Short Story: Before the Fall
When you’re behind enemy lines, talking to God is…distracting.
The night was cold. Michael Smith lay hidden with the rest of his platoon, waiting. He was dressed in standard army uniform complete with body armor, helmet, and heavy moisture wicking boots. Around his neck hung a small cross, made of solid white gold. Michael didn’t know how much everything weighed, but when he moved it felt like he moved mountains.
All of that was obsolete compared to the ten pound hazard held in his hands. An M-4 Carbine, 5.56 caliber, capable of killing at five-hundred yards. Despite his skill, the weapon never felt natural in his hands. Honestly, he wished he was back at home, going to church with his wife and two little girls. They went to church often together. He liked that. Snapping himself back to the present, he looked through his scope at the enemy complex ahead. They didn’t appear to be on alert – yet. Guards patrolled the perimeters as always; the gate was guarded by no less than six infantry with six more in three guard towers.
One of Michael’s men, Jack, crawled closer.
“Sir. I’m uh…having trouble with my gun.
Michael looked down to see that the man’s hands were shaking uncontrollably. Putting a hand on the man’s shoulder, he tried to share strength he didn’t have.
“We’re not going to die.” he said assuredly and thought, We’re going to kill.
At a gesture from the lieutenant, six snipers in Michael’s platoon fired. The men in the towers dropped like anvils. Shouts followed; Michael gripped his rifle in earnest. Again, the snipers fired and more men died. The alarms had started now, and reinforcements were converging. That was their cue. First, Jeff’s squad would move in, followed by Tom’s, then Michael’s.
He wiped sweat and dirt off his forehead and smeared it on his already dirty uniform. He was selected for this assignment because of his excellent physical training and the fact that, even before enlisting, he could shoot an apple off a tree at one-hundred yards. There was only one problem that was just becoming apparent to Michael: he’d never shot a man.
Tom’s squad was moving in now. It was only a matter of time. Michael took a deep breath, staring around at the men beside him. None of them stared back. Jack was breathing heavily, staring straight. Turning Michael watched Tom and his squad, and muttered, “May Christ support us all the day long, till the shadows lengthen, and the evening come…”
The lieutenant gave the signal. Michael arose and began to run. As he reached the gate, men were dying left and right. He kept on running. It was their job to get in. Jack cried out and crumpled behind Michael. He didn’t stop to see if it was fatal or not; he kept on running.
“…and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over and our work is done.”
They were through, Michael gave the order to spread out. Just then he found himself face to face with a young man. He looked no older than eighteen. So young. Like Jack. Their eyes locked for a brief moment, then the innocent boy raised his rifle. Shots were fired. Michael lived.
In shock, Michael bent over the dying boy. Tears came unbidden.
“Then in his mercy may he give us a safe lodging, and holy rest and peace at last.”
As he knelt bent over the body, a bullet passed through his thigh, and another through his gut. Shadowy forms gathered around the two dying soldiers.