They’d been pulled back ten miles from the town they’d taken from the Germans. Mainly due to the fact that they were overextended from the French and British Expeditionary Force supply and support. They were now sitting in another small village, the people having fled the day before they marched in. The First Platoon was spread out in the buildings facing towards the expected direction of German attack, East. The rest of the company was spread out in all the other buildings, for some it was the first time they’d had a roof over their heads since before the German breakthrough in the Ardennes.

 The corporal was walking across the street to Gouche’s position near one of the machine guns they’d set up. Little happy clouds of smoke wafting up and over his head. He was about ten feet from Gouche when they heard the sharp crack of thunder in the distance. The corporal threw himself down on the ancient cobblestones which had been there since the time of Louis XIV. “Eighty eight!” He shouted, the scream of the shell, like that of a small car being launched through the air, overpowering any speech. They all cringed in dread, waiting for the inevitable crash of the explosion as the shell hit. It overshot the village, landing in the open field beyond. The corporal rose to his feet and quickly made his way to and through the door to the house Gouche was in. “Good thing they don’t have the range.” He said simply, like talking about the weather. He extinguished his cigarette and checked his rifle. “Why is it good?” Asked Bernet, a young private that many thought was too young to be in the Army, and that they all swore had yet to shave. “Because if they did, they’d level the town. Ever see what they can do to a tank?” The corporal asked. Bernet gulped. “Blows the turret right off.” The corporal said. He looked out the window Bernet was posted at. “Well, at least you’re in a bakery, means you get first run on any food you find.” The corporal said, smiling thinly. Gouche laughed, flinching nervously at the crack of another German eighty eight firing.

 The corporal tapped Bernet’s bayonet scabbard with his right hand. “That works better at the end of the rifle.” He said, as if discussing a recipe. Bernet nervously fumbled his bayonet from his belt and attached it to the end of his rifle, the sound of it locking in place oddly reassuring and evil at the same time. “Do you think it’ll come to that?” Bernet asked, the nervousness of a scared youth in his voice. Gouche looked away out his window. “If they come at us fast and hard, with more men than we have, yes.” The corporal said. Bernet gulped, he’d practiced as all of them had in training with the wicked bayonet. That most personal of impersonal weapons. The very idea of cold steel penetrating soft flesh made Bernet’s stomach do a flip.

 There was a steady torrent of German shells passing over, through and in front of the village now. He tried to force his mind to focus on something else. But the image of the corporal and his bloody bayonet stayed before his mind’s eye, refusing to leave. The corporal lit another cigarette and glanced back through the door at the men across the street.

He grinned as he noticed a noise Bernet hadn’t been paying attention to. “That would be the boches tanks moving up.” He said simply. The metal beasts scared Bernet more than any other weapon, except maybe Stukas. No weapon he had, other than his grenades, could hurt them. He’d seen how they could break a man, those that had been at the Ardennes wouldn’t say much. But when they did, all they’d say is, “tanks” and a shudder would pass through the veterans. Each man remembering his own fear, his comrades lost that day. “If they come into the village, we may stand a fighting chance against those tanks.” Gouche said. The corporal smiled, a death’s head grin. “If we can get on top of them and open the hatches, maybe, or even blow a track off, make them into one big damn road block.” He said, he didn’t mention the problems with that plan, he didn’t have too. Bernet shivered. Then the squealing grew louder as three monsters came over the rise beyond the village. There were grey little forms running behind them, infantry. “Don’t waste ammunition on the tanks, aim for the infantry.” The corporal shouted. One of the tanks stopped, it’s squat little turret rotated to their left. Bernet saw the barrel of the main gun, a long barrel 37mm cannon. It looked huge to him. It belched flame and smoke, the tank rocking back and forth.

The front right corner of the building across the street exploded in a shower of stone and dust. Bernet flinched, then tried to aim at one of the Germans. He lined up his sights on one and squeezed the trigger, nothing happened. “Your damn safety is on!” Shouted the corporal as the tank’s coaxial machine gun peppered the bakery. Bernet slid to the side, away from the open window, then slid back into place as the machine gun stopped. He aimed at a German, the man running with a submachine gun held at his waist. He pulled the trigger and the rifle flashed, recoiled, and announced to the world it was there in an instant. He furiously worked the bolt, seeing the German double up and land on his knees, face down on the ground in an odd praying sort of position. He aimed again, fired, another German went down, this one flailed a bit, his right leg not moving.

The corporal steadily banged away beside him, more and more Germans went down. They reloaded, kept firing, killing and wounding at least twelve Germans between them. Then the turret rotated toward them. Bernet tried to shout a warning, but his mouth was too dry. Anyway the corporal said enough for all three of them. “Oh shit.”

They all ran through the door into the kitchen. Then the room they’d just left erupted as the tank shell hit. The corporal glanced around the kitchen doorway. “Baker’s not going to like this. Let’s move.” He said, rushing back out into what had been a room with three windows, now it was a room with two windows and the biggest mouse hole Bernet had ever seen. The corporal rushed over and began firing again. Bernet and Gouche followed suit. They fired and reloaded, cursing like madmen as they killed and wounded the Germans. The tank simply sat there, firing at random targets. Then it rotated it’s turret to face behind it and rolled back whence it had come.

Bernet heard cheers from the other Frenchman in the village, as well as calls for medics. The corporal reloaded, sat down with his rifle against the wall at an angle, and lit up another cigarette. “Bet we can’t do that twice.” He said, laughing. Gouche bounced a small stone off his helmet. The corporal rolled his eyes and made an obscene gesture that would have sent Bernet’s mother to hospital had she seen it, and would have even made a whore blush. Bernet laughed. These men he fought with, his comrades, his brothers, were out of their damn minds.

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