The black soot from days of charring flesh and earth rains down on a wholly barren square of the world. Stirring beneath the black mud from exploded dirt and yesterday’s rain a young man turns his face slightly and opens an eye, red from irritation and lack of moisture, to find that he hasn’t died yet.
‘Once,’ he thought, ‘children would have played here and danced around singing songs.’
‘It was once so beautiful here.’ He imagined knowing full well that just a few days ago this was a lush and green area of land, unspoiled by the endless reach of man. But no longer. The reach extended and covered this place, scorching it and soiling it with the blood of many more young people. Only, he was not among them, friend or foe, his blood had not been emptied on this tile of the earth.
The young soldier lay with his stomach to the ground, for he had fallen here, this was to be his moment, the one he knew deep down that was expected of him in such a battle. You fail and die, or you succeed, allowing your fate some length, some time to be determined. Although, if you died, that also did not matter. The cause and your home’s continued success was all that mattered. He knew he wasn’t supposed to be breathing anymore, but this was out of his control.
The soldier listened intently with his one ear not pressed into the mud. There was no longer the sound of gunfire or explosions. The screams had vanished, but the haze of their ring still lingered in his head. There was a silence he had never known around him. Nothing stirred, and the slight breeze he could detect today was far too quiet. It moved nothing, or rather nothing moved from it. He could tell without looking that he was alone, at least, in living.
Moving his body slightly, little by little, he tested his limbs and muscles. Everything seemed to still be there, but his muscles ached from exhaustion. He remembered the first shot, from which side he still can’t be sure. He had been thinking how similar this area had looked like home, a park, or just some place in the hills that he used to go exploring in as a kid. Another shot came, killing a young Private in someone else’s command. He had known the kid, Private George Alex Sonnder Jr. A good boy, prayed when he woke up and before going to sleep. Wrote to some girl back home whom he had asked to marry and wait for him before shipping off. Two younger brothers, a sister, and his parents, a dad the prouder of the two for having a son in the military. The soldier wondered how the boy’s father would take the news of his son’s death.
A crow flew overhead, circling the world below.
‘That damn crow,’ the soldier thought, ‘What must this look like to you?’
Shifting his limbs and disregarding every pinch in his system, the soldier pressed himself upward, propping himself up on his knees, and reached for his dog tags.
John M. Miller
36707821 T42 O
214 Star Rd
Madison WI C