(I hope you don't mind me making a new thread for this. I was reading through my old journal from when I was in the army and thought I'd make a short story out of one of the entries. The names are changed (for a few reasons) and it's been expanded a bit from the original entry. As always, feel free to critique it and tell me how it can improve. And if this would be more appropriate in another thread feel free to move it.)
The snow under my boots crunches loudly as I advance forward. The cold winter air stings my lungs. My heart races and my ears are ringing. Brass casings are pushed aside as I walk towards the enemy position. And what I see causes me to lower my rifle in relief. Six men lie dead in a makeshift fortification, rifles and equipment scattered around their lifeless bodies. Their faces twisted in mangled expressions of pain and fear. I signal for the rest of my unit to move up. Our Sergeant, a perpetually tired looking man by the name of Morozov, jogs up to me with the rest of the men.
“What have we got private?”
“Six dead. Four rifleman, two on the PKM. Looks like ZSU forces.”
“But we are supposed to be in a ceasefire.”
“I guess nobody told them sir.”
“Fuck. Alright. I’ll have to radio command and tell them about the situation. You and Pyotr are to deal with them.”
I slowly step into the makeshift position with Pyotr, careful to avoid stepping on the bodies lying inside. I write down the names on their uniform. The first man, more like a boy judging by his small stature and youthful appearance, had his face covered in a large knitted scarf. It looked homemade, most likely by his mother or grandmother. I move his scarf from over his uniform pocket to take out his ID. Viktor Kuzmich, DOB 1/13/1997. I write down his name pin it onto his body. As I begin to move onto the next body I hear a ringing noise coming from Kuzmich’s body. Pyotr and I both freeze in place, startled and confused. I slowly reach into Kuzmich’s pocket and take his phone out. I press the home button and look at the screen.
Mama-13 missed calls & voicemails
Mama- Please answer me!!!
Mama-Are you okay?
Mama-Your sister’s can’t wait to talk to you!
Mama-I love you dear! Goodnight!
My heart begins to sink. I tell Pyotr to keep identifying the bodies as I walk towards Sergeant Morozov.
“Done already? Give me the names and we’ll call it in.”
“It’s not that sir. We found a phone on one of the men. Look.”
He reads through the texts as his hands begin to shake. He slowly hands the phone back to me, a look of resolve and sadness crossing his face. “I’ll call her. Tell her her son died bravely. And that he’ll be home soon. Stay here in case command calls." I nod and take the radio from him, standing silently. Slowly, he presses on Kuzmich’s phone, and call his poor mother. The phone is answered on the very first ring.
“Viktor! My God what happened! I’ve been trying to call all day! Are you okay?”
“Are you Mrs. Kuzmich? Viktor Kuzmich’s mother?”
“Yes…Who is this? Why are you on my sons phone?”
“Ma’am, this is Sergeant Vasili Morozov. I don’t know quite how to say this. Your son has passed ma’am. I’m so sorry.”
“What…that can’t be true. I just talked to him last night. He promised to call his sisters tonight. It…it isn’t true! He said he would be alright! My baby said he would be alright! It isn’t true!’
“Ma’am, I’m so sorry but it is true. He was killed while bravely defending his position and his comrades. He died a hero ma’am.”
For what seemed like ages, all that we heard was the weeping of this poor boys mother. We stood silently, well aware that words mean nothing. And well aware that we killed that boy. And that while we may have had no choice, this woman no longer had her son because of us. Finally, a voice from the phone cut me out of my thoughts.
“When can I see my baby? Will he be coming home to his family?”
“As soon as we can get in touch with command we’ll have him sent over to the Ukrainian side. We’ll get him home ma’am.”
“Thank you. Thank you for telling me. I…I have to go. My daughters are asking for their brother. I’m sorry.”
And with that, the other end disconnected. Sergeant Morozov stood there for a few minutes before hanging up the phone and handing it back to me. I walked back to Viktor’s body, now covered with a thick blanket next to his fallen comrades. I think of his mother, crying at home. His sisters, wondering what happened to their brother. And I think about how we all have people at home, wondering if their son or daughter, husband or wife, or brother or sister will ever come home. I think about my own sister’s and wonder how they would feel if some stranger called them and told them their brother had died. And I think about whether being here in the hellhole that is Donbass is truly worth it. I never really can decide on the answer. I see the faces of those we help and I feel pride. I see the faces of those we kill, and I feel guilt.
But one thing is certain. Viktor’s war is over.
Darn, I didn't even notice the change in tense until now. Thank you for pointing that out, Cricket. I really have to pay more attention. As for the abbreviations, I thought to make a little glossary or something but decided against it for some reason. But for reference:
PKM- A general purpose machine gun created by the Soviet Union and widely used by post-Soviet states in Eastern Europe and Middle Eastern/African nations supplied by the Commonwealth of Independent States (Essentially Russian NATO/EU) and/or former Eastern Bloc nations
ZSU- An acronym used for the Armed Forces of Ukraine (Zbroyni Syly Ukrayiny). It was used by our forces to distinguish government troops from pro-government militia forces
DOB- Date of birth
I'm happy to hear that you enjoyed it. Thank you for your kind words and critique. And if you have any questions or anything feel free to ask and I will answer to the best of my abilities.
