(A quick improv short story)
‘Is it over?’
My ears ring with a deafening tone which slowly subsides to a gentle ringing sound. I can suddenly feel grit in my mouth, and the taste of a mix of blood and soil.
The smell of smoke, gunpowder and decaying flesh hits me hard and I slowly begin to feel some movement in my fingers as they slide over my torn flak jacket.
Then, I see. I pry my eyes open, tearing at the crusts of blood that had sewn my eyelashes together, to reveal a sequence of moving blurs.
Apart from a few scuffling sounds, and some distant rumbling, the scene had grown eerily quiet; the battle was over, but who had won?
Slowly, I pull myself up to a sitting position and cringe at the shooting pain I feel travelling through my right leg. I then carry out a mental examination of the damage I have taken and hope to God that I won’t be in need of any amputations.
‘Still in tact… sort of.’
I really don’t want to get up, but I have a feeling that if I don’t then I’ll be left behind for dead.
This was a battle – one of many in a war that, now that I consider it, I don’t really see the purpose of. I was given my orders, just like the rest, and so I was here to do my job and to defend my country.
I’m sure of it… I think.
I manage to get to my feet and end up having to support most of my weight on my left leg due to the injury on the right, and I stop to intake a deep breath. Bad idea.
Without looking around, I can already taste the scene around me.
An arm. A foot. A torso torn to pieces.
If this battle was a room in this house called “War”, these are the decorations that surround the blood soaked furniture.
‘Where is he?’
I suddenly remember my comrade at arms, my best friend and the man who had run by my side as we charged at the enemy forces. He was my only family here.
Frantically, I look around and begin to stumble around the bodies of fallen soldiers in search of my friend.
This land has red soil, which has only become redder because of our activities, and it seems to be rising into an angry mist as the breeze picks up in speed.
My lips are parched and torn, and so any attempts at calling out his name are futile.
My eyes fall upon two figures lying face down on the ground, around ten feet away, and so I teeter over once again on my free leg.
I am frightened, and I feel my breakfast from earlier rising up to my throat when I glaze over the contorted corpses. Both bodies are too disfigured to even recognize which side they were on – flesh ripped faces, bones protruding from under the dirtied clothing, skin burned by what could have been acid.
I can’t even tell what side they were on… but I realise now… it doesn’t matter.
We concentrated so much on our differences only hours earlier, and saw only “us” and “them”. However, when I look at them now, they are one and the same. Flesh, bone and blood.
The fundamental nature of humankind begins to sink in as I wonder why I even came here now.
Whose body should I lift and take back to the camp for an honourable burial? It wouldn’t make a difference to them if I took the wrong body since both are too disfigured to distinguish any recognizable features.
They both fought for their own beliefs and for their own countries – why is one side good and one side bad when, if we flip the coin, it’s seen the same the other way around?
Humans. We’re so blind.
Nothing I learned at school or at camp prepared me for this epiphany, which only seemed possible upon seeing the true face of this war from the inside out; that includes the similarities of their insides.
I fall back down, landing on my already bruised backside, and feel something I haven’t experienced for a long while. A tear. I sit here and cry, but for what I do not know.
Am I crying for my lost friend? Am I crying for those two lost, unrecognizable souls? Or am I crying for my own pains?
I don’t know anymore.
I now understand that those moments that I was unconscious was a turning point in my life, as I went from being one person to becoming a completely different being upon awakening from that soul-altering slumber I had fallen into.
My every sense is different now and feels much more sensitive, and most of all, I am beginning to see how miniscule I am in terms of the bigger picture of this world and the universe around.
Two young healthy men, both with aspirations and dreams and both with families and hopes, will never walk the path of their dreams just as their fallen comrades beside them won’t be able to either.
‘I should have died too’
Death always seems like an easier option when you are the one to be left behind with the burdens of loss and intense grief.
I cry and sob as my tears sting my burned skin, and soon enough my body and mind become numb.
My spirit now paralyzed.
Several seasons have passed since then, and on the anniversary of that unfortunate loss of precious life, I find myself standing here again.
I remove my shoes and walk over the wild grass towards the trench where it had all started.
I can still see a weather beaten helmet sticking out from between the weeds, and I pass a warm hand over its brim.
It must have rained over the last few months as the daisies are growing randomly over the plain.
I can’t seem to take my eyes off two of them that are waving side by side – they look the same. The same petals, the same stem and the same fragrance.
All those moments that lasted only a few hours, but live on for decades, are all alive within these wild green strands of wild grass.
‘Flesh torn faces, flesh turned to grass, and forgotten dreams.’
(Image source unknown)