All of us soldiers were packed into a van, like cows in a pen. I saw the battlefield, with falling and fallen soldiers, with blood and rain carpeting the once-green field. Bullets were flying everywhere as the sound of firing and explosions rang through the battlefield. The soldiers in the front line dropped dead one after another like trees being uprooted in a massive tornado. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion. The smell of blood and gunpowder was fresh in the air. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn't think.
My mind was in overdrive, thinking of every possible outcome, with none of them good. How would I die? Bullet to the head or blown to smithereens by a shell? Or would I simply die of fright? I didn’t know. I wouldn’t know until I died. And when was that? 10 minutes or 10 seconds? Or would I survive this battle and live for 10 days instead?
Shouts and screams surround me as we evacuate the van, our safety. Within seconds, men start falling, all the while my brain saying “you could be next. You might be the next to fall.” But I wasn’t. I made it to the barbed wire. I was alone. Where was everyone? Looking behind, I saw there were only 10 of us left, 10 out of the 50 that were deployed. I am lucky. Or am I? Alone. Scared. Paralyzed with fear.
Terror sears through my body, adrenaline pounded, and my reflexes kicked in. I grabbed my gun harder, like it was my lifeline. I pushed through the fence, scraping my face, my arms, my legs. I’m past and then… I see him.
I don’t know what to do.
A German, with a gun in his hand and his finger on the trigger.
Our eyes lock.
My eyes are wide with fear. I expect to see hate, death, maybe even vengeance in his eyes, but the sad reality of it is so very different. Doubt. Despair. Dread. Endless black holes of panic.
He didn’t want to kill me and I didn’t want to kill him.
I stumble, and realise my leg was hurt so much more than I originally thought. A bloody gash was sliced across it with blood running freely down it. I couldn’t walk, let alone run. Even if this soldier didn’t shoot me, I would likely starve to death out here.
“Help,” I choke. I don’t know if I can trust him. Don’t know if he would just shoot me in the back. I don’t know anything. It is just a hunch, just a shout into the void, just a sliver of hope in this unforgiving world.
He looks at me, grasping his gun tighter and tighter.
Fear floods through my body, coursing through every vein, bone and organ. It beats and pumps like it is trying to escape. I think my heart’s going to explode and my eyes widen with anticipation.
He looks over his shoulder. Maybe he thinks he can run. Maybe he thinks someone is watching, but regardless, he holds his hand out. And smiled.
Like we’re not in some war field.
Like we’re meeting for the first time in a park on a summer’s day.
I smile in return and gladly take his hand.
He lifts me up, pulling me across the land, his shoulder wrapped around mine. We walk towards his base, but I don’t care. I don’t care. Anything to relieve myself of my leg and escape the fighting.
I haven’t thanked him. I barely know how in German. I wish I could thank him, but my mouth seems to be jelly and I can’t move it and form a coherent sound. I try again then
a n d
t h e
w o r l d
s l o w s.
I don’t know what’s happened.
I don’t know what’s happened.
What has happened?
Shot at us.
The man who risked everything to save me.
Shot by us.
I hope not
I don’t know.
I can’t concentrate.
Someone picks me up and I’m in the back of a truck.
I don’t know.
I don’t care.
I have water and painkillers.
That’s all I care about. I feel myself drifting off, but I can’t sleep. I can’t get his face out of my head. It exploding, with his blood spattering across mine. It’s still there and it’s not going. It’s not going. And everytime I try to sleep, I can’t. My ears are ringing too much from the
I wake up with a sheen of cold sweat across my face. My breathing is coming in short gasps. My chest is too tight and my throat is closed up. My arms thrash, flailing around trying to fight off the terrors that don’t exist anymore. There’s a hole in my chest, filled with blood and pain and agony. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.
I can’t breathe.
I don’t know where I am, but I was back there, back where I vowed I never would again, with friends and family dying around me.
She can’t be hurt. The bullets of my dreams can’t reach her, because I couldn’t live without her. She can’t be hurt because I’d be nothing without her.
I calm down.
I can breathe.
So can Julliette.
Everything will be okay.
She is fine.
I’ve woken her up, like I do on so many other nights. She smiles, and puts a reassuring hand on my chest, like she does on so many other nights, but it never fails to calm me, because I know I can do anything with one hand as long as she holds the other.
I love her. I can’t lose her.
I’m so lucky to have her.
I’m so unlucky to have those dreams.
They’ll never go.
But she can’t know that. She can’t share my pain, because she was never there. And I thank the stars everyday for that.
I slow my breathing, in, out, in, out. My face resumes a casual neutral, with just a glint of a smile. She can’t know. I won’t let her.
“Just a nightmare, Ju, just a nightmare.”