Even The Dead Must Be Carried

“Are you G.I.?”

Ivan shook his head. “Missionary.”

The Tiger patted him down and found half a cigarette. “What’s this?” The Tiger smiled and placed the half-smoked cigarette back into Ivan’s pocket. “You are no missionary. But you will behave, I think.”

Ivan nodded and marched as civilian alongside the women with their naked, hungry babies on their backs. The babies cried, and The Tiger shouted, “Bali, bali!” Outside Manpo with the moon high, the prisoners and Korean guards stopped at an already harvested cornfield, the corn stalks broken, lying flat. Snow fell. Ivan stared at his bare, blistered, bleeding feet. He dropped to the ground, found two stones to dig a hole into the earth and out of the wind.

In the morning, The Tiger shouted, “Who’s falling behind? No one must drop out. I order you not to allow anyone to drop out. I have authority to make you obey. If you do not, I will punish you with extreme military discipline. Even the dead must be carried.”

Ivan searched for something to cover his feet. A rice bag, corn husks, rope. Anything. At the end of the day, Ivan walked fifteen miles, stopped at the top of a hill, snow ankle deep.

At the bottom of the hill, the guards started fires, and when they left on perimeter checks, Ivan crawled to the fires to be chased away with rifle butts. The third time, when Ivan crawled to the fires, the returning guard hit him on the backside of the head. Ivan lurched forward.

“My eyed!” Ivan reached to his face. His eyeball rolled in his hand; the tendons stretching into the inside of his head. Gently, he pushed the eyeball back into its socket.

They crammed into a schoolhouse, and in the dark, they screamed. A guard broke through the door. “You must be quiet. If I have to return, I will open the door and fire into the room.” The screaming deadened. Ivan heard what was inside the silence. His eyeball itched. He imagined thousands of fleas crawling around his eye, digging into the cornea. He screamed. He was lifted and passed over heads and out the door.

He woke, covered in snow. The Tiger spoke: “…only the preservation of your health and ultimate release. You should appreciate… you need to have no anxiety… be taken to People’s Hospital and will be cared for…”

Toward evening, they started falling out of the march. Ivan passed each one sitting in snow beside a Korean holding a rifle. Ivan heard the gunshots. As he passed, some begged to be put out of their misery with a rock or anything other than a rifle. Ivan looked at his frostbitten feet. He did not want to see the faces, but he began looking if any wore shoes. And one, blood dripping from his nose had shoes, and Ivan looked at the guard, and the guard nodded. The soldier sat there, allowing Ivan to take the shoes. The soldier cried out, “You have a smoke?”

Ivan shook his head and marched on. He heard the gunshot. Looked back. The guard pushed the soldier into the ditch–the white snow splattered by red blood.

 

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