• Published 12th Jun 2014
  • 1,592 Views, 19 Comments

A Time in the Sand - AppleJared



Big Macintosh gets drafted to the service of protecting his country. He makes it home alive.

  • ...
0
 19
 1,592

A Time in the Sand

1:00 am.

I look at my mail pile and I realize that my friends are all but gone. All but one, at least. I mail them, hoping they respond. They don’t. Who would respond now anyways?

It is now 2:13 am. At this time of night, my room would be pitch black if it weren't for the candle lit on top of my night stand. My blankets are unraveled and off the bed. I can hear the sound of Applejack's snoring in a room adjacent to mine. Apple Bloom is at a camp-out with her friends, else I imagine she would sound much the same as her sister.

I look at my last friend. He looks back. We don’t speak, nor do we nod, but we occasionally look at each other. We are not angry, nor resentful. We love each other in a way than only comrades can. He is here with me; I am here with him. We are here.

I’m having trouble sleeping tonight. This doesn't happen often but on a rare occasion it can take a few hours to finally nod off. My bed is large, which is only fitting for my size, and the blankets are comfortable. The window facing town allows a shade of moonlight to enter.

I open my eyes.

My hooves are in the sand again. With my uniform back on, I am back in my platoon. We march 100 meters away from the base walls in parallel direction to guard the base. There is one patch of trees exactly 128 meters away from the base in the southeast direction. These trees feed off of a very small puddle of water that decreases in volume more per day. In an estimated 14 days, the water will have expired to evaporation. Nothing else grows in the middle of the desert. Life is not meant to be here, and yet here we are.

Enemies are crawling in this area, which is why they call it the Red Zone. It’s hot, not only with enemies but in temperature. I am sweating profusely. Sand jumps into my eyes just to irritate me. However painful it may be, if I close my eyes for too long an enemy will shoot me while I am not looking. I do not close my eyes.

On occasion, I want to cry. I miss home. I miss my folks. I miss my yolk. I dare not cry. Crying is weak, and I must be strong. If I cry then I am weak, and if I am weak I die, and if I die, then I let my platoon die as well. I dare not cry.

I dare not.

I cannot.

While in the sand, I do not move without my friend. We keep each other alive.

While I despise the heat of the sun in this desert, the true heat of battle burns us at night. I hate the night.

Night time is when they raid. Night vision is useless on coldblooded species. We hear a commotion over the hill. They are burning a Celestial flag to taunt us. We throw grenades to kill them. We shoot to finish them off. We put out the fire and retain what is left of the flag. Honor is something they know nothing of. We fight and live with honor.

They teach their young to fight. Not like a year shy of enlisting age, but younger than Apple Bloom age. We are not supposed to kill this group, unless absolutely necessary. I do not worry about having to take that order. I am indifferent towards the matter. One flies towards base while I am on guard. It might have a bomb. It is a small one; more than likely just learned to fly. I am given the order to fire. I always obey orders.

On occasion, I want to cry. I miss home. I miss my folks. I miss my yolk. I dare not cry. Crying is weak, and I must be strong. If I cry then I am weak, and if I am weak I die, and if I die, then I let my platoon die as well. I dare not cry.

I dare not.

I cannot.

I open my eyes.

Applejack is knocking on the door. She asks if everything is alright. I look for my friend. He is still with me. Everything is fine. He doesn’t do much anymore but I take care of him.

“Everything is fine,” I whisper out to her.

I try to go back to sleep.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

5 am. I see my friend. He doesn’t talk and he doesn’t judge. We understand.

I grab my yoke and check the paper. It’s supposed to get hot today. I get an early start on chores. Chores keep my mind busy. In a sense, the rest I get from working is much better than sleeping. I look forward to my chores.

When I was in the sand, I would dream of coming home to do the farm work again. Now that I’m here, all I can think about is the sand. Funny how life plays these little tricks.

I go over to the main barn and link my yoke to the plow. Walking over to the east fields, I can see I'll have a long day today. I have to pass several rows of our apple trees to get to the unworked land. I look up and see the bright hot sun staring right at me. I close my eyes to protect my vision.

I open my eyes.

The trees look exactly how the ones on the farm did, they just grow a different fruit. Here in the city, they can actually grow plants like this, but the poor soil won’t allow for their fruit to taste as good as the apples at home do. Still, it’s a nice break from our tents. The heat seems to subside a few degrees in the marketplace, which was worth the ride over here by itself. There’s a breeze strong enough to remind me that I’m not in hell just yet. The blues and greens of an oasis in the center of the city shine out and catch my eyes. Foreign folks are busy about, living what they know as a normal life. The overhead of street vendors shouting what can only be their sales pitches can be heard once I enter the city gates. It reminds me of my sisters, and home. Walking around for some RnR never appealed to me like it did today. For three days, I wasn’t to be a soldier anymore. I was on vacation; here to have a good time.

