The shelling stopped. Since late morning, the back and forth fire had been on-going with neither side gaining.
Mike knew it wouldn’t be long before the artillery would start again, and his ears would be assaulted by a sound like an opera soprano singing just slightly off key. The smell and taste would be how he imagined hell, with the sulphuric stink of brimstone; truly fire and brimstone. The silence felt heavenly.
“Eddie, I only have one smoke left. Do you have any?”
“I told you Mike; we finished mine the last time.”
When he had been at home, Mike didn’t smoke much, but here there wasn’t much else to do, sometimes.
Since there weren’t any smokes left, Mike offered, “I’ve got some rations left, we’ll split them.”
Mike slowly chewed, grimacing at the soapy flavour, “I feel like I was born here in this god forsaken country and hope I’m not gonna die here. It’s been the longest six months of my life. I can’t even remember much about home, not even my address.”
“I know, I’ve been here for eight months, and can’t wait to go home to Cathy. Try using the letters of the alphabet. Maybe that will help you remember.”
“I would so love to see Linda right about now.”
In my dreams, but wouldn’t it be great if our wives didn’t have to read these words? Mike patted the pocket containing his letter.
His “meal” finished, Mike wiped his hands on his fatigues.
The sky’s orange rippled like chocolate fudge ice cream across the horizon; the land met sky with shafts of red poured through the tears in the evening cloud. The beauty traveled unnoticed.
When they had first arrived, the job jolted their bodies with adrenalin and testosterone; they were men protecting their loved ones back home from the others who threatened their way of life. The rush had faded. Now, while they still had to maintain a state of watchfulness at all times, the fun had gone out of it and it was merely a job that had to be done.
From the east, came the jungle sounds of birds and insects, like a white noise background and from the south, the crashing of waves; the salty odor mingled with the scent of death. Mike strained his ears, but at the moment all was quiet toward the north.
Eddie dozed, sitting straight up his head on his chest like a skinny, raggedy, dirty doll, all slumped over.
I suppose I should try to get some shut eye too, Mike thought. But mom always did spoil me and now Linda too. I never had to work too hard, always had a clean comfortable bed to sleep in and wonderful substantial home cooked meals. How did I ever end up in this literally, a hole, rat infested with no clean water and now no food at all. I guess in a sense I had no choice. I can’t believe the difference in my life from last year to this.
Mike jerked and realised he must’ve slept a bit. Eddie was awake too.
“Remind me, why are we here again? Because they look different from us? And practice a different religion? Is that what we’re fighting for?”
Eddie shrugged, saying nothing.
“Yeah I know we’ve been together three months and we’re both tired of the conversation. Did you ever think that they wonder the same as we do? And ever question why they’re here too listening to the same sounds as we hear with the same stench of hate?”
Eddie looked away, not meeting Mike’s eyes, “Sometimes, but I try not to let those thoughts touch my mind.”
“When I was a kid I was afraid a family of monsters lived in my closet. And that they would kill me. The men on the other side of the hill may kill me, but they are not monsters.”
Mike figured it was about eight p.m. judging by the moon. Maybe the ration wagon will be here soon now that it’s dark. Unless it was burned down. Their rotation wouldn’t end for another 24 hours yet so they were totally dependant on when the support line could get to them in the way of food, water and cigarettes.
The rat-ta-tat-tat started up again revealing the landscape, tree by tree, in stark relief.
The sound of whistling tea kettles screamed through the air.
He could feel the shriek inside his head and balanced himself on his shaky feet in order not to fall.
“Oh shit” Mike looked toward Eddie. And looked down. Eddie lay on the muddy ground, his blood seeping into the earth. The frogs and rats already gathered, clamoring for a taste.
Now I’ll be completely alone in this hellhole except for the livestock lapping at Eddie’s innards. Well this isn’t the first dead body I’ve ever seen but it’s the first dead friend. I’ll think about it later but for now I’ll only do what I have to do. I wonder if this is what shell shock feels like? I should try and get a grip.
Knowing the danger, Mike placed his weapon on the ground, to see if anything could be done for his friend. Nope. Eddie was gone, but not home to Cathy.
Mike retrieved the letter from Eddie’s pocket to deliver to his wife. Eddie had told him what to do and Mike’s own letter rested in his pocket in case he got hit. They had agreed early on that if one of them didn’t make it, the other would deliver the letter to his wife.
Picking up his rifle he prepared to continue firing in retaliation for Eddie. But all he heard was silence, not even the chirping of a bird or the roar of the surf.
Mike looked around, easing himself up inch by inch, and squinting into the blackness, and realised he was the only one left of his unit. As he turned to look to the north, a lone figure waving a white flag emerged. Mike climbed out of his dugout and walked toward the man, his eyes scanning the landscape for signs of life, his firearm at the ready. No one appeared.
As he neared the soldier he realised that he was just a kid about the same age as himself, 21.
Their eyes locked in horrible recognition.
They were simply two people, two humans, two young men and not enemies after all.
Blogophilia week 21.5 – “‘It Burned Down”
(Hard, 2pts): Include a childhood monster (like the monster under the bed)
(Easy, 1pt): Incorporate a mnemonic deviceoriginally written as flash fiction for online course.