Life is a crumpled green packet of combat rations, wolfed down desperately while crouched in a ditch, feeling the weight of my rifle and my gear. It is cold, stale, and depressing, but to us who die like flies, it is the carrion we consume. It is flesh torn from the bodies of the men we knew, even as they gasped their last breaths of their own blood, croaking "medic" as their vision faded, watching the white of bandage turn red and black with blood and dirt.
By the time I reached him, I knew it was already too late. A bullet to the chest and out the back leaves a whimpering wretch of a man clutching a hissing wound and a right lung full of blood, his only consolation that it missed the heart. Even morphine was too good to waste on him. So it was the old take off his helmet, tear off his shirt, and tie it around his chest in the hope that the bleeding would stop, his lung would reinflate itself, and the war would end tomorrow and we would all go back safe and sound.
He died a few minutes later from loss of blood, turning pale as a ghost, choking and struggling for air, then dying. I took his rations and left, forgetting to close his eyes. Let him watch. Let him look at the work of man, down at the graves of his fellows, and down at the hole in his chest where a lung should be drawing air for his next steps onward. He had a wife and two children, but the only things he will be feeding now are legions of bacteria.
In a day, he will start rotting, turning green at the neck and bloating with decay. He will not need the plastic-wrapped packets that will outlast his eyes and tongue. So I take them. They feed me as I crouch in a ditch, searching the body of another for his death- a capsule of lead as small as a seed- and his identity, stamped on sheets of stainless steel, that will be washed of his sweat and blood and displayed, shining, in a forgotten corner of a forgotten museum. Less a hand and a leg and half his face, he had the heart to scream and shout and cry, all through the night I was with him, watching him twitch from the morphine, then return to maddened wailing when it wore off. And in the morning, when the sun stabbed his blood-red spears into our flesh, the poor bastard closed his eyes and smiled.
They say every good medic keeps one dose for himself. Three remain in my bag, clinking brightly in my pouch against the cross of red on white-turned-red . Cushioning them are a quarter of the bandages I brought out, some tape and tourniquets, a trio of bloodstained cards, two needles, and a pack of drip. That might have saved a few lives back home. Not here. Not when they gasp and shiver and lose the will to live, drained out of them along with their viscera. They would rather have death than watch as they slowly lose control of what few body parts they have left after the vultures pick them clean.
I am their gravedigger. I feed off what they leave behind, their death is my profession. Somewhere else I might have been a saviour.