The dust of our city and of our bones will scarcely satisfy the fist of our brute enemy. Fighting amongst ruins.
Every minute detail of the scene was clear; every nuance of the setting and circumstance of destruction, floating silently, suspended motionless like chips of pure hate in glycerin. Heavy weapon in hand. Looking over the shoulder of body armor for the squad. Everybody hunkering down behind wreckage. Black smoke unfurling in hot wind. Somewhere, some mechanized armor rumbles and screeches, treads crushing and plowing through debris, turrets traversing. Orange and gray clouds of chemical war floating low over the shimmering ruins. Dry throats, papery tongues. Sweat trickles down foreheads, leaving bright streaks down grimy faces, pale behind gas-masks. Muscles ache, every sinew and nerve stretched to breaking point under heavy packs, agony and despairing thoughts. Bloody fingernails. Blistered feet. Uniforms in shreds. Radios fuzz and crackle.
A nasal voice, disinterested. “Second squad: flanking maneuver. Proceed west on axis: one-five-zero degrees, two-hundred meters.”
An arm extends. A gloved hand with a sidearm waving forwards. Rustling of equipment. Clicking metal. Crinkling dry and tattered fabric. Troops emerge from cover, leaning forward, checking magazines. Heads are low. Teeth are clenched. Weapons held tightly, grimly. Stoic. A group of bloody and exhausted uniforms starts the advance. Mortars begin to fall.
It was a natural force, beyond all control. Unalloyed power. Hear them descend, shrieking in ferocious wrath. Black and brown rubble hurtling into the sky. Hunks of concrete, pulverized. Debris scattering in vast circles of death, lifted effortlessly by power defying description. Pulsing compression waves, battering, hammering. Animal fury. Chunks of rock, bricks, glass slivers, sheets and lumps of metal punching through smoky air.
“Bombardment! Get – “
A white flash, enveloping everything, brighter than a desert sun, easily penetrating goggles and clamped eyelids. Limp body pulled to the blast as if by the gravity of a murderous sun. The only sound: a vast sucking noise. Suddenly transported to the interior of a volcano. The rubber soles of boots melted to the ground. The cement pounded: fine dust and razor particles from the concussion. Whiplash.
Loose flesh ripples helplessly in the blast, disfiguring the face. Chest implodes, seized in vacuum. Body arches backward. Impossible to scream: no air. Lungs convulse beneath snapping bones and useless armor. Wracked, gasping, choking on pulverized rock. Body parts dispersed in a wet foam cloud of bloody smudge.
A moment of silence as the senses retreat in horror from the carnage of hideous reality.
“Do you read?”
“What is your situation?”
“Come in please.”
A cool brook carves through the forest, burbling over the smoothed stones on the bottom. Insects flit across its brown surface. The shallow water rushes forward to the sea. Gusts of refreshing air course through nature. Beams of sunshine filter through the boughs.
The chilly silence on a snow-capped mountain, overlooking a panorama of peaks. Dappled by the light of the rising sun, the stones are colored with every blend of pink and orange imaginable. Clouds sail over the tops, their shadows coasting along the firs and snow on the slopes. The mountains are motionless for eons, unbothered.
The cool shade beneath a willow tree in a sunny meadow. Bees are floating between flowers. Purples, yellows. The rich, salty smell of warm air wafting over tall grass and pebbly dirt. Birds with soft feathers flutter gently.
Humbled: tossed like an unfinished joke by the sober fury of aimed fire and death.
Propelled through space and time by the blast. Floating and rotating in black emptiness. Down a metal corridor, lined with anonymous figures, gray and spectral. Murmurs.
A second goes by.
I land softly, settling like a dreamer in the dark periphery of safety, far enough away from the wherever and whenever of before I got here. Cool. Dry. Quiet. Alone.
That machine-gun kept up a steady stream. Interlocking fields of fire with other enemy strongpoints.
There was a heavy hand on my shoulder. I could see the veins in someone’s neck straining behind the Kevlar collars of his flak jacket. A row of soldiers hunkering down. Eyes afraid. Licking dusty lips, dry, cracked, and bleeding.
Someone was shouting in my ear, hoarse. Flecks of spit. Desperate. Manic.
