Marcus stood in the half light of sunrise, his coat clutched tightly about his thin body. He suppressed a shiver as the early autumn breeze stirred the almost naked branches of the surrounding trees and, sent flaming orange leaves swirling into the still waters of the lake. Almost as if the icy fingers of the wind had woken him from sleep, he pushed himself away from the support of a ancient gnarled oak and padded through the dew damp grass to the water’s edge, his gait unsteady.
He knelt slowly and unlaced his boots awkwardly with his right hand, aware more than usual of his empty left sleeve, wrestling the battered leather from his feet and gasping as the chill air struck his skin. He placed the boots neatly to the side and unbuttoned his greatcoat, shrugging it from his shoulders and folding it with precision borne of long practice.
Marcus rose unsteadily and limped down the gentle slope of lake shoreline, the damp earth soft beneath his feet. He sucked in a deep breath and let it out slowly, the tension in his shoulders easing. With each step he took towards the water, he felt more and more relaxed, the knot of fear that had been sitting heavy in his stomach for the past year was finally loosening, soothed by the gentle rhythms of the waves.
He gasped as the icy lake water washed over his calves, sending tingling shockwaves through him, but he continued wading until the water lapped at his chin and he could let his feet float free from the muddy shallows. He splashed awkwardly, floundering with his one good arm, his shirt billowing about his thin, wasted body until he found his equilibrium and he could let himself relax into the embrace of the water.
Marcus lay back and stared up at the orange streaks of dawn colouring the pale skies above him. It was the first time since he’d returned home that he felt a genuine sense of peace, the usual nightmares and fears that plagued him, gone, washed away by the tranquility of the lake. He hadn’t realised how desperately he had craved a reprieve from the constant sense of dread, the jumping from sudden sounds, the sleepless nights and the headaches.
Marcus savoured the silence and allowed himself to float away from the shore, towed by the currents flowing through the lake. He watched as crimson leaves fell about him and was mildly jealous that leaves could end their lives in such a spectacular display of glory. But he knew he didn’t really want a spectacular end, like his many comrades who never returned home, he wanted peace, he wanted calm.
As the first rays of the day broke across the surface of the lake, Marcus took a deep breath and let himself sink, slowly and calmly enfolded by the eternal silence of the ancient lake. And the crimson leaves continued to fall.