Archives for category: A Few Short Stories You May or May Not Like

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.


The Wilderness Virginia, 1864

The woods were dotted here and there in the clear places with blue. Some clearings were filled with blue troops who had bunched up after finding no way through the thicket of trees and brush that lay before them. The noise of their movement echoed eerily amongst the trees and brush that lay all around them, swallowing up their whole regiment.

Occasionally there was the quick pop of a single musket, the smoke lost also amongst the trees, then the sharp crack and dull thump of the ball hitting flesh, a man would fall, and the men would keep going. The dead or wounded man would simply be moved off the path, bandaged if he may survive, and given a few words of encouragement. The officers didn’t need to give any particular orders, all of them knew what would be said if they did; “keep moving, press on.”

First Lieutenant Michael Rudd tripped over yet another root, catching himself with his left hand and the butt of the Spencer carbine he carried. He swore softly to himself as he fealt the jarring pain in his wrist. The shock of breaking the butt of his Colt Model 1851 Navy Revolver on a Confederate’s skull had also done damage to his wrist which, at least so said the doctors, “should heal with time”.  He pushed himself back to his feet and looked back over his shoulder, behind him he saw the thin line of Union soldiers making the slow and treacherous journey through this landscape.

He’d heard Sullivan, an Irishman who’d served in Mexico and was now a sergeant, say that God must have been preoccupied when he set to making this land. Rudd didn’t particularly believe one way or the other about God or any of that, but he had to agree, He did seem to have other things on his mind at that exact moment when He’d been creating this part of Virginia.  He caught himself grinning, his hometown on the Middle Peninsula wasn’t much to look at, but he’d never thought he’d wish for those woods to cross through. Especially since his was the lead platoon in the company advance. He heard the pop of another musket from up ahead, the man five in front of him went down, the back of his head blown away. The man behind him moved him unceremoniously to the side and took out his handkerchief to wipe the blood from his face. Nothing was said, what good would it do the poor soul now?

Rudd gently nudged the man in front of him, a new man from New York who’d never seen combat before. He didn’t envy the poor boy of this being his first taste. He wondered what he must be thinking at the moment. Probably so full of fear that if he saw his own shadow he’d shoot at it. Rudd looked up and couldn’t see the sun at all, no, no shadows to shoot at, lad, just keep moving, he thought. There was a dull boom from what sounded a great distance, no way to tell how near or how far. He wondered if it was a Rebel gun firing for the sake of firing, or perhaps they’d seen the movement of the tree tops.

He decided to make a note of that as the trees twelve yards to his right exploded in a shower of earth and bits of woods, a solid shot now tearing up through the air again and then bouncing once more toward the rear. The man in front of him flinched violently, then stood still, a look of shame upon his young, yet to shave features. “Sir, I…” He began, but he didn’t need to say it, nor could he in his shame. His trousers were darker through the groin area, a little trickle down his leg also. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of, lad, same thing happened to me first time a ball came that close.” Rudd said, not much encouragement, but what did the boy expect? If he’d wanted reassurance he should have gone to Church instead of the enlistment office. The boy turned back around and kept walking, slowly, ever so slowly. A creeping, stumbling kind of march that in and of itself was far worse than actual battle.

The uncertainty of whether it was just a shadow or a man aiming right at you, waiting for the perfect moment to fire and kill you. There was another pop, another man fell, this one screaming like all the damned souls in Satan’s collection in Hell. As the wounded man was moved he saw that there was little if anything that could be done. His stomach had a large hole in it now, bleeding profusely. Another man, thinking he was doing a kindness started to give the man his canteen. “Stop! Don’t give him that, it’ll only make it worse for him.” Rudd heard himself say. He’d learned that the hard way too, just like everything else these poor fellows had to learn through going on four years of war.

He’d learned in the Crimea the agony it could cause a man with a stomach wound just to have one sip of water. That seemed long ago now, even further back than his days at West Point, just before the war. He wondered if anything would ever be the same after all he had experienced.

