I put my hand into something warm
. Nearby, in the perfect darkness
of the smoke-filled night, someone groan
ed. It was a weak sound, little more than a whisper, like the flapping wings of a dying bird
There was a dull pain
running down the outside of my left leg. After pulling the searing, ten-inch piece of metal out of my thigh, I must have fainted. I wasn't sure how much time had passed since then, but I guessed it had to have been at least a couple of hours. I thought about the sucking sound it had made when I'd yanked it out, about how bad it had hurt my hands to hold that smoking piece of something
. If that piece of shrapnel hadn't been so hot, I'd be dead, I thought numbly. I would have bled to death hours ago. It had cauterize
d the wound it had made, though, and now the blister
s which had risen on the palms of my hands hurt worse than the hole in my thigh. That groaning sound came again.
Moving slowly, blindly in the dark, I crawled on hands and knees toward the sound. In the distance, far off, I could hear the report
s of the rifle
s, like chattering teeth, punctuated periodically by the low whoomp of a mortar
. There were screams of terror
and screams of battle
out there, barely audible. The gasping, sighing sound was very close to me, but I could not find the source.
In that instant, I knew the source of the groans, and I wanted to be dead
. Not to die
, just to be dead, not to have to face what I was sure to find with my hands. Parker,
that voice had said. It sounded too thick, too wet to be human
, but there was only one man
who called me by my name. Parker. That was me. Everyone else had called me Shorty
since I'd come here, but Pedro had always called me by my name.
h'a-kah... Aihng heeah.
Parker, I'm here.
I felt my way forward, slowly, not really wanting at all to find what I knew my fingers must inevitably encounter. Then they did. A piece of tattered standard-issue pants, little more than a shredded rag
, and beneath, what felt like a huge piece of overcooked chicken
. I could feel the cracks and peeled places
where the skin must surely be charred
black. If I could only see, I thought, I might be able to help him, but this damned fog
, and there was no moon
h'a-kah... Ai ngeeg you to k...
I said. Shush, we'll get help. Someone will come help. Shush now.
I reached out and found his shoulder. He was sitting half-propped up against something I couldn't see. He sighed deeply, seeming to chuckle
. Just by touching him, I could tell he was bad. He felt like a paper doll
, ragged and fluttering a lost death
in some gutter, forgotten by a careless child
who ran with scissors. That wet chuckle came again.
h'a-kah... huck 'at. Aihng ga-ing. you hagh to kioo ngee.
Parker, fuck that. I'm dying. You have to kill me.
What the fuck are you talking about?
I said, almost defensively, as if he'd rapped a ruler across my knuckles.You're not dying. You may never walk again, but you'll be fine. You'll see.
That too-wet sighing chuckle almost became a gurgling giggle
. I felt his hand take my wrist. His hand shaking, somehow light and insubstantial
, led mine first to his face, which felt like touching a half-congealed bowl of beef stew
. There was no nose, no lips. I could feel a flap of skin
hanging from his forehead over one side of his face. I gag
ged. He laughed again. Then, not letting me pull my hand away, he led my fingers to his abdomen. I could feel the hot slimy cords of intestine
spilling out over his sides and realized I was probably kneeling on them, as well. I pulled away and vomit
h'a-kah, aigh 'een haiting to gai hor owrs. aihng ga-ing. hleez. hleez helk ngee.
Parker, I've been waiting to die for hours. I'm dying. Please. Please help me.
I sat back for a moment, considering. I had lost my rifle in the fight. I put my hand to my hip. My pistol
was gone, probably blown clean out of the holster. I had no weapon
. The wet laugh came again.
Hoo-ell? Hut you haiting hor?
Well? What you waiting for?
I don't have a gun, Pedro. And anyway, if I did, I couldn't see you, what with the fog and all.
Now the laugh seemed to have some real mirth in it, or at least a sense of sick irony
. The sound of it terrified me.
h'a-kah, hyoo gum huck. iks gayligh'. hyoor glaing.
Parker, you dumb fuck. It's daylight. You're blind.
Horrified, I felt my own face. My eyes were still there, but the skin around them had been charred and swollen
so that no light could get past the inflamed and scar
red flesh. He was right. The tough little guy was right.
I don't know what
you're laughing about, you spic bastard,
I said, miserably. At least I had the good sense to not get dead all the way out here.
He laughed again, pleased, knowing that I would do what he needed me to do
. I only called him a spic in our most companionable moments, when we were as like brothers
as could be in a place like this.
Hyoo gringo hucker. Hyoo gonga hahha gooet hooih hyor hangs.
You gringo fucker. You gonna hafta do it with your hands.
Slowly, I got up to my knees. I found his hand
with mine, and held it tightly for a second. His hands then led mine, blistered
ing as they were, to his throat
. For a moment we just sat there. Then, slowly, he gave a last wet chuckle and nodded. I leaned forward, closing my fingers tight around his throat. The blisters on my palms swelled, strained, and popped, but I could hardly feel it. At that moment I could hardly feel anything, and when Pedro went limp, for a moment I kept squeezing, not wanting to add braindeath
to his list of earthly tortures
. Then I sat back, and slowly I faded back into the haze of unconsciousness
I awoke in a bed almost a week later. Pedro was wrong. I wasn't permanently blinded. By the time I woke up the swelling had begun to go down, and within a few days I could see
almost normally again, although my scars would last the rest of my life
. I do not regret those scars
, because they remind me of the most desperately necessary injury of my life. Luckily, my hands do not have eyes.filled by request from Templeton's homenode.