“Luftwaffe! The Luftwaffe!”
No. The planes, the Luftwaffe, have come. In the distance, I can hear their engines screaming.
“Sokolov! Come down! The bombers are coming!”
I stare at my soldier. He still advances, but his face has crumpled. He does not expect to live. His platoon has lined up behind him, waiting for my next move. He is their offering, their sacrifice. What will they do if I do not kill him?
I go. There is a nervous youth waiting downstairs.
“They left only you?” I ask.
“Yes,” he says, flinching. “Everyone else is gone, two blocks down. They sent me back for you. But that doesn’t matter. The planes are coming, we must go!”
“I know what to do. Don’t be a coward. This might be your first battle, but it’s not mine. If we leave this building, we will never recapture it. If we stay, the bombs might decimate it and us. Remember what we must do? Fight as if there is no land behind the Volga River. Fight for every inch. Prepare for the worst. This is our better option.”
I double check the locks on the wooden church doors. The boy stands still, watching me. His helmet is too big for his small head. I will not tell him that I cannot abandon my soldier. I am some traitor.
“Set up over there,” I point. “We must watch.”
The chapel is too large of a room to protect on all sides. I will have to trust that our Reds have our back.
“You are the sniper, then?” the boy asks.
“How many Germans have you killed?”
“I don’t know. Too many. Not enough.”
“Me, too. Listen closely. Can you hear it? No, beyond the screamers. Beyond the gunfire. Can you hear anything beyond it? Me neither. That’s what sniping is, just another part of the war. Nothing more. I make men bleed and die. I kill men who would have lived. I am my gun.”
There is a quiet between us, then,
“Yesterday my brother was shot through the head by a sniper like you. His name was Aleksandr. This war killed him. These rats killed him. I loved him.”
I look away from the boy’s hard eyes.
“Love does not have a place in this war. The shots are getting close. We must pay attention.”
“Right, for God and for Russia. May we both fight well.”
Then, through the open window, there is motion, and a man. Before I can yell out, there is a shot, so close that its sound cracks against my head. The world is still but for the falling body of the boy beside me. Blood flashes before my eyes, and he is dead before he hits the floor.
In the street, my soldier stands alone, blood spattered upon his uniform. At the sight of the Mosin-Nagant rifle in my hand, he lowers his gun.
“Es tut mir leid!” he calls, then turns away. This is torture.
“I do not speak German.”