He knew she was back home now, back with her family in that small town on the Peninsula. She’d left just before the war, their home in New York empty after she’d packed her things to leave. He tried to force it away but couldn’t fight the images and sounds of their last argument. She declaring it was either the United States Army or her, demanding that if he were to say in the Army and fight against his own that she wanted, no, demanded a divorce. He’d not raised his voice, not struck her, though she had pushed him that far. He’d simply said; “I am a soldier in the United States Army, my duty is to my country, not my place of birth”. She’d wailed like a lost soul in torment and collapsed. Her tears and crying hurting far more than any words she ever could have said. He’d told her he would give her the divorce if that was what she truly wanted of him, that though he loved her he would not shackle her to someone she was now loath to even look at. She’d cursed him in a way that not only would no lady employ, but which was also surprising for her and her seeming inability to hate that much.

Even now his ears rung with the sound of her curses, then the hollow voice, his own, “I am a soldier in the United States Army, my duty is to my country, not my place of birth”. He faintly heard a sound from in front of him, then a great shout which drove into his mind with the force of a thousand cannon. “They’re right in front of us!” It was Sullivan and the others in front of him who knew it first. The Confederates had placed themselves behind a low rise of earth, fallen trees and roots. Then he saw the flash of a sword, the gleam of bayonets as they rose to the shoulders of at least a battalion of men, then he waited, holding his breath without realizing it. Then he heard the drawl of the shouted order, simple, horrible, and final all in one word of condemnation for any who stood before it’s effect.

“Fire!” The line of bayonets disappeared as the flame and smoke of the volley erupted from the muzzles of hundreds of rifle muskets. Then came the sickening, terrible sound of the balls passing by, some finding flesh and bone, others tress, some just continuing on on their deadly way. He flung himself to the ground, pulling the lad in front of him down by his pack. “Spread out! Take cover and return fire!” He shouted, raising his Spencer up to do precisely that. He sighted in on a small patch of gray just visible through the smoke. He breathed in, let some of it out, holding the rest in, steadying his nerves and his whole body though they cried out for reason, for him to turn and run from this assured Death that lay before him.

 But he would not heed them, a hundred reasons flashed through his brain, his duty as a soldier, his own self respect, and finally, the one that meant the most, he couldn’t leave his men. He squeezed back on the trigger, felt the hard recoil of it, automatically working the lever and pulling back on the hammer again. The gray spot disappeared from his sight, dead, wounded, he didn’t know, or perhaps just swallowed up by the smoke of the fight. It was then he knew this march hadn’t been one of advance, not even close, it had been their own walk with Death.

Heindlen Colony, 2246

The long column of Colonial Confederation soldiers was marching down an unpaved road. The officers called it a “strategic withdraw”, the average Confed soldiers knew it was a retreat. The Terran Federation Marines had pushed them out of a small town named Leipzberg, which before the war had probably been a nice place.

Corporal Thomas Weiler, who had been born on Earth, was one of the Confed Army troops retreating from the Fed onslaught. He watched as civilians hurried dazedly along, what possessions they could carry from their lives in a place they now left behind. Thomas sighed as he put one weary foot in front of the other. His sky blue uniform was splattered with mud and dust from the road. His rifle and pack were barely noticeable now after marching over twenty miles, where he nor any of the other enlisted men knew where they were headed.

 Lieutenant David Rollins, who was maybe twenty four, and so eight years older than Thomas, was in charge of the Second Company. He was in charge because he was the senior surviving officer. The Second Company had been ordered to hold Leipzberg in order to allow time for the civilians to evacuate. They had begun the fight with a strength of one hundred and fifty, they were down to eighty five now. The Feds had hit them with air, ground, artillery, and armor.

 He was remembering back two years to the beginning of the war, his first taste of combat had been a shock. His unit had been slaughtered while holding a piece of high ground near the town of Johnstown on Anglica. His mind meandered thru the intervening years, he’d seen enough people die in combat to populate a small Terran city. He hadn’t heard the incoming Fed attack transport, not until tracer rounds tore thru the column, including the civilians. Laser guided missiles impacted and flung two civilian vehicles into the air burning as they fell.

