He couldn’t smell the rank stench in the air or even remember his name because of the half-empty bottle of vodka in his hand. His name was Pavel and he walked along the broken streets of a village somewhere between Chernobyl and Kiev, laughing as he watched the video on his smartphone. His uniform was dirty and crumpled from days in the field without a laundry or shower. His beard was thickening even though he had a good razor. He had been hungry, but since he and his friends had found a liquor store to raid, they hadn’t cared much about hunger.

Pavel stumbled along the road, walking away from a broken apartment building where hoots and hollers chased shadows up the cracked cement steps of the basement he had just come from. He had taken the video in that basement and as he watched, his mouth opened with a loud guffaw while vodka dripped down his chin.

There were shrieks and screams mingled with the laughter, growls and shouts of the men in the basement, now alive on his phone. But Pavel didn’t really hear those screams. They were kind of like a song to him just then. The song of the conquered. He came across the body of a dead comrade and stopped to look at it.

The vodka had chased away a lot of feelings that night, but not Pavel’s anger. He turned and shouted towards the basement. “You weren’t supposed to fight!”

He toed the body, making sure it was actually dead. In a low and somber voice, he asked, “Didn’t you know that?” He took another slug of vodka and walked on. He smiled as he turned his attention back to the video.

Then, as happens when one has drunk so much vodka, he had a bad idea. And then he made a mistake. Pavel pulled up the contact entry for one of his buddies in another unit, pressed the microphone icon and said in a drawled voice, “Hey, the spoils of war. You’ll like this.”

Then he pressed the SEND button.

©2022 Michael J Lawrence

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