Let me tell you about my nightmare. About the thing that keeps me up late into the day, when all tasks are done and I am all by myself, sitting in the dark and looking out at the city that I now live in. This nightmare is every single day. It’s every single night. It’s sudden noises, large crowds, and wet and rainy days. That is my nightmare, and I will tell it to you now.
The thing they never tell you is about how it feels to have short hair. I mean really short. It’s long enough to run your hands through, but that’s about it. For my whole life, my hair had been long and flowing. Days gone by, when it would blow in my face while I was sitting on the porch of my parents home. Those days were gone, and had left me here, in this place.
A shell hit on the floor above me. Screaming, crying. I saw a chunk of a boy’s body go flying down the stairs on the far end. All I could do is sit there and wait. Crying and waiting, to be told what to do. The rifle in my hands was so cold. I was so cold. The rain was blowing in the window, along with the frigid air. A girl next to me huddled up against me, and I to her. It was all we could do. Gunfire was all around. The brave boy or girl would sit up and then open fire on the enemy. The enemy. I had a notion of who that was. The people who has blasted my family’s home. The people who killed everyone I know. The people who shot my mother as she was trying to ferry my little sister and I to safety. Now, they were the people that I was told to shoot at. But how? If we poked our heads up, that tank was going to see us too. There was nothing that any of us could do except sit and wait. Huddling together in the freezing cold.
That’s when the man who led us came over. He told us all to follow him. That thick accent. Slavs always had them. Couldn’t get away from it in this part of the world. Barely understood a word he said with all the noise, but it was clear what he wanted us to do. We were to follow and stay close. I picked up the girl beside me. So pretty. Red hair that was cut like mine. A patch over an eye she lost from a piece of shrapnel. Even still, so pretty. Hurt me when I looked at her, but she tried to feign tough. Nobody lost respect for that. Someone who can lose an eye and stay in the fight deserves respect.
We moved fast, keeping very low. If we were seen from the windows, we were likely dead. That tank was deadly-accurate, and it was not moving. We had to get out of here, but carefully. Once we got down into the basement, the man motioned for us to go through a window. It led to the outside. He told us to keep to the back of the building, not to be seen. Another tank shell hit. It was so close. Had that been where all of us were? If we had been there, all of us would be dead. To be honest, death sounded preferable. Anything was better than this. Waiting in the cold to see if we would die. Pretty much waiting to die. If that wasn’t hell, then I don’t know what is.
The man was giving boosts to those who couldn’t reach the window. I had been tall for my age, so I could. Tossed my weapon through the opening and then reached up. The girl I was with helped boost my foot. What a sweetie. When this was over, if any of us survive, I was going to make sure we were best friends. We were already siblings, on this battlefield. Every boy and girl here was a brother and a sister. Family, in the truest sense of the word. One that I was watching get shot or blown to bits. Wanted to cry, but not about to show my fear.
Getting through the opening, I grabbed my weapon and kept right to the ground. Waited by the opening. Was going to make sure that my sister-in-arms got through. It was so loud out here. The howling wind. The piercing rain. The gunfire and tank fire. If God is real, surely he has left this place. Him, his good-for-nothing kid and that holy spook too. Fuck ’em. Until that spoiled brat gets to live through combat, I don’t feel one bit of sympathy for what happened to him. Two days of torture? Fuck that. Try living through three years of combat! Three years of freezing, waiting, killing, and partly hoping that you’re the next to die.. Jesus goes through that, then I am impressed. Until then, he can shut his fucking mouth.
She got through, and I motioned for her to keep to the ground. We crawled through the mud to where the rest were waiting. Everyone was terrified. Where would we go? Was there a place to fall back to? I didn’t even know where the lines were anymore. No one did. It was a guessing game where everyone was just thinking about who was who and where was where. A bullet-hole suddenly went through the wall, right by my head. Dropped down, almost cried. Sister reached down and picked me up. The look in her eye said it, “it will be okay. I’m here.” I never wanted her to leave.