So I don't think most people are familiar with old soviet weapon systems. Explaining that during the writing would be advisable. Most people also aren't familiar with the East Bloc acronyms either. The only ZSU I'm familiar with is the old ZSU23-4. Which I'm pretty certain you're not talking about. From context I get that it's a Ukrainian group, but I don't know if it's government or insurgent in nature.
Write what you know, and you did that here. You have a perspective of war that most others do not, and writing your experiences out is a good way to process them. I might advise that you try to place the events you've experienced in a fictional setting or world. I'm not saying you need to do this, but because you're writing about real events who have real survivors here in the real world, I would suggest considering putting that extra layer of distance between the reader and what happened. On the other hand people also love finding out what's actually happened. So it's totally up to you.
If you're up for looking into someone else who worked through their war by writting, I would suggest looking up David Drake. Maybe start with RedLiners. You can find a bunch of his books on this site. https://www.baen.com/
Of course I took over an hour to write that so you already fixed the acronyms. So forget about that part.
Yes, I tend to forget that most people aren't aware of military armaments of the Russian military haha. I was trying to keep it in first person view so it was a bit hard to add in an explanation without making it sound clunky. But I will be the first to admit that I messed up by not adding a glossary sooner.
I avoided naming my squadmates (at least I avoided their real names), for the sake of them and the sake of the families of those who didn't make it home. I also tried to avoid naming specific locations other than Donbass (which is a fairly large region and where the combat is being fought anyway) and Ukraine. I felt it was important to show the view of a soldier who was on the side of what the media likes to portray as the aggressors. The Russian forces tend to be labeled as warmongers who care nothing for the people of Ukraine and our allies in the Luhansk and Donetsk Peoples Republic's are often portrayed as terrorists or murderers. I just want to show that we are just as human as the other side. That we showed compassion and caring when it was needed. And ruthlessness when it was required. The War in Donbass is very much a civil war. And like all civil wars, it is often boiled down to good vs. evil when that is very far from the truth. It was one big shade of gray. I guess I feel that if I went too far from reality some of the impact could be lost. Not that this was a particularly good piece of literature. And not that I ever really imagine my stories will be read by many people or anything haha.
Thank you for the author suggestions. I'll be sure to look him up. I also appreciate your detailed critique and response.
Yes, I tend to agree. Of course, if I was planning on making a fictional story, there are parallels I could have made to my experiences. Suffering and misery follow war no matter what world you're in. And I saw plenty of both. But it wasn't all doom and gloom. We walked kids to school, handed out rations to the needy, played sports with the civilians, fixed appliances like heaters for the shelters, etc. If I made another story about my experiences I'd like to show some the good we did. The stuff that made people smile. And maybe make a story that isn't depressing for a change haha.
Then I'll be sure to write one when I have the time. I actually have an idea of the story I want to write. Thank you for your encouraging words Cricket.
Edit: Posted one. I hope you like it Cricket!
So the story you put there was fine. If you want to write a story about getting bad news from home, or the terror of a firefight, the weird feeling you get in your bowels when artillery shells come down next to you, or even just the smile on someones face when you come by with basic supplies for the locals who haven't had running water for a week. Real full experiences totally work. That fiction filter is much better for those darker stories.
I'm talking about the things like throwing a grenade into a room you just took fire from only to find out the shooter moved to the next room already and there was a family of four still in there, driving a truck under an overpass and watching for a grenade to drop into the gunners hatch, and you've already decided that if you see any movement you're going to turn the truck and run over the kid waving from the side of the road, because the other options are either take the grenade or turn into the landmine on the other side of the road, and both of those options will probably kill all your guys and maybe the kid too. That's where that extra filter might be nice. It all sort of depends on what you feel like sharing, and what you'd rather had that extra layer.
Ah, well that makes sense. Although I think there is a good argument to be made that many of those darker stories would work well when kept grounded in reality. But I understand that when somebody reads a story about insurgents killing kids in Syria, it tends to be a lot harder to read than say, orcs killing kids in Lord of the Rings. But I don't have enough faith in my writing abilities to believe I'd do the darker tales much justice. So I'll probably stay away from the "horrors of war" so to speak. Thank you for your continued insight and input DerPrussen. I appreciate it.
No problem. Glad I could help. I'm looking forward to whatever you decide to write.
One last note I want to pass along, because you did share a personal story. When you tell people who haven't been there about things like this, you can help them get a intellectual understanding of what it's like, but they won't comprehend emotionally. The English language doesn't have the ability to express to another, the degree that you felt a feeling, just that you felt it. I'm not aware of any other language that does better either. Some people can say some pretty ignorant things because of that. So keep that in mind if anybody ends up making a stupid comment. Seriously though, keep writing.
(Another one of "Turnips War Stories". Or something like that. As with the first one it is based off a old war journal entry of mine but names have been changed, specific locations not named, and feel free to critique and let me know how to improve. I will add a glossary this time too.)
As I lay there with my eyes closed, I imagine myself back home. Walking through Alexander Park with my sisters, riding the bus to St. Petersburg with my brother, eating breakfast with my friend Elena before she went off to school. Toilets that weren’t just a hole in the ground. A small smile creeps across my face as I imagine the small things I once took for granted. Suddenly, a female voice takes me out of my reminiscing.
“Rise and shine sweetheart. We got babysitting duty again. Get your shit together and head to the…eh you know what to do.”
“The prince doth require a kiss before awakening from his slumber.” I say, smirking.
“First of all, you aren’t a prince. Second of all, you need to get me way more drunk to ever kiss you. And finally, if you don’t get your lazy Russian ass up and ready in about 5 minutes I’ll dump a helmet full of snow on your balls.”
