John and the book – a short story

I was the only one disturbed, fascinated and questioning. The other soldiers, tired of the days training had laid near the fire like scattered stones. One by one they dropped off to sleep. Conversations ended leaving only the crackling snap of logs and cold winter air.

John stood.

He stood near enough the flame to get warm but not burned.

Near enough that his visage was illuminated but not clear.

John was built like the Titanic if it had bloated in the middle times two and stood on its end without breaking.

John stood.

He stood clutching a paperback with both hands and devouring it.

When I say devouring, I hope you know that I don’t mean he was ingesting it. His eyes flicked over page after page as if they gained sustenance from the words and phrases. His body shifted slightly when an apparent meaty bit flicked on neurons. A paragraph once eaten was turned into fuel that let John stand even longer.

I would drift off to sleep and wake again–the uneven ground tormenting me. Each time I woke John was as before. The statue of David has moved more over time than he. There were moments he took on a subtle and different physical shape. I know this was a trick of my mind, tired, cold and affected by the leaping flames.

Embers rose and hissed past his face on the way to their brilliant end. Their chance to meet sisters and brothers in the sky blanketed with lights from a distant time.

John kept reading.

Once he recognized my waking, wondering, worrying.

Please sit. Rest. Be like the others.

He returned to feeding while I gave into slumber again.

In dreams the book floated alone, John was gone.

When I woke to the stirring of those around me he was turning the final pages. The morning’s rays played off of his face. 

John sat.

The rest of the platoon rose.