Over Every Town

In my dream, I am being tracked.

The cold red dots of enemy missiles have locked onto my ship from either side. It’s clear from the beginning that there is no way to avoid them. I can only steel myself for the ending and hope to take some of the enemy with me when I go down.

In my dream, I press my triggers and return fire.

My thoughts seem to run on two threads. A distant part of my mind watches myself from outside the plane. This part of me knows I am dreaming, knows what is coming.

It is not courage that drives me to my fate in the clouds, only reality, harsh and brutal like a punch to the gut. I have no other choice. The glory is in the flying; this moment is merely its finale. I am not prepared to die.

We all knew, when we first signed up, that most of us would come to this end. We thought we had accepted that. And yet, I hadn’t thought that I would be one of them. There is so much I have left undone, so much I should have been. I am not ready to die!

The plane explodes in fire –

– and I wake up.

Alone in the dark, I still remember every detail. I find, with mild detachment, that I am shaking. The covers are damp with sweat. I check the clock; my next flight is in two hours. While I sleep, the war is waging on.

I wonder whether I should tell someone about my dream. But I have few friends, and there is no one to tell.

* * *

I do not love my country. There is nobody I love left alive. Nor do I hate the people, the towns, the cities I gun down. I cannot hate them, for I do not know them. Only fate determines the difference between enemy and comrade; my eyes are too weak to draw the line.

Sometimes I wonder why I fight, but the uncertainty does not last long. I fight because my duty lies in the clouds above. There is no other way for me.

As for the country itself, I do not know. Perhaps there is no other way for any man. Perhaps hatred is intrinsic of humanity.

To fly up and down the lines of enemy territory, day after day, has numbed me to a certain degree. Such is the fighter pilot’s duty.

We are given a list of
coordinates – a simple sheet of numbers, nothing more, each heavy with the imminent destruction of unsuspecting towns. But this heaviness means nothing to us anymore. We have carried far too many loads to care about the route in our hands.

Today, though, my route preys on my mind. The vision of a burning plane flashes back into my head.

I get the eerie feeling that I am, again, only watching myself dream – a distant part of me I know what is going to happen, and it is screaming with its mouth bound shut. I consider pretending to be sick and missing a flight, just this once. But I cannot back away from what I do. I don my helmet, and the chance slips by.

I cannot stop thinking of how beautiful the clouds are. It makes me a different person, in a way, to fly up there. That is why I do it, and I know I do it well. Here on land, I am alone, and my loneliness is out of place. Up in
the air, there is only me.

* * *

The clouds are strangely serene today. Sunshine slants through their crests and into the plane, layering the atmosphere with the eerie clarity of a dream.

When the gunfire comes, I feel it before it hits. It seems as though the entire world shifts around me, though I know it is only I who is shifting, I in a tiny manmade plane that will be little missed when it is gone. Gritting my teeth, I push the lever forward as I am slammed back into my seat.

The emergency alarms begin to beep a small, tinny warning, oddly in tune with the spinning of the world around me. I begin pressing buttons, but it is no use; my control has gone dead. The windshield shows the faraway ground, then the sky, then the ground again.

“Move, oh c'mon, move,” I mutter, but my throat cannot seem to make a sound.

I catch a glimpse of the empty skyline. It is a beautiful day. Children must be playing in the towns below me.

Even as I am thrown backward into the walls, I know that I am not spinning. Everything else is spinning and breaking, but I – I am completely still. The shock and hellfire is all around me as I spiral down, but I do not feel it. God! Oh god!

I am so tired. Why are we fighting? Damn it all, god damn it! Oh god, oh god, oh

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