The crazed look in his eyes, the sweat rushing down his wrinkled forehead, the fresh blood on his kukri, the sound and smell of his revolver firing, these things I will never forget. I stood steady, my brothers-in-arms formed rank and file all around me. Down the barrel of my rifle I stared, feeling its steady weight in the muscles of my arms and the rest of its butt against my shoulder.
Hot rays of sunlight beat down on us as the wind threw wave after wave of heat against us. The enemy was closing fast. I, like my fellow soldiers, waited for the order. We waited, trusting in our discipline, in our commanders. Our faith did not betray us.
The commander’s voice rang out strong and clear over the screams of our enemies. “Fire!”
Our muskets roared in parade ground unity. Our enemies toppled to the ground, raising more dust. From that dust, and over their fallen fellows, leapt more enemies. The man I had aimed at had not fallen. I knelt down on one knee when the order came, my gaze still fixed on him. I reloaded my rifle without looking as my brothers behind me fired at the enemy. When the smoke cleared, he still had not fallen. Another command rang out and I rose in response, readying my rifle, facing the bayonet toward the onrushing enemy, towards him. He would die; this I would insure.
They crashed into us like the waves against the white cliffs back in sweet home England. Our bayonets took the first down swiftly, in then out, then in again with the next enemy. My bayonet took him in the side, that dervish whose savage image is printed so strongly on my mind, and he went down. I stabbed one of his comrades through the throat shortly thereafter.
Hearing a scream, I raised my rifle to deflect a blow, but then I felt it and I knew I was too late. The rough blade sliced the skin on the outside of my left shoulder. The man was on me in an instant. I tumbled to the ground. When I opened my eyes from the initial shock, I found myself staring into his face, the hate filled face of the first dervish I had felled. He raised his kukri and in that moment I sent my last prayer to the Almighty.
The expected blow never came. I never felt the rough metal of his kukri slash into my neck. I never felt my lifeblood rush from me. Within a moment, the dervish was knocked from atop me with a rifle butt. I felt hands reach under my shoulders and help me to my feet. A rifle was thrust into my hand. I moved forward into the conflict once more despite my blurry vision.
I had only two things in my mind as I fought: kill and hold the line. It was the same for all my brothers-in-arms. We fought, we killed, we held the line…we died. The fighting wore at us; whereas the enemy, those dust covered, turbaned dervishes seemed never to tire in their fanatical quest to destroy us. Our weariness began to tell in the worst evidence, loss of life. But still we held our line, thinning as it was.
Sweet relief arrived with the sound of a cavalry bugle and of four hundred ground-beating hooves. The cavalry smashed into the rear of the enemy, scattering them and running them down. We infantry, as was our duty, spread out across the battlefield in search of our own wounded. We also searched for the enemy’s wounded that we might, like civilized men, take them prisoner and tend to their wounds. The irrecoverable, of both our own and the enemy, were to be finished off with a thrust to the heart.
The battlefield, as all are, was an image from a nightmare. Twisted, mutilated corpses lay everywhere, their faces contorted as if they had suffered days of torture before their deaths. I was used to such things, for I saw them both in the night and in the day. These sights most certainly took away a part of my humanity, a part which would never return to me, but no matter what a man goes through, there will always be some part of humanity in him.
That surviving part of my humanity spoke to me as a meandered through those fields of death. I began to pity those who lay dead or dying all around me. I did not wonder about their past lives, I only pitied them for their eternal damnation. Even that pity, heartless as it is, was not appropriate for the battlefield. It was that pity which caused me to spare him, that dervish who had sought to kill me. I looked down at him. His eyes were fierce, the intention in them unmistakable, he lusted for my death.
I pointed my bayonet at him, standing over him. The point hovered just above his heart. One thrust, that is all it would have taken. But that thrust I did not deliver. Stepping back, I called out to some of my nearby brothers-in-arms. We carried the dervish back to camp and tied him to a post. I called for the doctor, a rough man blessed with long, thick fingers and a deplorable sense of hygiene for his profession. I stayed with him while he attended to the dervish, who in turn paid no attention to the doctor, focusing only on me.
It was that night that I realized the mistake my humanity had caused. I lay on my cot. My tent-mate had died in the battle, but it did not bother me. I never really liked him. When I heard that heavy breathing and when I opened my eyes to see those crazed features of the dervish staring back at me, I wished my tent-mate had not died. Indeed, in that moment I mourned his death.
The dervish flung himself onto me, his hands finding my exposed throat. I punched at his gut, but it was firm; every muscle in his lithe body was focused on killing me. I flailed my legs, but he just straddled by midsection and kept choking me. I grabbed his forearms and pulled, but to no avail. My vision began to fade and the memories of my life began moving slowly by, every gory detail, even a depressing few happy moments like my nephew’s birth. Then one memory crept in among the others, so subtle that I almost missed it. I saw myself placing my bayonet beneath my head roll.
Reaching back as I felt my consciousness slipping, I also felt the cold metal of my bayonet. With the last of my energies I pulled it out and plunged it in between the dervish’s ribs, right into his heart. His grip loosened and I gasped in a breath of life-giving air before ripping my bayonet from his side and plunging it into his gut. He collapsed dead on top of me, our bodies intertwined, the living and the dead. Such is the way of mankind.
Copyright 2013 Joshua A. Spotts