A True War Story

Up in the mountains, we found a baby VC water buffalo. It had no reason to be there, but then neither did we, if you sat and thought hard about it. A few of us chased the thing down, Rat Kiley and Timmy and Sanders and me, and took it with us to camp. I’d just finished my beans when I saw Rat go over to the creature. He touched it. Actually, he petted it. Even opened up some cans of food and waved it under its nose. But the thing just looked at him. Seemed like it didn’t move a muscle. Rat shrugged. I saw his face, so white like paper, almost shining.

It was just a thing, you know. Just a thing. Who cares?

Who the fuck cares?

Someone was shot. I saw the buffalo sink and Rat Kiley holding the gun. The silence rang, more piercing than any sound. I heard my breath, struggling. I heard Sanders’ breath next to me. Everything frantic and slamming but not making a sound. I looked back at the buffalo – still up. Still. Not moving. My eyes were fixed there, looking at everything but also at nothing. How was the buffalo up? There was no sound at all, the thing didn’t even whimper. I wanted to speak. I didn’t stop Rat but I wanted to puncture that goddamn silence, shoot it up, bomb it, drown it, just make it cry.

Another shot. Had Rat stepped back or forward this time? It didn’t matter. For a second, the silence was gone and it filled our eyes. It was even beautiful. How sharply Rat had attacked that silence, aimed his gun right for once. The buffalo lost an ear. Was it the ear? How lucky. How lucky and Rat realised it too so he shot it in the hindquarters and in the hump. I could feel Sanders’ heart and my heart beating in agreement.

He shot the thing twice, right in its middle. Yes. Yes. He shot it in the mouth, got real close and clean took it all off. We stood there and watched like some fucking day out at the movies. And the buffalo swallowed it all up. Who the fuck cares. Lemon was gone. Rat shot the tail off. Lemon and Kiley were best friends. Brothers. You come here and nobody gets to choose who you love, who’s your friend, who gets hurt. Kiley didn’t get to choose. He’s no God.

He shoots the thing in its chest, pieces of flesh falling to the ground. The air smells like it always does – green, smoke, hot, death. It isn’t new, just fresh so we take it, all dirty desperate greedy. Lemon is dead. Who the fuck cares?

Nobody cared. Rat switched to automatic. The gun kept going, killing that silence. This was important. This was the whole war and nobody said anything. It was wondrous that the buffalo was not dead after all those bullets. Rat kept shooting as if he was unpacking a suitcase, one shirt out after the other. Yes. Yes. Yes. He knelt down and carefully shot the thing’s knee. It fell. It couldn’t get up. Just lay there on its side. How the fuck could it give up like that? Pathetic. Can’t even be a damn hero for yourself. Can’t even matter.

Rat shot its nose. He swooped forward and whispered to it, putting it to sleep and all, I guess, and then he shot it in the throat. It was beautiful. Like a real Hollywood picture. Sending off your lover slowly because you love them but you also really hate them and none of it even matters. And it’s funny but right now, I remembered this girl I once had but now I don’t.

Maybe the baby buffalo was really braver than us. It could take the silence. It made the silence. It could lie there, it could just be, while we shot everything up. We couldn’t even take ourselves, the existence of our bodies, and how they ran but didn’t make a sound. Nobody’s a fucking hero and I saw it in the buffalo’s eyes, the only thing that had any bit of life ever in it.
Who cares?

Rat was crying. I put my hand to my cheek and it was wet too and was it tears or sweat or blood, who ever knows here? He tried to speak but the silence got the better of him so he hugged his gun and went off because he probably didn’t know what else to do. We didn’t either. We had no name or feeling or thing to shoot. Just silence.

This piece is a retelling of a scene from Tim O’Brien’s “How to Tell a True War Story”, from the perspective of another soldier.

Image taken from the film “Full Metal Jacket”, dir. by Stanley Kubrick

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