His best friend Emmet was the first person he knew killed by World War Two. He thought about Emmet as they went down the line, checking each other’s gear, so they could jump out of the airplane and get killed themselves, and the memories were vivid and sharp and hung before his eyes like a veil as he shuffled towards the doorway and the violent prop blast, and the thousand-foot drop to oblivion that waited for him.
He thought first how, what was about to happen to him, Emmet had been his motivation for joining up all along. He’d told his parents over the scratchy-sounding phone in the dim and strange smelling dormitory hallway that he was dropping out of Illinois State Normal to enlist. His mother bursting into tears was the first memory that came to mind, followed by his father promising that if he left college before graduating “I’ll kill you myself”, which was his strongest memory of that conversation. While he doubted - mostly doubted - his father would actually follow through, he did indeed wait until he was handed his diploma the next May. He’d broken up with his girlfriend Rebecca by then. She couldn’t condone his enlistment either, and he couldn’t countenance that.
“He did not die in the war,” she barked at him.
“He did die in the war,” he argued, “He died of a head wound.”
“He died of being an idiot!”
And then, “You’re upset because you just got back from his funeral.”
Which, indeed, he had. He and two buddies who also knew Emmet had driven three hours over the Illinois prairie to the small-town Emmet had grown up in. The grey sky and fields flat to the horizon were brown and hard with December cold and devoid of life or hope. They shivered from the cold wind whistling through the side windows that they’d cracked open to keep the windshield from fogging up. The prairie air had a particular smell that came back to him as he shuffled another step towards the airplane door. Then, loudly next to his left ear, the man behind him screamed, “Six okay!” And he knew his parachute was properly hooked up and tight. He checked the guy in front of him, a guy from Cleveland he remembered throwing up with after a particular training run. “Five ok!” he screamed in his left ear, as that guy was checking the guy in front of him before shouting, “Four okay!” Emmet’s funeral in the Methodist church had been very short. Nobody seemed to know what to say. Graveside service was even shorter because it was so cold. He remember thinking how Emmet had come from such a dreary, hopeless place, and was on the cusp of breaking free to an unlimited future before he was cut down. Then they were back in the car and driving back across the same prairie, back the way they came. That was where he resolved: I will enlist, and I will give Emmet’s death meaning.
Then he remembered his mother bursting into tears when he told her a few weeks later that he’d broken off he and Rebecca’s engaged-to-be-engaged arrangement. He didn’t tell her it was because Rebecca had been nagging him not to enlist, to take a job in a war factory her father was arranging, nor did he know, not yet, that the reason Rebecca was nagging him was because his mother had implored her to do so.
A millisecond after the light above the airplane door illuminated shockingly green, and another millisecond before the line of soldiers shifted from a shuffle to a race out the door, in his mind he saw Emmet die.
“This is great!” Emmet had beamed upon learning that a couple-plus thousand Americans had been burned, suffocated, drowned, or blown up as a process of being killed at Pearl Harbor. “We’re going to WAR!”
He’d asked Emmet, “How is this great?”
“We can get out of here!” Emmet fairly leaped. “We can leave this dump; we can stop these silly studies that only assure we will become just ordinary, and we can go off and do something with our lives! We can change the world, and we can fight like men! This is the moment our lives change!”
He sort of understood what Emmet meant, although later he would merely rationalize that he had.
“I’m going to take a quick bath,” Emmet was saying, pacing back and forth across their dorm room so fast he seemed to skid each time he turned back the other direction. “Get myself nice and clean, then go straight out to the enlistment office. I’m not even going to hesitate a second,” he said, and indeed fairly sprinted into the dormitory bathroom they shared.
He tried to focus on his algebra textbook, tests coming up soon, but couldn’t concentrate; Emmet’s enthusiasm, his certainty that the war would open a new, glorious path, affecting him.
The water running into the tub stopped; first Emmet cranking off the cold water, then the hot. There was a loud thump. He assumed Emmet had dropped something. Then there was silence. Ten minutes later, there was still silence. Something occurred to him. He went to the bathroom door and opened it.
Emmet had been so excited about going to war, he had hurried in the tub and slipped, and cracked his head against the faucet, fracturing his skull.
“Because of HIM,” Rebecca had screeched. “Sacrificing so idiocy has meaning!”
His glare back at her, unforgiving and unretractable, was his final memory before jumping through the door into a bottomless world of noise, explosions, fire, and bullets whizzing through the air.
Small Literature is also sometimes called micro-stories or short-short-stories. Nothing seems to appeal to my writing instincts as well as this format, and I've written everything from journalism to full novels. I set a goal of 1,000 words, in the space of which I will create character, setting, plot, and resolution; don't always make it, sometimes it takes a few hundred more words, but most of the time I get there.