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Shot in the stomach. What a way to go.

I held my guts in with my hands and tried not to listen to the "I told you so" ringing in my head. Mother had said war was dangerous--but I'd believed her. I wondered what they'd tell her, or if I'd have time to see her before I died.

Agony. The shock wearing off? I couldn't think, tried not to scream. I might be a dead man, but there was still dignity to consider.

I hoped the doctors had morphine. We were low on food, but surely there were still drugs.

God, I didn't want to die. Not like this.

They found me writhing on the ground after the battle was over, weeping, screaming "I'm sorry" and in the half-second before they moved me, I was pathetically grateful they couldn't know I was crying for my mother.

Then, pain—so bad I finally fell unconscious. As the blackness fell over me, I thought, Finally, and the torment was over.

# # #

It wasn't, of course. Despite my hopes, I was still alive. The pain was better than it had been, but it was still unbearable. I tried desperately to find something to take my mind off it, looked frantically around the room for something interesting to consider, something familiar to trigger a memory, anything.

Slowly, the fact penetrated. This wasn't the hospital--not the field hospital at camp, at least. I didn't recognize the fabric, the bed I was laying in, the walls or even the equipment on the table beside me. Even the smell was wrong--antiseptic, not the scent of putrefaction I'd become used to as a soldier.

Had we retreated to a town? Found a friendly farm to hole up in? It seemed inconceivable that the army had captured an enemy base, and nothing I'd heard hinted that the other side had any better facilities than we did.

Then, the doctor walked in and said, "Good, you're awake. We were starting to worry," but I didn't recognize him and he wasn't wearing a uniform, and nothing made sense because I wasn't in a hospital and anyway all the doctors had been conscripted, just like all the other men.

I hated the cliché but I had to ask, "Where am I?"

"It doesn't matter," the doctor said, shaking his head. "What matters is that your intestines have been perforated and while I can save you, there is a price."

"Nobody survives a gut shot," I said, my eyes wide with surprise that overwhelmed even the muted agony of my wound.

"Not many people have the opportunity," he corrected gently.

"Why me?"

The faint smile he offered was sad. "You remind me of someone."

"What's the price?"

"If you live through this, you won't ever die."

My first thought was predictable. That's a bad thing?--I wondered, then I shuddered, thinking of the stories of torture I'd heard whispered by my fellow soldiers, tales of the immortals who lie chained to stones with eagles eating their livers every day. Inescapable, never-ending pain. I thought of the pastor back in my hometown, teaching us children the glories of heaven. I thought of the horrors of the war I'd just been through, thought of a lifetime of lifetimes spent watching people die, watching the world get darker and darker until finally it was hopeless.

I took a deep breath and gave my answer. "If it's not too much to ask, I'd rather you just killed me quickly."