France, 1916

They’d been pulled out of the line and given leave in a small French town which, by some odd miracle, had escaped damage from the war even though it was only fifteen miles from the front. Many of the lads were in bars or dipping their whicks in brothels. Many of the men were replacements, so many of the old faces were gone now.

 The regiment had been hit hard at the Sommes, so many men had died, and for what? Better not to think on that now, too much pain, too many friends long gone. Captain Thomas Ferguson was walking down the street and watching the men and women who were intermixed as a great writhing mass of humanity. Women of ill repute promised Heaven to any who’d lay down the money. Merchants sold anything and everything, clocks, they had them, souvenirs, they had them, the Kaiser’s undershirt, had that too. He realized as he walked that he was not enjoying himself, not in the least.

 Veronica had visited once before when they’d gotten leave, after Gallipoli, they’d dined and celebrated being alive, then made love for the first time. The faces of men he’d known passed before his eyes, their names, faces, and deaths were forever burned into his memory. Gallipoli had been the regiment’s first taste of action, for far too many it had been their last. He relived that dreadful experience as he walked, flashes of horror, humanity, and indeed comedy flashing before him like a motion picture, but with sound and smells added.

 He realized he’d stopped walking and shook himself free of the past. It was then he wondered what Doc was up too. The platoon medic for his old platoon was a mystery. He was an American who’d been in England when war was declared and joined to be a medic. He’d been in France for the Christmas Truce, being one of those that had been chosen to be transferred from the Western Front. He’d been assigned to them before Gallipoli and had become known as a heavy drinker and the man who didn’t get close to many. Frank Rudd was a good man, he’d just been thru to much.

Ferguson looked up and saw two khaki legs hanging over the edge of a building. Somehow he knew it was Rudd. He made his way around the back of the building and found a ladder there. He hesitated for a moment, not sure if he should climb up and interupt the medic’s reverie or not. Finally he decided to go up, better to spend time with someone who knew how it was, plus he always had liquor upon him. He climbed the ladder and as he cleared the white stone that made up the outer walls he saw Rudd sitting, bottle of wine in one hand, a lit cigarette in the other.

He stepped on to the roof, purposely making a noise to ensure Rudd knew he was there. Rudd didn’t turn, just drank from the bottle of wine and took a drag from the cigarette. Ferguson walked up to him and sat down beside him, legs dangling over the edge too. Rudd didn’t say a word, just handed him the bottle. He drank deeply and looked out over the rooftops towards the horizon. He gasped as he noticed flashes on the horizon. When there was an occasional dull boom he thought it was thunder at first. “That’s the front.” Rudd said, as if reading his mind. “Dear God.” Ferguson said, taking the bottle and drinking again. Rudd laughed, he wasn’t very religious himself. “We’ll be going back up there in a couple of days.” He said, no emotion behind the words. He’d seen too much to have the prospect of going back effect him. He was so detached that many thought he was a heartless bastard. Ferguson understood it was his way of staying sane. “We will be up there soon enough, God help us.” Ferguson said. Rudd finally looked at him, the look in his eyes saying so much at once. Yet empty, distant. “Your insurance up to date?” He asked, his tone flat, still no emotion. Ferguson laughed despite himself. “God, you know how to cheer a man up don’t you?” He said, laughing still. Rudd smiled, the black humor he employed being special. Once, when a camera crew was at the front, he’d set up a table and had some of the men playing cards, with their gas masks on. “I try, sir, I try.” Rudd replied. They both looked out to the man made thunderstorm. Both with his own thoughts, his own dreads and dreams. The wine bottle passed between them and they said very little.

