Sunday, March 07, 2010

The Killing Grounds

Here, we execute the traitors, he said, as we were walking across the vast concrete yard. Everyday we shoot about ten to fifteen. We passed a piece of wall pitted and chipped by a month's worth of bullets. We'll have to repair that section again soon, he continued, it's almost March, but we have to do it in front of a wall, you see. Being, as we are, in the city, we can't expose our loyal citizens to the danger of stray bullets, can we.

Our loyal and peace-loving citizens, you mean, I interjected.

He fixed me with a stony gaze as implacable as the gray concrete surrounding us. Indeed, he said, conveying anything but agreement. I looked away, feeling ill at ease.

As my mind drifted, drawn away from the hot ground and shimmering air, I imagined a scene such as no doubt occured daily on these grounds. A handful of men half dragged, half walking on their own to stand before the wall. Why would anyone walk willingly to their own execution, I wondered. But men are capable of such unfathomable things, I thought, and resigned myself to mere observation. The blindfolds were donned, and stony-faced soldiers appeared on the scene, equal in number to the culprits arrayed before them. In the past, there would be twice as many soldiers as there were criminals, and the ammunition handed out always included one blank cartridge for every pair of soldiers. But ammunition is precious these times.

Why did you choose this section of wall, I asked. No particular reason, he said, we simply picked a spot, and since we have to repair it regularly, we thought we might as well stay in the same place. Not to waste precious resources, he said, looking sideways at me in a way that spoke volumes of his opinion about the situation.

The firing squad assumed its position, and an officer barked out orders, curt, sharply ringing in the morning's quiet. Twelve carbines barked in unison. Splinters of concrete and plaster squirted from the wall behind the condemned, filling the air with the acrid smell of burnt stone. Twelve bodies slumped, then dropped.

We'll have to move it over to that end, I said, to make better use of the space. There will be more room for the witnesses that way.

The spectators, you mean, he replied.

I looked at him sharply. He met my gaze with the same impassive intensity as before. In that instant I recognized him for a man who had seen more than he had ever cared to see, who had been taken to a point beyond reasoning, beyond caring. A man dangerous in many ways. I know you're opposed to the concept, I said.

I am, he said.

Your concerns will be duly noted, I told him.

I have no doubt they will, he said.

From his eyes spoke the full comprehension of what he had just done. The finality of his decision, doubtlessly premeditated, executed in cold blood, chilled me to the bone. I could no longer meet his gaze but dropped my eyes to the stains on the ground, scrubbed over countless times but never fully eradicated.



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