We exist expressly to experience the perpetuated cycle, die, and experience it once again.
I wake to the screaming of my brother. Blunt thuds and cracks mingled with frenzied shouts and cries pierce the crisp air, the birds' singing freshly drowned out by the ambush. My head pounds, and I can feel the blood running down my cheeks and dripping off of my chin; I feel nearly intolerable pain, but adrenaline begins coursing through my bloodstream, and I push myself back to my feet, grabbing a sturdy branch amongst the forest floor on my way up. My eyes lock onto the savage who is viciously attacking my brother, beating him in the face with a fist-sized stone. Fury fills my mind, and I charge him as quickly as I can, then thrust the end of the branch into the side of the fiend's head upon reaching him, forcing open a gash beneath his temple as he is thrown to the ground. While he is writhing upon the leaves and dirt in pain, I take advantage and slam the branch down upon the back of his head with every unit of force available, all the while he is rolling on the dirt, making a vain attempt to shield his skull with his hands. I am lost in a ferocious rage, relentlessly pounding his flailing body with my branch, until finally, he abolishes his journey to protect himself and gives in, whereupon I once again thrust the branch into him, this time into his neck. The crunch of his trachea fills the air, unheard through the blood pounding in my ears, and he chokes, incapable of even trying to save himself, then the sound of his wretched breathing stops.
The fight is over, and as my breathing calms, my muscles loosen, I drop the branch on the ground and stare momentarily at my opponent's disfigured face - now purple, broken, and bleeding. I look away, and now at my brother, whose own figure has declined substantially. In the side of his head was a visible dent, and the bones in his face had been crushed. He could no longer open his eyes; it was nearly impossible to recognize him anymore, and even as his ragged breathing slowed, his entire blood-smothered face moved grotesquely with the air in his body. A tear rolled down my cheeks - there was no coming back, but at the least, he had been avenged. I knelt beside him, hoping to bring some comfort to his final moments. Laying a hand on his crumpled body, I closed my eyes, grieving for the days to come and my brother now, and when I opened them again, my world was reduced to stars and then blackness as an impact destroyed my skull.
Here, I came to and rose above my body. I looked down to see another man standing over my body with a club of stone. He wiped his brow, then drove the club into the rear of my head, and repeated the process on my brother mere feet from me. He is freed of his pain, I thought, and a feeling of love embraced me as the view I looked down upon faded into inexistence, then the inexistence transformed into what could not be described in mere words. But this mattered not, for now, I knew.
Beyond the clouds I could not see any longer, I rose, and the tinglings of a thousand beings beyond my prowess became of me. Here, amongst the energy of the universe, I joined the conglomeration of all that was, and felt the rhythms of the world beat through my body with harmony and a subtle graciousness that was beyond my previous understanding. I thought, Of course, now I know, although what I felt and knew could only be explained fractally on a page. The thoughts and feelings that I now embraced absolutely eclipsed those I understood in my time alive, and then, in what felt like seconds but I understood to be thousands of years, I rocketed back down to the earth in moments, out of the state I was in. I longed to return, but knew I had a cog to fit in the machine that was the universe. Before I formed, ahead of me I saw a snake, joining itself in a circle upon the consumption of its own tail. The image before me dissipated as I returned, and blackness as I had died previously consumed me once again.
I jolt awake as I had prior, now on a Mediterranean battlefield. The clangs of thousands of shields, spears, and swords surrounded me, and yells drowned out all thought that was not of any use here in the moment. I recollect my equipment that laid in the dirt around me, and I readjust my helmet just as a spear glides inches past me and into the earth. Jetting to my feet, I thrust my spear into a Greek soldier’s chest, where, at the end of my tool, he choked, his eyes opening wide as his body fell in defeat upon the removal of my spear. His weapon and shield gravitated and spattered about upon the ground, and my vision and ears tune themselves in on the approaching enemy as I focused on repelling the threat alongside my brothers in combat. Line after line of the enemy around me falls as man after man meets our barrier of spears and shields, their utilities being used to almost no avail. The commander yells down the line for us to push forward, and a sea of men marches slowly into the enemy over the bodies and weapons of their fallen as we utterly dominate the front lines of the opposing army. However, it seems that no matter how many of them we kill, they hold against us, and we are forced to stand in our places at the fear of disorganization of the legion. Reassuming the typical position, we wait in defense as our cavalry are called out ahead to shatter the enemy’s flanks, and as minutes pass, we begin the march forward again into the Greek army, which has now turned over into defense itself.
Something here is wrong, though, I think to myself, my high confidence shifting as I realize the Greek army is not disorganizing as it should. Our cavalry come sprinting back, terror in the horses’ cries as their riders haul on the reins with no success, and ahead, the Greek line shifts as the earth shakes. Behind the line in front of us, a grand but horrible sight is beheld; one of a monstrous, gigantic gray beast, equipped with an incredibly long proboscis and shining white horns protruding from its face beneath its glamorous adornments. A structure lay on its back, hosting several Greek archers, who, as the Roman lines broke from fear into chaos, laid down arrows into our exposed men. I scrambled to raise my shield to the archers, and just as I prepared myself, I felt a projectile pound my helmet, throwing it off of my head and myself dizzying into the ground. My shield lay next to me, still on my arm, but I could not lift it to protect myself, nor my spear, for the arrow that made its mark upon my helmet had concussed me, and still disoriented, I watch as one of the terrible villains atop this atrocious animal loaded a new arrow onto his bow’s string, then plucked it straight into my chest as a thud that sounds through my body completed the worst of my fears.