Take a moment and give thanks and remembrance to those young men who, 97 years ago, found the decency to defy orders and lay down their arms for just one day. It started in many sectors when German soldiers placed Christmas trees upon the parapet of their trench, or began singing Christmas Carols. At first the Belgian, French, and English soldiers thought it to be a trick, yet some walked out into the open in No Man’s Land. They’d exchange cigarettes and chocolates, and even play soccer in some areas. But it was amazing, the men who’d been killing each other just a few hours ago were now close friends, bonded together by their experiences.  One day to live in peace and come face to face with the man across the wire. One day to celebrate life and birth in it’s many forms. They defied orders to celebrate this holiday in the midst of the greatest horror ever seen up to that time. Yet they set aside the hate and killing and saw each other as men instead of the dreaded Hun, or the Frog Frenchmen, or the Tommy. They were a special group that did something we can’t even imagine today. Unfortunately their example was not followed in the subsequent years and it is unlikely we shall ever see the likes of such an event again. Maybe we’ve lost a piece of our humanity in the intervening years, or maybe it was just a fluke, a one time thing in the modern era. Imagine yourself in their situation, it’s winter, you’re in the bottom of a trench, and you’ve been taught to hate and kill the man across the wire from you. Then Christmas comes around, the enemy begins to sing Christmas Carols, what would you do? Would you shoot them? Or would you lay down your weapons for one day and celebrate this holiday with them? Think long and hard about it, you may find something out about yourself you didn’t know.

Verdun, France 1916

The thunder of artillery was hardly noticed by the men who’d been there for any length of time. The newer men were more shaken by the constant thunder of first a French gun firing, the shell going over with a high pitched screech, then the German reply, a heavier shell from one of their Krupp Howitzers. Sergeant Thomas Johnson walked down the trench, the dirt from a shell raining down on his Adrian helmet. He saw some of the newer men, a few with the shocked look of just figuring out that Death was the only constant here.

 He stopped at an observation post and saw a young boy working his rosary beeds and murmuring prayers. He wondered at how any person could possibly think God would show mercy to anyone here. He’d seen Catholics who went to Mass every day get cut down just as quickly by machine gun fire as those who’d never been inside a church. He turned away from the boy, not wanting to be confronted with the eternal argument: How can a merciful and loving God allow this to happen?

He picked up the periscope and slowly slid it up over the edge of the parapet. The mirrors revealed the horrible devastation to his eyes. When he’d been but a boy back in America he’d gone to an observatory and seen the surface of the moon, marvelled at the craters there. What he saw now was much the same. He forced himself not to pay attention to the small lumps lying about everywhere outside the trench, some with remnants of the light blue of the French Army, others in the grey of the German Imperial Army. About three hundred meters in front of the trench there was the limless pole of a tree standing out in harsh contrast to the levelled ground.

When he’d first seen this landscape, he’d been horrified, his mind trying to imagine his home like this. Now he saw it a different way. Back in America was a place that for all intents and purposes may as well be on the moon, or in a fairy tale. He couldn’t remember the trees anymore, nor the fresh spring breeze blowing across the water to him as he fished. Now all he could see was the cratered landscape, the shattered trees, the bombed out buildings. The only spring breeze his memory could recall anymore was that which brought the stench of the corpses dotting the landscape, the smell of explosives and poison gas mixed with the dirt.

To him, now, America was the dream, the unreal place, this was his home. He noticed the rats scittering hither and yon over the dead bodies, the great feast they enjoyed here. He was half tempted to bring the young boy up and let him see this, show him God’s Creation. But decided not to, better that the first time the boy saw this was his last. He’d seen so many leave the relative safety of the trenches and charge, oh so gallantly into the Hell beyond. He’d also seen so many slaughtered like animals, and taken a part in the slaughter himself.

He wondered if or when this war would ever end. One thing was certain in his mind though, he would never see the end. He looked down at the boy and smiled, the boy cringing away from him. “This is the end, my friend.” He said, laughing at the boy’s timidity. No, he wouldn’t make it either, poor pious bastard.

