When we were kids, Pascal and I would joke about shit like this.
I’d help him over a rock, he’d call me captain- we didn’t have guns, so we’d act like some bad guys already took ‘em- we’d make do with sticks and rocks. Never did anything with ‘em. Never had anyone to fight. It was just me and him, most days.
Even now, it’s not all that different. Every day is the same, and that calm is what they call peace back at home. As he and I rest on the same fatass rock we always do, we eat our meals in our fatigues, laughing about how we got here like a couple of old men as our rifles rest uselessly against the forest ground.
“Nah, man, nah- I don’t like that one.” He explains. “It’s just like- why, you know? What was- what was the point of that movie? I just felt like shit for two hours.”
“Yeah… I dunno, I like it. How long ago didja watch it?”
“Like… two, three years, or something. Before we enlisted.”
“Why wasn’t I invited?”
“I watched it with my girlfriend, remember her?”
“That woulda been the… the tall one?”
“Yeah, her. Jessie. She was… I don’t wanna think about that either.”
“Think she might’ve impacted your viewing any?”
“Nah… I just don’t see myself liking that. It just wouldn’t happen.”
“I don’t blame you. It ain’t for everyone.”
“Why’d you like it?”
“Dunno. I’m sad, I guess. Was.”
“Think you’d still like it? If you saw it again?”
“Really? Well, why?”
“It’s uh… it’d take me back, I guess.”
“Are you still eating?”
“As a matter of fact I am, Ray. Not everyone absorbs their nutrition as fast as you.”
“Okay, true, but now listen- you put me in like, a Korean barbecue-“
Crack. Searing pain above my ear. Over in an instant. Calling his name.
Muffled. Bags over our heads. Darkness. Silence.
I can’t stand yet. My arms force my body up, pressing helplessly against the cold, red-tinted ground. The room is dark. My eyes slowly adjust to the filthy surroundings- just a grimy, windowless room somewhere, filled with old, lifeless air and the stench of death. I feel like I’m underground, but there’s no way I could know if that’s the case or not.
“Ray… hey, Ray… Ray, are you awake?”
His voice doesn’t sound quite right. What did they do to him? I force myself to stand up. I look all around for someone to pay for this, but all I see are four walls and my best friend in front of me- tied to a chair, his face beaten to a pulp, so swollen you can’t see his eyes.
“PASCAL!” I cling to him, trying to get him out. It’s pointless. As my foot stops on something soft, I realize there was one thing I missed. Lifting it up, I scan the claustrophobic prison chamber before picking up the shred of paper that was placed before me who knows how long ago.
I stare at it.
I drop it.
With a clang, something else falls behind me at the same time.
I turn around just as the opening above closes. On the ground, two things are waiting for me: a knife, and another goddamn slip of paper. I cry up to the shut feeder.
“WHO ARE YOU?! WHO THE FUCK PUT US HERE?! WHAT- WHAT’D YOU DO TO PASCAL?! HEY! HEY!” I jump up to bang on the ceiling. It’s no use. Nothing. Regretfully, I turn my gaze down to the gift.
“ʳ⁻ᴿᵃʸ…” Pascal utters. I can’t listen to him now. I can’t pull myself away from the object in my hands. A knife, and another note.
𝙺𝚒𝚕𝚕 𝚑𝚒𝚖, 𝚘𝚛 𝚠𝚎 𝚠𝚒𝚕𝚕 𝚝𝚘𝚛𝚝𝚞𝚛𝚎 𝚢𝚘𝚞 𝚝𝚘𝚘. 𝙴𝚡𝚌𝚎𝚙𝚝 𝚝𝚑𝚒𝚜 𝚝𝚒𝚖𝚎, 𝚠𝚎’𝚕𝚕 𝚕𝚎𝚝 𝚑𝚒𝚖 𝚠𝚊𝚝𝚌𝚑. 𝚃𝚑𝚎𝚗 𝚑𝚎 𝚌𝚊𝚗 𝚔𝚒𝚕𝚕 𝚢𝚘𝚞 𝚒𝚗𝚜𝚝𝚎𝚊𝚍.
𝙸𝚏 𝚢𝚘𝚞 𝚠𝚊𝚗𝚝 𝚝𝚘 𝚎𝚜𝚌𝚊𝚙𝚎, 𝚠𝚎 𝚙𝚞𝚝 𝚊 𝚔𝚎𝚢 𝚒𝚗 𝚑𝚒𝚜 𝚗𝚎𝚌𝚔. 𝙸𝚝’𝚜 𝚢𝚘𝚞𝚛𝚜.
