Battles and Soldiers | A Short Story by Ethan Wersland
This story was submitted for the 2015 Winter Quarter Short Story Contest. While it wasn’t a finalist entry, the judges enjoyed it, and felt it merited being shared with the community. Congratulations, Ethan!
Snowflakes started to fall on a brisk January afternoon, near a small town in western Montana, as Daniel Crest drove on the icy road. Daniel was a soldier, brave, fit, obedient, and loyal. Ranking a captain after serving only one term was never enough for him though– he wanted to be higher in authority. When he wasn’t worrying about his military rank he was trying to get more money. Living in a grand house, that he inherited from his parents.
Daniel was a sculptor by trade, however, despite his talent, little of his work satisfied him. When he was finally able to satisfy his ambitious expectations, he was certain his work would sell; hopefully making him a very wealthy man. Daniel wasn’t a bad person. He was a very likable, but suffered from a poorly formed conscience and somehow, even dating a woman who was an atheist never seemed to bother him.
Despite the effort from his parents to raise him Catholic, he had strayed from his upbringing. According to his own way of thinking, As long as we love each other, what could be wrong? This was Daniel’s trouble, he was a worldly minded person, thinking that the only things worth his time and energy were the ones that gratified him. Daniel felt jubilant as he drove down the road to meet his girlfriend for dinner- and there were two reasons.
He had just received a letter responding to his application back into the military. They had looked at his records and accepted the application. The other reason for his happy mood was tucked safely in his inner coat pocket, and the diamond engagement ring thumped on his chest, as he walked down the sidewalk towards the restaurant.
The night had gone just as Daniel had planned. His girlfriend was happy to hear the news about his application being accepted. She then got a shock when he got down on one knee, pulled out the ring, and asked her to marry him, and of course she told him, yes. Daniel could not have been more happy, as he drove home, I am the luckiest guy in the world, he thought.
It had now started to snow heavily. In the street lights, the big snow flakes, danced and swirled in the crisp winter wind. The wind unexpectedly gusted with an exceptional amount of force.
Suddenly his car started to swerve left and right as he drove over a section of road covered in ice.
Unable to control it’s spinning, it finally came to rest completely sideways in the middle of the road. It was then a car, that was unable to stop on the ice, slammed into the side of Daniels car. Daniel lost consciousness from the force of the impact.
When he woke up he was in a hospital room, and saw that the impact had been on the drivers side of the vehicle, which had snapped his left arm, so that the bone above his elbow was shoved through. His knee cap had been dislocated, as well as a few minor other cuts and bruises.
What started out as the best night of Daniel’s life had been turned upside down in a matter of seconds. During his recovery, Daniel was silent most of the time, even when his loved ones came to visit him. However, it didn’t take much for them to guess the reason why.
After he was healed, Daniel would still struggle, mostly with his arm and knee. The arm would never fully return to normal and he would have trouble lifting objects for the rest of his life. In short-he was unable to rejoin the military. After he was mostly recovered, Daniel asked to be released, and recover at home. Mentally this didn’t do much to help him. He spent almost every night, lying awake in bed.
He would wander around the house as if looking for something and hardly eat anything. People who came to visit him said he started looking like a corpse. Pretty soon he was so edgy and nervous that he became afraid of the dark. He would leave the lights on in the house, and hide under his covers, as if he were a child again. Many people began to think he might die.
Occasionally, Daniel tried to be optimistic by telling himself, I still have the love of my life, and my wedding to look forward to, which was a consolation of sorts. However, even this consolation was very short lived. Daniel received a letter from his fiance, saying the wedding was off and that she had met someone else. She had enclosed the engagement ring, which a short time ago, had resembled what should have been the happiest time in his life.
During the next three days, Daniel came close to losing his mind completely. He stopped eating, and would have moments of pure rage and tear the house apart. Other times he would break down and cry until he passed out on the floor from complete exhaustion.
There were moments he would talk to himself like a person who was insane. He soon became so weak that he was unable to leave his bed. At this point he began to think that he had no reason left to live. His thoughts slowly drifted to the revolver in the drawer of his nightstand, and he started inching closer and closer to it. He opened the drawer and reached for the revolver. He always kept it loaded.
As he took the gun out, something black caught his eye. Feeling a little curious, he pulled the drawer out a little farther, to reveal a black book with the words Holy Bible on the front. Memories came flooding back of his mother reading this very bible almost every day.
Without warning, he was shaking as the sobs rose from somewhere in the core of his body and the tears spattered like rain on the black leather Bible. He set the gun down on the nightstand, and gingerly picked up the Book.
Opening it at random, he came to John 20:29; Jesus said to him,’Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe’. Shutting the book, he again allowed it to fall open randomly. This time he came to The Temptation of Jesus in Luke 4:1-13. The gun lay completely forgotten on the nightstand as Daniel flipped through the pages. He went on to read about the Nativity of Jesus, then about Jesus’ ministry. There is a courageous man for you, he thought as read on.