I looked down at my chest, pale with anxiety, to see the rear half of the projectile lodged directly where my heart lay, and an intense pain shot through my body as I groaned and ached in my helpless position. The beast and archers had now passed me, certain of my doom, and I lay there, surrounded by my dead or bleeding brethren as the sounds of the living grew farther and farther away. Again, my vision closed into darkness as the life faded from my body, and I was consumed by peace as the pain was replaced.
The same vibrant love surrounds me again as I am taken to the beyond once more, and the feeling of knowing enshrouds my mind the same way it did prior. I see the energy of the world around me mold itself into the distant plane which I left, and as the battle I was killed in drew on, the Greek army overpowered the Roman's upon the dissolution of their lines, and the Greeks stood victorious, despite having lost thousands of their own men. Contrary to the misery, pain, and exhaustion felt on the battlefield in life, in death, these aspects had faded. In each particle, from each vibration of the field, there came strokes of beauty in the blood, the sweat, the combat, the thought, every action from the swing of a sword to the Greeks' victory cries. The earth itself spoke, not to anyone in particular. It spoke to all; it told the tragic tale as art, as the principles of its own being, and left untold was no detail in its cryptic language.
It now occurs to me that, with each death, I learn more, I hear more, I see more. I come closer and closer to myself, and that which I am part of. The plane about me warps itself into complex things, previously unseen and incapable of cognition by those living, like emotions, thoughts, and beings, within each body a story of its own. As I come to this realization, the vacuum I exist within begins to vanish, and again, I am pulled to the earth in what seems like moments, though I know it is years, and then my vision goes dark.
Once more I open my eyes, slowly this time, to a desert floor. In the air, I hear small explosions, the yelling of miscellaneous and incoherent orders, and sand and rock crumbling to the ground. My head pounds, and beyond a few inches in front of my eyes, my vision is blocked by my helmet, whose straps are broken. Sliding it off of my head and grunting through my teeth as I return to my feet, I look down at it. A plume of kevlar hangs from an entry hole in the helmet; narrowly missing my forehead, a bullet had struck my protective equipment, and it had done its job of saving my life. My eyes rose to the battlefield now; myself and my squadmates were taking fire all around us, and completely exposed in the middle of a middle eastern field.
I dusted my crusty knee pads off and retrieved my rifle just as my Commanding Officer shouted for us to drop, which I did. Just as I hit the ground again, an explosion sounded behind me, and a cloud of smoke shot past me as I felt pebbles and dirt rain down upon my body. Shooting back up to my knees, I look through the ACOG scope on my rifle at the hill to our direct North, where a mortar team prepares more munitions against us. Riflemen atop the hill returned the fire of our team, raining cascades of bullets into the terrain surrounding us as I aimed into their position, targeting the rifle team as the adrenaline pushed me through my fear. Lining up my distance markers, I began firing at the men on the hill. Upon receiving return fire, their own suppressive fire began to die down, and I watched one man atop the hill drop to his stomach. I yelled to my crewmates to shoot at the mortar team while I kept the riflemen down with a flurry of suppressive fire, and as I watched them duck for cover, my crewmates stood to fire on the mortar team. Round after round pounded their position, and I watched as each fell through the corner of my eye.
Suddenly, the bolt on my rifle locks rearward, and I reach for a new magazine. Inserting it while my teammates continued their fire, I heard one final and distinct boom from atop the hill - the last mortar had left its piece. As I look back through the scope, I watch as the last man on the mortar position dropped, then back atop the hill, the riflemen prepared to fire again. “Focus on the rifle team! Ten degrees above the mortars!” I called, and my crewmates switched their guns to the men atop the hill. Again, as with the mortar position, there was now no adequate cover to seek from our six guns, and man after man fell. About fifteen seconds had passed and suddenly, my body went numb. My eardrums exploded, and I knew this only because I could no longer hear, only feel, the vibrations of the explosion that launched me through the air. I smack into the dirt amongst the thick fog of dust, and I look down at my body among the swirling atmosphere and my blurry vision to find that my legs are gone. Even here in the desert, the sand cannot soak up all of my blood. I begin to feel the excruciating pain riddling my body; shrapnel, stones, and dirt coat my wounds and turn deeper red as my heart pushes the blood from my body. My left hand is gone, and my vision begins narrowing. I see my crewmate’s mouths move as a few now run to me, yelling my name, but they know not that I am now deaf. Sprinting to my position as the dust settles, they shed their tears on my body and reach for my missing limbs. As I watch one pull a tourniquet from his plate carrier, I let my head fall to the earth, and my sight, alongside my other remaining senses, vanishes as well.
I return once more to the other plane of existence, where I rise through fields of energy into the heights of this universe. I look back down upon my grief-stricken brothers, cradling the limp remains of my body, knowing that I am dead and they can do nothing about it. The same feeling surrounds me again, one I am becoming familiar with now, and others just as I join amongst the bright environment to witness this occasion as well. If I could shed a tear, I would. To them, a grave tragedy, one which can never be unlived, but would be if they had the capability. What could have been, they ponder, but to me, that question is nonsensical. What could have been is naught; what is, is what it is. To me now, I recognize the truth: it is not a tragedy, nor were their actions in vain, but it is a monumental occasion nonetheless - it is an experience. It is the cycle.