I scream and kick at the wall, the note falling to the ground as I clench the knife in my hands.
“WHO ARE YOU BASTARDS? I’M GONNA MURDER YOU FUCKERS! I SWEAR TO GOD, I’LL KILL-“ I lose my breath as I pick away at the wall with their knife. “I’LL KILL ALL YOU MOTHERFUCKERS! I’LL KILL YOU!”
I’m so loud, I don’t realize Pascal was talking to me.
“r-Ray… Ray, what do they want… Ray…”
I drop the knife, running up to him.
“It’s gonna be fine. It’s gonna be alright, Pascal. We’re gonna- gonna get you the fuck out of here-“ I reach for my mic, pressing on it as I realize there’s nothing there. I grasp my chest. It hurts. My heart is beating so fast.
“Ray… Ray, are you- are you okay?” He says, his voice tightening on the last syllable as he fails to cry. I gotta save him. I gotta save him.
I grab the knife and tilt the chair over.
“Come on… come on, we can get out of here…”
“Ray… just tell me… what’s happening… I can’t… I can’t see anymore, Ray…”
I clench my teeth as I cut the rope clean in half. Pascal falls out on the ground.
“I can’t… can’t move, Ray…”
The blood on his sleeves congeals around his wrists. As I examine his body, rolling them up, I see his tendons have been slashed and his skin has been peeled in a few spots. I look away. I walk back to the wall and pound on it again.
“YOU BETTER LET US THE FUCK OUT! YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING! THEY’LL FUCKING STRIKE THIS PLACE! YOU’LL BE HUNTED DOWN- THEY’LL HUNT YOU DOWN TILL THEY GET ALL OF YOU! THEY’RE GONNA KILL ALL OF YOU!”
I breathe. Pointless. The wall seems to push me away. I look back at Pascal, just as stuck to the ground as he was the chair.
“What do they want… Ray…”
I squeeze the handle of the knife above my forehead, my tightening fist beside it. I throw it down, and walk forward just a few paces before I have to stop so my brain can catch up enough to speak coherently.
“They want me- they want me to- they want me to kill you, and then- they want me- they want me to-“
“Ray… what are you saying, Ray?”
“They want me to kill… they want me to kill you.”
“Why… why do they want you… to kill me…?
“I don’t know… I don’t understand… I don’t FUCKING UNDERSTAND!” I slam my fists against the wall.
“It’s okay… you said it yourself… hey… it’s gonna be okay… right? Yeah… it’s gonna be alright. Ray… if you have… to kill me… you know what you need to do.”
“I’M NOT GOING- I’m not going to kill you, P-Pascal…” I struggle to say his name. “I’m never… gonna… you…”
“Then- we can wait, yeah? Let’s… let’s wait. They’ll come get us. The other guys will come get us.”
Clinking metal behind me. As I turn around, the feeder is already shut again. On the floor rests twenty-seven dog tags. I pick one up. The name’s one I spoke not a day ago. I can’t help but pick up another. Someone I saw this morning. And another. And another. And on every tag, a Pascal I’ve already lost.
I sob and slam my fist against the wall. I stop using words. My vocal cords burn as I fruitlessly squall at them- the nameless horde of demons above us.
We wait for seven days.
Seven days wasted.
Seven days lost.
Then, a message.
I watch it fall. We were trying to sleep. It floats to the ground in utter silence. I don’t pick it up until a few hours later when I’ve gathered the strength.
𝙸𝚏 𝚢𝚘𝚞 𝚍𝚘𝚗’𝚝 𝚔𝚒𝚕𝚕 𝚑𝚒𝚖 𝚝𝚘𝚍𝚊𝚢, 𝚒𝚝’𝚜 𝚊𝚕𝚕 𝚘𝚟𝚎𝚛.
𝙲𝚘𝚖𝚎 𝚘𝚗. 𝚆𝚎 𝚓𝚞𝚜𝚝 𝚠𝚊𝚗𝚗𝚊 𝚜𝚎𝚎 𝚠𝚑𝚊𝚝 𝚑𝚊𝚙𝚙𝚎𝚗𝚜.
I crumple it.