It all went great until the street fire erupted. Someone told them who we were. I should have known being here was too good to be true.

I am always a soldier.

Instincts kick in when the bullets fly. It’s not my first rodeo, but it is my first without my new friend. I feel naked. There is no breeze. I run right into an alley between two buildings. One of them comes around the corner a bit too fast and doesn’t see me in time for me to make use of my side knife. I pick up his weapon. I know how to use it. I see some of my company dead on the streets to the left. The ones still breathing are in the marketplace to my left across the street, praying for either a weapon or a break to retreat. I fire down the street, enough to give my guys a break from the fire. They move the wounded and dead out while they got the time. RPG pops up on a roof and fires where my guys are. No one could have survived that. I can’t think about that. I am sweating profusely. I have to live long enough to get out of here. Applejack needs me to come home, Apple Bloom needs me to come home, Granny needs me to come home. Two come around the corner again. They drop before they can even realize what happened. I rush down the alley to reach the city gates. I’m praying there is still a transport there from earlier. Celestia, gimme that transport.

I find the end of the alleyway at the city wall, and follow the wall towards the gate. Primitive houses keep the space between their walls and the city walls tight as I have to squeeze just to get through.

Up ahead, a small foreign colt jumps in front of me with a gun similar to what I am carrying. He points it at me. I pull the trigger.

I open my eyes.

The sand is gone. I am next to an apple tree. My face is wet. Judging from the sun, it is 4pm. I need to get up and walk.

I go to town to pick up a few groceries. Nothing special, just a few ins and outs, mostly for cookin’. I bump into a few folks in there. They all ask how I’m doing, and I tell them that I’m doing fine. They smile at me and I smile back. I see Miss Cheerilee inside on aisle 12. We wave. Granny used to pester me about Cheerilee. She’s a pretty one, but I don’t think we could work out.

Not anymore.

Inside the store is a bulletin board with the title “Ponyville Heros” on top. Right below the marquee, in the biggest picture size, is my service picture with the caption “Staff Sergeant Macintosh” below the image. There are others below mine, but their picture sizes are smaller. Folks around here just took a liking to me when I came back with all of those medals. Someone from the corps must have come down here and told the town of my more “heroic” acts while in duty.

I wish they would just take the damned picture down.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

5 am. He knows what has happened; what I have done. He doesn’t judge me, even when I remember. Everything is better when he is around; I’m safe when he is with me. He looks about the same as when I left him here. Best friend I ever had, and to think Paw introduced us so many years ago.

Time for chores.

I put on my yoke, eat a bite, and head out to the fields. Sometimes when it’s cooler I feel better.

When I was in the sand, I would dream of coming home to do the farm work again. Now that I’m here, all I can think about is the sand. That is exactly what kept me awake at night when I got home the first time. AJ just couldn’t understand why I didn’t sleep, but Granny was always there for me. Not to imply that AJ is a bad sister, but she just doesn’t get some things and it bothers her. To be truthful, I hope she never has to understand this.

Anyways, Granny would never ask any questions. It worked out because I would never answer any of 'em. AJ wanted me to talk about it, but talking doesn’t help a pony like me. I tried to work the fields again; I tried to be the stallion I used to be. It never worked. Whether I liked it or not, I could never be the same Big Mac that answered the draft papers.

I said “no” a lot when I got back home the first time. I said no to dates, I said no to food, I even said no to work… so when I said “Yes”, it was on my re-enlistment papers. I had to go back. Something was still out there and it wouldn't let me live on unless I went back. I wasn't in it for glory, or even for honor. Regardless of my intentions, they would send me on a mission that would be the closest thing to hell this world can muster.

Today is Tuesday, so I walk Apple Bloom to school. It’s something that I used to do before I headed over, and it’s something I really missed doing while I was gone. Funny how I didn’t really care to do this before, and now I enjoy it more than Granny’s pies. AB sure talks a heap. Love that lil' gal to death but she just never stops. I think she’s about to get to the part where she complains about not havin’ her cutie mark. No matter, I’ll always listen. Even when she goes overboard and frazzled, I listen because that’s my job and I love it.

