A short I had the idea for a few years ago but that didn’t really come to me until today while I was out for a walk. I think this one might surprise you. Enjoy.
“Stay down, mate! Stay down! I’m coming to you!”
Oh, God. I’ve just pissed myself. I can sense my legs are jerking but I can’t feel them doing it. This is it, then; this is how and where it all ends. I can hear myself whimpering but it sounds like it’s coming from far off. I want to extract myself from this but I’m scared; I’m scared that if I let go of this I’ll let go of everything, and I won’t be able to find my way back.
So, this is what war is. Going somewhere else to not help those who are already in the fight. I used to think our cause was noble, that we were doing something good. And then I got here. These people have been fighting for a thousand years, and nothing I can do will make them think about that and stop it. Just stop it. It has to come from inside them, and not by bombs and bullets, whether they’re ours or theirs.
Innocents die, because innocence has died long before them. The pain in my gut flashes through me and I jerk involuntarily. I hope it won’t be long now, and I hope it will take forever.
I just bit my tongue, and I can feel blood pooling in my mouth. Is it from my broken tongue or is it rising up from my punctured gut? I guess it doesn’t really matter now; I don’t think I’m going to get out of this.
I’m getting cold and I can feel myself begin to shiver, even though the day is like the sun. I can hear bullets hitting the wreck of a shelled car, and I can sort of sense the puffs of dirt that are driven up by wildly aimed fire.
It wasn’t mean to be like this. We have technology; we have funding; we have God on our side. I wish He was on my side right now. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to hurt. Yes, I actually do, because in the absence of bad pain you know your life is trickling away from you, and right now I’d give anything to be able to feel. To just feel.
What just happened? It was hot, and then it became cooler. I try to open one crusted eye, even a little, and I see-sense and smell the difference in the day. It’s later. I must have fainted. Where did I go, and why did I come back?
We’re still pinned down. I can hear-sense the sporadic shots still going on around me, but I can tell the position of the fight has changed. Andy has swivelled around to the north. Not far, but I can tell he’s moved.
I try to fill my lungs with air but the pain is excruciating. “Don’t come in here!” I want to yell, but I think it came out as a whimper. Jesus, he’s out of position. What the fuck is he thinking? I start crying then. My mother. My father. My sister. Andy. I’m losing the world.
“Mate!” I hear him whisper into my ear as his face touches mine. “I’ve got you, mate,” he whispers, and I can hear the tears in his voice and feel the love in his heart. And then I smell the blood on him. It’s fresh, and it’s his. “Oh, no,” I cry. I didn’t want this. ‘No one left behind’ is a noble theory, but there’s no nobility in the practicalities of war.
Andy’s crying, too. Is it because I’m in worse shape than I thought, or is it because he is? Jesus, I can hear mortar fire. We’re both fucked now. I can feel Andy dragging me closer into the shelter of the car wreck, but it’s really no shelter at all, not against a mortar attack, and not if our opponents swing around and come into firing position.
The dogs of war. H’yeah, right. They go out in front and alert our side to trouble ahead by bristling and barking. They can sense and sniff, but they can’t always see snipers on roofs before they get hammered. I know that now, because I got hammered.
I hear the whistling of the mortar. This is it, then. I lick Andy’s tear-streaked face one last time, and then we’re both taken in a blaze of heat and light.
It’s warm here, and everything glows. I’m cradled in the arms of a sort-of man I don’t know but sort-of recognise. “Hello, Diesel,” says the Soul Keeper, smiling down at me. I remember now. In that instant when the mortar exploded and tore us apart, a woman, the Silent Witness, came for me. The sounds didn’t scare her because she couldn’t hear them. I saw-sensed another come for Andy.
Far away, in a land without war, a baby took it’s first breath and the Soul Keeper showed me Andy’s spirit sparkle as it entered the newborn. I saw a home, modest but full of love, and I saw a newborn pup draw breath. “Off you go, then,” smiled the Soul Keeper, and I felt myself float into the puppy.
Animals sense and remember the Presence and its helpers long after the humans have forgotten. We know what it means, and what it means for us. The puppy and the baby live in the same home. We’ve been together through lifetimes, and we’ll be together again.
Between friends, there are no goodbyes.