Sam had sometimes carried, sometimes dragged his friend Peter for almost two hours, in the damp coldness of early morning. He wanted to reach the bridge by sunrise. Once they crossed the bridge, everything would be all right.
He was done with the war, and was pretty sure Peter felt the same way. No, Sam was a pacifist now. He’d seen enough. He didn’t know the memory of a battlefield could sear itself in his mind like a photograph. He didn’t know that death smelled so terrifyingly sweet. He didn’t realize how an explosion could deafen him for hours, in a silent prison that provided no escape or comfort. He didn’t like that the enemy had no face at all.
Peter was surely deafened by the blast, as he remained unconscious, or slept, through the heavy thuds of artillery, the screaming, and later the screeching of night creatures as they made their way along the riverbank. The bridge couldn’t be much farther. Unless he had made a mistake, and followed the river upstream instead of downstream. In a moment of panic he eased Peter to the ground and knelt over the river. The moon was reflected on its still surface, rippling near the shore where the wide stream flowed among polished stones. Sam saw a man’s reflection, too, in the moonlight. It wasn’t Sam.
Sam was gone. In his place was a thin, mud-stained, bloodied (from Peter’s blood) mass of crumpled skin and filthy clothing. He stared out from the surface of the river. He said, “Keep going.”
They reached the bridge just as the moon set and a scarlet glow oozed from the horizon in the eastern sky.
Peter stirred when he was laid gently in the soft grass on the other side of the bridge. Birds lived near the bridge. Sparrows and finches and meadowlarks. Peter hadn’t heard them in years. “Where are we?” he asked. “What’s going on?”
“I don’t know,” said the man who used to be Sam. “I don’t know.”
- Image: Nolan Nitschke