Flash Fiction: 400 word short story

The sound of shuffled footsteps made Sergeant Charles Atwell jump, the remnants of a war not quite over plagued him, he knew he had to move or risk a repeat of last night. Pulling himself up from the hard floor, he winced as his amputation scar reacted to the cold air.  He pulled his jacket tighter, pushing the hollow sleeve into the torn pocket to try and stop any more air blowing up it and started walking. It was going to be a long time before he could find a warm shelter, he thought back to his life in the army.

He had thought for his country for most of his adult life before being granted medical leave following an IED blast that killed 3, leaving him and one other alive. Months of operations and therapy followed to stem his temper and resentment he had felt, but not before it his wife had left him, taking their daughter with her. He couldn’t blame Helena, it wasn’t her fault. The man she’d married had never come back from the war and although she had tried to support him and stand by him, she couldn’t subject Carrie to a father who used alcohol to self medicate.

Over the next few years, Charles had lost everything. The emotional ramifications of war stopped him getting a job meaning he couldn’t pay his bills. The government, which he so loyally fought for, couldn’t help him as he didn’t qualify for rehoming and, because you can’t apply for benefits without an address, he couldn’t receive any benefits. He had nowhere to turn.

The few coins in his cup swum in front of him as tears filled his eyes. This wasn’t what coming home was supposed to be like. Where was the warm welcome? Gratitude? Anything? He counted how much passersby had given him, £3.67. Enough to buy something warm, to fill his stomach; he hadn’t eaten for days and was desperately weak. Buying himself some chips, he hungrily wolfed them down while contemplating his next move. He couldn’t stay in the night shelter as it wasn’t icy so the streets would have to do.

As he found shelter in the local park, his tattered sleeping bag giving him minimal protection but softening the ground ever so slightly, he let the tears fall as he thought of his fallen colleagues. Not out of sadness, but jealousy.

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