Rin Tin Tin Soldiers by Aaron Maltz

The famous adage, delivered in a whisper on hands and knees by Union general William Tecumseh Sherman, to the brute that snored like a drunken father in every man’s psyche:

“War is hell.”

Those words, necessary yet futile, were a plea from a man who had entered a kingdom with blood brazenly pumped forth from Heaven, only to return and inform us that the horrors of Hell were not only far greater in power than their rival, but they were additionally as real as the bullet that shattered bone. Hell had entered Earth through the blackest of portals, opened its jaws and swallowed limbs as easily as a turn of the page, spreading a torment so immense it brought about clarity to the victim just moments before the lungs took their last inhale.

But this agony, this holocaust, didn’t begin with the carnage General Sherman witnessed. Rather, it bore itself into the first particle of organic material to enter the Earth’s atmosphere, embedding itself into the earliest strands of DNA and lay hibernating in every available crevasse until man summoned its powers from wretched desires that bubbled mere millimeters beneath the skin.

Despite its ingenuity, this barbaric behavior didn’t inherit diplomatic immunity. God, omnipotent and supreme in his power, overheard General Sherman’s oration that day and rather than admit error in his judgment, turned the other cheek and chose to thrust his chest and a blind eye towards the kind of insight he had historically condemned. Like so many men before him, God ignored the isolating evidence and crippling wisdom from a man who had solved the world.

Pathologically, he proclaimed his triumph like a fool who, blindfolded, claims victory over an opponent merely by stabbing the closest surface. He felt no remorse for those men who General Sherman watched die heartbreakingly alone; they had summoned Hell like lemmings, and Hell merely conceded to God’s foolish wishes. His deaf ears had banished us from Paradise for acknowledging the wounded creature slumped in the background with an apple in one hand and a rifle in the other. We were doomed from the beginning, caught in the crossfire of eternal ignorance.

Sherman’s words, spoken with the most intimate knowledge of senseless violence, secreted like a wound that never heals, itching instead for eternity in an ever present state of mourning for mankind’s capabilities. There was no solace for the bloodshed and those words, much like the learned soldier, whimpered in the corner only to be called upon when appropriated by the world’s masters to incite more war. But had General Sherman the privilege to see the scalped netherworld that lay before poor Henry at this moment, had he any knowledge of this terrain conceived in the mind of a creature so black it brought awe to the immortal, he may have decided to say nothing at all, realizing that God never had any intention of dialogue. He would have chosen reticence in the face of butchery so casual that it left the victim hollow without so much as a violating touch.

Hundreds of canines lay lifeless in a field the size of a large stage, some still twitching in reaction to the boundless violence that would leave survivors with nightmares. Limbs sat strewn from their owners, artlessly ripped from the body, and the frosty weather had already turned much of the spilt blood into a strawberry colored paste. Steam escaped where the frigid air met the wounds, creating the impression of souls making their way up to a more forgiving scenario. It was a mound of singular death, devoid of individual recognition, much like a plot of anonymous tombstones.

Pointed towards Henry with unwavering concentration were seven hounds, their teeth bared and coats covered in the same thick red syrup that had turned the earth around them into a viscous tar pit.

Their lips quivered for the next command while their master, Felix, held them at bay with one hand raised. He kept eyes on his targets and a victorious smirk pinned to a bloodless cheek.

Henry and his lone companion faced their captors in mercy, separated by a distance of 20 feet, their gaze alternating between the heaving chests of the pack and the powerful glare of their opponent. Harvey sat obedient at Henry’s side, letting out an occasional whimper. He wanted to nurse the wound in his hind legs but wouldn’t dare take his eyes off his foes. Henry finally broke the silence.

“If you’re going to do it then by God get it over with!”

Felix maintained his posture and smile. The last six hours had seen violence spin from a powerful term to an orgy of exposed arteries. Had any man the ability to maintain objectivity in such a scene? Henry examined his rival’s face for a sign of pathos, fearing both its absence and presence.

“HEEL!” Felix barked without so much as a tic and his pack obediently sat on their hind-quarters, their snarls now transformed into a nervous exchange between their nature and command. Calmly, he lowered his hand as his eyes gazed off into another world. The wire that tugged his face into a smile loosened as his mind, unable to function without duress, jostled in thought behind his baleful pupils. He resolved an unknown discussion, stood eerily proud for a moment and reexamined his opponents with boredom and disgust before turning to walk away. The hounds followed, trotting over the scope of their victory, unaware as to the scale of death here unleashed.

They were to be spared, only to endure suffering.

Henry and Harvey stood frozen until the troupe exited from sight, turning into black dots against the white landscape. Harvey began to whimper, prompting Henry to notice the gash on his friend’s leg and the devoted eyes still looking to him for direction. He wanted to fall to both knees and hug the beautiful creature, to thank God for sparing one of his own, but he knew that no one, especially God, deserved praise at this moment. Henry, trying to lift his hardened legs, fell to his knees in supplication.

The killers had been manipulated from the blackest heart that saw into the pliable souls of these gentle beasts and turned their obedience into hatred. Their only command was to please and Felix had trained them to kill for pleasure. Henry had peered into the souls of his children and saw nothing but love and devotion. He trained them to protect the sanctity of life, filling them with as much benevolence as possible.

Both armies diligently trained, one to kill and one to protect, but evil had won. Evil had dealt away with the sanctity of life, instead operating purely on a singular goal with no recourse. The goal of enlightenment, the underlying drive of civilization, had finally been reduced to a weak whimper that gurgled only so often to remind hate of its premise. They saw no mercy in their victims, only an algorithm that led to a winner and a loser.

He didn’t blame Hell for this catastrophe but rather the insouciance of God. God, indifferent to peace, summoned Hell to showcase his awesome abilities, to ensure that love never aspired any higher than wishful thinking, to demonstrate that goodness could be trampled and that evil didn’t comply with defeat like in a childhood narrative. Evil could win because God, unwilling to hear the rational pleas of peace and harmony, allowed chaos to reinforce blind devotion. On his knees, his head looking to the sky for answers, Henry searched for and failed to find the words to encapsulate the weight of this meaning.