Tell A Tale in 500 Words

A Price of War By Toby Lowther

General Drust Brand stood in the gently drizzling rain, water running in streams down his black coat, finger hovering over the doorbell. He hesitated a moment, glancing to the side where his sergeant held the small, dark casket, wrapped in its weather shield. He always hated doing this.

A quick press, and the shrill buzz of the bell rang out. A moment’s stillness passed. At last, the door viewport cracked open, a fearful pair of blue eyes staring into the night.

“My sincerest apologies, Ms. Wilder, and those of the State.”

A muted whimper behind the door. Drust turned to the sergeant and took the package, passing it through the postal slot. The mother put up a brave face, but he could see the tears welling in her eyes.

“He died well, Mrs. Jones. He did his country proud.”

The woman looked at him, then gently shook her head, closing the viewport on the world.

The general turned away, absently scratching the black stubble gathering on his chin. His haunted grey eyes searched the darkened street, but what for he could not say.

“You drink, sergeant?”

“Not regularly, sir, but I sure could tonight,” muttered the sergeant, eyes downcast, trying uselessly to stomp some warmth into his feet.

He hadn’t meant to, but somehow Drust found his way back to the old Gallery. The battered, concrete walls and neon sign flickering above the portal door beckoned him. Drust pushed the door switch, and after a moment’s hesitation, the door dilated with a deep, rusted groan.

The greasy floor clung to boots as the general made his way into the darkened interior, trying not to breathe too deeply. This place had seen better days. The barkeep glanced up with a look of mild surprise as Drust and the sergeant entered. “Back again, general? The usual?”

Drust merely nodded, wandering over to one of the battered tables.

“Why here, general?” asked the sergeant, settling down.

“It’s where it started, you know,” muttered Drust, staring across the empty tables. “We were going to do something, to make a difference, you know.”

“It’s gone, general. Pardon, sir, but you should know that better than most.”

The ventilators hummed, filling the air with their petrol scent. The barkeep hurried over with a couple of plastic mugs, then retreated in silence.

“It’s getting to you again, isn’t it?” asked the sergeant, stiff formality softening to pity on his face.

“Geoff was a good lad,” muttered the colonel, taking a swig from the pungent fluid in his glass. “We send them quick to the dirt, and what for?”

“Don’t know, sir. It’s life.”

“Not my life, not any more.” With that, the general gently drew out his service pistol and laid it down upon the table. “I’ll hand in my resignation tomorrow.”

“You don’t think this’ll really make a difference, do you?”

“What else can?” asked Drust, looking down at the table. “One step, one person, one choice at a time. That, my friend, is real change.”

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