This place is a battlefield. A war zone. I scramble back into the trenches only long enough to gasp a breath and shoot a quick glance. I see my brothers terrified. Paralyzed by fear and sweating more bullets than are being shot. Their eyes hold a gaze of defeat, a look of hopelessness and loss. Bottom lips quivering. Fingers trembling. I can almost feel their hearts beating outside of their vests. The dirt, smoke, soot, and blood masquerading a seemingly placid face. But I know all to well the horrors that their eyes behold, as the same anxiety courses like a cancer through my veins, slowly eating away at my soul, not chunks at a time, but a nibbling that you don’t notice until it’s completely gone. This is what their emotionless, blank faces scream. Though the battle rages relentlessly, overpowering spoken words, their expressionless faces out-yell the modern conventions of warfare. But the most devastating weapons are not guns armed by the enemy, stray bullets dancing across the helmets of friends and foes, or mortars lobbed in random directions. The most deadly enemy is standing right alongside them. Staggering through the same trenches. Dodging the same bullets. Shooting the same rounds. Their most powerful enemy is not across the vast expanse of broken space littered with discarded shells. Their biggest enemy lives within the same body that fights. It is the darkness that paralyzes them without even knowing it. Their bodies keep pushing, almost like an automated machine; but with every pull of the trigger, a discharge of gunpowder is not the only substance that escapes in the blink of an eye. Just like that, hope is gone. Color has lost its life as the once vibrant shades of greens give way to the hazy tones of gray, brown, and black. The external images mirror the slow decay of these men’s heart as the darkness slowly sets in. Unbeknownst to my brothers, I can see it growing in them. I want to scream at them to see what they are becoming, to recognize the grip it holds. I want them to refocus on the war that is raging around them, rather than mindlessly emptying another cartridge to the invisible enemy that patrols the other side. I stand fully aware of the foothold it has in me, but I am blind to its movement, unable to see its progression, and incapable of preventing its advances. I share the same fate as my brothers. The enemy is crouching at the door, patiently waiting for as long as it takes to pick us off one by one.
As my mind races with thoughts of hopelessness and fear my glazed-over eyes catch a glimpse of what appears to be a flash of white in contrast to the depravity that surrounds me. It was nothing but a flash, but just enough to catch my attention as the shadow disappears quickly deeper into the trenches. I stand there frozen for a second with a dumbfounded look stretched across my face. I do not know if any other of my comrades caught the momentary disruption, but I know that I am the only one who let it phase me. Yet, as I jolt back to reality and the yelling starts to break through my self-conceived silence, I begin to notice there is something different, something that is slightly askew. The feeling you get when you walk into your room and you can tell that something has been moved or disturbed, but you cannot quite put your finger on what exactly it is; all that you know is something is off, and it will drive you insane until you expose the disruption and set order back in its rightful place. While this wave of panic crashes and nearly sweeps me under in its control, I struggle to make sure that my situation still under my control; it is. My brothers are still fighting. There are still screams piercing the air. Dirt and blood are still married under my boots. A gun is still locked between my fingers. My reality is still the same, yet the difference still evades me. I begin to take aim again. I am falling back mindlessly into a routine that appears more hopeless than before. Until a small glint catches my eye. Nothing but a brief glimmer that lasts only a second. It is puzzling because I have not noticed any sort of light after spending so much time in these trenches. Not that I have forgotten what the sun looks like, but it appears that the darkness has a presence that overpowers the sun. It seems like an ominous, black cloud hangs over our battlefield, shrouding everything in it in a draining lethargy. But the glint was out of place like nothing I have seen before. I can not help but stare at the place where the light reflected only a few seconds ago. It is wreaking havoc on my mind causing my concentration to jump from one thought to the next. What could it have possibly been that seemingly grabbed my attention without an reservation and held it captive like a willing prisoner?
