Dear Mama. Your little boy is going to hell. You don’t have to fret. You don’t have to worry about it anymore. There is no longer a need for all that late night praying with Father Paul because the Devil himself has prepared a seat for me, just as you once said, and I can feel the burning mother, I can smell it too. It won’t be long now.
I am writing to you with a final farewell. Sealed with a story. Just like the ones you loved to hate so much. The Tragedy of the Lonely Soldier. The Finale of Your Beloved Son. I think some sick part of you will enjoy it.
Our patrol was ambushed in the jungle.
This war was a lost cause from the start. But you knew that. The enemy has lived on this land for centuries. Their berserkers move like ghosts through the trees. You don’t even want to know what happens when those madmen catch you. The only way to distinguish their footsteps from the wind is when the birds grow silent, and by then it is too late; far, far, too late.
The archers use arrows dipped in poison harvested from local frogs. The foot soldiers have it too. You and every shithead in modern society might laugh and call these people primitive, but this particular brand of poison is unknown to the western world, and perhaps that is for the best. One drop can make a man wander between death and madness for hours, days, or weeks before it all ends. Two drops creates something impossible.
The first soldier to fall was a friend of mine. His name was Mike Carter. Mike and I trained in the same unit and ended up on the same patrols ever since. His mother wrote to him daily. Most days, he asked me to spell check his correspondence, largely because his handwriting resembled something you might see scrawled on a bathroom wall. Mike had a girlfriend, too, but he didn’t ask me to spell-check those letters. I guess Mindy didn’t mind the chicken scratch.
The first arrow hit him in the neck. The second was just below his eye.
Mike looked at me like the shock of it would never wear off. Like a ‘wait, this isn’t how I go’ sort of moment. After that he just kept screaming. Mama, mama, mama. The screams brought more arrows. Two more in our unit went down. A third signaled an incoming charge. I tried to get in position. But Mike just kept trying to hand me this notebook, and it was covered in blood, and the damn thing kept slipping out of my hands. And he just kept fucking screaming… like a banshee at this point…
Mama, MAMA, mama…
Over and over again.
I had to shoot him, Mother. I had to do it. It was a mercy.
Even though it hurt me so much to do it. Even though it killed me to do it. I had to put a bullet in his fucking head just to make him stop screaming our position, you understand? I had to try to save myself. I had to try to save the unit, mother, not that it mattered. What does your God think of that?
The panic of the moment made me run.
Do you know those times when you caught me doing wrong? Skipping prayers, cussing in school, fucking around with girls. I ran from them like I ran from you. Into the jungle. Down through the swamps. Into enemy territory, perhaps, anywhere as far the fuck away from my rotting friend sitting up against that stump with a hole in his head as could humanly possible.
I kept running when the gunfire stopped. I kept running when the screams continued. I kept running from the ripping and roaring of beastly men in the throes of bloodlust and I deserted them, mother, all of them, all of my friends. I left them there to die alone. I just kept running. I ran and didn’t stop running until night fell over the trees. And then I ran some more.
I don’t remember exactly when He found me.
I don’t know whether to say ‘Him’ or ‘It’.
Regardless, I only heard Him follow after my feet finally stopped moving. The noise was subtle; a break of a branch, the quieting of the birds. I pretended not to notice it at first. I didn’t want Him to know that I knew. I waited until he got closer. I waited until his filthy fucking smell filled my nostrils. Then I broke stride, found a tree, and scaled it, firing my pistol into the darkness like an idiot all the way.
The bullets hit him. I know they did. I heard Him grunt. I heard him stagger. But He didn’t stop.
I knew it was Mike before his teeth cut my ankle. I kicked back and he snarled horribly. His voice didn’t sound human. But how could it? Two arrows sat wedged in his windpipe. He ripped at my pants, shirt, anything he could get a hold of to drag me down. I scrambled and made it to a high branch, but by that point, it was too late.
The wound in my leg has begun to puss.
The infection has spread too fast.
My legs have turned numb and my arms are getting heavy.
More of the boys have gathered around the tree. Half the unit is here now. Eyes have been cut. Throats have been slashed. But they’re all still standing there waiting for me.
They want me to join them.
I have written you this letter in a dead man’s notebook. It seems ironic that he should be the one to kill me. If you should find it, somehow, please mail Mike’s letter to his mother.
The branch is about to give way.
It’s time to be with my men.
With Regret. Your only son.