“You are gonna kill me, right?”
I look over to Pascal.
“I’m not. I can’t do that.”
“I… I don’t think you have a choice, Ray.”
“I’m… I’m not gonna do that to you.”
“Are you scared?”
“Yeah… more than… more than that, I don’t wanna… I don’t wanna live in a world where I killed you. Can you imagine that…?”
It takes Pascal a minute to answer me.
“Well… yeah, Ray, I can. It’s… it’s not that hard. Don’t get me wrong, I hate it too, but… what choice do we have?”
“I’m not gonna… I’m NOT gonna…”
“You have to, Ray. Or else… well, I mean… I don’t wanna see you get tortured. At least… this way… we can make it quick… then maybe… they’ll let you go.”
“I can’t kill you.”
“I’d rather… you kill me, than one of those fucking monsters…”
“That’s not how your life… ends.”
“Why not, Ray? What do you mean… that’s how it can end, if we make it.”
“It’s not right…”
“Come on… we’re both crying now. We’ve both lost. Let’s get this over with, yeah?”
“Can we…” I can’t look at Pascal. I know he’s looking at me. He’s at least trying to. But he doesn’t have a choice anymore as to whether or not he can see. I do. I turn to him. “Can we talk a little first?”
One day in July, me and Pascal were playing in the woods like we always did. We were tired from running, so we had been walking around pretty slowly, taking in the surroundings for once. We never did that. Never stopped to look around. And the one time we did, the world came and spat in our face.
She was just a puppy. We didn’t really get why she looked the way she did at the time. Now I think a fox got her. Pascal wanted to help the poor thing. By the base of a tree, it was a wonder she was still breathing. We talked a long time about what to do with that dog. So long that I wonder if it was our fault she didn’t make it. We were only halfway to his house when it happened. I was holding her. Didn’t notice until later. We showed his mom, and she said the pup was dead. That’s when I remembered her falling asleep in my arms. I was so happy when she stopped whimpering. I thought it meant she was getting better.
I pick up the knife.
“You remember that, Pascal?”
“Yeah… yeah, I do. I think about that a lot.”
“I’m still scared of that dog, Pascal.”
“Not whatever got to her?”
“No. Just the dog. We saw the dog. I held that dog. I think about that dog all the time.”
“I’m sorry, Pascal.”
“Please don’t be sorry. I don’t want… you to be sorry.”
“It doesn’t… doesn’t make sense, Ray. Let’s be happy. Let’s try to be happy, okay?”
“Okay. I’m happy.”
“Me too, Ray. I wouldn’t… I wouldn’t have wanted my last moment to go by without you.”
“If… if I get out… what do I tell them?”
“Your family, Pascal. Don’t tell me you forgot.”
“Ah, yeah… I was just… trying not to think about it, I guess… tell them the bad guys got me. This moment… it stays between us. That’s how it should be.”
“I’m scared, Pascal.”
“We know, Ray. We’re both scared.”
“You ready to go?”
“I’m ready… I’m ready. Goodbye, Ray. I love you.”
I close my eyes. I feel his neck. It’s hard under it. The bastards really did put a key in there. But I don’t think about them at that moment. I just think about Pascal, and all the days we spent together.
“I love you too.”
He doesn’t say, “Why aren’t you moving, Ray?” He doesn’t say anything as I stand here waiting for him to speak. I want him to talk so bad. I want to keep talking to him. Don’t want to see him go. Don’t want to do this. But he’s done. He won’t let another word out of his mouth.
I’ve never held an object more tightly than this godamned knife.
I’m still just scared.
I don’t much like this life.
His neck’s fluids bathe me in my guilt as he screams into my ear, the blade wedging into him. I keep turning it, searching for the part I need to cut for him to just die, but it goes on for what feels like days. I don’t care how long I knew him. I think, surely, he hates me now. The scream gets quieter and quieter until one moment it stops and I eventually realize it has a minute later. The key in my hands, I realize I’m probably never getting out of here anyway. In the end, everything I went though was nothing more than our best bet in a hopeless situation. A mathematical neccesity so that maybe, just maybe, one of us might survive. But as I collapse into the ground, covered in my brother’s lost life, I have no hope. Only regret that I lived in the first place.
The bodies of Pascal Morgan and Ray Foster were found two years later in the aftermath of a skirmish. It is unknown what led to their demise.