Bombshells illuminate the distant horizon dimly through the dense forest; shrapnel slices the air. The man presses his back against the rough, scarred bark of a centuries-old tree, his rifle held vertical. His breath comes quickly and shallowly, though as quietly as possible; his eyes dart left, right, left, right. Clear. He darts across the small clearing filled with mud and remnants of battle and presses up against another equally marred trunk. Left, right, left right again – still clear. He begins his journey, slower now than before, for he knows he is at little risk this deep in the trees. The sound of machine gun fire (combat?) is more distant now, and he finds his thoughts straying to far-off places so much unlike his current predicament. Before he knows it he has reached his destination and he bulks his mind, preparing himself for his task. He peers around another majestic trunk into the dark, and can just make out the faint glow of a barely lit lantern a few hundred yards away. He pauses for a moment, catching his breath, then begins the run across the field. He sees in his peripherals a few other men like himself, running crouched over, pausing occasionally to duck, to ensure their safety. There. He is at the edge and sees into the camp. There is a tent, a dark triangle shape, with a glow showing ever so slightly. He silently creeps up around the side and to the front and thrusts his gun in first, follows with his head. His finger is on the trigger and begins to pull when he looks at the man sitting upright in shock, sees the pen in his hand, sees the unfinished letter at his side, and he finds himself unable to pull the trigger. This is not an enemy, this is a friend. This man is different than everyone else he has killed with this rifle. This man has a life, a lover, a home. A future. And he cannot take it away from him. He has not the right. He replaces his rifle on his side slowly, deliberately, and maintains eye contact with the man who is staring back with unspoken gratitude, who is visibly shaking with relief? fear? as he backs out of the tent and back into the night and back into hell, and for the first time in a long time he feels as though he is doing someone good.
[NOTE: wrote this a while back, probably after watching some WWII movies while I was sick in January. Thoughts and input are welcome!]