“No blindfold, please. I’d prefer to see my death coming.”
The guard let out a cynical laugh. “You think you’re so tough saying that, don’t you?” He stepped in front of me, leaning his face inches away from mine. The minty-fresh smell of his breath was quite a contrast to his psychotic grin. “Nearly every person executed here has said the same thing. And you wanna know something? They all died the same way, with their brains splattered across the wall that you’re leaning on. You’re not anything special.”
He turned away from me, stuffing the dirty blindfold in his back pocket. I could hear him chuckling faintly as his boots crunched across the small, rocky yard. He took his place at the opposite wall, facing me once again. The wall he stood against appeared almost brand new; the wall I stood in front of was pockmarked with bullet holes and stained with the blood of countless prisoners. Executions were nothing new here.
Guards stood against the walls on either side, ten of them in total. All of them wore the same camouflage fatigues, yet their boots were an array of colors and styles and in various stages of disrepair. Terrorists seldom have enough money for proper uniforms. And yet somehow, they manage to deal destruction across the globe.
They weren’t worried about me trying to escape. Even if I managed to get past them, the chains on my ankles would keep me from going very far. The guards were merely there to watch, smoking cigarettes and exchanging greetings as they waited patiently for the execution to commence. I can’t imagine how many executions must have taken place here for it to have become such a casual gathering. At the very least, I expected more of a sadistic ritual.
The executioner entered the yard, a pistol held loosely in one hand. He wore the same outfit as everyone else, yet his face was completely covered by a black baclava. The opening for his eyes was taken up by a pair of mirrored sunglasses. Even his hands were covered by a pair of black gloves. Not a single inch of skin was left bare. I suppose most executioners prefer to keep their face covered, although I never understood why. Are they afraid their victims will recognize them in the afterlife?
Time slowed to a crawl as the executioner took his place directly in front of me. I stared straight ahead into his mirrored glasses, reflecting upon my figure as well as my life. I could barely recognize myself at that point. My once closely cropped hair had grown long and matted against my head. My cheeks were sunken from malnutrition, and my eyes seemed to stare blankly into an eternal abyss. It had been months since I had seen anything other than the dank interior of my prison cell, and so my skin had taken on a deathly pallor. My family wouldn’t recognize me if they saw me on the news. Maybe that would be for the best.
They say your life begins to flash before your eyes when faced with certain death – yet all I began to recall was the torture which led me here. I joined the military right after high school, and shipped out less than a week after basic training. Ironically, it was less than a week before I was taken prisoner. Our post was ambushed by a terrorist group in the middle of the night, sneaking in as we slept. Most of my buddies were killed on the spot; the rest of us were forced to watch as they took their last breaths, gasping around the blood that slowly filled their lungs.
I was thrown in an underground cell and left in isolation. I don’t know how long I was there for – months, maybe even a year – but it was the last place I saw before the execution yard. The only sort of routine I had was daily interrogations, growing more and more horrific each day. Eventually it was decided that I was of no use, and so I was put to death.
An ear-splitting bang interrupted my flashback. The sound of a gunshot, but not one meant for me. I stared in disbelief as the executioner crumpled to the ground, a sniper’s bullet lodged firmly in his skull. The guards all seemed to be in a state of shock, standing paralyzed until jarred from their trance by the door to the execution yard slamming open.
I threw myself to the ground, doing everything I could to shield myself from the hail of gunfire that rained in all directions. Rocks dug into my ribs as I landed hard, unable to catch myself. Bodies fell to the ground with sickening thuds; I lodged myself between the wall and one particularly large guard, my eyes squeezed tightly shut against the destruction. My only hope was to play dead, and maybe I would have a chance at survival.
The gunfire stopped as quickly as it began, lasting merely a few seconds. The yard was left in an eerie silence, broken by the soft crunch of footsteps growing closer and closer. I lay perfectly still, holding my breath as the footsteps stopped inches away from my head.
I opened one eye just a sliver, to get a peek at whoever said my name. A man kneeled down beside me, dressed in a uniform so familiar to me with a rifle slung over his back. He placed a hand on my shoulder as he spoke. Despite being deep, his voice was soft and filled with compassion. He smiled slightly as he spoke, but his eyes remained filled with sadness.
“I’m Sergeant Smith. We’re here to bring you home.”
I was helped to my feet, supported on either side as Sergeant Smith removed the bonds from my wrists and ankles. For the first time since my capture, I could move freely without the heavy iron shackles digging into my skin. My head began to spin as I looked up towards the sky. Once again, I had become a free man.