Forget Me Not

Mia Dalia

August 15, 2023

The night closed in on him. The sound of artillery had at some point became a background drone like the white noise machine he used to fall asleep to. But every so often, a bullet whizzed by in a close call, and it still jarred him. He was amazed something still had the power to jar him—he’d become so desensitized by the last few months.

Couldn’t remember the last time he showered; his feet were a mess of bloody blisters, there somehow was never quite enough food or time to eat. And sleep… he still slept but it was so far from restful that it seemed it ought to have a different word to describe it altogether.

These people—they spoke his language. He was shooting at people who spoke his mother’s tongue and it felt profoundly wrong. None of it seemed real. From the day it began.

This wasn’t a war his grandfather told him stories about. This was… something else entirely.

And he was here because he was told to be here. There’d never been a choice, not really. A third-generation military man; it was in his blood, in his bones. He’d never even entertained the idea of doing anything else with his life.

It was hot, too hot, and humid too. Sweat pouring down his face occasionally made it through the long thick lashes he used to get teased about and into his eyes—it stung. He wiped his dirty forehead with the dusty sleeve of his uniform. Took a moment to orient himself.

Where were they? Oh, yes. He remembered now. A place so small it barely made it onto most maps, but strategically significant enough to attack.

They didn’t want an all-out battle, but the locals seemed ready for them. Armed with anything from handguns to pitchforks—pitchforks; steel glint of determination in their eyes. These people would fight to the death to protect what was theirs.

From what he saw earlier during the day, there wasn’t much to protect here. The village (selo) appeared to have been stuck in time as if the pervasive modern world seldom dared to find its way in. The place was positively medieval in a way. You could easily imagine these ancient-looking houses as dvoryshche homesteads, self-sufficient and family-owned and -operated.

He loved history, studied it extensively, still read heavy nonfiction tomes on it whenever he got a chance. Maybe he should have been a historian instead.

The village must have been hit by the collectivization efforts once. The old machine-tractor stations stood abandoned on the outskirts—modernization attempts summarily rejected by the locals, who went back to agriculture in their own way, tried-and-true methods that had withstood the test of time.

He didn’t want to fight these people, didn’t want to kill these people. He hoped they could be persuaded to lay down their weapons and disperse. But it was all too far gone by now; the diplomacy attempts over before they even began.

It no longer mattered who shot first. The second the bullet struck a ten-year-old girl—he could still remember the doll she had in her hand, not the girl herself, but the doll. The motanka doll—a peculiar local toy, made of fabric and left faceless as if open to the imagination’s own projections. The one the girl held was clad in a colorful dress, white and red, with black and green accents. More red added as the girl’s blood splattered on it and then all dust as it hit the ground.

He thought the image of that doll would haunt him for the rest of his days.

The girl’s death marked the moment the conflict turned into a battle and then, all too soon, a slaughter. The soldiers saw their own blood; saw red and went mad. There was no stopping them. The brutality they visited upon that village felt medieval too. Primal in the worst way—the giving-in to one’s basest instincts. It reeked of blood; he could taste it like the copper of old coins. The smell of death was everywhere. Too terrible to describe, it permeated his skin, his bones; he didn’t think he’d ever get rid of it. Perhaps it would follow him everywhere, this olfactory representation of his sins. And he would never be free.

In the end, there was fire. To obliterate the very memory of the place—and their actions in it—from existence.

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He snapped into reality at her touch. The nightmare faded away, like it always did, clinging to the peripherals, but no longer pulling focus.

They were parked near a wheat field as wide as the eye could see. It smelled fresh, calm, happy. The wind stirred the stalks gently. It looked like a dance.

Nina looked up at him and squeezed his hand. “Where’d you go just now?”

“Nowhere,” he shook his head. “I’m here.”

She looked beautiful in her red summer dress, her long hair, pulled back on weekdays into a professionally slick ponytail, now free-flowing down her shoulders. Eyes as blue as the cloudless sky above them. Love of his life. Funny the turns life takes to bring you to where you’re meant to be.

“Wanna walk around?”

There were paths, dirt stumped into submission by who knows how many feet over who knows how long. It was quiet. Peaceful.

“I used to love it here a lifetime ago,” Nina said wistfully.

“What was it then?” The place seemed so familiar somehow.

“A village,” she said. “A village that vanished.”

He felt himself bleed before he felt the blade—it must’ve been that sharp. He dropped to his knees looking up at her, questions in his eyes. “Wh…”

“You were there. I remember you. I remember everything and I won’t stop until I bring you all back.”

The blade moved again, and he fell at her feet. The last thing he saw was her face turn featureless against the perfect summer sky.

Mia Dalia is an internationally published author, a lifelong reader, and a longtime reviewer of all things fantastic, thrilling, scary, and strange. Her short fiction has been published online by Night Terror Novels, 50-Word Stories, Flash Fiction Magazine, Pyre Magazine, Tales from the Moonlit Path, and in print anthologies by Sunbury Press, HellBound Press, and Black Ink Fiction, among others. Her fiction will be featured in upcoming anthologies from Wandering Wave Press, Off-Topic Publishing, and Psycho Toxin Press. Her debut novelette, Smile So Red, was recently released to rave reviews. Her next novelette, The Trunk, followed suit shortly after. Her debut novel, Estate Sale, is out now.

“Forget Me Not” is original to Bullet Points.