Excerpt

This is an excerpt from the point of view of Niko, the Bosnian Serb soldier:

A burning tank lay on the edge of a crater, thick black smoke pouring from the open hatches. A jeep sat nearby, its windows smashed. Soldiers were draping canvas over three bodies on the side of the road.

            “Oh my God!”

            Petar was staring at the front of the tank. The blackened remains of an arm hung over the driver’s hatch.

            “C’mon,” Niko said, pulling the recruit’s shirt.

            Petar resisted and then gave in. He kept glancing back as they walked.

            “I don’t understand. Why didn’t they get out? They must have seen the planes.”

            “Like we did?”

Petar looked back again. “I mean, have you ever seen anything like that?”

“Will you shut up,” Niko said, grabbing Petar by the arm and pushing him forward. “And stop staring at it.”

“Will you stop treating me like a child?”

“Fine. You want to stare at it, go ahead.” Niko pulled Petar back towards the tank. “Go ahead. Memorize every last detail. The flesh burned from the bone. The wedding ring on his finger; the smell you can’t wash out of your clothes or your memory.”

He wiped away the sweat dripping into his eyes and pushed Petar closer to the tank.

“You’ll dream about it at first. You’ll wake up drenched to the skin, shaking so bad you can’t stop. If you get back to sleep, you’ll only dream about it again except this time you’ll dream that you’re on fire. You’ll wake up screaming. You’ll wake up trying to beat the flames out on your chest. Is that what you want?”

“No, but….”

“If we survive this day, you’re going to see things you don’t want to remember.” Niko pulled him away from the tank and led him to the opposite side of the road. He pointed through the trees at the houses below. “When we get down there, we’re going to be looking at snipers in every window and booby traps in every house. It may take weeks to clear the town. This is real. This is life and death, and if I have to worry about you getting distracted by something as mundane as another burned body then you’re no good to me. Understand?”

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