Early Out (Flash Fiction)

When Bob saw the grenade land a few feet away, he knew what to do. There wasn’t even a moment of hesitation. He stumbled and fell, hoping it seemed convincing, hoping to make it look real. He clung to that little metal ball and waited. It was what he wanted all along, his one-way ticket out.

It was his third rotation in four years. Each tour seemed longer than the last, hotter than the last, and evermore pointless. Just another empire spreading its arms for the sake of money and the name of power. Nothing changed, nothing improved.

He was recently divorced from his wife who he no longer knew and two sons he barely met. His nightmares were almost constant; he rarely slept. Friendships that were formed were perpetually severed by reassignment or death. Bob clutched that grenade close to his stomach and waited. He heard his friends scramble back for cover and smiled. Their safety was the last thing that truly mattered in this world. The explosion knocked him unconscious and left him so, until he simply faded away.

Those who he saved never forgot. They tattooed his name onto their bodies and raised their children to love him. His flaws were forgotten to make way for fonder memories. They embellished previous stories of embarrassment into tales of victory. He was regarded eternally with dignity and grace until their own dying days came and took them away.

Bob’s grave was never left bare. It took to the shade of patriotic flags in the summer, was layered by blankets of flowers in the spring, and proper salutes were always rendered. His ex-wife, a woman who did still love him, humbly accepted his posthumous Medal of Honor. She gave it the proper respect it deserved and raised the two children well enough so that they never came to know the horrors of war.

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