The Good Soldier

What follows is the first of a number of short prose vignettes that I’m using as a means of recharging the creative batteries. This is raw, unedited, fresh off the press – and will probably stay that way. I hope people enjoy these as I start making progress on rewiring the Tomekeepers Project in a more realistic light.

The Good Soldier

It was a cool winter’s day. Yellow sunlight burned its way through the damp haze that hung in the air. Jack’s friends had just left after offering their assistance and support. Even Kevin Priest, who could barely stand and stared forlornly at the stump where his left hand had been. They were all unflinchingly sincere in their sadness and their support. Their troop commander Bob Hastings gave us a flag signed by all the men, and left us at the doorstep saying “Anything you need…”
Exhausted by their visit, I sat on the couch while Ally set to drawing with the art set Jack’s friends had brought her.

“Mummy – when do we go to say ‘thank you and goodbye’ to Daddy?”

The question astonished me. Ally had just been given the news that her father had died while serving in Afghanistan. For all that she was a precocious child, this seemed like a question and a statement that seemed even beyond her seven-going-on-thirty years. I choked back a sob.

“Ally, sweetheart. Sometimes you amaze me. Daddy’s funeral service will be on Thursday.”
Ally counted. “Today is Monday? So… three sleeps?”
“That’s right. But if you want to thank him, you can do it any time. Was there something in particular you wanted to thank him for?”
“Oh Mummy! It’s to say thank you for going overseas to help other people when it would be so much easier to stay here and help you make the bed or do the dishes… Or mow the lawns… Or put the bins out!” She finally ran out of chores to list off.

She had a point. Since the news of his passing while on patrol in Oruzgan Province, I had been cursing his selfishness – abandoning us so he could go and play soldier. But I should have known better. He was there because he believed in the mission. He believed he was making a difference to the lives of the civilians who were being subjected to all manner of horrors – economic, cultural and societal – by Taliban extremists. He believed he was doing the right thing in helping the local people of Oruzgan decide for themselves whether their society should be dragged back to the “glory days” of the 12th century. Jack certainly wasn’t a missionary… but he definitely had a mission.

I shook myself out of my reverie and looked wanly at Ally. “Would you like me to tell you one of Daddy’s stories?”
“That’s okay Mummy. I think I remember them. But I do have a question.”
“Oh? What’s that?”
“Where did Daddy learn to love other people so much?”

That threw me. I knew he had a big heart from the first day I met him. We were on a singles wine-tour in the Barossa Valley and the bus clipped a dog. The bus driver was torn between his duty to keep to his itinerary on behalf of his passengers, and the concern he had for the struck animal. Jack said he would leave the tour to make sure the dog was looked after. I left the tour as well – intrigued by the kind-heartedness on display. Jack bundled up the dog – a kelpie/border collie cross – in his jacket, and we chatted while waiting for a taxi to take us to the local vet hospital.

“Oh – it wasn’t just people, Ally. He loves – loved – animals and places and things too.” I sniffed.
Ally stepped over to me and took my hand. “He loved us very much Mummy. He loved you very much.”
“I know, baby girl. He loved you very much too.”
“I know.” She smiled cheerfully. “Do you think we could go visit some of his favourite places?”
“No… silly Mummy. I mean later. Once we have said goodbye.”
“Oh. Of course! Is there any place in particular you wanted to go to?”
“I’d like to go see Max and Uncle Reg and Auntie Jean!”

Reg and Jean Ashton were the owners of Max – the dog that Jack and I took care of the day we met. The vet hospital had called them in and they invited us to stay with them for the balance of the weekend in thanks for looking after Max. A few years older than Jack and I, they were working at one of the big wineries in Angaston. Reg was a junior winemaker, and Jean worked in the cellar door. After that weekend, Jack and I had become a part of not only their family, but of each other’s. They now ran their own winery, and any time Jack was home on furlough, we’d head up to the Barossa to see them.

“I’d like that very much too.” A tear ran down my face as I sniffled.
“Don’t cry Mummy. I’ll look after you just like Daddy asked me to.”
“He asked you to look after me?”
“Of course. Just like he would have asked you to look after me. I’m just a little girl after all.”
“But – w-what – w-w-when…?” I stammered.
“The night before he went to Afghanistan he said that I was a big girl, and that I had to look after you if he didn’t come home. But he also said I had to listen to you, and help with the dishes and the gardening if you asked me. And keep my room tidy and clean. And to eat my greens, even if I don’t really like them. Although broccoli is green, and I like that!”

Until that day, I had thought that I had been Ally’s primary caregiver, with Jack away so often – first in Iraq, then in Afghanistan. But at that point, I knew that she was his daughter first and foremost. She had his brave and honest love, and his big heart. She would be fine. She would become a resilient, open-hearted and caring young woman. And with that, I resolved that I would match her bravery and love with my own. That day, I rescued my own injured dog on the roadside – took responsibility for it, and sought to live up to the standard that Jack – the good soldier – had set for us both.

© Jeremy Huppatz, 27/7/2014

Welcome to the Corps!


Tomekeepers is a project that’s been kicking around the back of my head for a long time now – over a quarter of my life. I’ve finally decided to take the plunge and look to crowd-source funding for a low-budget (but professional) web-series which will hopefully kick towards the middle of this year.

The premise for the series is a zombie-free post-apocalytpic near future in which Earth’s major population centres have been ravaged by factor 46 – a highly contagious nanovirus deployed as a bio-weapon by Gaia-Dire – a radical environmental group. Factor 46 was originally developed as a toolset for activating normally dormant human DNA for the treatment of genetic diseases. However, the ecoterrorists introduced unstable RNA compounds as the genetic payload so now instead of healing humans, it causes random and usually fatal mutations. A number of small populations survived in large and highly travelled cities via innoculations with a factor 46 variant with a DNA stabilizing payload, but not before millions died. Those treated with the antidote have occasionally started to manifest unusual abilities.

Remnants of western civilization remain, mainly in geographically isolated cities that were able to establish quarantine protocols before factor 46 was unleashed on an unsuspecting population. Most of those populations are in remote areas such as Adelaide and Perth in Australia, the Scottish Isles, South-Western Africa, rarely visited islands in the Indonesian archipelago and places such as Austin, Texas, Phoenix Arizona and parts of Scandinavia and Russia that were far enough away from infected sites to be able to establish protocols to keep others out.

The narrative follows the paths of two young women who take very different paths through a world in which knowledge is the difference between death and survival. Ally is an athletic, mentally agile girl who joins the recently established Tomekeeper Corps after graduating from high school. She is emotionally resilient, strong-willed, protective of her friends and a highly resourceful individual. However, she has a blind-spot for deception and is led into dangerous situations by opponents who take advantage of her gullibility. Ally’s best friend Mary is a somewhat more bookish individual who outscores Ally in most academic pursuits, but lacks her friend’s athleticism and is prone to self-doubt and poor self-esteem. These qualities result in her rejection from the Tomekeeper Corps, and leave her adrift while Ally heads to the TK Academy. The paths of the girls will cross at times – and these will be opportunities to underscore the changes that each of them is undergoing as they journey towards adulthood. The series will culminate in a crisis in which both will be forced to recognize a devastating truth which will change their relationship for the worse, and have lasting consequences for those around them.

As a reference point – think of Fringe, Alias and BtVS mashed up in a post-apocalyptic milieu where information is currency, and knowledge is power.