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Two Poor Marksmen This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

I was stomach up in the mud, my head turned to the side. The wet earth had long ago flooded my left ear, and a leg clothed in green combat greaves nearly covered my right eye, making me completely blind on that side. Not that there was much to be aware of on that side besides the body that leg was attached to. Poor Michaelson. My left eye slowly looked around, taking in any details it could. Most of my view was taken up by the gray sky, with its few anorexic clouds fleeing the scene as if they had been offered food. I attempted to move my body, just shift it slightly to get a sense of where everything was. My torso seemed loose enough, but both my legs were underneath what felt like another body. I moved them bit-by-bit, afraid to draw any attention to myself though I heard nothing. The mud sucked at my calves, not wanting to let them go. After they were loose enough that I could move quickly if I needed too, I began creeping my hands around to search my surroundings. My fingers groped and felt, picking up bullet casing after bullet casing, until finally they hit wood. I caressed it, felt the stock, the top-loading clip, and the steel trigger, but no bolt. I hadn’t known anyone in our unit had been supplied with M1’s. The boys at base had said that they were fresh out, that we had to use Springfields. Our guys didn’t complain, but running around with a semi-auto instead of a bolt-action sure would have made me feel more comfortable. I wrapped my fingers around the grip, threaded my finger through the trigger guard, and made sure the safety was off. And still the world was silent, oblivious of my efforts to try to prepare myself for, something. That was another thing; I could feel it coming. I didn’t know what it was at the time, but I knew something was on its way. The calm before the storm they always say. Well there was sure to be one hell of a hurricane on the other end of this god-awful dead silence. And then suddenly, the world shattered. A sharp click skittered and slithered its way across the field of grass and blood and bodies before finally sliming its way into my good ear. My heart’s speedometer was topped out at 300mph, though my blood had completely stopped like thick, red cement. I waited, straining to hear the sound of boots, and there it was, slowly stalking through the field, a calm, cautious step that rang with military precision at every footfall. I waited, unsure of whom the feet belonged to, until the leg passed near my eye. I prayed for the dirty, muddy green of one of our GIs. Instead I was greeted by the sight of a bluish-grey Nazi foot soldier’s pant leg. My stomach fell downward, out of my back and into the mud. As I heard his foot fall to the Earth again, I began steeling myself.
THUD.
I drew up my last molecule of courage.
THUD.
I focused my mind down to laser precision.
THUD.
I took a deep, but silent, breath.
THUD.
I rolled over to my left, flipped the scope up to my right eye, and watch him turn around. His face was horrible to behold, a hardened, scarred, red-eyed, Nazi monster of a countenance. He stared at me with bloodlust in his soul, and primal rage in his black smile.
My sights were dead on his forehead. I had a perfect shot. I heard him whisper “Scheiße”, before I screwed my eyes shut and pulled the trigger.
BANG.
PING.
I heard the clip hit the ground as it auto-ejected. I struggled to break through the millennia of dirt and stone that had collected on my eyes after keeping them shut for so long. I caught my first glimpse of him, and he had not aged a day. In fact, he looked younger. And suddenly, there before me, was not a horrible foreign demon, not a genocidal killing machine bent on my termination, but a young boy of about 19, looking just as scared as I was. And then that boy of about 19, just as scared as I was, lifted his Kar98, and aimed it straight for my face.
“S***” I breathed.
BANG.
My eyes remained wide this time, glued open by the ironic unfairness of being shot by a man I had just realized was not the unholy being I thought him to be. I waited for death to hit me, to be enveloped by that white warmth they say ferries you to the other side. And when it didn’t hit me, the truth did. He had missed. We had both missed! We both realized it, and just sat there, staring at each other, ammo-less and pointless weapons aimed at each other, still ready to kill in spite of their clear emptiness. I glanced to his nametag. Karl. One letter off from my own name. I didn’t know German ranking insignia, but he couldn’t have been very far above or below me. Brown hair, green eyes, thin frame, slightly crooked nose: we were practically the same person! And yet here we were, ready to kill each other without a second thought, simply because we had guns and the other person didn’t look like a friendly. I slowly started to lower my gun and had it half way to the ground before I remembered that he had a rifle too. I glanced up to check, but his Karabiner was already pointed at the dirt. His foot moved toward me, and I flinched, but it was only stepping closer. His hand reached down from the heavens, a messenger sent to help lift me up; literally in this case. As I struggled to my feet, our hands remained locked, still hanging on for dear life as though if we let go we would instantly revert to the savage firearm wielding men we had been only moments ago. I looked into his eyes, looking for what I already knew was there: humanity. We had reached an understanding. We were no longer enemies, but Battle-Field Friends. I squeezed his arm, and he squeezed mine. Then, with a small moment of hesitation, we separated, and the world somehow stayed together.

We walked away from each other slowly, glancing back only once before we left the field.





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