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.


Blogger Stephen said...

Truly touching story.

Reminds me of war stories from my father. My grandfather and great grandfather were in the King's African Rifles, the British East African Soldiers during colonial Africa. They luckily left behind no harsh stories like that.

8:48 PM  

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