“You’re words sting my fragile heart, Natalia. But I shall win you yet!”
I hear footsteps leaving the room as I slowly open my eyes. The first sight I am greeted with is an ugly blue tarp covering a hole in the roof from the most recent shelling. Ugh, why couldn’t I get a room with a roof? As I take off my blanket I am hit with a blast of cold air. I quickly put on my uniform and jacket, tying my boots up tight and grabbing my helmet. I load my rifle, check my pistol, and head out the door while looking at my watch. Three minutes. Not bad. As I walk down the hallway I am greeted by several soldiers. Some, looking better than others. Finally I reach the entrance and see Natalia standing there looking at her watch. She is a bit shorter than me, with shoulder length red hair and a pretty face. Not that I’d ever tell her that.
“Ready to roll?”
“Yes ma’am.” I say with a mock salute.
“Careful there moskal, I still have a helmet full of snow.” She says before dumping out the snow and laughing. “Let’s go.”
We begin walking to the community center, a place relatively untouched by Ukrainian artillery fire. As we walk, we talk about our lives before the war and tell each other stories to pass the time. When we arrive at the community center I take a moment to look around. The building is relatively undamaged, with some of the windows still intact. The black, blue and red flag of the Donetsk People’s Republic flies proudly on the flagpole out front, the Ukrainian flag having long been removed. As we make our way inside we are greeted with a group of kids, bundled up in thick jackets and handmade scarves and gloves. A young woman walks over to us, the kids shuffling close behind her.
“It is good to see you two again. The kids have been talking about you non-stop. Are you ready to go?” Ms. Olesky asks, nervously tugging at her jacket.
“Of course, Ms. Olesky.” Natalia says with a grin.
“Absolutely ma’am.” I say with a somewhat nervous smile.
“Okay. Children, we’re off to school now. Get your bags together and lets head off.”
We begin the walk towards the school. Natalia stays up front with Mrs. Olesky while I take up position at the back of the line. I keep a close eye on the surroundings, and a close ear on my radio. No surprises. No fighting. Not in front of them. We pass by the occasional DPR soldier who waves a friendly hello to us and the kids. Despite the surrounding rubble, it is a rather peaceful walk. Guess the ZSU is honoring the ceasefire. I am brought out of my thoughts by a tugging at my jacket. I look down and see a little girl, Ilyana looking up at me with a smile.
“Mr. Dima? My sister said to give you this. And to thank you for walking us to school. I don’t really like school but she says it’s important. Is school important?”
“Yes school is very important”, I say while putting the envelope Ilyana gave me in my pocket, “its one of the most important things actually.”
“But it’s so booorrrinnggg. Why can’t they make it fun? Like, why can’t we go to the zoo and see the dinosaurs there? Why do we have to read a book about them?”
“Well, if you read the book you would know dinosaurs aren’t around anymore. They died off a long time ago”
“What!? No way! Awww. I wanted to see a dinosaur.”
“Well, there are lots of books with pictures in them. And museums where you can even see full sized replicas!”
“Yeah. So focus in school and maybe you’ll be able to work in a museum filled with dinosaurs.
We continued talking for a bit until finally reaching the school. Ilyana gives me a quick hug then runs into the school with her classmates. After talking a bit with Ms. Olesky, Natalia walks over to me and we begin the walk back to our makeshift barracks. As I reach my room and take off my jacket, I remember the envelope from Ilyana’s sister. I open it up and take out the contents. A neatly written letter and a small picture fall out of it. I begin to read the letter as I lay down on the small cot in my drafty room with no roof. And for the first time in weeks, I’m happy.
Moskal-Derogatory term for Russians. Essentially the Ukrainian equivalant of Russki
Donetsk People's Republic (DPR)- One of the two main nations formed from the Donbass rebels in Eastern Ukraine. Allied to the Russian forces and the Luhansk People's Republic
ZSU- Abbreviation for the Armed Forces of Ukraine, often used by Russian and rebel forces to distinguish government troops from pro government militia
(Let me know if I missed anyhing or if you have any questions)
Thank you. I think I managed to keep it all in present tense this time. Either way it was an interesting exercise. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I feel as though I still have areas which need a lot of improvement (dialogue and pacing being two big ones) but I'm somewhat happy with how these turned out. Maybe I'll write another one sometime.
The pacing seems good to me, the dialogue is well written (At least much better than what I can manage, but I'm terrible at diologue), and I like the glossary at the end. If you start writing longer pieces consider explaining what things are as you mention them, for smaller pieces it's great.
Thank you for the kind words and suggestions. I can't really see myself writing much longer pieces (the first was just under 900 words and the second was about 930, both about 400-500 words longer than the actual journal entries) but I will keep it in mind if I do write longer pieces. I am not entirely confident in my writing abilities so the thought of writing something 1500+ words long is a bit intimidating. But I'm sure I'll do it sometime. Thank you again.
Responding to "A Walk to School":
So this story is just as succinct and effective in terms of setting the scene as "A Call to Mama." I don't really need five paragraphs of exposition to know who Natalia is; while I can only guess at the details, your deft characterization lets me get straight to the essence, as it pertains to this story.
