He fell to his knees, gasping for air.
A strange sensation at his fingers brought confusion and he glanced down at his hands. They were clutching a knife, his knife, sticky with blood.
A dark crumpled form lay a few feet away, its face buried in the damp ground of the forest floor, deathly still.
He tried to take longer breaths. He needed more air.
Shadows played tricks with his eyes in the twilight, making every tree seem a menace. Were they moving closer?
Yes. Yes, they were.
He struggled to stand but found it was impossible as he still could not breathe. His chest felt as if it would explode. At the same time, all of his senses seemed to come alive. He could see things for what they really were. He could hear things he had never heard before. His hands and feet felt alive, somehow stronger.
And yet, he still could not stand…
She had not really loved him. He knew that now.
A hike with his fiancé had seemed so romantic. A picnic lunch in the forest, in France.
They had gotten lost.
She had belittled him. Told him he was stupid for getting them lost. She had taken the ring, his ring, and flung it into the trees. Then, the monster was there. It had devoured her. He had to save himself, didn’t he?
Oxygen. Where was the oxygen?!?!??!
His vision narrowed even as he could hear the leaves rustling in the trees overhead. The ground came up to meet him. He tried to claw his way forward before everything went black.
He woke in a room. Beeping. Something in his throat, pushing air into his lungs. A hospital? He tried to sit up only to find his wrists restrained. Panic set in.
He had to get free!
There was a uniformed guard posted at the doorway, “for his own safety” he was told by the nurse who spoke remarkably good English. She tried to calm him down.
There would be an inquest, she said as she fiddled with an IV drip of cloudy white liquid that hung at his bedside.
He struggled to stay focused, alert, but drifted back into blackness anyway.
Days later, he awoke again. The ventilator was gone and the stream of visitors began. Gendarmes with heavy accents demanded to know why he was in the red zone.
What red zone?
THE RED ZONE. Restricted because of the left over unexploded munitions left from World War I. He was lucky to be alive. Or so they said. Phosgene gas escapes from time to time from corroded shells. You can’t smell it. Not until you are already dead, they said.
Then they asked why he had killed his girlfriend. Stabbed dozens of times with his knife, the knife they had found in his hand.
The crumpled body. The monster?
It was her….?
He wished he actually were dead. A few days later he was able to get his hands on something sharp. They found him in a pool of his own blood, a crumpled body on the floor.
Another casually of the war to end all wars, a hundred years later.