MARKED FOR DEATH • by Chris Cooper

Harris knew his life was over as soon I tapped him on the shoulder.

“I’ve got something to say to you.”

“Why me? Why now? I’ve written all my letters, sent all my mail, said all my prayers.”

“I don’t choose the mark. I’m just the messenger.”

Harris died in the next attack, of course. We mourned him as we had done the others in this interminable war.

The visions started when I was stationed in 23rd Company. At first, I didn’t believe them. But they were so intense. And so specific. By the fourth time, I knew they were genuine. A message from God. At first, I tried to look after the mark. A word to the commanding officer, a chat with their mates, once I even spoke to them directly, warning them to look after themselves. But nothing changed. I was still there at the funeral saying the same eulogy, chanting the same prayers, writing the same letters to their families, wishing I could have done more.

Once I got myself transferred to the mark’s unit for the assault. But he pushed me out of the way when the enemy closed and took the hit himself. It was then that I realized all I was doing was acting against God’s wishes. He had given me these visions for a reason. I had to prepare the mark for death, not try and prevent it. God was giving me time to do my work.

At first, of course, the soldiers didn’t believe me. But word soon got around that I was able to predict the future. I was avoided, shunned. But, something more was happening. God was on our side. Whether it was a standard patrol or an all-out assault, one person always died. But, just one. The one I had the vision about. The mark. One loss, but many saved. A blood sacrifice to appease God.

The company came together. My sermons were never better attended. All the soldiers in my company now knew that someone would definitely die. But rather than dividing, the knowledge brought soldiers closer, to each other and to their families. Some even wrote to their friends’ families, formed prayer groups. There was even talk of contacting the enemy and offering to pray for them. Those who weren’t marked for death felt indestructible. Even the marks seemed to treat their fate with equanimity. They knew their families would be looked after. The 23rd gets all the toughest missions. But they succeed. We succeed. We are invincible.

And then the visions stopped. The day before the final push. The assault to end all assaults. The end of this war.  Was God testing me? Maybe the company’s new-found faith was not secure enough? Maybe I had failed in my mission. Then I knew what I had to do. I picked the mark…

Jones knew his life was over as soon I tapped him on the shoulder.

Chris Cooper is an emeritus professor of biochemistry with over 200 scientific research papers in the area of oxygen biology and medicine. His current research program attempts to create artificial blood. He is an expert on sports doping. He has written two non-fiction popular science books published by Oxford University Press — Run, Swim, Throw, Cheat (the science behind drugs in sport) and Blood: A Very Short Introduction. “Marked for Death” is his first work of fiction.

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