It was my turn. Guys on my side opened up, aiming in the direction of the enemy with small arms to give me covering fire. Barrels peering over barricades and rubble.
I was up. Then I was running. Point A to Point B. Eddies of wind whirled through my ears and the eaves of my helmet. Firing on all sides now. Behind me and in front of me. The air ripples like dozens of thunderclaps at once. Crouching and sprinting. Cringing; too scared to think. Grenades dangling from a harness bouncing against my body with every stride.
I took a narrow path. Boots landing anywhere in the dirt, digging in deep, crunching on debris and pushing me forward though the air. Almost there. Everything was bright, grainy.
I hurled my body at the smashed, sooty wall. I got down fast, skidding to a stop through the dust. I used my feet to push me up as close to the cover as I could. I tried to glue myself to the wall.
I noticed that my shoulder had smacked into the crumbled stone hard. It hurt now. I pulled my legs under me and cradled my weapon close to my chest. I made myself as small as I could be. I stared down between my legs at my muddy boots. I also noticed I had scraped my hand badly against the cement wall. Dotted lines of blood cautiously peeked through the gaps where skin was missing. Sweat stung it. I waited until I caught my breath. It slowed in horse-pants through my chapped nostrils. Then, slowly lifting my head beneath heavy helmet, I looked back at the rest of my squad. Another man was about to dash forward as I just had.
The distance didn’t look so far from this side.
He spun and fell. He didn’t make it five feet. He had barely stood up.
I was awakened by a familiar smell. Sharp.
It was the smell that rose from bomb-craters filled with week-old bodies, half-floating in scummy rainwater. It was the smell that scalds your nose when you’re going through a dead trooper’s pockets looking for cigarettes, grimy crumbs of food, or other valuables. The smell you notice when you turn him over and accidentally glance at his cancelled eyes, whose lids nobody had bothered to close. I could smell the trenches. I could smell the line.
The smell reached me before the noises did.
It was quiet at first. The activity seemed distant. A few dull thuds that shook my bed and rattled the machines around me; someone was probably using grenades. Some muffled shouts. Some gruff speaking, probably commands. Running boots clank-clank-clanking against metal grating. A door being kicked in, yelling followed immediately by a burst from a rifle. Several more rifle reports. Crisper. Closer. Approaching.
What was going on? Was the hospital under attack? From whom?
I heard young men’s voices through the vents. They echoed down the metal, warped and tinny, like they came from a cheap radio.
“Check this one! They might have another one in here!”
“Sir! We’ve found two more!”
“C’mon! Take ’em out front. We gotta get our boys outta here!”
Human voices. Our boys? Why would be attacking our own hospital?
Another door was kicked down. Next door down.
“Christ sir! Another one! I didn’t know they took so many prisoners!”
“You don’t look so bad; can you walk?”
A bewildered voice. “Who are you guys? What’re you...what’re you doing? Who...?
“You were a prisoner. We’re taking you home.”
“But I was fine...”
“Corporal: c’mon, get him outta here.”
“Sir! This way...”
Amazing what wonders they can work with prosthetics, this day in age. They fixed me up all right. They gave me new hands. They put a rifle into them. Of course, the only part of them that anybody cares about is the trigger-finger. And they fixed me up with some eyes too. So now I can see.
Now I can see better than ever.
“SIR LOOKOUT!” A frantic noise, like someone going for a weapon.
Fully-automatic fire from a rifle pummeled my ears, louder than a jackhammer since the space in the building was so confined. Spent cased poured onto the steel floor, like jingling pocket-change.
A sound like a
A fuming surge sparks rent my ears like nails on a chalkboard.
Tiny shards of metal tinkling on the metal floor. A
“Damn. Thanks, Private.”
“Those are the ones that creep me out.”
“Those are the kind we have to look out for. I mean, it looks just like a real person.”
purity of undeserved suffering. To make eye-contact with the man in the other
uniform who is murdering you. To understand why he must do it. Too forgive
him for it by your understanding and thereby earn your own forgiveness through
the redemptive quality of agony. To endure in obscurity and die for nothing.
It was that simple, and it was that complicated.