The air was thin. Heavy wind swept over the silhouetted hills and hissed through the trees beside us. We
were hunting, crawling, like snakes in the sand, and it was so quiet, almost peaceful. My clothes flapped against a shivering body. I pulled myself forward with a clammy hand and lifted my weary head over the edge of a ridge to see a small fortified village.
“Lord Almighty”, I softly trembled. I grabbed my rifle and held it close.
Morgan crawled up against me, close enough for the very scent of death on his mud-coated waist jacket to fumigate my space. His fists were clenched and his rifle already propped on the ridge “It’s an important village t’take if we’re gonna make it down the river.”
A gunshot fired. It could have been a warning shot after our last attack. Perhaps, they were scared, like us. With my own rifle expanded in a tripod position, I stared down the scope to spot any German men below. In the village, one leans against a ruined factory wall staring at a photo; his helmet falls from his hand, he collapses, like water to the cold pavement. Who was in that photo? His mate? His brother? I imagine for a second my own brother on the ground waiting for the earth to swallow him whole.
“What are we waitin’ for?”, Morgan slowly chattered under his breath. How could he ask such a thing? The wind; though putrid, felt like a fresh, cold towel over my face and the ground; though bloody, felt soft and dry. I could sleep here forever.
The Major General scuffled up onto the ridge, in line with the rest of us. The Major whispered, “A’ight, get ready.”, he passed oddly shaped bombs around to the dark shadows behind me. “Pull the pin and throw on my command, after the smoke clears, we’ll take the village.” That sounded too optimistic, we had very few men, and some grenades were unlikely to change our miserably famished condition.
The Major looked down at his watch and whispered ever so slightly “Frontline rifles, at the ready…” Morgan loaded his rifle with the loose bullets tumbling from his manky pockets. I could see him. The German. He was in tears, mourning a loved one with trauma, I hope never to know, I could see him, his clothes as bloody and ruined as mine, his skin scaled and diseased. Yet, with a swallow of smoky air, empathy became drowned in the sea of disgusting metallic spit swirling my mouth, as he waited for me to finally finish watching the last episode his eternal suffering. He had been tormented enough, and I had to do my duty.
Morgan nudged my side belt, “Ready mate? ‘Cause this is it!” His overly excited demeanour made me feel uneasy as if the lives I had ended in sacrifice for my own should’ve meant nothing.
“Finger on the trigger…”, The Major motioned his holding hand.
“And…throw! Throw! Throw!”
Just like that. I didn’t even pull the trigger. The short pipe bombs exploded into large masses of gas, their cruel sea-green and bright mustard-yellow tendrils engulfed the fort, reaching into every nook and cranny, eagerly searching for its prey.
I didn’t even move, just sat there. I just watched through my scope.
The German’s life fleeted from his once bright blue eyes, as his last breath escaped the discoloured rotting corpse, once a living and fighting soldier.
He fell, and as he fell he dragged me with him into the dirt, his body limply turned to its side. The photo; still in his hands, now bloody and wet from the stained tears retreating his eyes .
We were cheating snakes, and we deserved the earth’s long digestion.