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Image for the poem The Firing Squad

The Firing Squad

As the firing squad assembled at dawn, the air was humid and heavy with the weight of the impending execution. The slender woman, Michelle, stood silent against the rock prison wall, her gaze piercing through the darkness, a silent challenge to the fate that awaited her. The executioners weren't given the name of their target but I'd heard guards speaking to her earlier.    
   
I glanced at my fellow soldier, Adam, who stood beside me, his brow furrowed with unease. We had trained for this moment, but nothing could prepare us for the reality of taking another human life.    
   
Adam's voice was barely a whisper as he leaned in close. "I can't do this, Mark. I just can't."    
   
I nodded in silent agreement, my throat tight with emotion. "I know what you mean, Adam. It feels wrong."    
   
He nodded with his eyes. "She's so young, Mark. A person with hopes and dreams like the rest of us. How can we end her life like this?"    
   
She must have committed a grievous crime,” I said.    
   
“Sure,” said Adam. Something awful like steal some bread for her family?” I could feel the coldness of his sarcasm.    
   
Before I could respond, the commander's voice cut through, commanding us to ready our rifles. My heart hammered in my chest as I lifted the weapon, the weight of it heavy in my hands.    
   
The guard who had escorted her to the wall approached her with the blindfold. She looked at him and almost smiled, shaking her head. He paused and placed the cloth back in his pocket.    
   
Her face was clear and young. Her eyes darted from the commander to us and back. My grip tightened on the rifle as I struggled to push back the rising tide of fear I felt inside. What are we doing here? I thought. She reminded me of a girl I knew in school. Brown hair and eyes with such a clear pale face that wouldn’t have been so pale but for her last two weeks in her cell.    
   
As I continued looking at her face, her eyes met mine and held me. It seemed that neither of us could avert our stare. Finally, I looked away in shame.    
   
Then, without warning, the guard approached and loosened Michelle's robe. She glared at him for a moment but didn’t resist. Since her hands were bound in front of her, the robe had simply been placed over her shoulders like a cape. He pulled the robe from her shoulders leaving her exposed to the merciless gaze of the morning sun and seven young soldiers. Then he unlocked her handcuffs and relocked her hands around a post that she leaned against.    
   
To our credit, we stood silently. Tears glistened in her eyes as her naked body trembled in fear and against the cool morning air.    
   
She was a woman but looked like a child against that massive rock wall stained with blood. Hers breasts were small but more beautiful than I’d seen in girly magazines at the barracks. Even at 20 yards, I could see that her nipples stood out from the chill.    
   
I was angry that the guard had removed her robe. “Put the robe over her,” I said loud enough for the guard to hear. He glanced my way and then to the commander.    
   
“Silence!”, he yelled. Then, looking directly at me, he said, “Do you want to join her?”    
   
I looked at the ground and then back to Michelle.    
   
As we came into the yard earlier, the guard had written an “H,” “M,” or “L” on our palms. This represented shot placement. All shots were to be placed at center mass with two striking in the upper chest, two to the stomach region, and two down low, depending on what had been written in our palm. We were not to disclose our target assignment until later if we wished. One of our guns was loaded with a blank, but we would never be told which one. This was in an effort to diffuse our sense of guilt or responsibility, though I doubted its benefit.    
   
Written on my palm was an “L.” I had been so focused on Michelle’s face that I’d failed to look lower. Low meant pubic mound, that fleshy area on the pelvic bone. We’d been instructed to place “low shots” at the upper edge of the pubic hair. I could clearly see Michelle’s bushy brown hair.    
   
As I looked, I realized Michelle’s eyes were still fastened on mine. She surely knew what I was looking at. Do you have a husband? I asked with my eyes. She was young but marriage wasn’t out of the question. Surely she'd been with a man before. If she hadn't, it would be a tragedy. I wondered if her father and mother were still alive. Would they ever know their daughter’s fate?    
   
The commander's sword rose high and brought be back to the present. He yelled, "Aim, and so we raised and pointed our rifles. As my finger hovered over the trigger, I hesitated, the weight of my conscience bearing down on me felt like an anchor that might pull me into the ground.    
   
My eyes drifted from Michelle's eyes and scanned down her truck, pausing at her breasts. They're so beautiful, I thought. Then I centered my sight on the upper edge what I'd heard described as "mound of Venus," for the goddess of love and fertility.    
   
There was silence. Michelle began to sing in a soprano voice that filled the yard. The commander and the company froze in silence. She sounded like an angle to me. The song had a lilt and happy rhythm.  "We may be few but braver than millions. On hills and valleys we blow up bridges and brigades."    
   
Before she could begin the next line, the commander yelled, “Fire!,” and a deafening roar thundered in unison, tearing through the stillness of the dawn. The smell of spent gunpowder filled the air. Michelle's body jerked violently as the bullets struck her, her head bolting back against the pole. Her eyes were open as if she could still see us.    
   
Blood blossomed from multiple wounds and then she began a slow descent as her knees folded with her head still leaning back against the pole. As she slid slowly down, I could clearly see two “low” wounds and knew I’d hit my assigned mark. My only consolation was in knowing that six loads striking her in unison reduced the likelihood of discernable pain. But I couldn’t really know.        
       
Michelle's eyes seemed to remain fixed on us, accusing and pleading all at once. And as the echoes of gunfire faded into the silence of the morning, her head fell forward as if in prayer. As her body settled, she rested on her knees. They spread apart awkwardly in the dirt. Her body still leaned back against the pole that held her. Her blood-splattered pubic hairs shined in the sun. The outer lips of her vagina spread like petals of a flower seeking the sun.        
       
All that might have been in her future was laid bare in her crumpled remains. She would never make love or bring new life into the world. I looked at her frail form and felt tears filling my eyes at the waste and vanity of it all!    
       
I bent over and almost threw up but held it in. I knew that her memory would haunt me for the rest of my days, a silent reminder of the price of political oppression and obedience.
Written by LostViking (Lost Viking)
Published | Edited 6th Jul 2024
Author's Note
A dark incident told through a soldier's eyes.
All writing remains the property of the author. Don't use it for any purpose without their permission.
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