Observing the Dying
He’s just propped up against the tree, there, still breathing…barely. With every rasp you can hear the catch on the ratchet. How did he get to this point? He did everything right, followed the rules, kept his head down. The hole in his chest sucks a watery breath getting wetter with each passing second. We approached the enemy from the south. This time of year the sun stays low in the southern sky, and coming up from that direction helps shield us from view. The advantage has not really helped our comrade here, however. His eyes gaze at something we may never see. The gaping pits of his pupils gather the last bits of light as he releases his.
About a quarter mile from the objective was the time to de-ruck. We cached the packs under a tree hollow, disguised the site, and marked it on the map. After one last sip of water, we oriented ourselves, checked our weapons, and started the final approach. 200 meters out we started our crawl. Inch by inch we creeped along the ground checking course every few drags. He spotted the first sentry. They had just changed shifts and the patrol was fresh. Our knees ached, our eyes were heavy, and everything was getting colder and stiffer. We each took aim, let out our breath, steadied. Surprise for all of us as the hammer snapped, the guard went stiff, and alarms blared off around the camp. We were on and just had to wait for the targets to line themselves up.
His hands are twitching, grasping at the spirit world. Breathing is getting harder now and more shallow, but somehow he is still here with us. That same presence of mind helped to fell so many others.
Twilight was just leaving, and the night beginning in earnest when we dropped the tenth enemy. We dragged ourselves along the forest floor to a fallen tree, dense enough to cover us from return fire. As we lay there we rolled over and reloaded our weapons. The brass on the casing was still warm as it expelled from the chamber and the smell of sulphur lingered just barely on the damp air. For such a warm day the heat had already left and our hands began to stiffen. Reloading the magazine was a slower process. The cracking branches told us the enemy had decided to search us out. At first the breaking branches came quick and erratic, but they soon turned to methodical advances from a disciplined unit. For now they were still in our sector sketch.
The cold air and settling dew should be making us shiver, but his soon to be lifeless corpse is steady, mine not giving in to the involuntary desires. That discipline kept us alive for a little while, at least, and steady hands and hearts kept us hidden from an advancing foe. They positioned themselves as they searched. Finally, after we finished reloading, caught our breath, and mentally prepped, we moved into better vantage points. The vegetation favored us, and the scope had a clear picture of a center of mass. Again the surprise gave a shot of dopamine. We were clearly better trained. The rote motions of aim, relax, fire, repeat added up over and over as screams called out in the forest: a massacre. Back home they taught us to work together. Never leave without your buddy, they told us. Never lose sight of your most intimate partner. Trust him and together you can conquer the enemy.
How could our training not have paid off? How can he be lying there with me helpless to save him? Lies. Get up! Lifeless words falling on deaf ears unable to motivate him.
As he fades so do I. As he relaxes, my grip on the world slowly falls away. Everything is getting slower, harder to see. The shot rang out, but hearing it came after the numbness set it. I was low, I was hidden, I saw it all coming, but still they got through. They bested us, they won, and they found a way to fire true. Adrenaline kicks in even when you are sure to die, past the decisive point. Turning we saw the bastard, popped up behind a boulder, perfect cover. Robotically, we raised our rifle and fired one last report. It doesn’t matter that we were destined to die, we followed our training and killed the last guard. But then he ended up here against his tree, ready to die, left to ponder his existence.
I can’t remember how long we have been together. It feels like forever, it feels as if I am him and he is me. How can I be separate from him? How can he live without me? I’m falling away…fade to black…the last death rattle: life. Corpse succumbs and so the agent thus.