‘Mercy, mercy, mercy, mercy…’ It was all he could hear. The screaming from the family in front of him had stopped, the shouted insults and encouragement from the men behind him had faded into nothing. He could still see their mouths move, all of them, almost in slow motion as he stood locked in his own mind beyond the moment.
‘Mercy?’ That was his voice, his own accusing, terrified voice. Mercy for who? For them? They were dead, they were dead, they were dead. One tensed muscle away from the grave. He couldn’t stop that, the life had been sucked out of his body, it was lost in the certainty of what was about to happen. They were dead, if not through him then through the others and if not through him then him along with them. Mercy? How could there be mercy? Where was there space for it? But it didn’t matter, the same word, ‘mercy, mercy, mercy, mercy’, screamed inside his head over and over again.
A crying family. Why should they have mercy? Why? He’d been offered none, he’d seen none, even beyond this instance, beyond this moment of decision where was there sympathy or sorrow for him? Nowhere. Dead. Mercy, sympathy, sorrow, wherever he’d ever known them they’d been left dead, executed before his eyes before he’d even realised their value. The families pitiful cries and begging, now muted into silent and numb gestures, what were they supposed to do? Save their lives? Their lives were over. Dig out something in him that didn’t exist? Mercy? More than that, sacrifice, for him to kill for them rather than the men he’d arrived with. A greedy demand, an insulting one. They grovelled to him for something they did nothing to offer themselves. Why not give themselves up? They were dead, if they could just accept it then he could be saved. If they could stop grasping for some way out he could silence the goddamn screaming in his head and do what he had to do. Mercy, mercy, mercy, but none for him.
Never any for him.
Never any for his family.
Never any for his home or friends or hopes or life – all of which had been taken without even a shred of sorrow.
He wanted to be sick. He needed to be sick. Those lifeless muscles gripped the gun in his hands. They were a million miles away from his thoughts, they were certain of what would happen. Only the desperate, near retching need to vomit still connected him to his body, the two bound by a thin thread of revulsion. Was that it? Revulsion? Mercy, mercy, mercy. No, there was no mercy and they were all dead already. So was there revulsion? Why? At what? He was doing what he had to do, he was doing what they all did, exactly the same as everyone had done since this war had started. That family who wished him dead with their pleading, the men behind him who laughed and cackled at every body. This was it, this was all of it so what was the revulsion for?
He couldn’t think. He couldn’t even see his own thoughts clearly. He was sure there was nothing there, no part of him which still felt anything for these corpses in denial. But mercy, mercy, mercy still screaming through his skull.
A father, a mother, a son and a daughter. Civilians. Innocent. Asking him to die. But he was innocent too. He was as innocent as any of them. He had never picked up a gun, had never sought them out, he’d never sought anyone out. All of this had been forced onto him, a rifle in his hands, these people in front of him and those men, those vicious, violent, broken men who’d dragged him into this. Never with a moment of sympathy, or sorrow, or mercy.
… mercy, mercy, mercy, mercy…
The little girl was the only one not joining in the pitiful play. No cries, no pawing for salvation, she just silently sat there, eyes locked on his feet, seeing nothing. She understood. No more than eight or nine and she understood, they were dead or he was dead. More than that, they were dead and he was dead, sooner or later. Just like those he’d arrived with. Those mad and violent men, dead already and driven insane by it. His finger tightened on the trigger without him willing it to. He would join them. He would do this thing, he would vomit, he would cry and he would forget the word ‘mercy’. It was no choice, no decision, it was already done, already set in stone and his limbs knew that.
He pointed the gun at her. Barrel levelled at her face. She didn’t move an inch. She should be the first. He could gift her that, she knew it was coming so better to not see it done, not to the rest at least. Was that mercy?
… mercy, mercy, mercy, mercy…
No, mercy was a felt thing, not just a word and he felt nothing. His muscles acted, his stomach churned, the voice in his head screamed. All separate, all alone, all decided.
The noise came back with the crack of a bullet being fired. Screams from the family, laughter from behind him.
The voice had fallen silent, cowed into retreat by the explosive of gunshot. Held there by another and another and another. He vomited. Crumpling to his knees he squeezed his eyes closed, trying and failing to collapse in on himself as hands slapped his back. More gunshots. Dead men making sure the corpses didn’t rise. No matter, he had killed them, he had done what he had known he would.
Hands were dragging him to his feet even as strands of sick still hung from his chin, ponderously dripping onto his shirt. More back slapping. Someone shook his hand. From the silence the world had become too loud, they were all talking, perhaps to him but he couldn’t tell. Words fell flatly around him ‘animals’; ‘dogs’, ‘filth’, ‘scum’, the words those dead men used to replace ‘mercy’. He would have to learn them now, they were his words, the language of his madness. The tears in his eyes drained away the old sounds, the old words, purging him ready for his afterlife. No more mercy, just scum and filth.
A hand clamped on his jaw. Rough, powerful, swivelling his head to face the bodies of the family. A heap of nothingness, no more begging, no more grovelling, nothing. Filth now, garbage, nothing human and nothing left to ask anything of him.
… filth, filth, filth, filth…
The word grew louder in his head. They’d been dead from the moment he’d arrived, they’d been filth from the moment he’d arrived. A final image of his own family passed across his eyes, bodies crumpled just the same as these, living, real people made garbage, just like these. Filth.
He forgot them all. The memories of a new man flooded in, madness drowning those of the child who’d passed with a gunshot.
… filth, filth, filth, filth…
No Cure for Shell Shock is a collection of short stories and poetry. It’s available as an eBook or paperback here.
Reviews and support are always appreciated.