I pursued my assailant into the steelworks. The constant chime of hammer on anvil clogged my brain. They had offered me earplugs back at base but I foolishly didn’t take them, believing the breathing exercises alone would see me through this. I just needed to breathe and recite the mission objective. That day my mantra was, ‘Corner the rat and blow off his legs.’

            Of course he ducked through the nearest open door as soon as he saw me. Rats get into the tightest of places. Rats scurry fast when seen.

            I checked my ammo pack, contemplating filling up the rifle in case I got a clean shot straight away. Still the steelworks proved a large echo chamber with plenty of shadowy hiding places beside handy ladders and hatches. As soon as he resurfaced, I needed to get the rat to a big bare wall. The one to the north seemed ideal.

            I still hadn’t got my head around the leg part of the order yet. It seemed oddly specific, like someone in command had it in for this one particular guy. He was a deserter of a kind so I supposed the order could be symbolic, old world ‘eye for an eye’ severity. Then again missions are rarely like that.

            I was treading lightly across a shivery grid walkway when the assailant popped up again below. Levelling the rifle’s scope, I prepared to whack the rat. He noticed and pushed past a group of befuddled hard hats, leaving behind him a trail of raised voices and even a shower of iron filings. I didn’t like to shoot so near to live sparks so I waited till he was past all the orange glows. I fired by his right shoulder, abruptly turning him left.

            From there it was a clear path straight to the corner with the walls around him too high and clean for him to scale. The rat was in a maze and he knew it. All he could do now is run forward.

            I leapt down the last couple of steps and pinned him in from the left. The only way out was right behind me.

            He flinched, badly-cut hands over his sweat-drenched face. “Please!”

            “Shut it!” I shouted. “You bloody shut it now!”

            Somehow this gave the rat permission to lower his hands. He begged me with wide wet eyes, trying to appeal as if there wasn’t a rifle between us. He attempted a pathetic smile and shrug. “It…gets hard to stand.”

            I fired at his left kneecap. Blood exploded and his scream pierced my brain. I had to take a moment before I shot his right leg. At last the rat collapsed to the cold concrete ground. His screaming continued though it was muffled by him landing on his face. It looked like he had broken his nose in the process.

            “I know what you mean,” I replied.

            Raising my walkie-talkie, I called it in. Rat cornered, legs blown off. When he began to weep, I finally turned away.

            You say a lot of things in the heat of action, some of it downright insane. Regardless I did know what that rat meant in that moment. It does get hard to stand. But then we get new orders and we must march on.

It Gets Hard to Stand is a piece from Joanna’s Workshop on Inspirational Music 24-06-2020. This story was inspired by the song Soldier by Fleurie.

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