To write this story, for which ‘deserting’ is the main theme, I inspired myself from the book catch-22 by Joseph Heller. I tried to imagine why the author described war as being absurd, or even, why he wrote an absurdist fiction.
“24 January: I am still looking for it – for that hidden paradise where streams pure water; where grows trees and plants that give abundant fruits and seeds, while the sea that surrounds it is forever replenished with seafood. There are also many grottos on which creeps morning glories whose leaves and flowers are as large as a hand. It’s all stated in this carnet I found buried under a large rock. Since I read this notebook, my night dreams are filled with things of great beauty instead of ruby red nightmare. Everything seems so splendid. I know that it exists. I am sure that true paradise exists…”
Suddenly the echo of atomic waves blasted the surrounding. Pace grabbed the old leather notebook, entered his craft, and flew away as quickly as possible. The scenery offered was a desolate and bleak one; of death and misery. He knew that he had to save his life; deep inside he felt that this war was not his, that he had been enrolled by force. And then he coincidentally discovered the notebook that had been written in another time by two other soldiers like him – two different handwritings, two different epochs, one began and the other one finished. They were both like him, asking the same questions, wanting to desert that cursed place, this hopeless area of war. And this serendipitous finding he made amidst the chaos, the incomprehension, and the absurdity of war, strengthened his want to set himself free from such horrible duties, and confirmed his belief about the existence of a peaceful place.
He wrote, and Pace read: “I am not a lesser man if I refuse to make war on other men like me. Instead, I am more of a man, with a heart and empathy… I am the novel man, a civilized man.” Everyday Pace read some lines, and everyday he dreamt of evasion.
“That’s so strange, Pace, we have technological advanced devices that talk directly to our mind, and you are still doing that outdated activity. How do we call that again?… O yes… reading.” But Pace did not reply, instead he watched the sky, the only place that was not stained with blood.
“6 April: I think I know where it is, paradise. I found a strange man who had only large dried leaves on. He seemed in a neglected state, but seemed healthy. I think when he saw the carnet in my hand he knew then. I followed him till the vast cemetery of old combat vehicles… this infertile land of weaponry. But suddenly buzzing drones appeared in the sky, right above my head, and they ordered me to leave immediately this restricted area. Fortunately they didn’t search me, for they would have found the notebook, the inkwell, and the quill pen. That’s where I think that this strange wild man disappeared amidst this vast ocean of dead vehicles that lounge the horizon. Paradise is there. I know it’s there, I know that my last records will close the final chapter of this notebook. Has the previous soldier been able to reach Elysium? Perhaps… and I won’t stop writing for you to find.”
That night, intrigued and thrilled by what he had read, Pace quietly went to the restricted area, that sinistered cemetery of dead vehicles. He wanted to see that place with his own eyes.
But suddenly the buzzing drones appeared. “Name and grade, soldier,” commanded the robotic voice.
“Pace Paze, soldier Pace Paze,” he replied nervously.
“And what are you doing in a restricted area, soldier Pace Paze?”
“I thought that I saw the enemy, thus followed them quietly till this area. But apparently it was only my imagination… I think that I had a delusional moment,” Pace replied, though he never saw who they were really fighting, and why this war has been going on for fifty years.
“Okay then, soldier. But don’t forget to go see the doctor tomorrow morning.”
“26th of July: to go there you need to wear dark clothes and dark glasses, and don’t forget to pour antistatic oil on your body, so that the drones won’t be able to perceive you. I found it, I am writing this last part from here. I made it, so shall you too. This story is such a strange one. This war is only an absurd thing, a joke, a trompe l’œil. When this war started sixteen years ago, many soldiers didn’t want to form part of this war. Amidst, there were many great thinkers and builders who have set up a plan to forever live in peace and harmony some miles away from the area where war raged. That place was still untouched by evilness… it was an area of purity, and they did everything that was possible to keep it so. They created a barrier with the loads of destroyed vehicles, and also created automated drones that stopped fighters from approaching the paradise they made. But they also made sure that there were always invisible enemies that attacked this side, so that they could remain safe at the other side. And as time went by, the cemetery of vehicles became denser, it became a vast ocean that stretched till horizon, and automated machines created automated drones, while people didn’t even question why there was a war going on, they just went to war.”
On the same night Pace read those lines, he headed valiantly till the restricted area. The drones did not notice him, for he followed the instructions faithfully. He walked on a seabed of dried bones that cracked and became dust; crossed large vehicles that were riddled with holes, stained with dried blood and destroyed in the worst ways. And suddenly a dreadful feeling of guilt overwhelmed his senses. He stopped and questioned his deed. “Shouldn’t I tell them what I found? Shouldn’t I help to cease this hoax, this war that makes no sense at all… will I be able to live in paradise when I have a guilty conscience?” He had walked for eight hours and the sun was going to rise soon, he needed to make a quick decision. Thus he continued his way, but promised to himself that he will make the others change their mind. He was going to tell the truth.
At daybreak he arrived at a very high wall that lengthily stretched as far as his eyes could see. “It’s all true. Paradise is just behind this wall,” he said out loud. Keenly, he pressed the bricks of the wall in a set of specific sequences, same as instructed in the notebook, and instantly there was an opening in the wall. He entered a wide shady noisy factory that was automatically making drones – lots of them, piles of them, there was not a single human in view. He continued walking, eager to pass that door that would lead him towards the freedom from war. But that’s where he made a horrible discovery. There, in a small dusty corner filled with cobwebs, he saw a skeleton. Its hand was on the operating motherboard, and a large hole could be seen through his head. Panic-stricken and filled with dread, he ran for his life blindly, until he arrived in front of a forest. He continued to run through that wild realm of various trees and plants while shouting insanely: “where are you all… I found the notebook… at last I found your community… I am in paradise.”
But unfortunately he cried in vain; nobody answered his desperate calls. The area was completely desert, only nature subsisted. And there, suddenly, at the foot of a grotto, the imagery of sheer horror sent an immense shock-wave throughout his whole body. It was a mountain of dried bones imprisoned in the strangling embrace of morning glories.
Pace Paze had his final answer. He knew then that this war would soon be over, and that finally, after so many years of conflict, life would surely look like the paradise described in this notebook.