We Are All Soldiers Here
Finchley, England. September 4th, 1945
He got off the bus.
That was his first conscious thought amidst the fog of many, as he stood on the Finchley kurb, gazing at the streets around him. At the motor cars as they went passed, at the signs and shops. Then he stopped thinking and put one foot in front of the other, a single determination going on before him: home. He wanted to go home.
He wanted it to feel like it was home.
This was the secret terror that clutched at his soul as he had returned over sea and land, taking all manner of trains and buses to return here. Finchley. The place another man identical to him in appearance and voice had called home, and meant it, too. The war was over, he and all his brothers-in-arms had been told. And then they had been given orders to pack and prepare to go home.
But it was a silent dread that came over them after the joy had worn away.
Fighting men was what they had become; doctors, professors, students, milkmen, farmers, typists, businessmen; they were creatures of the past. Ghosts they recognized in the black and whites they had among their belongings. It was over, this awful, bloody war, they had murmured to one another, but there was a curious strain in their voices, and they could not talk of what they would do when they came home, though during the war "what I shall do" had been all they could discuss.
It was backwards and strange, but it was true.
Jack Pevensie, a man of some forty-odd years, swallowed. He was afraid.
He had been a professor, but then became a soldier. Could he go back? Could he do it all again?
He closed his eyes briefly and shook his head lightly, then turned down a once-familiar street and stopped in front of the front walk of a house he remembered and did not at the same time.
Everything was changed, he could not go back and did not know how to explain what he had become.
He remembered things like shadows cast in the glare of anti-aircraft searchlights.
He would laugh and play games and tease and wrestle. Could he do that with them again, his children? Or would they remember him as he remembered them? Would they come face to face and stare at one another blankly, awkwardness filling the space that distanced them and making an unspannable gap?
He did not know, and he did not like not knowing.
Jack swallowed, tightening his fingers on the dufflebag he had slung over his shoulder but in his coming to a standstill had allowed to fall at his feet.
As he lifted his hand to knock on the red door, the flutter of a white curtain caught his eye, and he turned his head. A flash of chestnut hair, was that what his eyes had seen? He returned his attention to the door when a muffled shuffling came from the corridor on the other side, and undecipherable voices rumbled like the whispered mutters of German prisoners of war. He raised his hand, curling his fingers into his palm, intending to actually knock this time and not be distracted, when the door suddenly started open and caused him to step back in surprise.
"Helen. My darling girl."
He held her close as she came out and wrapped her arms about his neck, pressing her face into his shoulder, whispering against his skin like a soft curl of wind beneath his collar.
"I missed you so."
He hid his face in her dark hair that still smelled of honeysuckle and spring. Willing himself to bring back the man he had been before guns and war and horror and fire. But he found only emptiness and yearning to be something he would not be again. There was no sorrow now at finding nothing; he had given that up long ago when he knew for certain John Pevensie, professor, was truly gone and would not come again. He was a new-made man, but made into what image he did not fully understand.
Then Helen stepped back, and he was met with faces. . . Faces he could recognize as if from a dream but not entirely. He knew them, and yet he did not. They stared at one another, father and children, it seemed for a long while. And then something happened.
"Well, you're home at last. We were wondering when you'd come." Peter smiled with a laugh in his voice, and stepped out, patting his father on the arm consolingly, his clear eyes bright and his thick blond hair shining in the shafts of rare English sun.
Jack smiled, laughing softly, reaching out, putting a hand on Peter's face, clapping it on the back of his neck. "Oh, lad, I could tell you stories!"
"Over a pipe and seated in your chair in front of the fire only; anything before this I forbid!" Susan, dear, darling Susan. How like Helen she appeared! His oldest girl took his bag from him as he was brought into the house by Helen and Peter; one arm about his wife's waist, the other still resting on his eldest's shoulder. When had his Peter got so tall?
"We wondered if tonight you wouldn't mind us keeping quiet-like? We thought it best as you've had a long travel." Edmund's voice had changed since last they'd talked. It was deeper, solemn, and it made Jack think of libraries chock full of books and papers; of fires banked down pleasantly, and the warmth and softness of a well-made quilt. It was a pleasant tone, and made for speaking, he thought in passing, as he smiled at his youngest boy. Edmund answered it with a little dip of his head and an upturn of his lips that never quite became a smile but felt somehow as if it was.
"We can tell you stories instead, of course! Of the country, since you'd rather not hear of school! It really is quite dull." Lucy, bright and golden and lighting up the room with her spirit, beamed at him and somehow looked like an angel even though she was only a child. He laughed as she did, the sound of her laughter like a clear, beautiful bell.
He did not know if he could ever be the man he was. But his children somehow did not seem to expect him to, and Jack wondered if this was a wonderful dream from which he might wake up.
Jack stared into the firelight.
