Abbey Thompson

Split Second

The sun slowly emerges from the horizon, only to find its rays blocked by the heavy clouds that smother the sky and cry heavy tears upon the dirt, turning it into a thick mud that grasps our boots and leaves detailed imprints in our wake. Though its morning, the most of us have barely had an hours sleep. Men in green and brown splattered uniforms crouch around me, each looking through bloodshot and heavy lidded eyes, that shine like diamonds through their grimy skin.
The rain falls steadily, the wind blowing it diagonally so that not even the brim of helmets stops it pouring into your eyes, over your lips, down your chin and across the drenched uniforms. No one speaks to each other, the dawn is more than silent, and I lean back on the soft wall of the trench and reach frozen fingers into my sopping back pocket.
My fingers retrieve the damp square of material, and I unfold it slowly, to see her face again. To feel the light of her smile provide me with courage and to remind me of her beauty. The photo sits nestled among the material in my hand, smiling up at me, and making the sting of homesickness even more unbearable.
“Please don’t go” she had pleaded. “Please.”
“If I don’t then I’m just a coward aren’t I?” I replied.
She stared down into her tea, now cold, and stirred it around with the spoon. It clinked softly against the sides of the cup.
“But If you do go, you either don’t come back, or you come back a murderer, don’t you?” she whispered.
I looked down at my hands, clean finger nails and smooth white skin. Clasped in my lap.
The memory faded, and I focused on the picture once more, my hands now filthy with grunge and nails filled with black dirt. A rain drop fell on the picture, hesitated on her face and then glided from the photograph to meet the mud.
“Time to go” said a voice that penetrated my thoughts. “Your out front”
The lieutenant glanced down at me, his top lip pulled back slightly in a grimace, his top row of teeth coruscating out of his muddy face and his eyes almost jaded underneath his thick brows. 
I fold the material up, casting her face into darkness again, and tuck her securely into my pocket.
“Sir.” I reply, moving slowly to the sloped entrance of the trench, the most vulnerable position. If the enemy floods over the hill in front of us, the man stationed at the entrance has to shoot as many down as he can before he is shot down.
I lay on my stomach and position my M-16 rifle close to me, and slide my hands up the wet neck of it to wipe the mud away. My finger slips slightly on the trigger.
They’d be here soon, it was growing lighter despite the heavy rain. They would be moving behind the hill now, creeping, ready to try and push through our defences again.
Quietly we waited.
Minutes later they came, using rocks and abandoned flooded trenches as cover. The first bullet fired from the soldier just behind me, slicing through the previously silent air and piercing through one of the oncoming soldiers. Gun fire filled the air now, and men fell, spread eagle upon the muck. Sinking into the gripping mud, with blood blossoming over thin uniforms. I could only see the approaching enemy falling, but from behind me I heard ally soldiers feel the sting of bullets and heard the thump as the mud claimed more broken victims.
A soldier sprang into my range and my finger pressed down on the trigger, releasing a bullet from the chamber. The soldier stumbled backwards, before slumping to the ground, a hole blown right through his life. Distracted, I watched as his spreading crimson mixed with the current of rain water as it trickled down the slope, and was soaked up hungrily by my uniform. I didn’t even know this man, and already his blood stained my clothes.
Pooled around me.
A blast suddenly screamed into my ear drums behind me, the force of It threw me forwards into the open.
They had thrown grenades at close range. Even if it killed them in the process they didn’t care as long as they took us with them. I saw as the earth pulled itself apart, as men were submerged in the blast and limbs ran from their owners. But I had been blasted to safety.
And then it seemed, in seconds it was over.
I stood, looking around at the shattered mosaic of soldiers surrounding me, eyes open reflecting the grey sky above, but no longer did they see it. Though they had died beneath it. The puddles were now red and murky, filled with wasted life. How could I be the only one?
I turned to see myself standing in the mud, confusion and pain etched into my face, rifle still raised and finger shaking on the trigger.
And then in that split second I realised.
Another, just like me, standing awkwardly in the bloodbath. Pointing his rifle at me, as I did at him. Almost as if I pointed it at my reflection.
In that split second I realised, that the only thing that made us recognise we had to kill each other was the colour of our uniforms. He was just another pawn sent to the front line to kill or be killed, to protect a country that didn’t even know our names.
He was no differen't to me.
 Nothing personal had caused us men to kill each other, and underneath his uniform and underneath mine we were just that. Men. Equal.
We stared at each other, no anger in our eyes, only confusion and sadness.
The clouds parted and sun rays penetrated the tattered scene around us. Warmed my pale cold skin, and cast light on the small distance between us.
“You either don’t come back or you come back a murderer.” she had told me.
A shot sounded.

All rights belong to its author. It was published on by demand of Abbey Thompson.
Published on on 08/30/2010.


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