He laid his rifle and compass on the grass before taking a seat on a rock.
His soldier, Ash, must have been halfway towards the sunrise before realizing he was no longer behind him.
That kid… that girl… His soldier was young and enthusiastic with good knees, and would often walk ahead of him even though he should always be in the lead because he was her superior officer and she was the soldier.
Ash returned. “The sun is setting.”
“I see that,” He replied.
“Why are we stopping?” Ash questioned. “The shadows are on our tail.”
“The shadows are always on our tail,” He said. “Always will be.”
“Which is why we continue west during the day…. Sir,” Ash drew a cone. “We’re down to our last shelter cone.”
“I’m aware.” He massaged his knees.
“And we’re low on ammunition,” Ash added.
“That we are,” He said.
Ash groaned before taking a seat on the grass beside him.
“Ever seen the sunset?” He asked.
“We walk west,” Ash answered. “The sun sets in the west.”
“But have you ever paused to watch the sun… set?” He asked. “Or even the sun rise.”
Ash turned her mouth. “No… why would I?”
The young soldier looked frustrated, but he couldn’t tell whether the frustration stemmed from his questions, or his decision to rest.
“We fight shadows and we walk west,” Ash said. “There is no purpose in standing still to look up.”
“Why do we walk west?” He asked.
“Because… its what we were created to do,” Ash said.
“You sound frustrated,” He said.
“You continuously stop and ask silly question, sir.” Ash stood. “We are wasting time?”
“And you never wonder why we walk west…” He questioned again.
“The prophets said so,” Ash replied. “Our purpose is west.”
“What’s West?” He inquired. “I’ve lapped the world and have seen nothing.”
“Ever wonder what’s West? Why we walk, West?” He questioned.
“No.” Ash turned her back on him.
“Why not east? Or North…”
“No!” Ash paused to inhale. “We will know our purpose when we find it.”
“You sound so certain,” He said.
“It is not our job to be certain, sir,” Ash answered with venom.
“Is it not…” He replied.
“Stand up, sir…” Ash commanded. The enemy is clos–“
“Remain still.” A soft whisper carried on the wind. “Still… remain stilllll…”
“Shadows…” Ash drew her rifle. “They’re here, sir.”
“Yeah, as expected.” He reached down to reclaim his rifle from the grass.
Ash’s eyes widened as she stared behind him. “The sun sets on us… We need to move west.”
The girl looked ready for a fight.
“You go…” He said.
“What?” Ash reached for his arm. “Move, sir…now!”
He was done fighting. He no longer had the energy or faith or desire to fight.
He handed his rifle to Ash. “I’ll remain to watch the sunset.”
Ash dimmed her eyes at him before removing her hold. “You’re a stupid old man.”
It took the girl longer than he expected to stop calling him sir. He lost a bet with himself.
“Perhaps.” He reclaimed his compass from the grass and handed it to her. “Lead whoever you come across and lead them well.”
Ash snatched the compass and shook her head at him. “Stupid…”
Ash took off towards the what was left of the sun, that time without turning back. His soldier quickly disappeared below the setting horizon and over the grassy distance.
He wished Ash well. He hoped for her to meet someone younger and that she would lead them well.
A chill on his neck.
“I knew you’d catch up eventually,” He said.
“Remain… still,” The loudening whisper commanded.
He drew his canteen and took a drink as the shadows around him grew.
The sun was all but gone. The shadows were all but on top of him.
“Alright… I’m remaining still…” He called. “Now what?”
The sun vanished, stars appeared, and scythe shaped tentacles emerged from the grass.