Part of being a big brother is protecting your family. I would do anything to make sure my family is ok. Paw asked me to do one thing before he died: “Look out after ‘em.” I’ve done a good job of that. I’ve always paid bills and worked my hardest. I’ve always made sure nothing bad happened to the family.

AB waves from inside the school; I wave back. It’s time to go back to the farm for work.

I’ve done a good job protecting my family.

I open my eyes.

The dirt road turns to sand. Cool temperatures make way for heat. Partly cloudy makes way to blistering sun. I hear steps. Jarrett is up front, Sleek is to the left, Spring is on my right, and Grizz on my six. Sand occasionally gets into my eyes. I’m getting used to it. We’re walking extra slow. My team is on mine-duty. We clear out what the bugs put down so the heavy stuff can roll on by. Usually wind can expose the tops of the ordinances, but wind is sparse here.

My company is three weeks away from two weeks of holiday vacation with a complimentary trip home. Jarrett talks of what he’ll say to his foal when he gets home. He’s a bit mushy but he’s not trigger shy. Family man through and through. He signed up to do his duty for his Princess and his country. Sleek is talking about the food he’s going to catch up on when he gets home. He’s overconfident but it never hurts to be brave when the firing starts. Grizz has a few positions he’s going to try with his lady, but he admits that anything will suffice at this point. I can’t remember Grizz’s real name but this guy is tough. I’ve seen him patch a kid up in the middle of a firefight in the midst of dodging bullets. He’s the medic. He’s the career soldier. This is what he’s good at and he can handle it. Spring just wants to see his folks. Spring is just a kid. Lied about his age so he could get in the service but I know he’s at least two years too young to be here. He misses his parents and I don’t blame him one bit. This is no place for a kid his age. His constant lip biting tells me that he's not cut out for this life. He's trying to cope. I feel for him, I really do. I tell them that I’m with Spring on this one. I’m counting the days to when I can step on the farm and see the folks again. I tell them how much I missed my folks and the farm and the apples and



*click*



Time stops.



Panic. Sheer panic. No one moves an inch. Eyes frantically scan their surroundings. Who did it? WHO STEPPED ON ONE!!??

I check my hooves; it’s not me. I scream for them to not move. Grizz is clear. Sleek was on a rock, but after checking, he wasn’t on the mine. Jarrett is clear.



.....Spring is on the mine.



Bile enters my throat. I calm everyone down as best I can. I yell for everyone to fall back and for Jarrett to bring me the tool kit.

Spring is pouring in sweat. I can hear his heart beat and I'm not even listening for it. I tell him it will be OK. I carve around his hoof and dig inch by inch to find out what kind of mine it is. I find the entire plate and dig under it. I've done this before.

I’ve done this before, except a hoof wasn’t already on it. I get a look at the actual device.

I throw up a little in my mouth. It’s a PM-138 propelled mine. Shoots a 50 lbs bomb 20 feet in the air and takes out everything within 100 meters. I took out older versions before, but these new versions have a safeguard against deactivation. Any wires get cut, the ordinance immediately detonates.

Spring is shaking. I might be shaking too. As a leader, I have to calm him down. As a friend and a mentor, I have to think of what to say. Tears form in his eyes. I don’t tell him what kind it is. I tell him it’l be OK. I remind him he can’t move.

Between tears Spring squeezes out, “Mac, I’m sorry.”

“Nonsense, soldier. I’ll get you out of this.”

I motion everyone get back 150 meters. Grizz called in land transports and barriers are being set up. I know this will kill me. I can’t leave him out there and I won’t let him die alone. I’ve given my letter to Grizz in case anything was to happen to me. I don’t want to die, but I won’t just give up on Spring. If nothing else, I won’t let a kid die out here alone. Grizz doesn’t want me to try, but he understands why I have to. Behind the barriers is a transport with anti-mine tool kits. Everyone is behind the barriers. I open the door to the transport and I grab another tool kit and a bag of metal weights. I close the door and

Wait.


Why did he say sorry??


My eyes shoot towards Spring and he’s sobbing. The last protective barrier is set up and hooked into place. Spring waves at us.

He steps off.

I open my eyes.

I’m in my bed. My friend is still with me. Everything is fine.

I will always be a soldier. I can’t separate that part of me from what I used to be. My hooves will always know about farming, loving, and eating. It will also know about shooting and killing.

No matter what, I’ll always have my friend. He doesn’t talk and he doesn’t judge. We understand.

Author's Note:

Pre-read by my good friend Curtis, who does not have a profile on here. However, he is an amazing writer and you should check him out. Here: http://animus-krimson.deviantart.com/art/Reversions-380480096