The Shot that Came Second to Last

Aleppo, Syria

He ducked for cover behind the debris of shattered buildings. With eyes wide open, he scoped his surroundings. He had to be on alert if he wanted to survive. Luckily, he had the eyes of a hawk and could trust that nothing would slip by his senses. One was either the predator or the prey, taking their life in their own hands or leaving it in another’s. Those were the rules of the game, the game of the hunt. At the moment of truth, there wouldn’t be any time to hesitate, so he had to prepare himself in advance and focus on what was right in front of him to make it out alive.

Fortunately, he had already devised a method to that effect. He could build a mental barrier to keep his ominous thoughts from paralyzing him with fear by controlling his breathing, which he did by counting the seconds that ticked by between inhaling and exhaling.

He managed to quiet the sound of his heartbeat to the point where he couldn’t hear it any longer. “Almost as if I were already dead”, he said to himself, and immediately regretted allowing himself to go to that dark corner of his mind. With all the bullets and other lethal objects that were flying around, it was a miracle that he was still standing.

Suddenly, he started hearing the howling noise of aircrafts approaching. He gulped nervously and his pulse rate jumped again. He looked up to the sky and saw it: a big bird with the power to obliterate life on the ground. The blaring sound it emitted was so head-splitting that he couldn’t even hear his own thoughts. It was crazy loud, like that war, which allowed only the bittersweet feeling one gets because they are still breathing.

At the thought of it, he couldn’t help himself from uttering a brittle laugh.

However, at that point, mocking reality wasn’t going to change it. He still had to keep his eyes on target and his finger on the trigger.

An explosion nearby brought him back to the here and now. The Grim Reaper manifested himself in the smell of blood that filled the air, in the dismembered bodies that lay everywhere, in the deafening screeches of pain that came from all directions. He feared that the mere sight of these horrors would turn him into stone, so he started running aimlessly, with his gun still clasped tightly. The pungent odor of napalm drifting over the rubble clogged his lungs and made it difficult for him to breathe. Yet he knew he had to keep running. He couldn’t afford to stop if his heart was still beating.

Suddenly, he saw a group of people ducking for cover behind the debris of some other shattered buildings. They belonged to a different kind of predator. They were the ones in charge of recording what the human eye was unable to register any longer.

One of them spotted him, aimed the lens of his camera at him and shot the picture that might have launched him to stardom. It portrayed a defenseless child covered in mud and blood.

However, rather than becoming the representation of war, he aimed his gun at him and shot.


Written by Ahmad Khader Abu Esmail.