He took a deep breath while scrubbing his bloody hands. His clothes were caked in blood, and flies encircled the barrels full of severed arms and legs. After wrestling terrified men to the operating table and slicing through flesh and bone for ten hours, he needed water.
“You there!” he shouted at one of his assistants. “Dump those fucking limbs into the water.”
The screams had turned into groans, but he could tolerate the latter far better. The rest of their wounded still lay on the battlefield, waiting for the wagons to bring them back to the camp.
Waiting to be subject to weary surgeon hands.
Among the filthy, agonized faces, he had not seen the young foot soldier that had spoken to him days before the battle. The lad, who was named Jonathan Greene, asked him so many questions about advances in medicine and surgery. The world’s new, bright individuals were being hacked apart as the weeks dragged on.
He found one of the lieutenants and asked for Greene.
“I have not seen him,” the older man answered grimly.
Doctor Hill signalled for the driver of the next empty horse-drawn cart to stop.
“I will help you collect the wounded.” He had wanted to say “mutilated”, but he hadn’t had the energy.
Away from the camp of horrors, cool wind kissed his face. It felt almost unnatural for him to be sitting down. He winced when the farm horse carried them over the hill toward the sea of helpless soldiers. Fog seeped over the bodies whose uniforms were damp and bloody, as though nature were embarrassed by the human cruelty and felt the need to cover the casualties.
The cart halted and the surgeon jumped off. He stared into the pale faces of the dead. A pained whisper came from his left. “Help…”
He stopped to pick up a man and then carried him over to the cart. Yet another one in need of an amputation. Somewhere, Greene laid alone, likely dead and cold. Gone forever, without the honour a good-bye. Or he would be alive and wishing for death.
A soldier appearing to be around Greene’s age attempted to sit up, only to cry out from the exertion and fall back. The doctor went to him. The boy’s torso had been ripped open so badly that some of his intestines poked through the wound. No chance of him surviving.
Doctor Hill took the soldier’s icy hand. “God be with you, son.”
He stood and walked away in search of someone that he could help and became overwhelmed by the thickness of the mists and by death’s stench.