Written by Oliver Ye
Earned a Silver Key in the 2021 Scholastic Art and Writing Competition
He hides behind a hay mound, inhaling in and exhaling out like a dog behind the last thing that can protect him. The golden hay has already lost its past brightness and vibrant color, now darkened from burning. Countless holes are on its surface facing toward no-man’s land, forming an unsightly artificial beehive.
The flags flutter in the wind on this peninsula. Some of them are white flags that have a red and blue Taegeuk in the center, the same one on Soo’s uniform. Bullets fly across the battlefield and a massive explosion of artillery brings fear to all souls, living or dead, on this land.
Soo holds the SMG tightly in front of his chest with his trembling arms, his index finger firmly placed on the trigger. His sweat has moisturized that trigger. The gun barrel remains absolutely cool and the magazine is still full from a day of panic hiding.
Leaning on the hay mound, eventually he puts down his SMG, reaches into his pocket with his shaking hand, and gently takes out a rusted pendant necklace full of stains and whitish scratches. The pendant is a little brown locket, nothing special or noticeable. He slows down his breath and carefully blows away the dirt on the locket. By clicking on the side, the locket opens up and reveals a photo of an ordinary Korean family. A man and a woman are sitting on two wooden chairs and two boys, their sons, sit on each of their parent’s lap. All of them have a smile of true happiness. Life was tough, but at least he had them, Soo thought, slowly stroking the yellowed photo with his wrinkled thumb. He was 21 years old but you’d never know from looking at him.
During the Second World War, the Japanese army had taken away his mama. At the time, he couldn’t understand why she had resisted like a mad woman, although the officers had only politely informed her she would be given a short-term job and would return very soon to her family. It wasn’t until his dad hanged himself on an apple tree in their backyard that Soo realized she was never returning. That day was Soo’s 10th birthday. He had to quit school, determined to take care of his brother Joon. But Soo’s destiny played another tremendous joke on him.
On a windy, chilly evening, Soo made his way home from the field after another long day. The darkness devoured the entire village so that only the moon was glimmering and guiding him. The crows stood on the branches, staring emptily at him. In distance, a black shadow quickly leapt into a bush, rustling.
Expecting Joon to be resting on his straw bed, Soo’s panic was palpable when he realized he was not in his room. And nobody seemed to know where he had gone.
That night, he knelt down in front of the shrine, begging this to be the last of his pain. The tears he could not hold back slowly blurred his vision, until he slapped himself forcefully on the cheek and swore not to cry again, no matter how scared or hopeless it all seemed.
From far in the front, the General shouts coarsely, “Attack!” Again, Soo slaps himself on the cheek, leaving an obvious reddish palm mark behind.
He stands up with the SMG back in his arms and can feel the heat flowing in his hands as he tightly grips the gun. The worn-out locket is on his neck, enabling all his faith and love to be with him as he runs forward.
He runs far, until he is there, in the middle of no man’s land, searching for any surviving enemies in the debris.
Suddenly, Soo bumps into a young Korean man wearing a different uniform in a corner of an abandoned trench. On his uniform rests another flag, adorned by a red stripe in the middle with a star in the left center. This man’s hands are empty. His panicking expression suggests he lost his rifle on the way.
Before Soo can step forward, the man has jumped towards him, pushing him on the ground. Soo’s weapon falls out from his arms as he loses his balance. The man has reached out with both of his muscular arms like a ferocious bear and is trying to choke Soo who struggles in pain on the broken ground, while the man is holding him down with his entire body.
Trembling, Soo arduously reaches out to his knife, which is in the sheath on the side of his belt. Before fainting, he grabs the wooden handle, pulls out the gleaming knife, and stabs that man in the chest crazily until that man collapses and stops breathing.
Soo inhales heavily, pushing the dead man to the side and breathing voraciously. As he looks back at his victim, he notices a folded piece of yellowed paper on the top right corner of his jacket. Soo grabs and unfolds it. It is a photo of an ordinary Korean family. A man and a woman are sitting there on two wooden chairs and two boys, their sons, sit on each of their parent’s lap. All of them have a smile of true happiness.
He freezes there, eyes empty, and then tears pour down like rain onto the wet muddy ground of the trench.