Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Executioner's Love

By Will M.

The job had never really bothered him before. It wasn’t glamorous by any means, especially when compared to frontline duties where anyone had the chance to win medals and a reputation. Yet being a member of a firing squad had its perks: he was able to stay in his native country rather than leave to fight in a foreign land, the food was better, sleep was abundant and physically difficult work rare. And while his squad was part of an elite unit, most members were older men or soldiers rejected for frontline duty, causing the standards and regulations to be more relaxed. It was not an easy life but was better than most at that period of time.

Being a member of a firing squad is dirty business. Shooting a person, bound and blindfolded, at close range is a mentally difficult task and requires specific employees who will not be overcome by emotions or thoughts. He was one of these. His stern feeling of duty and inhuman personality combined with a steely uncaring for his victims easily overcame his gentle side, though it had not always been so. He had seen much during his lifetime and though he was not old he had seen too much for his age. Or any age. His frame was slender and tall, not muscular by any means but he was strong enough to fulfill his task. Years of war, bombings and partisan attacks had taken their toll on his physical being. Scars scattered about his arms and legs, adding a rough texture to his already over-aged skin. He had been on the frontline for some time but was relegated to firing squad because of his wounds. He would not accept a medical discharge; there would be nothing for him to live for outside the military. Knowing his eagerness to fight and thirst for blood the leadership placed him on the firing squad. To him is was a much needed vacation.

Politics and religion never interested him though he tolerated the two subjects since they were great traditions in his country. And so was a young man’s duty to serve in the military which is why he joined the army before the war. He didn’t necessarily agree with or support the government but his father and grandfather before him had served and therefore so did he. He was resigned to that fact, never struggling against it.

The day began like most others; there was no reason to suspect the coming events would disturb his world. An execution had been scheduled for the day, the victims being partisans who had been actively disrupting military communication and transportation within the native land. He had executed dozens of partisans before and had gained the reputation as a dead-eye within his unit, usually using only one bullet per target while most other executioners used two or more to finish the job. But, of course, execution isn’t very sporty.

He loaded five rounds into his rifle and looked up from under his feldgrau steel helmet as the prisoners were led out. A bound and blindfolded woman was placed directly in front of him and pushed up against the bullet-riddled wall. His interest perked when he saw this, as he had never seen a woman partisan before and especially since she seemed so familiar to him. It was not until he ardently focused on her face did he recognize her as a former love.

They first met many years before while skiing the southern mountains. She, like him, was slender and tall though still slightly shorter than her male counterpart. She was pretty though not beautiful and her flowing brown hair rained down from her head. His ears were still red from being outside for so long, flying down the mountains as the harsh wind bit at his face. His bright red face caught her eye as she scanned the large but cozy room, a large fire blazing in the fireplace at the center. Watching people interact with one another was an unofficial hobby of hers and she maintained a keen sense of personalities as a result. Secretly watching him, she could tell that he was a loner and actually enjoyed being by himself. He sat alone, exchanging a few words with people passing by before turning to stare through the large picture window at the looming mountain scene. The dull drone of conversation faded as she grasped the peace and quiet he was feeling. And the loneliness. A pang of sadness sank into her soul and she soon found herself walking over to his table...

He firmly gripped the rifle as he remembered their first meeting, anger and fear churning his soul. He had been in combat, seen friends and yes, even family killed and brutalized by the destructive nature of war. Friends lost their minds as well as arms and legs. Entire units were wiped out. Inhuman crimes committed. Yet he never felt such desperation and emotional poverty as he did in that moment, when he saw her against the wall. It was her, that human, that lump of flesh and blood and soul that blindly stood before him that he had at one time loved and wanted to spend his life with. But that was long ago in a time that was largely forgotten or locked away in his mind.

She had said she loved him and she really did. But another love soon dominated her life. Education took her away to another land in the west, one of opportunity and promise. Her thirst for knowledge garnered her attention and love, leaving him behind even though she had promised him her heart. Their last meeting had been shortly before she left for school in the New World; she told him she could not have two loves. The promise of knowledge, the new land and of travel outweighed her then fading love for him. A bittersweet meeting, it had stayed with him up until his military service when it died with his civilian identity. But he still loved her. Yet the sting that had haunted him since then soon ended when the war began. And seeing her standing there stung him again, even deeper than before.

