Dried blood covered my face like tribal war paint. Corpses littered the town streets, over and under the broken bricks that were once towers. Trails of shattered foundations were now scattered across the city like sorrowful pathways leading nowhere but down. Only one thing was certain: bombs would dig deeper pits and salt them with the dust that was once our bodies. The heights we once knew were sinking, dragging us to hell with them.
I was nineteen when I joined the American army. I had a mother, a girlfriend, and a farm back home. There was no greater purpose than to defend those gifts; there was no greater motivation than to give Hitler a bullet hole right between the eyes. I’m now stationed in Corbeau, France, and I’ve sworn to protect the town as if it were my own. I’ve vowed to kill, as if every Nazi that I sent to hell would bring back one of the comrades I’ve lost.
But had I lost all I’d known to war? The only identity I had left was that of Private Ren: dog of the military. I had not heard my first name in two months. Free will did not exist, only orders did. Just minutes ago I was given another mission. One of our snipers had spotted Germans surreptitiously gaining ground in the East. Three-dozen foot soldiers and change. Two tanks. Four minutes until their arrival.
I was ordered to detonate the mines under the bridge that connected Corbeau to the East. There was no time to clear our American sentries in the area. The only way to stop the Germans was to blow them up along with my comrades. But I could not do it. I dropped my grenade launcher, and ran towards the bridge with all the energy I had.
Killing seemed to be the only way of life for me after I enlisted; I remember shooting down a raven one day, simply because I could. The bird’s black plumage dripped with red when it fell from heaven; its bloody feathers were autumn leaves falling in anfractuous paths. I was a predator then. I felt no guilt.
But I still could not kill my comrades. I screamed to them with all my force, “GET OFF THE GODDAM’ BRIDGE.” But the Germans were already on to them. Saliva spilled down my chin as I continued to holler like a rabid animal. Gunfire drowned out my yelling. I made it onto the bridge too late. Two lumbering tanks were approaching; they were only eighty yards away from the crossing. A bullet caught my shoulder.
I hit the ground, rolling over in agony. Somehow, however, I managed to kick a soldier who was about to shoot me again. His gun flew out of his hands, right over the side of the bridge. But there was no time for relief. The solider immediately drew a knife, and pounced on to me. The blade tore the dog tags from my neck. The silver ball chain that held my identity sunk through the bridge and into the murky waters below. In a heartbeat, the soldier’s knife then ate through my vest. I was going to die nameless.
I saw vultures flying over my head, and I imagined that they were angels or airplanes. In another heartbeat of desperation I prayed. For anything. A miracle. An air raid. But there was no divine intervention or Deus Ex Machina.
All I had was the thought of what war made me. But it was enough. I knew that I was no craven; I was a visceral animal. I had to hunt prey. I managed to withdraw the knife that was slowly digging into my body. I forced it up wildly, in a slicing motion. The German on top of me had no time to react. Guts slithered out of his midsection, and fell onto my chest like black snakes.
I threw the leaking body off me, and sprang up to my feet. I turned around to see a dirt-splattered American soldier holding my grenade launcher. He fired at the bridge supports. The blast sent me and all the other soldiers into the waters below. When I saw that the bridge had collapsed, I knew that Germans would not be able to take Corbeau. We had succeeded, for now.