I will say that the emotional punch was completely absent in this essay, though, because that last paragraph was completely unsatisfactory. I was intrigued by that entire little conversation with Ilyana; I noted where you accepted the envelope without directly commenting on it, but instead deflected my attention with all that talk of school and dinosaurs. I patiently read through all of that, waiting for the payoff where the significance of Ilyana--and particularly her sister--is revealed. Maybe the contents of that letter, and the subject of the photo, are too personal and completely none of my business. That's fine. It may just be a couple of words that are missing, or something a bit more evocative than simply saying "I'm happy."
I must say, having worked with several Russian-American immigrants over the years, your command of English is exceptional. There are a couple of small things I wish I could edit as far as punctuation, et cetera. But if English is not your first language, then that's all the more impressive, because you are far more functional than many of the native-born speakers I deal with daily, who struggle as otherwise competent adults with the basic concepts of a complete sentence.
For me, this is the second of the three stories in this thread. What is most memorable is that you're sharing the small details of a military deployment--the type of stuff that would never occur to most of the teenagers who inhabit this forum. Or that would occur to me, for that matter--a 44-year-old who thinks he knows a thing or two because he listens to NPR while driving to and from work.
Oh wow, I love these stories! You've written them both so well. The first one was heartbreaking and the second one just picked up all the broken pieces and glued that heart back together. Definitely hope you post some more of these. ^_^
.. That's got to be one shitty school though, if the kid doesn't know that dinosaurs are extinct.
Thank you for the kind words. It really means a lot to me. I'm sure I'll post some more sometime. This was more of an exercise than anything. But people have shown in interest in them so I probably should write a few more.
As for the shitty school thing, well, it was pretty bad. But even then the girl was seven and wasn't exactly an A+ student. But she was nice and reminded me of my sister so she left an impression on me.
(Probably my last war story for a little bit. Sorry to anyone that cared, I'm just a little burned out right now. Anyway, same stuff as previous stories applies. Oh and this is my first story that I've posted (or ever made I think) that is more than 1,000 words. It is also in my opinion my worst story out of the three. Anyways, here it is. Glossary will be at the bottom as always.)
I look up at the sky, weary of the dark clouds that are beginning to block out the sun. We have been ordered to assist DPR forces in retaking some territory that had been lost during the last Ukrainian assault. “Mount up!” a voice commands over the sound of not so distant thunder. I quickly climb on top of our tank, a modified T-72 known affectionately as “Shashka”, and take a seat along with the rest of the squad. Our sergeant gives a quick nod to us and bangs on the hatch of the tank. I tighten my grip on the handle as the tank quickly accelerates forward towards the distant sounds of combat.
The pleasant spring breeze on my face is contrasted by the acrid smell of burning vehicles and thick smoke. I look around, fear brewing in me as we pass by the burnt out carcasses of military vehicles destroyed in the previous weeks fighting. A line of bodies lies covered by the side of the road, casualties of the recent fighting. I, along with a few of my squadmates quickly make the sign of the cross and offer a quick prayer as we pass by. I watch the men on the tank behind us follow our lead and pray for the poor souls lost to this war. My squadmate Alexei bangs on the side of my helmet, bringing me out of my thoughts.
“Two minutes!” he shouts, pointing to the man to my left. I nod and nudge to my brother, Dan.
Like we’re playing a game of telephone, the message is relayed through the squad. I begin to recheck my gear, ensuring my rifle is loaded and the safety is off. Thick droplets of rain begin to fall, rapidly increasing in intensity until what started as a light shower quickly became a torrential downpour. My heart beats rapidly as the sound of gunfire are now clearly heard over the sounds of our tanks engine. I can see DPR forces up ahead, firing across a small field at a few buildings off in the distance from behind sandbags and hastily built fortifications. DPR vehicles lie broken and unmoving in the field, taken out during a failed assault. One of the men notices our tank and begins to wave his arms and signal for us to stop.
Suddenly a loud noise reverberates off of the front of the tank. “DISMOUNT!” yells Sergeant Morozov. Without hesitating I jump off the side of the tank into the mud, landing in a somersault with my rifle raised. I look around and see that Alexei and Dan also made it off okay and the three of us begin moving behind the tank towards the rest of our squad. The DShK on top of Shaska begins firing in short bursts towards the houses while turning towards the likely source of fire. The man who was signaling us runs over to our tank.
“I’m Lieutenant Sokolov. You picked a hell of a time to show up. These fucking rats are dug in deep and my men can’t stick their heads up without getting them blown off. We got snipers in those windows taking potshots at our wounded and some asshole with an anti vehicle rifle is fucking my mechanized raw. Get that tank of yours in range and blow that fucker to pieces so we can begin our assault.”
“Yes sir, we’ll get it done. Dima, you’re on spotting duty. Call out targets and we’ll hit em’ with the 125. The rest of you take up the rear and prepare to lay down suppressive fire. We’ll get the one’s on the right, second squad will take the one’s on the left. Let’s move it. Slava!”
“Slava, slava, slava!” we begin to yell in unison, pumping ourselves up for the coming fight.