All of the prisoners were lined up and the squad moved into their positions roughly twenty feet away from the gray stone wall and their targets. She did not move, no, neither did she cry like many of the others. She appeared content, at peace with her fate at the hand of her former love. Brave to the end. He was glad she could not see him through the blindfold, for that would have been too much to bear. As the officer gave orders he wondered what action he should take. Should he execute this woman, whom he had once loved and, as was becoming obvious, still loved? Should he object to his commanding officer and pay the price for his dissent? The thought even came to him, though for only a moment, of turning his rifle against the other members of the firing squad but quickly ignored it as he only had five rounds and there were ten other squad members. Should he run? No, doing so would only leave her to be executed by another man who may not be such a good aim; he wanted it to be quick and painless and only he could do it well. Although his love for her was still great his loyalty to the native country was greater as the woven eagle on his left arm announced to him as he frantically looked about, thinking of what should be done.

“Squad, present arms.” Looking at his victim shivering in the cool spring air he decided his course of action, straightened his back and raised the rifle to his shoulder. The metal butt cupped his shoulder through the thick wool tunic, the wood stock feeling cold in his rough hands. With each passing second his arms grew weaker, the rifle becoming heavier as the muzzle slowly quivered about the target. “Aim.” When he placed his cheek against the rifle stock the cold wood numbed his face and seemingly spread to his soul. Beyond the steel sights was another human whose life was behind her. In a few moments her physical existence would end at the hands of a man she once knew in what seemed to be a former life. Yet she did not know.

“Fire.”A tear fell from his eye as he carefully aimed and his shaking finger slowly squeezed the trigger.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Hearts of Men

By Will Moul

Snow silently fell around the two dark silhouettes, standing motionless on the hillside in the dead of night. The forest around them was still, as if awaiting a sudden blizzard or wind storm. Yet there was a storm brewing, one never before anticipated.

One of the figures moved stiffly, stretching his arms and moving his feet in the slowly rising snow. The rifle on his shoulder had become heavy now, the leather sling digging and making his shoulder raw, even through the heavy coat.

"I wish I had changed out this sling with a more comfortable one. My shoulder feels like hamburger," the figure said as he removed the rifle from his shoulder and planted it on the other. "I never thought I’d be doing this."

"Me neither," the other man concurred. The clouds sank lower in the night sky, obstructing their vision of the snow-covered plain stretched out below them. A small town, lit like a candle in the darkness, quietly sat at the bottom of the steep hill. The occupants were asleep now, unaware of the coming storm.

"Look at those people down there, all warm and cozy in their homes. They’re happy," one of the men started. "They are sheep, unaware and unwilling to be uncomfortable. Look at us, up here, keeping watch by night. And why? We are fugitives because we own mere objects, and not just any objects. Objects seen by some, those now in power, as dangerous, evil, unjust." He shifted his weight from one leg to another and continued. "How can mere objects be inherently evil? Or inherently good for that matter?" He turned to his friend who was still concentrating on the little town below. A gentle breeze stirred the air, perking the mens’ sense of urgency.

"I wonder how everyone else is doing. Have there been any pushes on us by the National Guard? Any last stands? Fights to the last man?" Their concentration on the town below shifted to the sky as a small break in the clouds appeared. The stars beyond were bright and constant, the cold atmosphere crisp and clear. After a minute the break dissipated, returning the open sky to clouds.

"Heck, I wonder how many people are actually resisting. Are we the only two up here, running from an unjust law? Is everyone else down there, resting in their warm beds?" The two men, now becoming chilled to the bone, slowly trudged through the shin-deep snow, their boots filling with snow with each step. The low clouds turned to fog, further impeding the already poor visibility. Trees emerged from the fog as the men continued on, creating an eery sense of being alone but also of being watched at the same time. Knowing not what to expect the men scanned the thickening fog as they moved at a snails pace. Where they were going was unknown to them; keeping on the move just seemed like the right thing to do.

