It’s been a month since there was a Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge, but one popped up on Friday, so here I am, back again. The challenge this week is Things Fall Apart, The Center Cannot Hold. Good old Yeats. He’s always so optimistic! Anyway, I wrote an equally optimistic story to go with that prompt. I hope you like it, even though the atmosphere is a little grim. It’s 835 words and is called “Center”. Please to enjoy.
My Dearest Livia,
Fall is upon us. The season, I mean. But I suppose the action may suit as well.
We are encamped less than an hour’s march from the front. We’ll be moving out soon, to join the others already in place on the line. We’ll form ranks before dawn atop a series of low hills and wait for the Chegs to arrive and hope for the best.
I don’t know why I’m telling you all of this. You’ll read about it in the papers, I’m sure. The officers say that tomorrow we are going to be fighting in the largest battle this nation has ever seen. There are going to be more soldiers on the field tomorrow than there have ever been. I think they may have everything we have left. They have no choice, though. The Chegs are coming and we have to stop them, once and for all.
We have to.
They’ll be putting us in the center of the line again, I’m sure. My unit has a fine history, Livia. I’ve told you about it before. Time after time we hold, we strengthen the line, and others around us take heart and fight even harder. What little success we’ve had in this war has come with us in the center. We have to do it again tomorrow. If we don’t, the center of the line collapses, and the Chegs have a free run at the city.
There’s an old saying about times of trouble. I don’t know where it comes from. It says, “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.” We have to hold tomorrow, Livia. We have to.
I’m sorry; I don’t mean to be grim. I prefer to tell you of the excitement in our camp, of the camaraderie that we share. I like to tell you about our games and our laughter and the way we stand together as one. The love we have for each other. The brotherhood we share.
It’s difficult, though, to do that tonight. Forgive me; I’m a bit distracted.
My thoughts are full of you and the children. I can’t help but think of the Chegs as well. We know where they are encamped, of course, but there’s no way we can bring the battle to them. They are too far away. We could never reach them before morning. We have never discovered how they are able to travel so far so quickly. The colonel thinks it must be some sort of magic, but the men think that’s ridiculous. There’s no such thing as magic.
If there was, I wish we had some for ourselves. We have no choice but to establish ourselves on the high ground and wait for them to come to us.
I confess, in the night, my thoughts turn dark. I keep thinking, what if they don’t come to us? What if they travel past us in the night and move on the city directly? What if they are already there? Logically, though, it makes no sense to me to do that. Surely they would want to engage defenders first? If—if, mind you—they defeat us tomorrow, the city is open to them with no threat of counterattack. If they bypass us to take the city unopposed, they leave us alive and able to resist. I can’t imagine they will do that. They will have to fight.
Still, I think about it. It makes my heart shrivel, thinking that you could be in danger. I want to scream to you to get out, to take the children and go to your parents back east, but is it safe even there? How long before the Chegs truly come against us in force? How long before it is more than just our city that is threatened? That is my deepest fear: that what we do here, even if we win, will not matter. How many more of them are out there, waiting to descend upon us?
I’m sorry, Livia. My letters to you are supposed to be light and airy take us both away from what is happening in our lives. I cannot do that tonight—there is little that is light and airy about my life at this moment—but I dare not go into battle tomorrow without sending you a letter of some sort.
I will end this now, before it gets truly maudlin, and take it to be delivered. I will write to you again when I can. I know our battle tomorrow will be over and decided before you read this, but when you do read it, pray for us anyway. Wherever we are then, we will be in need of prayer, I am sure. Prayer is always needed.
Pray that the center holds.
Pray that we see each other again. I want nothing more than to hold you and the children in my arms once more. All we have to do is hold tomorrow.
I love you, Livia, and I will see you soon.