(1 of 1. Originally posted on October 14, 2022 for the prompt “Masks.”)
I taste blood. Maybe mine. Maybe the soldier’s I took the mask from. Maybe too much blood on the wind, sucked through the smoke-clogged filters. I would remove it, but I need the disguise. The stolen uniform will suffice at enough distance, but my face would give me away.
I stagger forward. My blood-soaked left sock squishes with each step. Explosions rock me from every side, roaring in high-definition surround sound. I must be near the front lines now. The shelling could be from either side. Once launched, a bomb is on nobody’s side.
Enemy soldiers yell as I run past. This close to the front, I can’t find any gaps wide enough to avoid them completely. I hug a piece of burned scrap, hunched over to disguise it. I couldn’t find a working gun, so I picked up something random to carry. If I look like I know what I’m doing, they’ll assume it’s important. They may yell questions, or orders, but they won’t try to stop me if I pretend not to hear.
I leap over broken rocks and broken bodies. I know the air reeks, but I stopped smelling it days ago. My eyes burn inside the mask. I don’t know whether it’s from fumes that got through or if they’re just dry. Parched. Haven’t tasted water since…when? Last night, maybe. Last of my stolen ration. Something triggers a warning in my brain. The smoke thickens, but I should still be seeing soldiers. The broken, charred, blood-muddy ground offers only shattered pieces. Man, machine, tree. They all look the same in small enough fragments, masked in mud. No man’s land. Friendly lines appear ahead. I slow. Raise my hands, dropping the scrap. Reach to lift my mask. A shot. A punch in the chest. I taste blood.