He had been home for a month, and he had not had nightmares every night has he had feared. He had felt. . .surprisingly peaceful, despite some strange yearning just beneath the surface. For what he knew exactly, but did not touch upon at all. Until now, of course.
It was late, and all the house was asleep. So now he could be alone with his thoughts.
He glanced up sharply as someone entered the room and knelt nearby.
The dark haired boy crossed his legs and clasped his fingers, gazing into the fire also.
Jack went back to a like task, and they sat in silence.
"The fire is so soothing when you need it to be."
He glanced over at his son again, but the boy was not looking at him, his eyes still on the fire; the flames reflecting in his dark eyes. "Yes," he found himself agreeing softly. He turned back to studying the flames, and knew without a doubt that Edmund had spoken an undeniable truth.
"When the nightmares come. . .you should go back to sleep. It is not good to keep a light on and stay up through the night, it makes you think and allows your guilt to grow. It is a dangerous pastime. The Thinking. I am going back to bed myself; best I heed my own advice or it is useless to advise." There was a smile in the boy's tone, and Jack found himself staring after Edmund as the boy rose from his seated position.
"Edmund?" He felt. . .not curious to know where such wisdom had come from, though curiosity indeed presided, but he wanted. . .more. More knowing without truly knowing; more understanding without having ever said a word. It felt good. To be known as what he had become, not what he had been.
The dark haired boy looked back, and smiled. It was a real and true smile now, not that almost-smile he seemed so fond of employing instead.
Jack swallowed, and nodded. "Thank you. In a moment more. . .I will follow after you."
Somehow such words felt right and good to say, so he said them.
"Maybe not tonight; no, not quite yet. But soon you will. See you in the morning." With that, Edmund was gone into the darkened corridor and up the darkened stairway, leaving Jack alone with his Thinking that he Should Not Do, and he knew that now full well. It did no good to Think, but he did it anyway, though it changed nothing.
He let time slip away from him, and it was dawn when he left the embers in the hearth and came to bed.
Edmund was right; not yet.
Everyone had gone to bed, but he had stayed downstairs. Mindlessly his fingers stroked the padded arm of his chair as he sat, pondering his reaction to the breaking of the salad bowl at dinnertime. He had made a fool of himself, starting and shouting. It ate at him and he felt his frustration rise.
"It's difficult at first, you know."
He looked up at the person standing beside his chair, nearer it's back.
"I don't know," he answered distantly, his thoughts fading out as the bombs fell around his ears and men screamed and machine guns shrieked. But they didn't shriek, they were just loud bursts of noise that never seemed to end. . . But they did end; it was only in his nightmares that they didn't. Only in his memory that they lingered on.
His oldest boy settled himself into the chair across from his. He glanced at his son. He found Peter looking back. They held the other's gaze.
"What happens after the 'at first'?" he found himself whispering as he looked into his son's clear, strong gaze. It was wrong to rely such in a child; a boy who had never seen what he had stood witness over, never felt what he had touched, never heard what he had been forced to listen to.
"It becomes the past. And it is ugly and it scars over, and it does not go away because it never will; but it has made you into a better man though you do not think so now. I promise. But it will hurt. It always does." Peter kept his hands on the arms of the chair he sat in, and his gaze was fierce and firm and burning, and Jack found he could not look away though his eyes stung with tears of terror he could not shed. It was as if he looked into the face of a veteran of war, a comrade in arms, and he did not want to look away for fear that when he looked again it would be gone.
"I never thought it would be this way."
"None do, yet it always is. War is not a game, and if it were as easy as men make it seem then it would not be done. I find that when a thing is truly easy, men do not like doing it much." Peter chuckled softly, and it was a rumble at the edges of the room then sweeping inward, soft and thick and dark-gold. Like a rich hot chocolate beverage on a crisp cold winter's eve.
In the quiet of his mind Jack did not notice when his son got up and walked away. When next he emerged out from the caverns of thought, he looked to find that Peter was gone, as if he had never been. It was then Jack wondered: had he really ever been there with him, or had he just imagined it?
He wanted to think it had all been real, but he could be sure of nothing now.
It was November; cold and blustering. Winter was on the rise, and he hated winter deeply. It was hell frozen over and made worse because of it. It was winter, never Christmas because nothing ever changed. At least, that was how it had seemed to him Over There during the war. That was what his father had called it, back when the Great War was the greatest and the worst to have been fought. Over There, as if such things did not and could not happen Here. Oh but how times had changed.
Jack held the book in his hands but he was not reading it. He did not want to, had no desire. Instead he sat, watching the fire dance and flicker.
"It's cold. Best have something to warm the soul and the body also." A cup and saucer found their way into his hands, and the book was gone. He stared at the dark liquid within the cup, and blinked, the hold over his senses evaporating as quickly as the steam that rose from the warm liquid. He tilted his head a bit, and looked.
