Michael reloaded his gun with the speed and efficiency of a practiced soldier. After all, he hadn't served four years intensive training and six years in the war for nothing. Wiping a smear of blood from the barrel, he was just about to fire a test shot when a shriek from down the line caught his attention. Usually the cries of wounded men would not even phase him, but this one was different- this one was familiar.
The shriek was high-pitched, and sounded like the squeal of a dog who's tail had just been trodden on. The noise pierced Michael's heart, and he was jolted back to a distant memory...
It was a sweltering summer's evening in mid July, and 11-year-old Michael and his twin brother Riley were in their garden, playing with their new paintball guns they had gotten for their birthday. Playing at being opposing army generals in a war, Michael carefully aimed at his brother and fired, catching him hard in the side of the neck with the shot. Riley had fallen flat to the ground, releasing a yelp startlingly similar to that of a trodden-on dog...
...exactly the sound that Michael had just heard. Panic gripped his heart in an iron fist, as his stomach turned to in icy knot. It can't be him, Michael screamed inside his head. But his instinct, which had been fine-tuned in his years in the war, insisted otherwise.
Thrusting his gun into the dirt beside him, Michael dashed unexpected tears from his eyes as he scrambled towards the source of the noise. Not caring for the commotion he was causing, he desperately prayed for the Lord to save his brother, his best friend- the only family he had left, whom he had not spoken to for ten years- for he could not live without him.
Suddenly, Michael found himself upon the source of the noise; and his chest collapsed when his eyes fell on the face of the dying soldier. His eyes roamed over the face identical to his; only the face of his twin was covered in blood and dirt, and jerked incontrollably as death quickly advanced on him.
Michael felt his world collapse around him as he fell to his knees beside his brother. He grasped Riley's head in his lap, stroking his matted hair. In an attempt to staunch the flow of blood from the gaping wound, Michael pressed a shaking hand to Riley's throat- but it was no use. The blood continued to flow through his fingers, staining his skin and pooling in his lap.
As he removed his hand from the wound, Michael saw the eagle tattoo; it's fierce eyes glaring at him as it perched protectively over the twins' intwined initials. And that was the point when he felt his world collapse. An impenetrable fog of horror and suffocating grief enveloped him, blinding him, turning his innards to icy lead.
As he sat in a trench in the midst of a war, cradling his brother as he drew his final breath, Michael realised how stupid he had been. He had denied the existance of his dearest friend for ten years- ten entire years. He had severed the bond between himself and his twin, stubbornly refusing to forgive him, even though he could see that Riley was sorry. He knew that the fight had torn his brother apart, and yet pride had prevented him from letting Riley back into his life. And now, due to his own pure stubborness, he was utterly alone.
His brother, his best friend, his only family, was dead. And it was his fault.