As my mind gives chase to the endless answers that might satisfy the that burning question, I can feel a stirring in my soul. It starts off faint and is hard to hear amidst the rumbling of machines and explosions that surround me on every side. If I don’t listen close enough it will be lost amidst the chaos that consumes me. My ears strain to hold onto whispers of a fleeting voice that spoke in that moment of disturbance. My mind clamors for some interpretation to catalog this new found feeling. I imagine my eyes are glazed over as my head works overtime to correctly sort what to do with this welling up in the deepest parts of my chest. While my stomach has moved from the stage of anxiety, it knows not what is next, but in it’s wake it has left behind a welcome yet unknown peace as it reaches toward it’s next victim: my heart. Until this point its rate has been a consistent pump, churning out energy like clockwork, never resting for a moment, always matching the level of stress my sleep-deprived mind scurried at. But now I can feel a change. The adrenaline is subsiding; the pace begins to slow –not by much, but just enough to not feel a pulse in my finger tips. Whatever is overtaking my vitals is unrelenting. It is demanding every part of me, but one refuses to give in. It is too smart for its own good. The helmet that sits atop my head acts as a metaphorical shield as earth, mortar, and blood add layer upon layer to its pressure. But it does not feel the physical weight, only the conglomeration of psychological, emotional, and intellectual –which far outweigh the combined matter of the vast battlefield that lay before me. Not only does it act a shield, but also an isolator, cutting ties between the rest of my body, operating on its own set of orders, barking its own set of commands to whatever part of me will listen. But it is alone now. Nothing else will listen to it. It is being starved by the advancing alien, cutting off all forms contact from its once loyal subjects. It is only a matter of moments before it self-destructs in order to avoid the disgrace of the impending defeat. But a white flag is flown from the rafters of my thoughts moments before the invading alien storms the gate of fortress of my mind. Understanding ensues. Unraveling itself like the flag that waves overhead as the winds change.
The air smells different now, not as musty. There seems to be a freshness that rides on the wings of the wind. Not much, just a hint. Like a pinch of cinnamon added as a hot cup of coffee, tantalizing you, but escaping you just as you breath a long enough whiff. The battle has changed too. The gun in my hand is not a lifeless chunk of cold metal, but I can feel the heat of the cartridges discharged. I can hear the click of the hammer as each round is ready to be slung across No Man’s Land to an identified target. I can feel the sweat as it crawls down the end of my nose on its way to water the thirsty ground beneath my feet. My attention is focus as my heart, head, and hands become synced into one fluid motion. It is no longer a lifeless routine. A renewed sense of meaning washes over my weary bones, refreshing the lifeless corpse that once stood in its place. Shades of color encroach the edges of my scope, faded at first, almost as if they are warring with the clouded darkness as it resists the advancement of reinforcements. These moments are sporadic, lasting for only brief seconds of glory. I cannot do this alone, because the darkness is too strong for one man to fight alone.
My brothers are still lifeless. Still firing their shots into the reaches of the unknown. Their callused hands are methodically loading and reloading blank after blank cartridge. Fear still grips their hearts. Apathy still strangles their souls. I scream towards their direction, trying to get their attention. But my words are just as hollow as the shells that litter the trenches, reverberating echoes off empty shells of men. Despair lurks over my shoulder, trying to convince me that I am the only one who has awoke to reality, that I am the only hope any of my brothers may have. I begin to give in to its lies. I begin to believe my doubts. That is, until a faint glint interrupts my thoughts of self-pity.
I catch a sparkle in the eye of my nearest comrade. He blinks repeatedly, rapidly, almost like his brain is trying to process what has just happened. I see is fingers begin to recoil from the trigger, his shoulders appear to relax the slightest bit, and his jaw releases its clenched position. The head turns at a slight angle, just enough for me to catch a sly smile pass across the lips of my fellow soldier. A sense of pride has found its way back into his heart. A sense of honor has been restored in his soul. A sense of urgency has stimulated his mind. A sense of passion has ignited his being. His eyes are focused. His body is taut. There is no longer a fear behind those once lifeless eyes; now there is a determination that cannot be halted, a fight that will not be stopped, and a will that cannot be thwarted. A fire burns behind those eyes; a fire that is reflected in the pupils of my own and the recesses of my soul.
I am suddenly aware that others are changing their stance; others are beginning to be revived. The condition is spreading like a wildfire, out of control throughout the ranks, leaving no individual spared of its contagious symptoms. Within moments, every man has renewed vigor. There is a new focus, a new goal, a new end. The enemy is now clearly defined. The cloud is lifting off the horizon. The awareness has infiltrated us all.
We are no longer individuals fighting thousands; we are thousands fighting against an individual. We are no longer soldiers fighting a battle; we are an army fighting a war. We are no longer human beings standing for separate causes; we are brothers fighting alongside each other.
Hope has been restored; therefore, we will fight to end, no matter what the cost.