Chestnut hair curling round her ears, brown and golden and dark yet light too. It was shorter than he remembered it, but then that was nearly four years ago now and time does change all things. He smiled and sipped, because he did not want to hurt her feelings, but the hot chocolate was good and so he kept on drinking even as she sat down close by, curling her stockinged feet beneath her and resting her head against his leg.
"'Oh the days of bleak mid-winter, how I long for them to end!' It is a saying in the country," she explained as if he would not know; which, he found, he did not. It was no saying he knew, at any rate. "It seems winter goes on and on and is so sad. Edmund hates it, which is why he falls so quiet now. He loves the autumn best, which is funny to me because it signals the coming of winter and should be instead annoying. But I don't always know Edmund, and that's not a bad thing." Her voice was soft and soothing, and it lulled him.
"I know it is odd, but I rather like winter, even though it means darkness and chill and bones aching and old wounds throbbing. I like it because it is the world sleeping, waiting to be woken up. It is beautiful in its sadness; I have never seen it otherwise."
"Hmm, a lovely image. But the cold means differently to you what it does to me, Lu-lass," he murmured, the warm beverage making him drowsy despite his intentions of remaining awake.
"Don't let the sorrow steal your wonder, Dad. Edmund might hate winter, but he loves it, too. It is in our nature to love it, for it never did us ill by simply being. It's like death—everyone will meet it, and no one hates it because it happens, though it hurts us when it does. Keep warm, drink your drink, read your book, watch the fire, don't sleep because it's frightening, but don't hate something what never did you harm just because it is." She stood, draping a throw across him, returning his book to his hands, settling a kettle on the small table beside his chair, and then she left and did not so much as glance back. But she left him with a smile and twinkling eyes, and it made him wonder.
Jack glanced out the window and saw the moonlight glint on the icicles under the eves. It was beautiful, and it couldn't hurt him anymore.
He found himself hating. Hating the enemy, hating the war, hating, hating, hating, and he threw the newspaper into the hearth without thinking and watched it burn, only after it was ashes realizing that he had not finished reading yet.
"You look troubled, Dad."
He turned, lifting his hand from the hearth.
Her grey eyes were thoughtful and her lips smiled faintly, though her countenance was almost so lovely and gentle it was sad.
"I am." Jack sighed, rubbing his hands roughly across his face and over his eyes as he fell back into his chair. "I just can't stop, and I'm just so tired of going." He sighed again.
"Tell me what the problem is, and I will answer only if I think I might be able to help." She came and sat, smoothing her skirts beneath her almost as if she expected more skirt than she had, but still, it was graceful and he smiled, thinking her mother had taught her well. Helen should be very proud.
"I hate them, the enemy soldiers. It's their fault this whole bloody mess happened, and if they hadn't been so taken in then this family—England and the world aside—would not have suffered as we have."
It was quiet, and Jack forgot Susan was even there.
"Do you know there could be a man right now, over there, thinking nearly that? 'It's their fault; if they had not been so unyielding then none of this might have happened. We could have a better world than this one we have now.' I find that often," she paused, a finger coming to her lips before she took it down again, "often the enemy believes in his cause just as much as the "good" soldier, and so really the enemy is the man behind the armies and the planning. If you must be angry at anyone, be angry at Hitler; a man so cowardly he could not take his just punishment. That is what Edmund would say, I do think, and I have always relied so in his counsel." She watched him, and Jack slowly nodded, finding he agreed.
"He created demons and let them suffer when he is to blame."
"I did not say that. When we do something Bad, and we continue to do it and know deep down that all is not right and something is, in fact, quite wrong, then we also can shoulder blame. No one is entirely innocent. When you allow yourself to be led, you are desperate, and desperation leads to disaster more often than it leads to anything good. Be glad you were not misled, Dad. Be glad you knew what was right, and don't hate the ones who were lost because they needed something strong and reliable to trust in to bring the bad times to an end. That's all I can really tell you." She stood and moved to go, but Jack reached out and put a hand on her arm as she went passed. She turned her head, dark hair swinging softly over her shoulder. "Yes?"
"You and your siblings. . . You say such knowing things. But I do not know how this is."
"Dad, I can't explain it to you, and if I'm honest, you really do not need to know; you only think you do. Some things cannot be defined and categorized and pared down so every fragment is scrutable, and it's good that we don't know everything, for not everything needs be known. But don't ever stop searching, because even though you can't know everything, you can come closer and closer with every step you take in the right direction. Keep taking steps, maybe you'll find it someday." Susan smiled and her fingers touched his arm, patted him affectionately, and then her footsteps came on the carpeted floor and she was gone.
Jack thought about what she had said and found he thought it made good sense in a curious way that made no sense at all.