After an eternity, the man joined us. He motioned for us all to stay close. To roll through the openings and stay between buildings. If anyone saw us, we were dead. Thus began our long night of sneaking through the mud. I cannot begin to describe how frigid this was. Imagine that you have ice all over your body, and that you are dragging it along with you. You are dragging your body through the mud. Every part of you is freezing, and it has to keep freezing. That was what our night became. Crawling through the mud, rolling between buildings. Just so we could make sure that the freezing mud was on every part of our bodies. Sister stayed right next to me. We moved together, crawled together. Whenever our hands started to shake, we would take them into each other’s and blow on them. A small mercy, for this journey.
Finally, what felt like an eternity later, the sound was dying down. More explosions, more gunfire. Had seen so many dismembered corpses. We finally were able to walk again. But that didn’t help. Sore, tired, with some of us wanting to collapse. The sun was coming up, and there are no words for how much all of us just wanted to find a tree to huddle under and pass out. But we couldn’t. We had to get as far from this place as possible, before reinforcements from the enemy arrived.
We were deep in the woods, following old herding trails. The commanders knew this terrain well. That’s one perk going for us. Probably the only one. As we walked, Sister took my hand. Nothing to be said. She just held it. I held hers too. No matter what happened, I was never leaving her. Suddenly, a noise!
We all got down, grabbing our weapons. It was a vehicle, moving slowly. There were the sounds of people talking. Couldn’t tell who. The commander unslung his weapon, whispering to us to make our way to the top of the edge of the ridge in front of us. Doing as bidden, we all looked down. There we saw them – government troops. They were protecting some kind of motorcade. Some big-wig who was stuck out here? Extracting them? Everyone smiled as we looked at each other. Fortune favors the stupid. Here we were, a bunch of wiped-out soldiers, and we had a chance to do real damage to the enemy. Revenge is a dish best served with hot lead. The commander told us to line up, telling us to make every shot count. We had to eliminate the escorts first. Strange that they were moving so slow. Perhaps to avoid detection? Didn’t matter. We had the perfect firing position. Nothing about this could have been better. Everyone switched their safeties off and took aim. A little closer. A little closer. Just when they were right under us, we opened fire. It was like shooting apples in a barrel. There was nowhere for them to run. Even knowing where we were shooting from, there was nothing they could do. We had the high ground, and a perfect line of sight. To call this a killing spree is the nice term. It was an execution.
After all the escorts were taken care of, the vehicle with the big-wig was stopped. The commander had a look in his eye. He was relishing this. So were all of us. Time to put these monsters in their place! Once everyone had reloaded their magazines, we were told to take aim again. Then, it was a slaughter. Bullets slamming into the car, one after the other. Again and again and again, until there was no way that anything in that vehicle was alive. When our magazines were spent, we stopped. In that forest, there was silence. Everyone just looked and waited. Were they dead? Our answer came very quickly. One of the doors opened, and out fell…a girl. She couldn’t have been much older than me. Her face was ripped open and she was screaming. I felt sick. My guts were tossing and turning inside, to the point that all I wanted to do was puke. We had just killed this person’s family! Whoever this big-wig was, that had been their family in there. Blood was all over the windshields. All that was left was her. A screaming child that had her jaw hanging open and sobbing screaming coming out. There was a hole in her arm. And one in her leg too. The girl flopped on the ground and looked up at us. Nobody could look at her. Only I did. My eyes never left that child. Then, a shot. I looked over at Sister, her rifle in hand. The bullet went right through the little girl’s chest. She fell over, and it was done. The silence was back. Nothing but silence.
Looking over at Sister, my eyes asked her – Why?
She just shook her head, and said in my native tongue. “It’s over now. That’s all that matters.”
I looked back at that little girl, laying on the ground. Her mutilated face, long flowing hair. When that bullet hit her, something inside me left. I knew that it was something I would never get back. For ten minutes, I just stood there and stared. It felt like an eternity.
That is my nightmare. One that stays with me every day. In the end, we were praised for winning the war. That had been the President of our nation, and his family. They were trying to be secretly smuggled out. By killing them, we ended the war. All I can think of is – I wish so badly that the war never ended. That’s all I can see.
Until next time, a quote,
“To weep is to make less the depth of grief.” -William Shakespeare