Morrison finds a reason for being.
Morrison remembered the photographs of executions he’d seen. Especially the famous one taken during the Vietnam war, a South Vietnamese officer about to shoot a suspected Viet Cong guerilla in the head. It was the expressions that he remembered, the grimaces on the faces of those about to be killed and the cold determination of the executioners.
For the first time, Morrison understood the impact of those photos. Now that he could gaze upon the fixed expressions of the firing squad facing him, he knew the desperation of those about to die. No matter how shitty it had been, it wasn’t easy to let go of life. All thought was directed at avoidance of the inevitable, now that it was clear that it was going to happen.
His body screamed at him through every nerve that he should run, ignoring the bonds that held him to the post. He twitched and wriggled but nothing availed. Thoughts whirled in his mind, come and gone in an instant, as his being sought a way out.
And then the face of his instructor intruded, mouthing words at him in his final day before embarking on this sorry adventure. “Concentrate on the mission,” he was saying. “Whatever happens, remember why you’re doing this. You are the only one who can make it happen.”
The absurdity of the memory held Morrison’s attention for a moment. Amidst all the preparation for the possibility of capture and interrogation, this was the least likely instruction to help him now. The reason for this ill-omened venture into enemy territory was buried in the drama of the reality, the impending curtailment of his life now demanding his entire focus, crowding out all the training, the tricks to ensure his silence, the ways to distance his mind from the horror of capture and brutal interrogation. He understood now how death overcomes all argument, valour, desire. The instinct to survive was just too strong.
The instructor’s face faded, to be replaced with that of the Viet Cong warrior in the midst of his execution. The tension and fear so obvious in his expression held Morrison’s thought processes briefly. He supposed that his face, too, must look the same in that instant before his death, the frozen moment allowing this apparent leisure to consider his reaction. And how was he being allowed the time to watch these thoughts tumble through his mind?
Morrison supposed that it must be the imminence of death that slowed time to a crawl and made this acceleration of thought possible. Perhaps such a thing as the untimely advance of one’s appointed demise by such a premeditated event as execution meant that the full extent of one’s life was compressed to fit into the final seconds before death.
It might be that the anguished face of the Viet Cong was the reflection of the years yet to be lived passing through his mind as he screwed shut his eyes at the sight of his impending end. Suddenly Morrison realised he had no wish for his own expression to show such extremity of emotion to those watching or, for all he knew, taking a photo of this moment. If these last, minimal but stretched moments were all that was left to him, he wanted to savour them as a gift, a last proud demonstration of the invincibility of death.
He opened his eyes to see the faces of those about to shoot, screwed in concentration as they aimed, unwavering in their attention.
The chaos of hastening thoughts in Morrison’s being slowed and stopped. He considered the view before him dispassionately, released from tension and desire for escape or a different outcome of his failed mission. It was apparent now that it did not matter, that, far from being the only one who could succeed in the desperate endeavour, his masters were bound to ensure their desired result by sending others equally trained and directed and just as unaware of each other as he was.
It did not matter; indeed, nothing mattered and he now had the freedom to see things from an entirely new perspective. He was an observer in a new world where everything was of interest, all being equally of importance, and yet the success or failure of one was as meaningless as their struggles in one direction or another.
To occupy the time remaining, he began to quantify the moments, deciding where one instant began and where it ended, so that this new world should have its days measured as they were in the world he had known before. He counted the seconds as the squad stared down their rifles at him, the old regarding the new, the infinite being examined by the unashamedly mortal.
The moments ticked by into minutes, and then into hours, and Morrison still stared at the barrels and faces, all drawn into his world by their intent upon him alone. Would they never fire? The thought did not enter Morrison’s head but he was aware that he should be thinking it. More, it was a case of wondering whether this impasse could extend into eternity and they might be locked in this frozen instant forever.
He relented and closed his eyes, seeing the smoke issuing from the barrels as he did so, hearing the report of the guns and feeling the impact of the bullets with detached interest.
He re-ran the film through his mind, the better to savour the moment.
Word Count: 911
For SCREAMS!!! April 10 2021
Prompt: An undercover mission in enemy territory.