He stared at the tall men and the beautiful woman coming toward him at a run, laughing and conversing. Their clothes flashed where the sunlight prismed on the jewels and gold or silver they wore, and he was in awe of them. Then they were before him, and they stared in silence at one another.
And then something happened.
"Well, you're Home at last. We were wondering when you'd come." The tall blond king smiled with a laugh in his voice, and stepped closer, patting Jack on the arm kindly, his clear eyes bright and his thick blond hair shining in the shafts of this merry yellow sun.
"Who. . .are you?" There was awe and uncertainty in his voice, and he wondered if this was a wonderful dream from which he might wake up.
"Dad, do you remember when I told you it is best not to leave a light on and keep up when you should be sleeping? Now you must not fear, for nothing sorrowful or harmful shall ever touch you again in this land." The raven haired king spoke, and his voice reminded Jack of libraries chock full of books and papers; of fires banked down pleasantly, and the warmth and softness of a well-made quilt. It was a pleasant tone, and made for speaking, and it felt like coming home after being long away at war.
". . . Edmund?"
"Only just," the grave young man answered with a minute dip of his head and an upturn of his lips that never quite became a smile but felt somehow as if it was. Around him the others laughed, and he chuckled in the end. Then they fell quiet as the tall blond king stepped up once again.
"Dad, recall you when I spoke of after the At First? And how I told you it becomes The Past, and it will make you a better man, though it seems hard at first? There shall never be a First here but joy, and the Past shall be laughter through and through, placed well beside good memories and boundless strength." The great blond king chuckled softly, and it was a rumble then sweeping in close among them, soft and thick and dark-gold.
"Peter, my boy?"
"Aye, there is still much we must talk of." And around him, the others smiled while sharing fond glances.
A golden haired queen came forward next, and held out her hands, and Jack found himself placing his within hers without being asked.
"Dad, do you remember when I spoke to you of winter and wonderment? When I declared that the world only slept awaiting to be awoken and reborn? Here it is never winter but endless summer, and we shall know peace married to wonder on and on for eternity and not grow tired of it." Her voice was soft and soothing, and it lulled him. She looked at him with a bright smile and twinkling eyes, and he knew.
"Lu-lass? You are lovely."
"Of course it is I, always." And she let his hands go and stepped back.
Jack found himself waiting.
But she never came.
He looked at her siblings, and sorrow lingered in their eyes.
"Where we came from, think of it as the front, Dad," Peter began, his voice deep and slow.
"We are all soldiers there. And sometimes. . . Sometimes, when the guns are silenced and the war is over. . ." Edmund explained, his brown eyes grave.
"Some of us don't come back," Lucy finished, her voice a whisper as tears splashed down her rosy cheeks.
The days were beautiful, and he laughed and spoke and learned. But as he watched the sun go down beyond the Eastern Ocean while he stood on a balcony at Cair Paravel, he felt he did know some sadness in his heart, and whispered the words that had given him hope and brought him onward out of darkness and into light.
"It's good that we don't know everything, for not everything needs be known. But don't ever stop searching, because even though you can't know everything, you can come closer and closer with every step you take in the right direction. Keep taking steps, maybe you'll find it someday."
He dearly wished she might, because he wanted her there with him; his darling, gentle Susan.
Not all soldiers missing in war stayed lost. Sometimes they came home. Perhaps she would, too.
I've been writing fanfiction for everything but Narnia it seems to me lately. So finally decided to come back to this old familiar haunt and write up something fitting. Yes, this one-shot is an allegory. If you can see it for yourselves, that is wonderful! But if you can't: it's an allegory of coming to Christ and forging a walk with God after having been long lost in the world.
Jack is the wayward soldier-man, come out of the war, learning about this strange new man he has become (the recently converted Christian attempting to understand this similar but not the same world of Christianity). It is difficult and painful, but slowly he finds his way. He learns to not think over all that he was and what he suffered before coming to know God (experiencing the war and having nightmares) and accept the pain of change, tearing away the old self for the new, though it hurts, and he learns to let go of his hate and contempt (realizing he should not hate the Germans even if they're bad). Then Susan teaches him to continue pursuing his walk with God even though it's difficult and he can't always see.
It's also an allegory about how someone who seems strong in God can fall away (Susan). Which, unfortunately, is a very real thing. But what this tends to mean is that though she had all the pieces she wasn't, in fact, a strong Christian at all and there was no one to really lead her in the way she needed to be led.
The title and idea for this mini-allegory is from C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity:
'Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. When you go to church you are really listening in to the secret wireless from our friends: that is why the enemy is so anxious to keep us from going.'
I based this entirely around that quote. I hope that it comes even close to relating! The title again refers to this quote, as we should consider oursleves (Christians should, I mean) to be soldiers and spies here in the world; our enemy territory we have invaded. He must be sharp and forage on, careful lest we lost ground to the enemy.
Please review and tell me what you think! Happy reading,