I take my position behind the tank and in front of my squadmates as Sergeant Morozov relays the plan to the other tank. I look over at Lieutenant Sokolov who gives a crisp salute to us as the tank begins to slowly move forward. The mud squishes beneath my boots as I begin to walk towards the sound of gunfire. My heart pounds in my chest as bullets pepper the ground around our tank. Machine gun fire from Shashka’s gunner continues ring out as we make the slow crawl towards the enemy position. Once we have reached around halfway across the field Sergeant Morozov gives the order to hold position. The cacophony of rifle fire is almost deafening by now. Fear rises in my chest as I try to steel my nerves for the task ahead. I give a quick nod to Sergeant Morozov and receive one back. He yells, “COVERING FIRE!” and the world around me explodes into gunfire as our squad shoots at the buildings in an attempt to force them to keep their heads down. I stand up and look through the optic sight on my rifle and scan the building to the right. The heavy rainfall made it hard to see but everyone was depending on us to get this done. Sandbags have been positioned around a window on the second floor, the occasional muzzle flash emanating from that location. I shift my sight towards the next building, a small brick building that was riddled with damage. Despite the lack of windows facing towards the field it was clear this building was a target. A hole in the wall showed clear signs of use as a snipers nest. With the information I needed, and the fire from my squadmates dying down, I crouch back down behind the tank. I pull out my radio and begin relaying the enemies positions to Shashka’s gunner.
“Machine gun! First building on the right! Second floor window, right side! Acknowledge!”
Shashka’s turret begins shifting towards the target. An earsplitting sound erupts from the tanks barrel as the 125mm round is fired at the enemy position. I stand up slowly and look through my sight at the building and see a massive hole and falling rubble where the machine gun once was.
“Good hit! New target! Sniper! Brick building on the right! Hole in the wall on third floor! Acknowledge!”
Once again Shashka’s turret began to shift towards it’s prey. The pounding of the rain on its hull was soon drowned out by the sound of its main gun. I look through my scope and see that the position was still intact, the round having missed it and striking the floor below it.
“No good, target still intact! Increase elevation by 10 degrees!”
The tank’s gun begins to rise and once again fires, this time hitting its mark directly.
“Good hit! Targets eliminated! Stand down!”
“Acknowledged! Standing down!”
I look over and see that the other tank crew has made short work of the enemy positions on the left. The enemy fire has died down substantially and DPR forces are beginning to cross the field with almost no resistance. Lieutenant Sokolov runs up to our position with a few of his men.
“Well I’ll be damned. You boys did it. We’ll be leading the assault from here. Shouldn’t be much resistance left in this village after that display. I guess you’ll be headed back now. Thank you again for your help. My boys owe you their lives. And those Nazi rats ought to thank you for ending their miserable lives.”
“We’re just following orders sir.” Sergeant Morozov says through clenched teeth.
“Right, right. Well, off you go then. We got a village to pacify. The DPR is back on the offensive. What a feeling.”
With that we’re given the order to load back up on the tank. As I ride on the tank the aftershock of battle hits me like a train. My hands begin to shake uncontrollably and my stomach drops. The pounding in my head becomes almost unbearable and my breathing becomes irregular. I grit my teeth and clench my fists in an attempt to gain some control over myself. I finally manage to gain control of myself by the time we get back home. I walk to my room, covered in mud and sweat and collapse onto my cot. I close my eyes and pray the nightmares won’t haunt me tonight.
DPR- Donetsk People's Republic, one of the two main nations formed from the Pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine
Shashka- A Russian sabre popularized by its usage by Cossacks and given as a nickname to the tank we were assigned to
T-72- A Soviet main battle tank that saw/see's heavy use in the War in Donbass
DShK- A heavy machine gun often mounted on older Russian/Soviet vehicles which still see's heavy use around the world
Slava- The Russian word for "glory", used by our unit as something of a battle cry
Responding to "Firefight:"
OK, so I can see why you might be less confident about this one. The description of the action is technically awesome, in that I can follow along with the military jargon and understand who is shooting at what. But you're probably unsure if all that kinetic movement (people advancing, giving orders, identifying targets) connects with that humanist paragraph at the very end.
Once again, I don't think you're very far off the mark. It might just be a matter of inserting a few additional nuggets of insight here and there. For instance, as you were describing the building with all of the prior damage, I was wondering who inflicted all that damage? It had to be more than just a scenery detail; when you saw the building that was "riddled with damage" [a minor cliche] was that damage caused by your side or theirs? Just a simple sentence outlining the basic history of that damage--it was something you achieved a week ago when you routed the enemy; it was from that time last month when the enemy caught one of your units off guard. Any more than a sentence, then you might be dwelling on it too much. But just a handful of these little tidbits will enrich your story and allow the rest of us to experience the tension, or the excitement, or whatever it is that you experienced and need now to share with us.
I should say that in the U.S., our national attention has long since moved on from the Ukraine. But immediately after the Sochi Olympics in 2014, when this war (we called it an invasion) broke out, most Americans were cheering for the Ukrainians. Which is not to say that I'm hating on your stories; as I understand it, the history of the Crimea and eastern Ukraine in general is far more complicated than we first understood. I'm just reiterating what I said before, that you're giving us a perspective on events that never would have occurred to most of us here. And that is the essence of good writing.
Based on the last paragraph of this story, I could easily see a lot more of these in the future. There are a number of ways these stories could be developed: as an anthology of vignettes just like these three; as a storygame, which would certainly deserve high marks for originality; or as a full-length literary novel. It all depends on how much more of these events you feel compelled to set down in words, and what other raw experiences you managed to record in that journal. Whatever you choose to do, certainly keep us all abreast.
