Jacob wasn’t afraid of anything. Ask any one of his squad mates. Shit, ask anyone in the whole damn division! The jealous ones will tell you “Jacob? Guy’s an idiot. Reckless asshole. Gonna wind up with a bullet in his brain.”
Everyone else knows what’s up. They know that Jacob stared death in the eyes, whipped his dick out and slapped death in the face with it. When the boats of the 16th Infantry regiment made land on the beaches of Sicily there was no stopping that crazy bastard. First out of the boat before they even touched sand. Jacob could have stormed those beaches single handedly. They say he picked out that bunker the moment he set eyes on the beach, nobody else was gonna get there first. He had a look about him as he recounted the tale for the 50th fucking time. As they rolled through the Sicilian countryside in their armoured half-track, Jacob’s eyes flitted from one soldier to the next, locking everyone into place with a crazed self importance. They all needed to hear what he had to say. They needed to hear what went down in that bunker.
He says it was like being reborn. Four twins in a concrete womb, only one could receive the gift of life. Even now in the relative safety of the car he brandished the knife with convincing intent, mimicking the motions that took the lives of four axis soldiers in a single bloody moment. The first two didn’t even notice him, he demonstrated this point by drawing the flat of the knife across his own neck. By the time the third turned around it was already too late. Jacob bore down on that sum’bitch and drove the steel into his goddamn eye socket. After that it was just him and the gunner, fucker almost got him too! They struggled for a while. Sneaky little shit even managed to bat him with an empty ammo box. Jacob finished it though, knife to the gut. The slow twisting motion of his wrist brought forth a sea of groans from his squad mates. Jacob flashed a sinister grin. He made some vile quip about the birthing metaphor and how he emerged coated in claret. The car erupted with laughter, applause and disgusted shakes of the head. Jacob contemplated his natural gift as an entertainer. Perhaps when he got back home he’d become a stand up comedian. If this shit couldn’t spook him then how scary could a stage be? He pictured himself up there, cracking out one-liners and knee slappers galore, the audience rolling in the aisles. His beautiful wife would be there too, sat in the front row next to his Pop. It was a pleasant thought, reminded him of the good ol’ days when they’d all go to the flicks together. That was before Pop took ill, poor bastard. But hey, at least he had Jess to look after him. God knows she’s a better cook than Jacob ever was. Pops is better off with her.
The laughter was cut short by a low rumble, an explosion roughly two miles East. Helmets went on, rifles came up. The explosions grew louder, artillery fire. The convoy came to a halt just short of mortar range. They could see them now, pockets of dirt and fire bursting out of the road ahead. An officer barked orders from the car in front. Nobody could hear him but everyone got the gist, they had to clear out the rats.
Jacob was out of that car like a flash, locked, loaded and ready to prove to everyone that he wasn’t some one hit wonder.
“See you fuckers in Salemi!” Jacob roared with all the gusto of a tank cannon. The squad roared back, a self-fuelling machine of testosterone and blood rage. At least that’s what they’d have you think. Truth is those boys couldn’t have been more scared if they’d been caught cheating with their old lady’s twin sister. Maybe that’s why they listened to Jacob and his stories, he was the only fearless one among them, gave them all hope.
As they circled around the artillery barrage and followed the road East, Jacob’s thoughts turned back to home. How was Jess doing? Was Pop comfortable? Would Pop even remember him when he got home? Jacob swallowed and shook the thought out of his head. Of course he’d remember his Jake. How could he possibly forget the time they’d spent together? Jacob would treasure those memories forever, no matter what the doctors said.
Before long the sound of explosions was far behind them, they must be getting close now. Jacob listened intently. Through the wind in the trees and the shuffle of footsteps beside him he heard it. The telltale pop of a shell exiting a mortar, no more than 200 feet away. He waved his hand and the whole squad froze. He signalled North West and everyone understood. They inched forward as slow as they could, the sound of mortar fire growing closer and closer. A hand jutted out across Jacob’s shoulder and pointed directly towards the opening of a trench. Jacob’s smile grew wild and fierce. He grinned back at the boys, their faces marred with dread.
“Let’s go to work”
Jacob burst from the bushes and piled into the trench. He knew that he was alone, he knew his squad mates would hesitate, he didn’t mind. They were afraid, he was not. Along the narrow corridor of dirt he spotted his first victims, two artillerymen loading their mortar, unaware of their impending doom. Jacob slung the rifle over his shoulder and unsheathed his knife, he had a reputation to uphold after all. He descended on those poor men like the wrath of god, a crazed animal with steel teeth, maiming its prey for sport.
He heard footsteps behind him and turned with a victorious smile to greet his hesitant comrades. What he found instead were two more Italian soldiers, faces white as sheets, trembling at the grinning monstrosity before them.
“Dios Mio” one soldier uttered before his throat was ripped away from him, caught on the end of Jacob’s knife. The other tackled him to the dirt, thrashing violently, they screamed and clawed at each other, both choking on soil and blood. Even as the red liquid blinded him, Jacob knew he would win, his opponent felt fear, Jacob did not. He slashed blindly with his knife, finding nothing but air. A hand wrapped around his wrist and disarmed him. He quickly wiped his eyes and stared up at the Italian soldier, knife raised, ready to finish him.
In that moment Jacob’s gaze did not falter. He stared that bastard down and faced the end without so much as a quiver. No begging for help, no cries of mercy, Jacob wasn’t afraid of anything. He didn’t want his last memories to be of fear and pain, but of home. He thought about Jess, as beautiful as ever, standing in the doorway holding the daughter he’d never get to see. He thought about his poor Pop, mind ravaged by the Alzheimer’s as he fell deeper and deeper into confusion and loss. Unable to remember his wife, unable to remember his own son, his little Jake. A pit of despair and darkness that the doctor said would come for Jacob too. Jacob had sworn then as he swore now that he would never surrender to that darkness. As he stared into the eyes of his killer, he felt a peacefulness knowing that he would never be forced to live out his days, slowly forgetting those that matter the most to him, leaving them in darkness too.
Red crossed his eyes. A spray of blood that chilled his face. The towering figure above him slouched over and fell away, a gaping hole where his forehead once sat. Two sets of arms pulled Jacob to his feet and set the knife back in his hand. Another hand swatted him roughly on the back.
“Holy fuck man, you’re really not afraid of anything are you?”