimen she had ever seen or could've ever imagined. The baby felt warm against her, and seemed to like being there for he snuggled closer to her.

Sophia's mother sat beside her daughter and new grandbaby on the hospital bed with both happiness and concern in her eyes. Her dear daughter had shouted and wailed things that made no sense in the delivery room and she was worried about her. It was almost as if she had become another person.

"You gave us quite a scare dear." She said. "You were doing fine one minute and then you started shouting all kinds of things that made no sense. Then you finally passed out."

"What was I shouting?" Asked Sophia.

"You kept saying, "'Sophia I love you, I am sorry I left you.'" "It must have been the pain and the blood loss. You were in quite a state and very upset. According to the doctor that is quite normal during difficult deliveries."

"No mother," Sophia began, "Andrew is dead. It wasn't nonsense at all. He is dead I am sure of it. He died of a bullet wound. I could feel it the moment it hit him in his chest. I could feel his... his pain."

Sophia's mother sat up abruptly from the bed now with horror and concern in her eyes.

"Sophia please do not say things like that. You have been under a great deal of stress since Andrew left, but my dear I am sure he is fine. We have not heard anything different. He will be home soon. This war will be over and he will be home soon to meet his new son. Any pain you were feeling was from the birth."

Sophia couldn't muster the energy to disagree with her mother, but she knew that in her heart she was right. She sat up in the bed slowly, and began to feel her strength coming back a little. She turned her new darling baby boy towards her so she could examine his little face. There they were, big beautiful crystal blue eyes. Andrew's eyes. Eyes so big and blue that they resembled the sky on the clearest day.

As she smiled at this little darling, she looked deeply into his eyes and felt Andrew's presence. Felt his soul staring back at her. She sighed. She knew deep in her heart that Andrew was gone now, but that his soul now lived inside of this new perfect little being. The bright eyes told her so. This helped to ease her pain. This made her feel at peace with the world.

She smiled and cuddled the young one close to her.

"Andrew." She said proudly. "Mother, Doctor I'd like you to meet Andrew. He is the bravest, most loving person I have ever met and will ever know."

Her mother and the doctor looked at each other with puzzled expressions on their faces, but just assumed that Sophia was still a little delirious and dealing with the trauma of her delivery. They smiled back at her as she held her new son. Rocking him back and forth and calling him Andrew over and over.