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The Sacrifice of Humanity Chapter 1
I'm giving the War genre a try.
I slept restlessly. In my dreams, I can all but picture my fate, as I stare down the barrel of a gun held by the enemy. It’s the same every time, my entire squad is dead, injured or unconscious, and I am all that’s left. I am alone, except for the Japanese man standing over me. He has his Arisaka type 30 rifle pointed between my eyes. A barbaric language screamed at me, which I cannot understand.
They fight ruthlessly, they fight with no fear. Death does not worry them, but it worries us, it worries me. It seems even in my dreams I cannot escape them. They haunt me, they make me feel sick. But the dream is not real, the dream is only imagination. When I wake, I will be hunted by them. It is only a matter of time before their impeding and unstoppable will is too overwhelming for us to withstand. The danger is real outside the comfort of sleep, and sleep is a commodity which is too rare and too dear in times such as these.
They say war brings out the best and the worst in mankind. All I have seen so far is the worst. I still hold on to false hope that there is a positive to war, but every day this hope diminishes. I am defending the innocent, and the ideals of my country. I choose to fight. I do not know if I will make it out alive, or if I will even be alive tomorrow. All I know for sure, is I will fight until the bitter end. Fear may plague my mind, but it will not hinder my spirit. Yes I am afraid of death; I am not as fearless as our enemy. But I will still fight, not for myself, but for the men beside me.
My mind grows weary; I must quell these ill thoughts and try to rest. In my mind and in my gut I have premonitions of what tomorrow would bring. My name is Campbell Ajax; I am a twenty year old male from Australia. I am an ANZAC.
I woke to a cracking sound in the air. Rolling over, confused and dazed with weariness, I opened my tired eyes and saw my tent was empty. I worried with the impeding thoughts which ravaged my mind as I glanced around the tent.
Where was my platoon?
The cracks continued, as I slowly regained full awareness, I realised what was happening. On the 8th of March 1942 we received word that the Japanese had entered Papua New Guinea. It was now the 10th. Straining my ears, I could hear everything clearly. The gunfire, the screams of pain and agony, the loud booms of explosives being let off in the distance. I jumped to my feet, grabbed at my clothes and tossed them on. My Lee Enfield rifle sat in the weapons cache in the corner of the tent. I ran over to retrieve it; mine was the only one left. I held it to my chest, checked the clip, and cocked it, ready for use. The loud ambience of guns firing still filled my ears. My heart dropped at the sound.
“What have you done Campbell?” I said to myself as I ran out of the tent.
And then I saw it. The ground was torn up, numerous explosions from wildly tossed grenades. Blood covered the ground with a heavy red tinge, and I saw the bodies of Australian soldiers. Men I knew, acquaintances I had passed in the camp and shared friendly words with. Soldiers who were going through the exact same confusion and anxiety and general fear. Humans who were now gone forever.
I gulped and fear paralysed my body and bore deeply into my mind. My mind wandered as I stared into the eyes of death. He was on my heels, bearing down on me, ready to grip me in his eternal embrace. A bullet whizzed past my ear and I dropped to the ground, returning to reality. Glancing around for a recognisable face, I saw Sergeant Marsh, the man who had taken me under his wing and helped me through the struggles of preparing for war. The training was vigorous, and broke many men. The truth that at least half of us would not return home to our families, and those who did would not be the same. My now mentor and friend assured me that I would at least survive to see the latter. He was a man of honour and great pride, as I watched him giving out orders from a makeshift dugout. Bullets kept whizzing past my head. Jumping to my feet, I clutched my gun tightly and ran as fast as I could towards the dugout.
I was fifty metres away from the dugout and from the safety of my platoon and Marsh, when he stepped out in front of me. A rather tall Japanese foot soldier, dressed in his camouflaged gear. His helmet had a rising sun of red painted on it, with large sunrays spreading out across the top of it. He was about six feet two inches tall, with jet black hair covered by his helmet. His eyes were thin, and matched the colour of his hair. Mouth agape, piercing screeches of Japanese emanated from his mouth.
My dream was coming true. He held his Arisaka, equipped with bayonet knife and all, aiming it directly at my face. The screams echoed in my ears and I paused. I had been trained to draw my gun and fire, but I couldn’t. Something held me back. I looked at the man’s face. He couldn’t have been too old. Probably early twenties or younger. A young man, who, like me, still had a lot to live for.
How could I justify killing a man who was fighting for the same reasons I am. Time seemed to slow, giving me time to think, though my mind raced. The situation seemed familiar.
Where had I seen this before? I thought. Memories rushed back from my dream from the previous night. The rifle, the man and the language being screamed at me, I had seen it all before. I watched the man, as though he was in slow motion; scream at the top of his lungs at me, adjusting his aim towards my blank face. Still frozen in thought, I watched him, as he began to squeeze the trigger of his rifle. The sound of a gunshot echoed through my mind, and I watched as blood splattered over my face.
