On Thursday they went to war, and on Thursday they returned from war, marching shoulder to shoulder as streamers exploded from their wrappings and confetti rained down upon them like rainbow rain. There was music and cheerful chaos in the streets, and their dark uniforms were soon covered in bits of sparkling tinsel, carried as proudly as the medals on their chests. It was a parade of people alone, from one end of the city to the other, under a flock of waving flags.
On Thursday they went to war, and on Thursday they returned from war, solemn-faced but still smiling as the crowds thronged to meet them, shrieking their approval and their love. Pretty boys and pretty girls pushed their way to the forefront of the audience crowds, blushing and smiling, each dressed in their holiday best. Some were bold enough to reach out to touch the sleeve or shoulder of a passing soldier. They whispered among themselves and watched with their jewel-bright eyes as the procession marched past them, and there were few that went home lonely that night.
On Thursday they went to war, and on Thursday they returned from war.
On Friday the hearings began.
There was one soldier who was named Daisuke who had been at the head of his squadron and was considered a hero by those who knew him. He had singlehandedly saved the lives of fifty men, all by risking his own, crawling belly-down in the dirt with a knife in his teeth and a prayer in his heart. He crawled through poison gas clouds and thick quicksand and would find a wounded ally on the field and drag that person back to safety. Through gunfire and shell explosions and worse, he never faltered. Each time the story was told it became more elaborate. He had the power to kill someone simply by looking at them; he could tell just by the sound of a person’s footsteps alone whether they were friend or foe. He was the first to step up to the podium, under the harsh spotlight, and he kept his shoulders bowed and his head lowered. He was soft spoken and never lifted his eyes from his feet.
On Thursday he went to war and on Saturday he was hung, his legs swinging uselessly in the wind.
There was a soldier named Keiko whose eye was as keen as a hawk’s and whose hand was swift as a striking snake. She was never someone who went out into the battlefield proper except in the direst of situations, when most of her squad was dead and there was no one else left to carry out their mission. She had small knifeblades embedded under her fingernails, so thin that they were invisible just upon a casual glance. She wore glasses low on her nose but never seemed to need them even when there was a rifle on her shoulder and an enemy in her crosshairs. She was graceful with a weapon in her hands that she was not otherwise; she walked with a shuffle except when under attack, when she was as graceful as any dancer, and just as deadly effective. On the podium she stared in the distance and never seemed to focus on anyone. Her voice was airy and echoey and it seemed as if a good strong wind would simply blow her away, leaving nothing but the faint impression of footprints in the dirt.
On Thursday she went to war and on Sunday she was hung, her feet nearly brushing the ground as her long legs twitched their last.
There were many others with other names. Each one stepped up to the spotlight and each one stepped down to the hangman’s noose. The confetti that was piled up on the streets was swept away, first by city workers, and then by the wind, blowing through the emptied streets. The banners and streamers that had been left behind after the celebration began to wear out and tear, until they were no longer legible, carrying the ghost of words to crackle and fade under the noonday sun. Pretty boys and pretty girls grouped together outside of the courthouse, watching with their bright eyes as the sentenced walked past them. Some of the bolder ones would reach out and brush light fingertips over a passing sleeve, but never reached out any further than that.
On Thursday the war was over, and on Thursday the clean-up was done. The gallows were full of huddled bodies, gathered together as if to protect each other from the coming cold. Crows lingered at the edges of the gallows-field and croaked to each other, as if to share the secrets that the soldiers had carried with them, sputtered and whispered in the last desperate seconds as air faded and the world went dark. No one was listening any more.
On Thursday they went to war, and on Thursday they returned from war, and on Thursday they were all gone again.