Sevastopol, Crimea

It was cold, the ground crunching under their boots as they went about their duties. The fog hung low over the ground as he finally decided to brave the cold, unwrapping himself from the blankets he had slept in. His body was stiff as he attempted to stretch out, he managed to make it to his feet after a few moments and began stomping his feet as he moved back and forth. The warmth slowly came back to most of his body. He slowly bent down and folded his blankets, placing them in his pack, otherwise someone else would steal them.

He inhaled deeply and blew down the barrel of his rifle musket which was coated in frost. He took a piece of old cloth he’d found and wrapped it about the end of the ramrod. He slowly and deliberately worked it down the barrel, twisting gently so as not to leave the cloth behind. As he did so he noticed a small group of English Artillerymen with maps, binoculars and other instruments trying to peer thru the fog.

He watched half interestedly as they tried to go about their work. He slowly withdrew the ramrod and cloth. His mind wandered to that golden place that was only across the vast sea. Home for him was in Virginia, on one of the many peninsulas along the Chesapeake Bay. He could  remember the summer breeze coming off the water as he fished in the Bay. The memories made that place seem so close to him now, the sun burning his skin, the sweet smell of the sea, the boyish longing for the adventure of exploring what lay just over the horizon.

He twisted a corner of the cloth and gently fed it thru the nipple and worked it about, drying the moisture out. Then he quietly made a small show of folding the cloth as if he were a magician folding the never-ending handkerchief. The enlisted amongst the English Artillerymen noticed and watched his little dramatic show. He smiled and made it all the more dramatic by spinning the cloth about by two corners held one above the other. He finished his production and placed it in a small pouch where he kept his cleaning cloth and other cleaning tools.

 “‘Ey, Frenchie, whatcha doin’?” Asked one of the enlisted men, a private if he wasn’t mistaken about the insignia. “Frost in the barrel, thaw it, clean the moisture out, then the powder stays dry, and when you pull the trigger it does more than fizzle.” The Artillery Sergeant smiled, he’d begun his career in the Infantry and knew well the tricks of keeping your weapon in working order. “Well, now what you gonna do?” Asked the private. He opened a cartridge box and withdrew a paper cartridge. “Loading.” He said, voice betraying how senseless the man sounded to him. He brought the cartridge to his mouth and tore it open, spitting the torn off piece out of his mouth. He poured the powder down the barrel, holding the ball just out of the muzzle. He jammed it down with his thumb atop the powder, removing his ramrod and sliding it into position just over the ball. He pushed down, seating the ball home atop the powder. He then replaced the ramrod under the barrel and brought his musket up and held it across his lap. “Now what you doin’?” Asked the private again. “Won’t fire without a percussion cap to set it off.” He said, removing one from another pouch on his belt, as he placed it in the nipple of the lock mechanism he looked at the private seriously. “Thought you Artillery blokes were supposed to be smart.” He said, fighting words any other time, but not with this one. The Sergeant could tell by looking at him, this one was a killer. “Right, enough mucking about with the Frogs, eyes front!” The Sergeant commanded, waiting until the other men obeyed, then turning slightly and saluting. He returned the salute and began to sharpen his bayonet. “Sergeant McCann, Royal Army Artillery Corps.” The Englishman said. “Corporal Francois Dubois, French Foreign Legion Eighth Infantry Regiment.”

As McCann went back to trying to peer through the fog a gap appeared and he saw the Russian fortifications on a hill, a hill that Dubois and his comrades would have to take. “Thru the early morning fog I see, visions of things to be.” McCann muttered to himself. Apparently one man had heard him. “Pains that are withheld from me, I realize and I can see.” Dubois sighed, he’d overheard the Colonel at the officer’s meeting last night, the attack would be launched around noon today. If the fog cleared enough there would be an hour’s worth of preparatory artillery bombardment, regardless the attack would occur. McCann met his eyes, yes, Dubois was a killer, but the greatest killers were those with the gold lace and epaulettes. He shivered, many a good boy would die before the end of the day. McCann vowed to himself to make sure that at least some artillery was in support of them.