The Last Two.

“The Last Two”

How long has this war gone on?  Ten years? Fifty years?  A hundred?  All I know is that from my very first sensations, I knew what war was, what it smelled like, what it tasted like.  The metallic taste of gunpowder and blood in my mouth.  The smell of cordite hanging in the air like a fog that never quite seemed to go away.  Only the rain seemed to dampen it, and even that was only a slight pause before it was strengthened anew, like some twisted air freshener.  I got to know the feeling of the cold metal of my rifle more than the soft flesh of another human being.  It was always so loud, so loud.  Loud was good though.  Loud meant there other people around you.  Silence meant that planes were coming in to drop bombs, or worse.  You learned to love the noise, the cacophony of life and death.  After all, in silence, there was no life, only death.  Even the screams of agony from any side of you let you know there was someone else alive in the world…even for that brief moment.  People, though, weren’t companions, as I was told once that they used to be, but simply more targets.  More moving objects to sight down the scope of my rifle, and pull the trigger till they moved no longer.  War was a person’s only companion, mine included.  You woke up with war, you ate with war, you went to bed with war.  You might ask questions of war, but war never responded.  War was a terrible companion in that way.  War had gone on so long, that even as a child, no one remembered who was the victim, who was the aggressor, or even who or why we were fighting.  The war simply was, and that was all we needed to know, or at least, we reasoned that much.  After all, so long as there’s another person at the end of my scope who’s trying to do the same to me, either I pull the trigger so I can wake up tomorrow, or I don’t wake up.  I remember once a person who seemed to choose the latter of the two.  He dropped his gun and ran out in the open, as if asking to be released from this hellish existence.  While I thought about this man and his choice, someone else granted his wish for him.  A shot rang out, and he sloshed down into the muck, another pile of meat for the crows to pick clean.

The war continued until I found myself the size and appearance of those around me were when I was a child.  Things had gotten much quieter now, and it frightened me.  Day by day, the loud crashes and booms of bombs and gunfire became softer, more infrequent, and farther away.  Finally, one day, there was nothing but silence.  I cowered in a hole for hours that day, knowing surely I would meet my own end that day.  Silence was death, and there was not a sound to be heard.  I would bang on rock and rubble, and it seemed that the more I tried to make noise, the more the silence took it in, like a great maw opening up to swallow me whole.  I finally leaned my head up only to have the whizzing blur of a bullet zoom past.  For a moment, I was elated.  The silence was gone, and I wasn’t alone…even though this other person intended to kill me.  I quickly leveled my rifle and began firing away, in exuberance that someone else was out there.  I was firing wildly, not focusing on killing whoever this other person might be, but so happy that I had to express it somehow.  It was a strange feeling to me, and it makes my arms tingly and numb.  I quickly ran out of ammo, and searched the bodies around me for more.  I found only two or three on those immediately around.  Even as I dared venturing farther from the hole I had buried myself in for so long, there wasn’t any more ammo to find.  I leaned my gun out of my hole to take aim again, when another shot ricocheted over my head.  I ducked down instinctively, and then raised my rifle again.  I saw a helmet wobble in the distance, and I took a shot at it.  My round went through the helmet, knocking it to the muck, but I quickly realized that the helmet had been standing on a wooden rod.  I had been had.  Another shot quickly followed mine, coming from my left, and whirring past my head.  I dug my heels into the dirt and fired a shot wildly in the direction my shot had come from.  A miss.  I reached in my pocket, and found I had just one round left.  Just one piece of metal that would either kill this other person, or I myself would die.  I laughed slightly at the oddity of this one thing being the only thing that would keep me from dying.  I wiped the grime off of it and slid the bolt back on my rifle, and slid the round into place with a click.  “My last stand.” I whispered to myself as I patted a hand on the beaten up rifle.  I knew firing from a distance would be silly, as I had missed twice already.  I would have to get close for it to work.  I inched slowly, from hole to hole, pile of rubble to pile of rubble, until I got close to where the shots had originated.  I scanned in every direction in front of me, but saw not a movement, nor heard a sound.  Suddenly I heard something snap behind me.  I whirled around in place to see a figure behind me, rifle in hand.  I leveled my rifle as I turned and pulled the trigger.  A strange noise came from my rifle, and nothing happened.  It jammed.  Here, at the very last moment, my rifle, my only friend, had betrayed me.  I dropped it to the ground as the figure had its rifle pointed directly at my head.  I slumped down, my back to the muck, as I knew death would soon come.

This, after all, was the end.

But, as I lay there with eyes closed, nothing happened.  It was strange, hanging in that limbo between life and death, waiting for death to come…but it didn’t.  I opened my eyes, and the figure was standing there, still looking at me, rifle trained on me.  Why didn’t the person fire?  I was helpless here, only a few feet away.  It would be an easy kill.  So…why?

It was then that I noticed…this rifle pointed at me…had no clip in it.  Apparently…this person was out of ammo as well.  The figured seemed to sigh a moment before dropping its rifle as well.  It pulled a muck-covered rag off its face, and slid its helmet back and dropped it to the earth.  A woman.  Something I hadn’t seen in many years.  Her dark hair was matted to her face, her green eyes staring into my own.  Slowly, almost imperceptibly at first, her hand extended towards me.  It hung there in the open air, as she slowly bent down slightly at me.  I let out an uneasy breath as I matched the action.  Our hands met, and she pulled me to my feet.  We stood there for a long moment, hand in hand, staring at each other, not sure what to do.  After a time, I felt hunger begin to gnaw at my stomach.  I let go of her hand and reached into a pouch at my side.  She looked at me worriedly, but I raised an open palm at her as I pulled out a candy bar.  I broke it, wrapper and all, and offered it to her.  She quickly grabbed it from me and gobbled it down.  By her actions, I guessed she hadn’t eaten in days.  I slumped down against a broken piece of building that was still standing upright and began to eat.  She looked at me a moment before she sat down next to me.  I surveyed the area around us, and there was naught even an echo to be heard.  It might be possible that we were the only two people left in the world.  As the darkness and silence began to grow around us, she leaned up against me.  Being so used to cold steel, the warmth and softness of flesh seemed like some dream I was having.  Maybe people…aren’t so bad after all.  As I drifted off to sleep, a final thought slipped through my mind:

At least I’m not alone.

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