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Trench Warfare


Blasted skeletons of former trees were the only semblance of life that he saw as he cautiously peered down the sights of his rifle, squinting for the enemy. Half-relieved that there was nothing at which he could shoot, he popped off a shell anyway, snicking another piece from a branch on the tree.


Thirty yards away, someone else instinctively flinched as the bullet zinged overhead. "Missed!" he called out. He knew the other man understood. They'd been facing each other long enough to almost read one another's minds. He'd take another piece off the tree in a few minutes.


Squatting on a piece of canvas, he listened to the pep-talk. Something's up he thought. The captain's pointless speech cut a mark in the humdrum. The generals are stirring. Hell is coming. I'd better have a few more pot-shots at the tree. We've almost got the branch down.


Got it! The branch wavered as the bullet carved another coarse slice from it. "Look!" he called out excitedly. What would his wife think? Typical-still playing at soldiers. Mud and rations, fear and friendship. Funny, that. Would he recognized the other man? He got up as the corporal approached.


It was strange how you adapt to danger. From the horror of the draft to the terror of live rounds in training to the numbness of being here-here in the unreality of the front line. And somehow normality had returned. With the tree. And the other guy.


There was intelligence. It seemed that the other side were planning on an attack. But we will be ready. Maybe we'll attack first. Breathing fast, he deliberately slowed down. Remember your training. Practice. He brought up his rifle, calming as he aimed at the tree. He squeezed the trigger and watched the branch fall.


He knew. From the moment the yell of triumph reached his ears, he knew. From the captain's steely eyes, he knew. Now. Well at least they got the tree. He'd started. They other guy had finished it. Fair enough for today.


As the distant screams started, the first one went over to meet them. He had never seen so much white in a man's eyes as his corporal bawled him over the top. He started to run.


This is it. The end or something. Slipping and scrabbling, the madness all around. Over the top. Run.


They stopped at the tree, facing one another, bayonets sharp. It was a bubble in time, silent. A glance at the branch; into knowing eyes. Then without a word they ran past, screaming death.




~by David Straker~

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