Fixed On War
Face down in the mud, I dragged myself through thorns and thickets of shrubs. The damp was seeping into my boots, and the chill biting at my flesh. My men surrounded me, awaiting my orders on what to do next. Three hours of crawling had taken its toll, and I could sense the dread and fatigue within the air. We came to a halt, and I scanned the area around us. Evidence of previous battles was strewn across the land: craters the size of cars were deposited as far as I could see, and the manifestation of destruction was all around. The faint smell of death hit my nostrils as I peered over the canopy of leaves. As I did, my naked skin snagged on a protruding thorn, and I watched as a bubble of blood appeared at my wrist, before trailing down my flesh and dropping to the floor. A slight stinging sensation emerged from this as I let the crimson liquid create a small pool on the ground, before moistening the soil and filtering into the earth. I knew that all I was doing was stalling, trying to gain as much time as possible, maybe even preventing myself, before I had to look out at what was laid before me.
Bodies. Carnage. War. I may as well have been looking into the eyes of death, sitting in the hell he calls home. Maybe I was. I’m not really sure of anything anymore; my faith in God vanished at once, and it was as though it had never been there. Surely, if there was someone out there, someone who was meant to be looking after us, they would not let this happen? I was unaware, at this point, of the nightmares that were to come. Of the sleepless nights filled with shrieking and crying and horror, the endless hours of therapy which I knew would never help, would never rid me of the images I held in my head. If I had known then, I would have turned around and never looked back. It is better to be called a coward, than to be known insane. Still, I looked. Small gasps could be heard from my men behind me, and the youngest, only about 18, who was standing next to me turned away and vomited on to the floor. I gave him a few seconds to correct himself, before giving the signal to move forward.
We snaked through the dead carcasses of fallen fighters, winding along what would have once been the path of a quiet village. Now, it was a battlefield. Limbs had been thrown about everywhere, the bodies they belonged to nowhere to be seen. I clutched on to my gun tighter, but it made me feel no more safer. After a few more steps, I came across a young woman. Her grey face was contorted into a sort of grimace, her eyes glazed over and staring blankly into the void in front of her. I imagined how pleading they would have looked in her final moments before she died. I glanced down, and saw that her stomach had been torn open, her innards spilling out. She clutched on to them as though she was trying to push them back in, desperately attempting to save herself, thinking that she could somehow manage to live. It was in that moment, that I realised God was not to blame. This was the work of mankind. Only we felt the need to destroy each other and the world around us. I turned away in disgust, and continued my solemn walk along the path.
Another half an hour passed by and nothing had happened. Just endless row after row of unidentifiable torsos. It was after about twelve hours of walking in total, that I heard what sounded like someone in the bushes. I knew that it wasn’t one of my men. It was the enemy. For a split second, it was quiet. Everything slowed down, and it even seemed that the sky was clear, after hours of torrential rain. Then the madness started. Bullets shot out from both sides, and I threw myself to the floor. My arms and legs started working on impulse, trying to drag me away from the danger. When I could no longer hear the sound of gunfire, I looked around me. No one was there, all my men had disappeared. Had they all been killed? I became exasperated, I didn’t know what to do. I began to turn back, when, without warning, a bomb fell next to me. And then another, and another. The sheer force knocked me over, and I was thrown through the air, my body hitting a nearby tree. Pain surged through me, and all I could hear was a high-pitched wail in my ears. I pulled myself from the ground and staggered about, struggling to regain my balance. I reached down for my gun, but it was no longer there. It must’ve been lost during the explosions. Agonising pain gripped my chest, and I looked down at the source. Large, jagged scraps of shrapnel were visible, sticking out from my jacket at different angles. All of a sudden, I became intensely dizzy, and I knew I was about to pass out. The last thing I remember was the sensation of falling, and the ground rapidly becoming closer to me.
more by JESSICA BLUNDEN
photograph by Peter Besser