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The Soldier's Cry
I am dying. I know that. The knowledge is an icy finger running down my spine.
I am being consumed by the dread plague that has swept mercilessly through our camp, has killed so many of my companions. Fever is burning me; it is a fire that rages under my skin and burns me. My head is being squeezed with a vise and a hammer is pounding behind my eyes. Pain wracks my joints. It feels like someone is injecting acid into my knees and elbows and fingers and spine. I cannot endure it.
But neither can I find relief. I cannot even scream; I can barely moan.
I struggle to breathe. My lungs are destroyed and I gasp for air. When I can draw a breath, it is foul with the reek of blood and death and filth. I loathe it. I loathe this disease. I want to die.
No. Not that. I want to live. I am desperate to live. I am young; I have my whole life before me. And that life will end here, on this cot.
Not even a bed—there are none left—but on this dirty cot on the floor between two beds. It still stinks of its last occupant. Through the haze of pain, I see a nurse walking toward me.
“Water,” I try to croak, but no sound comes out. My lips barely move. I can no longer keep my eyes open. The nurse bends at the far end of the cot. I feel her tie something onto my toe, then she straightens and pulls the thin sheet that covers my ruined body till it also covers my head. I want to scream that I am not yet dead, that I am still among the living, but I cannot. I cannot move, cannot speak. The thin cloth over my nostrils makes the already arduous task of breathing near impossible. I am not dead yet, but I soon will be.
The thought makes me want to weep like a child.
Then I feel myself being lifted. The sudden motion makes my stomach lurch, but there is nothing left in it to come up, not even bile. I am carried unsteadily for an eternity. With each step, I can feel my life draining. I imagine a trail of it on the floor behind me, like blood.
Then I am dropped. I do not think they meant to do so, but they did. The pain is unbearable. My joints burn. My head throbs. My lungs pop like fat in a skiddle. Please God, let me die.
Yes, I have nothing but agony here now. Let me die.
Footsteps approach. Something lands on me. It is large and soft and excruciatingly heavy. It must weigh two hundred pounds. I realize what it is: a dead man.
Horror crawls up my spine and creeps into my skull. They stack the bodies in the hall outside the morgue like a pile of wood. I realize I have been placed there. And they have started to pile bodies on top of me.
Another body lands on me. I am being crushed to death by those already within death’s grasp. I feel a rib, already fractured from uncontrollable coughing, give way completely. Two ribs. The throbbing in my head is all-encompassing now and my mind begins to narrow. It darkens to a single spot of burning light.
Then the light goes out.