My eyes were squeezed closed, breathing heavy and raspy. I waited for death’s cold hand to grasp my soul and drag me into the depths of whatever hell I was going to. But I felt nothing. No cold of death’s hand, no warmth from the lead. Soon after the first gunshot rung out from the battlefield, a second one much closer exploded. I opened my eyes and saw the Japanese soldier falling, blood poured from a wound in his chest. Blood flowed from out of his mouth, he coughed, choking on his own fluid as he dropped in a heap on the ground. Red began to pool around his now lifeless corpse.
“Ajax!” A voice called out. I didn’t look to see who it was, my eyes were fixated on the young soldier dead in front of me.
“Ajax snap out of it.” He ordered. The familiarity of his voice began to ebb away at the delusional, paralysed state I was in. I craned my head slowly and saw Sergeant Marsh standing behind the body. The barrel of his gun secreted bluish grey wisps of smoke, which cascaded up into the air and disappeared. He was red in the face, his blue eyes wide with both excitement and annoyance, and his mouth was moving in a blur, as words began to spew out of it, words I did not hear. The gunshots were still ringing in my ears. He walked over and gripped my shoulder tightly, shaking me slightly. My head rocked back and forth, my neck was limp. The ringing stopped and his words became clear. Eerie silence filled the valley. The cracks and echoes of gunfire in the distance had all but faded into the ambience of Milne Bay. I looked up at Marsh, confusion was spread over his face.
“For God’s sake Ajax why did you not shoot that man down?” He questioned me.
The bewilderment in his tone got me thinking. Why did I not shoot him down as Marsh had just said?
Marsh stood there waiting for my answer, his back turned on the battle in the fields below.
“I-I couldn’t draw my rifle,” I stuttered. “I couldn’t kill that man.” He looked at me with a blank face.
“Why?” He questioned. The answer seemed so blatantly obvious to me, I snapped at him.
“Why? Why should I have to kill him?”
“To defend your country,” Marsh said bluntly.
“That man was innocent. Like me. He wouldn’t have gone and taken over our country...” I started, but Marsh interrupted.
“True, but he is fighting for the army that will,” I stayed silent.
The words bounced around my brain. The longer I sat on them, the more sense they began to make.
“I just couldn’t bring myself to kill him. It just doesn’t feel right,” I said.
“Aye. It may not be right, but think about it this way. It’s either us or them. Either you or him. And he was prepared to end your life to further extend his own. That is why he had his gun aimed between your eyes. That is why after the shot I put through his heart, he let off a bullet that was meant to be buried in your brain,” once again, I stayed silent.
The wind began to grow cold and I shivered in the breeze.
“Was my killing of that man justified?” He questioned, laughing a little with his tone. The rhetoric was obvious in his question, but I answered it anyway.
“I don’t know...”
“I killed that man not defending my country, nor defending myself. I killed that man because he was about to murder my innocent squad member. My innocent Private. My innocent friend.”
He gripped my shoulder tighter. I lifted my eyes up from my shoes to meet his gaze. A smile was plastered across his face. He offered me a cigarette. I raised my hand and declined.
“I don’t smoke, Sir,” I said.
He lit up a cigarette and exhaled the smoke slowly. It climbed to the heavens as he began to talk again.
“That alone was enough for me to feel justified for pulling the trigger,” he added. “I’d kill a hundred men to keep my platoon members... Sorry, my platoon friends alive. Funny how those you serve with become like family,” he paused and pondered on this idea, still exhaling grey smoke. After a while he began to speak again.
“Come, the Nips have stopped firing, and have retreated to the trees. Let’s get some food into you,” he said pulling me by my shoulder towards the tents.
The rain fell down in torrents. The heavy winds made it drop sideways. It stung the flesh of the face when it hit, leaving marks on the skin. The gunfire had ceased for today, I stood outside the tent on guard, waiting for any sort of attack. I was surprised they had put me on guard duty after what had happened. I can’t concentrate on looking out at an empty field of dead people. Well, most of them were dead. Some severely injured Japanese soldiers could be seen crawling away at a snail’s pace.
My mind wandered back to the situation that had happened just hours before.
Would you do it if you could go back? I thought. Could I kill? I wasn’t sure. My imagination ran wild with the idea.
Constant day dreams of the possibilities of what could have happened run ragged through my weary mind.
How would I have changed if I had pulled that trigger and taken that man’s life? What if Sergeant Marsh wasn’t there? Would I be gone?
“Would you do it if you could go back?” Daydreams kept creeping into my brain.
“Ajax, hello?” I snapped out of my waking subconscious.
“What?” I spat at him. Poor guy. He didn’t deserve that. Being faced with death, staring down the cool barrel of the rifle pointed precariously at my face had taken its toll. They spoke of this in training, how war changes men. I know this all too well now.
“Jesus man all I asked was would you do it if you could go back?” Private Seymour asked. “Sarge told us what happened.”
I looked over at him. He was in a similar situation as me. He hadn’t killed yet. He was still innocent.
“I don’t know,” I said bluntly, ending the conversation. Or so I had thought.
“I couldn’t. I know that for a fact,” he said smiling. “I’m no killer,” he added. I allowed the faintest smile creep onto my face.