So as far as the damage goes, it's hard to tell most of the time. When you show up to an ongoing shoot out, who's weapons did the damage to what buildings doesn't matter to you and is hard to tell if the fight's been moving. Even when the damage is done during the firefight while you're there you frequently have enough tunnel vision that you still can't tell what's happening until you look directly at it. The snipers nest that was mentioned could have been caused by an explosion, from small arms fire if done in concentration (not likely) or even the sniper himself knocking out a few bricks with a hammer. If you didn't watch it happen you will probably never know.
The humanist part you mentioned seemed connected to me. That last little bit is talking about reaction. If you almost get into a car accident and swerve out of the way just in time and you're totally cool while that happens. Well then you pull over and you get hit with the panic of having almost just died. Your hands start shaking, your eyes might tear up, then all of a sudden you feel like you're going to throw up. That's reaction. So walking away from a fire fight and getting the shakes makes sense to me.
(I can't believe I missed this earlier. I'm sorry.)
I feel like you explained both points better than I have, or really could have. I totally agree with both of them. Thank you for posting them DerPrussen.
I want to say thank you to everyone that read and commented on my stories. I was very nervous to post these. I don't consider myself a very good writer and I really don't have the highest self esteem when it comes to my work. I tend to delete or destroy the work I do, whether it be artwork, stories, or crafts. To post something here where I can't delete it and can hardly edit it was frankly terrifying for me. But to hear the overwhelming support from you guys really means a lot to me. I feel like it has helped me start to be a bit more proud of my work (although I am no means confident in them yet). I honestly could not believe the reaction they received. It's overwhelming to me. So thank you all from the bottom of my heart.
You write well. Thank you for sharing what you have. I'm looking forward to what ever you end up writing next. If you want a confidence boost, take a look at some of the mid to low rated story games on the site. While you're doing that keep in mind that there are a heap of lower quality games that have already been deleted. You're already head and shoulders above the average on this site.
You're way too modest TB. You're a brilliant writer. I'm really glad that you've been sharing your work and I hope that it helps to boost your confidence. Would be great to see a CYS game by you one day. ^_^
[Responding to "A Call to Mama":]
It's wonderful that we have someone on this site with actual life experiences. Forget the crap about using fantasy tropes to tell your stories; keep on doing exactly what you're doing.
You sold me in the very first paragraph, when you explained that this passage was adapted from a journal entry. Keeping a journal is one of the best possible things a writer could do. I used to write in journals to describe my outdoor adventures, and kept them up religiously for about 12 years before I put them aside. I've been more intermittent about it in recent years; I was doing good last year, but abandoned the most recent journal back in January, mostly because of time constraints.
It's a shame, though, because I made frequent use of my old journal entries, which I considered to be "raw material" that I could later shape into something presentable. The original entries, in their unedited form, wouldn't be of interest to most people, but they contained raw ideas, observations, and memories that proved invaluable when I later did what you did here: took those journal entries and developed them into something worth sharing.
"A Call to Mama" is a beautiful little vignette. Fuck the orcs, this was a human experience you just shared and it should be expressed in human terms. War, killing, death, violence are not just concepts that happen in some fantastical La La Land; they happen every day right here on Planet Earth. You experienced it, you jotted it down in a journal, and you then took that journal entry and turned it into an evocative essay. I've never been in the military, I've never been to the Ukraine, but for a few minutes I could experience exactly what you saw and felt that day. I didn't need to have the acronyms spelled out; I could figure out the gist through context. They weren't vital to the essence of the story, anyway, which is this: finding a dead kid, born the year I graduated from college, dead with his comrades, his still-very-much-alive phone serving as a bridge to his family. This is powerful stuff.
Wow, thank you for the in depth feedback. I really appreciate it. I'll respond to them in sections I suppose.
1. A Call To Mama
I certainly felt that this was my strongest one of the bunch, mostly because it was similar to the stories I'm used to writing. It was also an event that has stuck with me all these years. I was young when that event happened (19 years old) but this kid was even younger. Calling the parents of fallen enemies was more common than many people think. Some people even intentionally kept their cellphones unlocked for that very purpose. Since this was a civil war, the cultural and language barriers experienced by, say, combatants in the Middle East are not really there. I wanted to show that war's are fought by real people with emotions and views just like everyone else. We see horrible things and we are all effected by it. I'm glad I was able to portray the experience in an impactful way.
2. A Walk To School
So this one was a little bit harder for me to write. I wanted to show people that the duties of a soldier aren't always about fighting and killing. I tried to show an example of some of the good we did. One of our duties was to escort the local kids who had not been evacuated to school. This was an operation started by our DPR allies (of which Natalia was a member, hence why she made fun of me being a Russian) because pro-government militias and even government forces would regularly break the ceasefire that was in place. Our job was to make sure they got from the community center to the school okay. Now, I fully admit I could have done the bits with Ilyana better. During my time stationed in that town, I got to know Ilyana and her sister very well. Her sister even had me over for dinner a few times and would sometimes walk with us to Ilyana's school when she wasn't working. This was information I should have added but for some reason decided wasn't important. As for the note and picture, well, I was I guess trying to leave the contents up to interpretation. I was debating whether or not to write out the contents of the letter, but it was rather long and very personal. As for the picture, I don't think it would have had much of an impact without explaining my previous relationship with the two of them. I admit I could, and should, have done it better. Maybe even saved my interaction with Ilyana for a more detailed piece about the two of them. I'm not sure. I am happy that my English has impressed you. Russian is my first language, yes, but I studied English as a second language growing up as well. I've added a few more languages to the list but English and Russian are probably what I'm best at.
