It simply had to be done.
Richard looked through his sight at his target. The man slouched behind a low wall, thinking himself safe from harm, a cigarette perched casually upon his lower lip.
It was an easy shot and he was thankful that his first kill would be so simple. He had worried that a botched job would cause a crisis of confidence that would dog him at a time when confidence was most crucial. He knew his own mind and he knew that, for him, self-doubt lay around every corner. The smallest failure would call it from its lair and, in the middle of a war, its presence could be fatal. He would approach even this seemingly simple task with the same fastidious attention to detail with which he approached every other part of his life. He left nothing to chance.
The shot went off without a hitch. A clean shot to the chest. He saw the man's body jerk with the impact and then his head fell slightly forward and he was still.
He approached the man, who lay in his original position, looking for all the world like he had just fallen asleep there. The cigarette still dangled from his lips, emitting a thin tendril of smoke. Richard came closer and bent down to look for signs of life. At his touch, the man's chest heaved violently. The cigarette was expelled in a freshet of blood and his eyes opened, ice-blue eyes staring wildly at nothing, rolling in their sockets. His arms flailed. He appeared to be trying to speak, but all he could do was growl and gurgle as he drowned in his own blood.
Richard stood up and looked at the man. He expected that he would feel horror, sadness, guilt….something, at the sight of this human being who he, himself, had shot, and who was struggling to take his last breath. Instead he felt completely detatched. He took interest in what he was seeing, but only in a clinical way. He may as well have been studying the gait of one of his hunting dogs back at home.
He pushed the man's helmet up slightly with the barrel of his gun and pressed it to his temple. He pulled the trigger.
The man's struggles ceased.
Richard thought to himself that it was particularly gruesome, the way the man's head was now so misshapen. His left eye bulged from its socket as if it were about to pop out completely. He mused that the most gruesome sights in the world must be things that were recognizably human, but with enough of an anomaly that one could tell that something was terribly amiss. He was thinking these thoughts, but the corresponding emotions were nowhere to be found.
Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not kill. The lesson had been drummed into his mind, as it was drummed into the mind of every child. This rule was absolute and sacrosanct. He had imagined that he, himself, could never do such a thing. Even as he had prepared to shoot, he had still held out hope that, at the last moment, his finger would not be able to pull the trigger. His mind must have a safety mechanism of some kind to keep him from falling into such an abyss. He had worried that, if he did kill, he could not possibly live with himself after committing such a heinous act. The guilt would send him running, screaming, mad with grief.
Now the truth was revealed to him. The boundary that kept him from killing was not some impenetrable brick wall. It was really just an imaginary line, made of nothing but empty belief. He had crossed this line, had been faced with the monstrous consequences of doing so, and yet he felt nothing.
With this realization, it was as though a trapdoor had opened in the floor of his mind and he had fallen into a dark crawlspace below, a place that he had never known existed. What was revealed to him there, the cold-bloodedness of his own nature, overwhelmed him. A wave of lightheadedness came over him. He shook his head to try to clear the dizziness away. The crisp, sunlit spring morning was suddenly way too bright and everything appeared surreal, as if he were looking at the world through a new set of eyes with distorted lenses.
He sat down next to his victim, pressed his head to his bent knees and closed his eyes. The darkness was comforting.
He did not want to know this truth about himself. At that moment, he would have given anything to turn the clock back ten minutes to return to a time of ignorance, when he was a good boy and not a killer.
He sat there. For how long, he did not know. It could have been minutes or hours. As his confusion slowly turned to bitterness, it occurred to him that at least he had not enjoyed it.
The days stretched into weeks and the weeks stretched into months. The dizzy, surreal feeling lessened each time he killed until finally it disappeared and he forgot that it had ever existed in the first place. This was his world now, and he felt fortunate that he was better suited to it than most of the other men around him. In a way it was a blessing.