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The Lookout - Short Story



Jake was on top of a wall, sitting in a chair, watching the snow fall in front of the sunset. He was at the edge of his seat and his elbows were dug into his thighs just above the knees and his head rested in his hands. He had been here for hours.

He was watching for something. They had taken over this outpost in the initial push and held it through the conflict. They had been besieged many times. Some soldiers jokingly called it the Alamo but less and less each day; it wasn't as funny as it was when they had a full regiment of men and fuller stomachs.

In Jake's hands was a rifle. He didn't know the name, or the make, or the model; it was gun that had been in the fort when they took it. It was an enemy gun, made by enemy hands, and whatever they called it was written on the side in a language that was not his own. He'd tried to figure it out, to translate the text, but couldn't. Once, they had a combatant restrained in a room below, and they were interrogating the combatant, and Jake had asked the combatant what he meant. The combatant had looked at him, and said nothing, and then spit on his feet. Jake hit him with this enemy gun and then shot him with it. 

Lookout duty was supposed to be volunteer work; that way, everyone who was involved really wanted to to do it. But it wasn't volunteer, not really, and it didn't need to be even if it actually was, because everyone here wanted to do it, because here everyone was afraid to die. They all sat upon the ramparts and squinted their eyes and stared out at the landscape, to make sure that nobody attacked them and if they did attack somebody would know about it. A watched pot never boils. 

Jake had found a pen and pencil, some notebook paper too, down in one of the old officer's rooms. He didn't write much anymore, and nobody ever sent physical letters anymore, but he wanted to write something down. He tried to remember his favorite Bible story, but couldn't think of one. He tried to remember his favorite short story, and couldn't remember enough of it to write down. He wrote down quotes, and then he wrote down ideas, and then he wrote down dreams. He had stacks of paper in his quarters, and the man he shared it with was kind and didn't make him throw them away, like most everyone would've. One night, Jake had a nightmare, and he saw himself laying in the snow, unable to write, and his papers were scattered around him in the wind. 

Jake had volunteered for lookout duty the last five nights in a row. 

"You want a break?" Damian said, holding up a cup of hot coffee. Jake hadn't heard him come up the ladder, and didn't look at him, but held out his hand and took the coffee from him. 

"Thanks," Jake said, his voice cracking, unused for so long. 

"You want a break?" Damian said, less asking now, more telling. Jake shook his head. 

"I want to stay." 

"Other people want to be up here, too." 

"Tell them they can have tomorrow." 

Damian looked at Jake, who was gripping tightly on the rifle, unaware of his own white knuckles. Jake looked up at him, finally, but said nothing, and Damian shrugged, and went down the ladder and left Jake alone. Jake looked back across the snow, and there was nobody. He made sure of that. He was sure of that. He had been up here for five nights, and he kept everyone safe. He would come down the next day and write again. Or maybe the next. 

He took a sip of coffee. He shifted in the approaching darkness. He watched over the snow.


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