Trigger Warning: The following article is purely functional and contains potentially disturbing information about bloodshed and violent imagery. Reader discretion is advised.

“The war’s finally over.”, A weary smile, though wide enough, couldn’t hide the toll it had taken on Jotham. The man I once knew – full of life and hope – was a shell of his former self. Relief washed over the soldiers around us. Some were simply glad to be done with the violence, while others yearned for a semblance of normalcy.

“What do we do with them?” Jotham asked, concern flickering in his voice as he gestured to the villagers we’d been ordered to raid. It was reassuring to see some semblance of humanity amidst the brutality.

A booming voice, deep and coarse, cut through the cheers. “Soldiers, I am deeply grateful for your unwavering loyalty and resilience. Our government extends its heartfelt regards. You are forever indebted to your service. It is an honour beyond words to stand alongside such brave souls.”

“Commander Yaakov,” Jotham whispered, a flicker of awe returning to his eyes. He was a respected figure, a stern disciplinarian who instilled courage.

“So, it’s over?” I asked, taking a deep breath, hoping to savour the victory-filled air. Yet, an unsettling earthy smell hung heavy, as if the ground anticipated a coming storm. Nature, perhaps, preparing to cleanse the battlefield with rain.

“What sin did we commit?” I wondered. “Taking back what is ours can’t be a sin. We were compelled by circumstance. We are like the brave soldiers of old – Gibor Chayil. Are we not warriors?” I looked around, seeking answers.

The commander’s words echoed in the air, ordering, “Soldiers, grant them mercy from their wretched existence. Release them from the burdens of life and grant them peace. Death is the sole resolution.” I was taken aback, dread seeping into every fibre of my being as confusion clouded my thoughts. “The war is over. I fail to comprehend why we must continue to take lives,” I questioned Jotham, my tone laced with bewilderment.

Confusion clouded Jotham’s face. Images of battle flickered in his eyes, and his youthful spark vanished. The war-torn man reemerged; his spirit crushed by despair. The villagers, faces contorted in fear, couldn’t comprehend the Commander’s words. Chaos erupted as soldiers surged forward; their intent deadly. A frantic shout in a foreign language sent shivers down my spine. The carnage that followed resembled a predator tearing at its prey. Once clear puddles ran crimson, mirroring the murderous atmosphere.

The soldiers, their uniforms soaked in red, appeared intoxicated by the bloodshed. Crimson bled into the world, tainting everything it touched. Amidst this tapestry of death, an innocent figure fled towards me in an attempt to escape the gunfire, inadvertently rendering me unconscious. Perhaps it was for the best; best not to witness the dance of the god of death across this once sacred land.

When I awoke, the familiar tang of blood filled the air. A horrifying figure loomed over me – the same one who orchestrated this brutal scene. The echoing laughter that surrounded me was a terrifying reminder.

Ignoring this cacophony, my senses focused on finding Jotham. There, in the shadows, he lay curled in despair, his eyes devoid of hope. Fear radiated from him. His once jovial face was a mask of anguish, clutching the only vestige of humanity: a pendant from his wife.

His muttered words, barely audible, spoke of a looming shadow. The air hung was heavy with despair, thick with the weight of impending doom. A bloodied hand reached from the darkness behind me. I recoiled in horror to find an innocent boy, no older than a fledgling, writhing in agony. He bore the brunt of war’s cruelty – his young body a testament to its brutality.

His legs, severed, spoke of the conflict’s barbarity. His whimpers were the only sound that dared break the silence. With chilling indifference, Commander Yaakov shoved a gun into my trembling hand, his gaze devoid of any compassion.

The gun’s weight felt like a burden, a harsh reminder of the terrible choice before me. Commander Yaakov’s venomous words urged me to embrace the darkness and accept the inevitable. But a spark of rebellion flickered within me. I couldn’t condemn the boy to another casualty in this endless cycle of violence.

Before I could act, Yaakov’s gaze shifted towards Jotham, a silent threat hanging heavy in the air. One life for another, a cruel bargain. My pleas fell on deaf ears, drowned out by his chilling laughter. He viewed it as a game, a display of power.

In that agonizing moment, desperation and love fuelled my decision. I couldn’t bear to see Jotham fall victim to Yaakov’s cruelty. With trembling hands and a heavy heart, I pulled the trigger. The deafening roar shattered the silence. Yaakov’s laughter echoed, a chilling reminder of the darkness within men.

Then came a cacophony of gunfire. Yaakov, a viper striking fulfilled his unspoken threat. A single, merciless bullet ended Jotham’s life. Yaakov wiped the blood away with chilling indifference, a testament to his callous nature. I fell to my knees, watching the motionless body of my friend. My hands, frozen in shock, couldn’t even wipe the blood splattered on me. As Yaakov walked away, his words mocked my lack of resolve, leaving me to grapple with the weight of what had transpired.

The sting of his words branding Jotham insignificant and my weakness unacceptable fuelled a storm of emotions within me. I buried my head in my hands; the question echoing relentlessly in my mind: “Did I make the right choice?”

Perhaps a monster like Yaakov wouldn’t have spared the boy anyway. But the doubt gnawed at me. As everyone walked away, some with a flicker of pity in their eyes, others indifferent, a couple of soldiers offered a lifeline.

“Let’s go,” one said gently. “It’s hard to move on, but we need to leave. Your family members will be waiting for you.” Their words, a faint hope amidst the despair, spurred me into action.

After walking for miles, we reached a pond. Crawling towards the edge, I dipped my trembling hands into the cool water. Desperately, I scrubbed at the blood clinging to my skin, each splash sending ripples across the surface, distorting the reflection of the surroundings. But the crimson stains remained, a constant reminder of the violence I had witnessed and the sins – real or imagined – I had committed.

Gazing into the still water, seeking solace, I saw not just my reflection, but the countless souls lost to the war’s cruelty. Their accusing eyes mirrored my guilt, a testament to my role in their demise. The weight of that responsibility bore down on me, suffocating me with its heaviness.

Despair washed over me. How could I ever atone for the blood that stained my hands, for the lives lost? The water offered no solace, no redemption, only a reminder of my sins.

I longed to escape, to outrun the horrors that haunted me, but there was no refuge. The memories of war would follow me wherever I went, a constant reminder of the price of conflict and the weight of sin. As I stood on the shore, bathed in the fading light of dusk, I knew that the stains of my past would forever remain etched on my soul.

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