The Price, version two

By

Ryan Rose

Our Leatherneck has no name. He is just another Marine on another island in the Pacific. He has been here since H-Hour on D-Day. He went in with the first wave and came out alive. He doesn't know how many men he's killed. He doesn't care. If it weren't so damned hot, he would be cold, wet, and tired. As it is, he's wet and tired. He has lost twenty pounds since he enlisted, and his face is streaked with mud. He's a skinny, dirty man. Maybe he's sick. Maybe not. He just wants to go home.

For all intents and purposes, the battle is over. There is a sniper here, and a holdout there, but no organization. The bunkers are gone, on this part of the island at least. The platoon is moving inland, but for now, they've stopped to rest.

He sees something move in the trees to his left. He looks again and sees the squint of Oriental eyes aiming a rifle at another man in the platoon. He grabs his own rifle and fires. The sound ricochets off the trees, and the bullet imbeds itself in one. The Marine doesn't take the time to aim again. The Jap is already on the run. Our Marine takes off after him, unsheathing his Ka-Bar as he goes. As he gains on the enemy, he can feel his blood pressure rising, although he doesn't think about it, nor will he ever.

He leaps for the Japanese soldier, grabbing his feet as he hits the ground. The Jap falls forward on his stomach, his rifle thrown from his grasp. The gyrene scrambles to his feet, gaining just enough balance to take the few steps necessary to get to the man's chest. As the Japanese warrior fumbles for his own knife, the Marine drives his Ka-Bar deep into the Nip's chest, impaling the heart. He dies instantly. As instantly as it takes for his systems to shut down.

Our Marine goes over to a fallen tree and sits down to rest. The adrenaline is starting to wear off, and he's tired. The reality of what just happened is starting to sink in. He's seen dead bodies before, and he knew that he'd killed one of them, but he didn't know which. They were just dead Japs. But this one was different. He didn't know why. It wasn't because this man had a family. That had never bothered him. They all had families. So did he, but they still shot at him. Why should he treat them any differently? No, the more he thought about it, the more he thought that it was because he'd never killed a man before. Oh, he'd shot, and a man had died, but it wasn't the same. That had been in battle. You couldn't be sure it was your shot. Even if you were sure, there were other bodies killed by other men. But he was alone now. There were other men, but only one corpse. He'd been the one to make the kill. He'd used a knife, so he'd been able to feel the man struggle, felt the man's heart racing, felt the man's hot blood on his hands, and it made him feel like a killer. Or maybe he felt bad because he thought about it. He'd never really thought about his job before. The truth is, he didn't know why he felt bad.

The body was sprawled face down in the mud, rifle just out of reach, the Leatherneck's Ka-Bar protruding from his chest. So this is it, he thought. When you see the consequences of your actions, however justifiable they may be, when you have time to stop and think, it all comes down to this. Everything has a price. This is it. This is the price of winning.