"How long do you think this will last?" one of them asked with the sound of pain in his voice. "Do you think they’ll see that the law is unpopular? Will our resistance and that of the others show them that we don’t like it and will fight it?"

"I don’t know. It could last weeks, months, even years. It could last as long as we make it last, at least as long as we live. If they are unwilling to change it and we are unwilling to succumb to it then it could last indefinitely." Coming to an evergreen tree and seeing the ground below it void of snow, the two men took cover beneath it, enjoying the shelter from the snow. "This’d be a heck of a way to live for the rest of our lives. I’m sure many will stop resisting, surrender their freedom and go back to the way things use to be. But they won’t be the same. No longer are the people feared by those powerful men in leadership but rather the people fear them. If you ask me that isn’t freedom, no. This, what we have here and now, is freedom," he said, gesturing toward the fog covered forest around them. "It don’t seem like much, it may even be crazy, that having practically nothing like we do is freedom while having almost everything isn’t, but that’s the way I see it." One of the men patted his rifle, now wet from the snow. The damp walnut wood reflected the little light available as did the black plastic and metal of the other man’s rifle. The rifles were relics, a testament to freer times. They had been built and legally owned with peace in mind, now they were being used to obtain freedom once again. They were illegal; banned in the name of safety by men greedy for power.

"Do those people down there even have a sense of worth, of accomplishment, a want for something more? Or are they satisfied with what they have, complacent because they have it better than most? Yeah, though we two have little we still have enough. Unfortunately I can’t say that about those people below." The other man nodded his head slightly.
The two figures blankly gazed at the opaque wall surrounding them and wondered what had built walls in men’s hearts and souls so that they, two peaceful and freedom-loving citizens, should be forced to run from such dangerous and loose power, the only check and balance being armed men like themselves. Such are the hearts of men.

A Fable

Once upon a time a good shepherd named Sam lived in a lush green valley. He tended a small flock of sheep and protected them and cared for them and took their wool for himself. And his herd would grow, for all the sheep nearby heard that his charges need not fear the I was saying, Sam was a kindly shepherd.
And so Sam would take in sheep that ran away from other farms, where butcher's knife awaited them. Naturally, he would return the kind he didn't like...sheep with fleece that resembled dreadlocks or funny looking eyes or other undesirable traits. Still, all the animals around knew his place to be best.
The safety of the sheep and Sam's prosperity were further enhanced by Sam's long shotgun. The jackals soon learned to pick other prey and the sheep were content, though often cold for lack of fleece.
Over time, however, the happy sheep began to notice that something was amiss. For instance, when the jackals slinked by, Sam would no longer chase them. He would simply blast them from the porch of his spare but neat white house. The problem with that was simple: most of the pellets ended up in the sheep, with a distinct minority inconveniencing the jackals.
Moreover, whether because of myopia or a drinking problem, Sam would often fire upon black sheep of the herd, as if confusing them with the jackals. When the sheep complained, the herder would look puzzled and go home to enjoy fine mutton.
The situation grew intolerable, yet everyone knew that other ranches had the same problems, and worse. The most active of the herd had finally come up with a good idea. Next time the jackals came in to try their luck they were able to get right next to the sheep -- and then the rams and the ewes charged, giving hell with horn and hoof.
No sooner that the predators retreated, leaving mangled comrades in their wake, than did rancher Sam come out, shotgun at the ready. He surveyed the battleground and addressed the sheep. --"Sheep," he said "I am impressed! Who did this fine work?" Several planners of the ambush came forward, baaaing proudly.
Sam raised his shotgun and blasted the animal closest to him. The rest stood dumbfounded, not sure what to do. The shepherd quickly shot the others who came forward.
--"That" he declared "is the end to which all who employ violence against fellow animal will come." One ewe began to say that jackals were not exactly fellow animals, but the gaping muzzle of Sam's shotgun restored quiet.
Sam knew he was right, for if the dumb beasts learned to fend for themselves, he and his shotgun would be unemployed. Worse yet, fleecing would become outright perilous.
And so life goes on as before. Jackals eat better, and so does Sam. Stray pellets have a commendable ability to find sheep while seeking jackals. And the herd is content, for they know that the other sheep have it even worse.