The man couldn’t remember who had proclaimed it, but he regretted confirming it with his own eye. War is hell. Even more, he regretted discovering that war is not the only hell there is.
Working for the government, even as a teacher, he could see that change was coming. Still, he tried to keep his head down and work, for the children’s sake. They knew nothing of economic systems and cold war hangovers, political gerrymandering and social unrest. One day, perhaps, but not then. As if he alone could have stopped the fragile globes of their worlds from shattering.
When the war broke out, others in his neighborhood came to him like they went to every other man. He was no soldier or tactician. He wasn’t even brave, but very soon he discovered his options were few and desperate. The UN was not going to make it in time. All those days and nights, they called it madness, chaos, bedlam. Later, with patience and poise, people used the word cleansing, as if what was being done was good or right.
He prayed for the last time before shooting the first man in the heart. In the beginning, he was no great marksman. Pointing the hunting rifle and squeezing the trigger with his eyes open was the best he could do, throw a grenade and run screaming for his life. Then, slowly, things became more quiet and more calm. Trying to sleep in the ruins of a burned out office building, imagining faction soldiers and their tanks creeping around the next city block, remembering the faces of the children when they were still alive, that was when the quote had first occurred to him. War is hell.
Maybe it was because of the skills he had learned, maybe it was because there was no one else, but the day things changed again was the first of their few offensives. He couldn’t disagree with the logic. Allah would oblige their fighting back against those who would slaughter them, although he had not thought much of his god since killing the first man. Thinking at all seemed to take too much time, too much energy. Survival was all he and the others clung to, looking and fighting ahead. Years later, he wondered at the confused mire of memories, pondering on how he had endured the things he had seen.
He discovered that there were other kinds of hells when he shot that man in his head. It had been over 100m with little to no wind. It had been repaired half a dozen times, but that same hunting rifle fired true. Through the scope, a tiny dot was painted on the man’s brow as the bullet passed through, then he saw a scattering spray erupt from the back of the head. The man, wearing the stripes of their enemy and the uniform of an officer, rocked backwards and fell from the back of the jeep. No one cheered, because all of them had grown quiet, just like him, but there were palms on his shoulder, hands on his arm.
Then, his spotter called out once more to their god. His scope came up in a moment, and he watched, along with some of the others, as the enemy captain rose to his feet. It wasn’t groggy or disoriented. He stood up as if he had lapsed into slumber, and now he was awake. The jeep returned to retrieve him as if nothing strange had happened.
It was an event that none of them spoke of again. And when stories from other groups funneled through of soldiers who would not die, and men who fought like animals, pouncing from the darkness and tearing at throats, they still kept silent. The man kept silent. He watched through his scope through all those years. He took more lives, and he never saw the man with the dot on his forehead ever again.
Eventually, the UN did arrive, and a kind of peace was enforced. But peace couldn’t restore lives, or rebuild souls. Peace could not erase what he had learned. The man knew. In a different life, he had been a teacher. He knew the name of the creature that had been born on those battlefields, a thing which profited from death and could not be killed with a bullet to the brain.
So, he left his homeland, the one whose name had changed so many times already, and he left his god, whose name he could only scarcely recall, but he took his hunting rifle, and the memories of all the things he had seen through its scope.
In my second book, Where Shadows Lie: Hunting Grounds, the main character, Nicholas Hughes meets a group of hunters on his travels. One of them is a tall, solemn man that goes by Claus and speaks in an accent. He is a sniper and look out of the group, and I don’t go too far into his past, but he is a survivor of the Bosnian Civil War. Along with Maggie and Shaw, he educates Nick on how normal people survive against things that are faster, stronger, and tougher. Claus specifically illuminates the harsher necessities of the life of the hunter, and all of it is because of the things he’s seen.