Today something cold grips my chest and it is no surprise that today is the day that our Hauptmann breaks the stalemate and makes me a traitor. We have an understanding, my sniper and I; my sniper, yes, for we have a connection, a silent pact. We stare at each other across 500 meters of desolate ruin, seeing each other through either end of the scope and we know, we agree that as long we both maintain our vigil that this stalemate will not end.
I came to this understanding looking for death, to hear the buzz of the bullet like an angry hornet and to feel the thud of metal in my chest but it never came, even as I became more reckless, seeking an escape from this hell at the end of the sniper's barrel. Instead, we danced, I led and my partner in the high-tower followed, each step met in turn with the zip of a round fired from on high. Among my fellows they call me the Glückspilz, the lucky devil, for every time I danced with death I came back unscathed.
It was in these far off embraces that I reached a conclusion. As long as we danced, there would never be an end, we would never move on to more killing, more pain and suffering. In this stalemate, hate was suspended. Neither alive or dead, we were trapped in this limbo, this peace, and even as fleeting as it would be, as insignificant, any peace at was worth the effort.
But I'm a liar, peace wasn't why I wanted to stay, it was for him, my partner from afar. Across the field of abandoned homes and broken brick I stare at him and know that we, two men connected by a snipers scope, have a connection that transcends war, transcends ideologies.
And that makes me a traitor, I have a duty to my country and our Hauptmann has a plan. It is time, he says, for the Glückspilz to try his luck again. The Rattekrieg this is and rats we shall be, my brothers take to the sewers in the morrow towards the high-tower and I am to dance my dance with death, a distraction and if, my Hauptmann says, I am lucky as I appear to be, a hero.
Hauptmann Strauss makes me a traitor today, no matter what I do.
As I watch him, another man comes into view and my finger reflexively tightens on the trigger. They talk and I watch, wishing I could be that other man with his hand on the soldier's shoulder. I could take the shot and down him without a thought. We both understand why we are here and what is expected of us, but to drop a man in front of him, what would that mean?
They are arguing now, the man raises his arm to hit him and before I can even think my instincts take over and a shot rings out, a miss and the two men scurry behind cover, the soldier looking back in my direction, a thank you on his lips. The field empty, I take the opportunity to clean my rifle and reload.
Many people don't realise the care that needs to go into looking after a rifle like this. It's needs careful, loving attention, the bore isn't satisfied to merely be oiled, it must be washed with water, dried and cleaned and only then can the oiling start. They are loyal, these rifles, and even though it hurts them they fire time and time again, each round leaving it's mark, the corrosive ammo burning along it's length and into the enemy. Unless you care for it, rewarding each shot with love and care, you'll lose him to the wear and tear of war.
I'm alone up here with my rifle, the rest of my platoon are all too wary of joining me and rightly so, as any sane man should be. When we found the church intact, we thought it was a sign from God. It was in a strategically advantageous position, the bell tower giving a clear view in all directions. However, it was not as intact as we had first thought at it's heart lay one of the many bombs that had rained down not a few months before, undetonated and waiting. The position was too good to give up though and so my rifle and I volunteered whilst my comrades remained encamped further South, ready and waiting for anyone that might avoid my sights.
Next to me lay my ammo packages, scavenged from fallen brothers and secret stashes and carefully I choose one, pulling apart the twine bow and let slip the rounds from the small, brown paper bundle. I take a single round and press it to my lips before loading it into my rifle. Reloaded, I look out into the fading evening light and see my soldier sitting by his tank, his meeting over. He looks at me, a sadness in him. As the light fades, I send him a kiss and he doesn't even flinch as the bullet ricochets away. He just stares and I wish I could see into his heart and ease his pain.
There is an unease in the air tonight, more so than usual and before I can report in, reflecting the dying light in coded messages back to my comrades, he steps out, towards me, one foot at a time and I know that something is wrong. I let off a shot and still he comes and I begin to shake as I know what I have to do.
This is torture. To have to shoot a man you love, and to not know why. This is hell.