Ugh, this one was tough for me. I wanted the story to be a bit less dialogue focused than the other one's because, well, we weren't talking a whole lot while fighting. This lead to me trying to describe everything while also trying to maintain a first person perspective which was quite a challenge for me. I was trying to avoid certain things like saying, "The building was riddled with bullet holes, a grim reminder of the failed DPR assault." which, in hindsight, sounds better then what I did. I also, despite being the narrator, was not totally aware of the situation myself many times. Our unit during the majority of my deployment was used as elite mechanized forces, which often meant fast vehicular deployments where we were needed. We often got the information needed and were sent on our way. So all I really knew in this situation was the village used to be in DPR hands and was now in control of pro government militia who were dug in. I could infer from the fact that the damage to the buildings was facing the DPR forces, and from the destroyed DPR vehicles, that the damage was a product of a failed assault by DPR forces. But I really couldn't say for sure. But I'll be sure to try to be more clear in the future.
As for the history of the conflict, yes it is very complicated haha. But part of what I am trying to do is show the view of someone who was what the West often considers an invader. I want to show that the war was very morally grey, with both sides having their reasons for fighting. My side did some bad things, I won't lie to you. But so did the Ukrainian side. If we start classifying sides as "good" or "bad" we devalue the truth. I wasn't on the "good" side. I was on the side who believed they were right, and believed they had to fight. I believe that the Ukrainians are wrong. But they aren't the "bad" guys. They simply believe they are right, and believe they have to fight.
Thank you again for your detailed critique. I really do appreciate it. I hope this kind of clears some stuff up and explains why I fell flat in some areas.
It does answer questions, yes.
As for identifying who shot up the building, I guess the particulars don't matter, but it was the question I was asking myself as I read that paragraph. If you had no idea who had caused that damage (or when) at the time the events were occurring, then it would be inappropriate to add that commentary after-the-fact. Just a few lines to quickly establish the history of the conflict might have been enough.
In regards to the letter and photograph, now that I read your explanation I am satisfied I don't need to know the contents. But yes, that story would greatly benefit from just a little bit more development of the backstory to establish where you are and why you're there. I'm not talking about loads and loads of exposition. You seem particularly adept at describing people and settings in an economic style, meaning you can say a lot in just a few words. The hitch is that you might be a little too economical at times.
It's a matter of identifying what the essential details are, and focusing on those.
Thank you for the advice. It's given me a lot to think about and shown me area's where I can improve. I really do appreciate it.
Wow, thank you very much for the commendation Mizal. I'm not sure I deserve it, and I certainly wasn't expecting it, but I really do appreciate it. It means a lot to me that my stories were deemed worthy of commendation.
(Bit different this time. This story is about the day I returned home. It is also based on the last journal entry I wrote. No blood or bullets in this one. But it's still pretty sad. Don't think I need a glossary for this one but if there's anything you need explained just ask. Thanks for reading as always.)
Fluorescent lights and the clacking of rails have been my sole companion for the last few hours. I stare out the window in silence, taking in the scenery of my home country. Two years and everything looks the same. Voices from across the isle brings me out of my thoughts. Turning my head away from the window I see two girls staring at me from across the isle whispering to one another. They soon see me looking at them and the older one breaks out into a grin while the younger one looks horrified.
“My sister thinks you’re cute.” The older one says with a smile.
“Natasha!” The younger one yells, hiding her face with her hands.
“I gotta agree with her. But then again, I never say no to a man in uniform.”
“Ever been rejected by a man in uniform?” I ask slowly.
“No?” The older one says, with confusion clear in her voice.
“Then let this be a first for you. Go away.”
I slowly turn back to the window, ignoring the girls curses and threats, once again losing myself in the familiar scenery of the Leningrad Oblast. Fields of green grass swaying gently in the breeze, streams of clear water carving through the land, small towns dotting the landscape. After years of seeing nothing but destroyed buildings and scarred earth, the view out the window looked like a beautiful painting which was ever changing. A voice over the speakers announces our impending arrival to Vitebsky Station. My heart begins to race, fear beginning to wash over me. Will they be there? Will HE be there? Thoughts continue to assault my mind as I slowly stand up, hoisting my bags onto my shoulders as the train draws to a stop. The doors slide open and I take a deep breath, preparing myself for whatever happens. I step onto the platform and look around. Nobody came.
“DIMA!!!” A voice yells from inside the crowd of people, garnering several concerned and confused looks from the other passengers. I look over at the source of the sound and see a girl wearing a school uniform pushing her way through the crowd, a big colored sign with “DIMA” painted on it in her hand and tears streaming down her face. It’s Elena, my best friend for, well, as long as I can remember. After breaking free from the crowd she runs up to me and nearly tackles me in a hug.
“Oh my God, Dima! I thought I wasn’t going to get here in time, and I wanted to make the sign so you could see it but I ended up waiting at the wrong door and then people were in the way so you couldn’t see me and then…”
“Elena, it’s okay. You’re here, I’m here, we both see each other, it’s okay. Okay?”
She looks at me again, as if to make sure I was really there then breaks out in another fit of crying. I look around, getting some confused looks from the younger people, and quite a few understanding looks from some of the older folks. I decide it would be best to move our little reunion to a less crowded area and begin walking with Elena to the exit. We take a seat outside as she begins to calm down a bit. She wipes the tears from her eyes with her sleeve, and breaks the silence.