“Neither am I,” I said, unsure if it was true or not.
“Well, come to me if you-” Seymour began to say, but the sound of a gunshot interrupted his words.
I looked over to Seymour. His mouth was agape, and a wheeze escaped his lips, followed by a river of blood pooling and overflowing in his mouth. A Japanese soldier stood behind him, barely standing, with blood covering his face and stained on his clothes. He screamed, the language again echoed in my head. My heart nearly stopped as I watched Seymour drop slowly to his knees. Each beat echoed loudly in my ears. Bo-boom, bo-boom. Raspy breaths escaped my lungs and my throat closed. Empty thoughts entered my mind. Without thinking, I cocked back my rifle, aiming down the iron of the sights, the raspy wheezes of oxygen entering and carbon dioxide exhaling fluttered around my mind. Time seemed to be slower. And then, reality returned. I fired, stepping back at the power of my Enfield. The bullet struck the man in the throat, and my ears rang with the sound of the shot. Blood began to spray out from the wound, and he gurgled and choked, drowning in his own blood, dropping to the floor, blood pooling around his face. Seymour coughed, lying on the ground. The bullet had passed through his stomach. The entire camp flooded the area and stood around me and Private Seymour, as I held his head in my arms and cried heavily. No sound escaped my throat, yet Seymour continued to cough and wheeze.
I lay down in my bed, the stains of tears on my cheek glistened in the small fire light. What could I have done different? Seems today was a day filled with déjà vu. The same questions, the same answers and the same disgusting, uneasy feeling. A feeling which stopped any idea of sleep and rest. Sergeant Marsh walked into the tent and at down on my bed.
“How’re you holding up pal?” He asked, slapping my leg through the blanket. I stayed silent.
“People die Ajax. It wasn’t your fault that Seymour died. Blame the enemy who stole him from us. Live the rest of your days in this war as a way to pay them back for taking such an innocent life from us.” He said, choking slightly on his words. “It’s not fair.”
“What if I had killed that man earlier today?” I said. “I might not have been delving on what could have been. Instead, I could have been more alert. I may have seen that Nip bastard coming towards us and shot him down before he had the chance to do the same to Seymour.” Tears bean to well into my eyes once more.
“You cannot blame yourself for this Ajax.” Marsh said, wiping away any trace of tears from his eyes with his sleeve. “You answered your own problem with what you just said though.” I knew I had.
He slapped my leg a few more times and stood up. He made his way towards the flap of the tent door, and turned.
“Ajax. Get some sleep. War does not end at the loss of a great man, or great men. If it did, we would be at home with our women right now. The fight continues tomorrow. Although I hate to say it, this is not the first life that will be taken from you, in this war or out of it. It won’t get easier, but we need you, Ajax. Get some rest.”
He left the tent. I rolled over and closed my eyes, trying to sleep. The images of the blood squirting out of the Japanese soldier’s throat and the wheeze of Seymour’s last breath repeated itself in my mind.
Another restless night. Sleep eluded my waking mind, thoughts of what happened continued to play through my imagination. Vivid imagination, God it was awful. I can still see Seymour’s face, the surprise spread across his normally positive and smiling face, as the blood flowed freely from his mouth. His eyes glistening with pain glazed tears, and the groan of his last breath escaping his lungs. I shivered, a cold feeling travelled down my spine, and the hairs stood on my neck. Goosebumps covered my skin, as I rolled over to try and sleep.
“Can’t sleep Ajax?” Marsh called out from his bed.
I rolled over, and sat up in my bed. He climbed out of his, walked over to the tent door, and motioned back at me to join him. I pulled off the sleeping bag. Cold air rushed over my body, sapping it of all warmth. My body shook violently due to the sudden drop in temperature. I quickly pulled on my thick pants and threw on a shirt.
When I made it outside of the tent, I saw Marsh smoking, with his back to the tent. He turned and met my gaze.
“Ajax, come and join me,” he said, holding out the packet of cigarettes. “Smoke?” He asked.
I went to refuse, but something stopped me. I reached out and slid out a cigarette. He threw me the lighter and I caught it, the metal was cool in my hand. I spark the flame; it burned with a bright light in the darkness of pre-dawn. Warmth flushed across my face as I placed the cigarette into my mouth, and lit the end. The smoke felt hot in my lungs, and I suppressed the cough that attempted to escape my throat. I exhaled, and watched as the smoke dissipated.
“I thought you didn’t smoke,” Marsh smirked.
“I didn’t,” I retorted. “But I need something to set my mind at ease.”
We continued to smoke, watching the clouds of grey escape our mouths in the rising of the new day sun. A tinge of orange spread across the lands, opening up to a new day for the way to continue, a new day for more death to spread. A new day for my nerves to be tested, and my humanity to be diminished. Every kill brought me closer to becoming someone I did not want to be. But each kill saved me from becoming something I did not want to become. Funny how when life seems to be at its end, one finds the reasons to live, and will sacrifice their very morality to remain breathing.