A to Z 2017–D is for Dry

I apologize in advance…

D is for Dry

 

“Dry. So dry.”

The guard itched uncomfortably between his shoulder blades, listening to the prisoner rasping in the cell. He didn’t want to be here, but he’d drawn the short straw. His fellow recruits were in the yard, practicing with their weapons. Maybe, he thought, they would all share a pint tonight. When he was done here.

But he was here, bound in his Dress Blues. And in the cell was a member of the Red Army.

“You just shut up,” Beryl—Priv Endrin, now—shouted more from frustration than anger. “I been told that you get nothing, so it’s nothing you’ll get.”

The prisoner glanced at him then leaned back against the rough stone wall. “You don’t even know what this war is about, do you? You’re mostly just a kid in a coat that’s too big for you.” He coughed as a cloud of dust puffed of his faded red uniform. “The only difference between you and me is the color of our clothes. You’re a prisoner just as sure as I am.”

Beryl didn’t like that. “I said, shut up.” His chair scraped on the floor as he turned away. He didn’t want to look at his enemy.

“You just keep playing dress-up, boy. Never mind that all I want is a little water for my dry throat. You can be part of killing me slow. Don’t change a thing for me.”

Priv Endrin shook his head. “Nobody killing nobody in here,” he said. He wished he sounded more like it was true. His frustration bubbled again. “That might change if you don’t stop your mouth.”

“Just wanted a little water. Because I’m dry.” The man’s ruddy skin was as ashy and dull as his clothing. His voice sounded dry, too. “So dry.”

Through the stone walls of the citadel, Beryl thought he heard the mid day bells. Half his shift gone.

Good.

He hated the stale air of the cells. He hated that his own mouth felt as dry as the prisoner’s sounded.

A bang outside the door jolted him to attention. If his legion chief caught him slumping… but, no. The chief wouldn’t be here.

He stood and opened the pass to the outer room.

“I brought your midday, Priv. Roaster on bread and a beaker. Too bad it ain’t nothing but water, but at least it i’nt a cuppa the red poison, hey? You tell that one he’ll get a dry loaf tonight, change of shift. I best get back to the mess, now. After you eat leave the slate and cup in the pass.”

Once the runner was gone, Beryl picked up the sandwich and took a bite. Dry bread and dry meat caught in his throat. He picked up the stone mug and washed down the food.

A shiver prickled his back as he took another drink. He turned to see the prisoner on his feet, leaning on the bars of the cell, staring at the cup in his hand.

“So dry.” The redcoat barely whispered the words.

Priv Beryl Endrin lost his temper. “I told you to shut it!”

The man shrieked as he realized he’d thrown the water.

* * *

Hours later the Legion Chief squatted over the dead body of his half-trained Priv, shaking his head. A puddle of red congealed on the floor around him.

The prisoner was nowhere to be seen.

“Who brought the water?” shouted the Chief. “Who put this Color Guard at risk!”

He stood, fury clear above his blue coat. “Everyone knows… it’s the first thing they learn!

“Red runs when it’s wet!”

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