This is what he thought, until he came to The Passion and Death of Christ. With tears streaming down his face, he said to himself, This was not done out of courage. This was done out of love. Love in the purest form. Closing the Bible he lay back on the pillow, in deep thought. What have I been missing? I thought I had everything. Rethinking his life, Daniel came to realize that Christ was almost completely, absent in his life from the time he was a teenager.
He had stopped practicing his faith at a very young age. His mother had died when he was studying to receive the sacrament of Confirmation, and in all that had surrounded that time, he stopped going to the class at the parish.
Wondering what to do, he again opened his Bile up at random. He came to Romans 12:2, Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God– what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Having read this, a warm peace flooded over him, and for the first time in what seemed like a lifetime, Daniel slept easily. When he awoke two days later, and while eating everything he could find in his cupboards, the thought of what he had almost done made him shudder.
He imagined his mother’s kind and loving eyes looking at him with worry and love, and felt ashamed. Both his mother and father had been devout Catholics. His mother though, had a deep sense of piety about her. Daniel knew that what he had considered, would never have even entered her mind; even in her deepest sorrows and struggles. Why? Because she was strong.
Then a thought came into Daniel’s mind that he hadn’t even considered, Where did she get this strength? He pondered and pondered, but never could quite put his finger on it. Then he thought of a question that he had asked her when he was young. His mother had struggled with brain cancer for several years, yet she never complained, and always accepted God’s Will. She knew she would never recover.
She had never kept any secrets, from her little boy, even the ones he didn’t understand. When she told him that she was dying, young Daniel was amazed, and he asked her why she wasn’t afraid to die. “Because I am a soldier,” Daniel had wondered what she meant, but the only answer she gave him was that he would understand someday.
At this Daniel decided to go to the one person closest to his mother, besides his dad. Driving to the church that he had attended as a child brought back so many memories, that Daniel began to cry. Fr. Brian had been his mother’s spiritual director, and if anyone could answer his question, he could. The old priest was shocked to see the boy he had known, walk onto his front porch now a full grown man. He was overjoyed to see Daniel again.
Feeling very much at ease in his presence, Daniel told him everything that had happened surrounding the accident and about how reading his mother’s Bible had changed his decision to take his life. The whole time the kind priest listened with interest.
Finally, Daniel asked about the answer to his question, that his mother had given him when he was young. The priest didn’t need long to find the answer. “Your mother once told me, her Confirmation day was one of the greatest of her life, because she knew that at that moment she received the strength to defend the Faith that she knew and loved so deeply.
She made a promise to Our Lord, that she would always be His “little soldier”. The only fear she wanted to have, was of offending Him. Daniel thought for a second. He recalled how his mother had bore every pain and trial so patiently. She was a strong soldier. But her battles were spiritual ones. She was such a strong soldier, that she wasn’t afraid to die, because she knew what her reward was.
Daniel said goodbye to the kind priest, who asked him to come back any time. At home, Daniel pondered his mother’s strength. They were both soldiers; one fought spiritual battles for God- the other fought battles for his country. Daniel then recalled something that he had learned during his short time in Confirmation class; to receive the sacrament of Confirmation, is to become a soldier of Christ.
Once again looking for an answer, he turned to his mother’s Bible. He came to the Descent of the Holy Spirit in the Act of the Apostles. Reading through it, he was in awe at bravery of the Apostles, and how they went out into the world, after the Holy Spirit came to them, to proclaim the word of Christ. This is what the sacrament is all about. Becoming a soldier, so that you can defend what Christ taught, even to point of death, he thought.
However, Daniel was still unsure. Turning one last time to his Bible, this is what he read in Ephesians 6:10-13,
Finally be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything to stand firm.
Two days later Daniel went to Confession for the first time in years. After that he started taking catechism lessons to prepare to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. His friends that came to see him were shocked at the change that had come over him. The religious statues and pictures that he had stored away, were polished and placed everywhere in the house.
Many of his friends left him because of his sudden interest in the Catholic faith, but drawing strength from the example and memory of his mother, Daniel accepted God’s Will with courage and peace.
Over time Daniel developed an interest in writing, and eventually published many books. Daniel decided to dedicate his life to helping others fight the spiritual battles in everyday life, by teaching Confirmation classes and speaking with others about how to live his mother’s example of a courageous, strong, and holy “Little Soldier” for Christ.
Header PHOTO CREDIT: CC DVIDS
About Ethan Wersland
My name is Ethan Wersland, I am 15 years old, in 9th grade, and I am the third oldest of eight kids, all of which are home schooled. I enjoy reading, especially the lives of saints, and I am starting to develop an interest in writing. When I am not at home doing school, I enjoy going out and hunting with my dad, brothers, sisters, and grandpa. Most of the spring and pretty much all of summer is spent traveling around the state and watching my talented brothers play baseball. One of my favorite hobbies is recurve archery, I am in my fourth year of 4-H Shooting Sports, an have competed in ten shoots. I am currently discerning a vocation to the priesthood, and so far have a keen interest in the Dominican order. I will be receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation in June, and will continue to love and vigorously study my Faith.