“Sorry about crying. That was pretty gay of me huh?” She says with a sheepish smile.
“Nah, it’s cool. It was pretty cute actually. What a lucky guy I must be to have such a cute girl waiting for me on my return home.” I say with a small grin.
“Oh shut up dude. This “cute girl” could kick your ass and you know it. Only reason I was crying was because I had, like, a continuous stream of dust going into my eyes. Stop imagining things.”
“Uh-huh. Well, thank you for being here. You’ve always been my best friend, and I know it wasn’t easy to get here with school and all. I just want you to know that this, you know, means a lot to me. So thanks Elena.”
“Of course I’d be here. I wouldn’t miss this for anything. You’re my best friend too. Wow that feels kind of weird to say out loud. I mean, I guess it’s always been kind of implied or like, unsaid or something. Anyways, yeah, of course I’d be here. So, um, what do you want to do now?”
“I should probably head home. Make sure it’s still in one piece.”
“Oh, well, okay. Do you want me to stay over or something? We could hang out like old times and stuff.”
“Sorry Elena, I can’t. Not today.”
“Alright. Well, tomorrow then. I’ll at least drive you home. We can go see Alex tomorrow too. I’ll bet she’s dying to see her big brother.”
Elena takes me to her car, well, the car one of the teachers from her school let her borrow. St. Petersburg is largely how I remember it. Bustling streets filled with people and traffic, western shops on every corner, and the scars left by the Soviet Union clear to those who care to notice. We soon leave the city, the anxiety and panic caused by the narrow streets and tall buildings dissipating as the urban landscape changes to rural. We arrive in our hometown of Pushkin in only about half an hour, and I am immediately struck by a mix of emotions. I had almost forgotten just how beautiful my town was. The Tsar’s former vacation home sure doesn’t disappoint. But I also feel a sense of dread. Only a few miles down the road was my family. The same people who refused to see me and my brother off. The same people who told us they hoped that we died out there. The same people who partially got their wish. The car slowly pulls to a stop in front of a rather plain looking apartment building and Elena and I step out of the car. I grab the two duffel bags from the back and place them on the ground, one more carefully than the other. Elena walks up to me and wraps her arms around me in another hug.
“So, you’re sure you don’t want me to stay over?”
“It’s alright Elena.”
“Okay, well, we’ll hang out tomorrow right?”
“Thank you for everything Elena.” I say with a sad smile.
“Yeah. Tomorrow. Okay.” Elena says worriedly, looking at me as if attempting to read my mind.
With a small wave I head inside. The lady at the front desk, the elderly owner who insisted she be called Babushka, shuffled over to me with tears in her eyes when she saw me. After exchanging some pleasantries, and a rather long hug, she handed me the keys to the apartment I once shared with my brother and I began walking upstairs. I reached my apartment and unlocked the door, swinging it wide open and closing my eyes. After a few deep breaths I stepped inside and opened my eyes. Everything was exactly how we had left it, just with a bit more dust. I flip the light switch and begin to walk around. I step over to our couch, where we would play Xbox until the early hours of the day laughing and arguing over who was the better player. I make my way over to the kitchen, where my brother would spend hours trying new recipes, eager to have me try whatever he came up with. My breathing becomes more rapid as I walk over to the sliding door leading to the balcony, two chairs still sitting outside. Tears begin to form as I think about the two of us spending hours out there, just talking. As I walk down the hallway I see our little bathroom. I think about all the arguments we used to have over that dumb bathroom. How trivial those arguments seem now. As I reach the bedroom, his bedroom, I begin to cry. With a shaking hand I begin to open the door to my brothers room. I hope, I pray, I beg whoever is listening that when I open that door my brother will be in there, safe and alive. I abandon rationality and try to convince myself that he’s still alive. A spark of hope enters my heart as the door opens. Nothing. Nobody is there. Just an empty room belonging to a dead man. I fall to my knees and weep as I finally accept the death of the greatest person I have ever known. I lay on the floor, tears streaming down my face, as the world around me becomes fuzzy and fades to darkness.
I make my way to my room a few hours later. After digging through my duffle bag, I take out my journal and look over it. So many stories, so worthless now. I decide to write one more entry. The final entry. A sense of conclusion to the ramblings of a broken kid who once deluded himself into thinking he was making a difference. After the final entry, I write a note, asking whoever finds the journal to give it to Elena. She’s the only one I could think of who might find some value in it, other than Alex. I look up at the picture on my desk. My brother Dan and I smiling in our military uniforms, so proud to be serving. With tears in my eyes I put down my pen, and walk over to the closet. Tossing some clothes out of the way, I take out the lockbox that held my grandfathers old service pistol in it. I pull the old Nagant revolver out, feeling the familiar weight in my hands and making sure its loaded. With a final prayer, and a last look at the picture, I place the barrel in my mouth, aiming it at my brain. Slowly I close my eyes and begin to pull the trigger, only to hear a soft knock and a voice coming from my front door. With a sigh I put down the revolver, and walk towards the door.
Holy cow, that is one intense ending. I don't know who came to the door, but I'm glad they did.
I tried alluding to who it was in the story. But I suppose it really doesn't matter that much. I was messed up enough that I could let that person see me be lowered into the ground in a box, but I couldn't let them see me with my brain all over the wall. And I suppose that's what matters.
At least in the U.S. Suicide takes the lives of more servicemen than combat. Glad you're still around.
Thanks. So am I.