Short Story: Soldier Of Fate
SOLDIER OF FATE
They say war isn’t for the weak at heart. It isn’t. The deafening sound of exploding shells and triggered landmines isn’t something everyone could grow accustomed to. The constant, nagging and piercing roar of machine guns blazing all around could easily drive anyone to the brink of insanity. Then again, sanity is a luxury in a place like this. They say war is where heroes are made. They said we would be those heroes, each one of us. They said we would find a gallant, brave, meaningful and courageous death in war… I wasn’t going to.
I had no doubt that it would be the last time that I saw him.
I’m supposed to be one of the many brave men in the army. I once believed I was such a man. Little more than a half hour ago, I was such a man. Then it all changed.
In the field of battle, you rarely get a good glimpse at your enemy. The only clues you have, are those that are given to you by the sounds of firing and the flashes from the barrel. More often than not, the flashes only assure you that you have no chance of survival. The last thing you wanted to see, was the glowing turret of a machine gun.
He wasn’t a close friend of mine, but we were in the same regiment and we did know each other a good deal. His name, never really served a purpose since we all recognized him by the scar on his face.
He was 28 and was already the father of two children. In better times he’d share stories on his two precious little daughters aged 1 and 3, speaking of their uncanny ability to pull hard at his wife’s hair, and other things that characterized their child-like innocence. This was not one of those better times, but I couldn’t help but wonder if he was thinking of them at every moment, using their thoughts, their memories and the prospect of seeing them again to spur him on..
He was by my side when we found ourselves astray from the rest of the men.
We crawled on our knees and fired at our unseen enemies who seemed to be at a distance at the time, making their way towards us constantly and all we could do was fire into the darkness and pray that we wouldn’t be able to see the dreaded interrupted flashes from a machine gun.
All of a sudden, I saw it. I saw repeated flashes of amber in the distance and instinctively ducked my head, looking to my right to see if he had done the same.
He showed me a thumb’s up to tell me he was okay and I breathed a sigh of relief.
I raised my gun and fired in the general direction that I’d seen the guns firing from. I then rolled over to the left a few times and found some concealment behind some bushes. When I was sure I had enough concealment, I looked over to my right to ask him to find similar cover.
He was gone.
I couldn’t see him behind me, or at either of my two sides. Where had he gone?
The only explanation I could think of was that he moved ahead. But I couldn’t see him ahead of me either and the poor vision offered by the night didn’t help things. Surely a man couldn’t crawl that distance so quickly in a few seconds.
Unless, I thought, he ran ahead into the darkness. But why? It was suicide.
That’s when it occurred to me. He would only run on ahead if there was absolutely no choice. That meant the enemy was closer than we’d thought.
That also meant he had found certain death.
I could only spare a moment to reflect on his imminent death, because my human instincts didn’t believe in mourning at the cost of my own life.
I had to make it back to the camp and fast.
Soon there would be grenades. If they saw me, they only had to assume there were more with me.
The thought had only occurred to me and a moment later I heard the intense explosion of a grenade break the stillness of the night not too far from where I was. Sand showered over me and stones rattled my helmet as I turned around, hastily trying to crawl and retreat.
Another explosion echoed in the distance and for a fleeting moment I felt relief at the prospect that they thought I was headed in another direction.
But then, all my senses came alive and a surge of adrenaline took control of me as I heard footsteps running right fast towards me.
I didn’t need to think twice, or rather, I didn’t even need to think before turning around and firing off as many rounds as I could manage at my assailant.
The moments that followed would forever haunt me, as I saw the look of terror on a familiar scarred face that fell lifeless to the ground.
I could almost feel the weight of his body dragging along with me as I managed to make it to camp, and take cover in a trench.
We were all killers here, each and every one of us. That was why we were here in the first place. To snatch the gift of life away from as many hands as possible. It was all accepted… as long as the lives we took weren’t on our side.
As I lay there, suddenly oblivious to the mayhem around me, it occurred to me that while we were all killers, I was probably the only murderer. I had taken the life of one of my own and that was never forgivable.
My eyes stared blankly into the sky, as the incident played over and over again in my head.
I had robbed a wife of her husband. I had stolen away the father of two innocent little girls. My mind associated imaginary faces with each one of them, and all I could see were the tears in their eyes as they looked at me, asking me again and again, ‘Why?’
I couldn’t bear the thought of being the one who widowed a loving wife and left two perfect children fatherless. But what could I do to free myself from the talons of this merciless guilt?
As my mind continued to torment me, there was only one option that seemed to assure me some freedom from this sickening feeling, and I knew that it was all I could do now.
A number of thoughts filled my head but the ones which took up most space, were the weeping faces of the widow and her daughters. Theirs were the faces I needed to erase.
As I crawled out of the trench, I looked around to see the twenty odd men still alive laying flat on the ground, firing away into the night. I then saw the surprise and incomprehensive look on their faces as I stood up tall to stand out against the horizon.
I merely looked ahead as I pointed my gun straight into the distance, getting ready to put up my last stand.
I ran, senseless and firing indiscriminately as I heard the cries of ‘No!’ and ‘Don’t do it!’ behind me.
How I made it to them, close enough to see their shapes outlined against their vehicles, I will never know. In my state of adrenaline controlled stupor, I could only register the fact that I had taken some lives - Lives that this time, I was meant to take.
Little did my brothers behind me know, that what I well and truly wanted, was to be found by the one bullet that would save me from the madness that still plagued my mind.
In less than a moment, I could see the intermittently flashing light from a machine gun not too far from me.
This time, I welcomed the sight.
It didn’t take long for the intense pain to start radiating from different points of my chest and abdomen.
They say pain is temporary and glory is forever. I will find no glory but at least, I will find my peace.
As I fell to the ground, I just managed to turn over and face the sky.
The night sky looked serenely beautiful and a far cry from the chaos that reigned beneath it.
It only seemed fitting for me to find death in the same manner that I handed it out. In death, I hoped to find my peace. In death I hoped to be forgiven. I didn’t want forgiveness from God. I didn’t want forgiveness from the man I had murdered. I wanted to be forgiven by the three souls he had left behind. To me, it seemed that my death would be the only price worth paying for my sins.
I could not stand to face a life of guilt, knowing that I had torn a family apart. Even now, the guilt grew stronger as my life waned. I knew though, that in death it would all be forgotten. Rather, I hoped and prayed that it would all be forgotten. I had taken a life that perhaps should have been someone else’s to take. I now had to give my own in my search for absolution.
The cloud of smoke seemed even more so like a shadow of my fate now. I found my fate in death, and as my eyes began to shut slowly, I saw the clouds rise farther and farther into the sky. The rain poured down on me, washing my life away as the blood ebbed from my body, washing away my sins and absolving me of my guilt forever.