This story is by James Antony and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The enemy artillery continued its incessant barrage against the invading Allies, as The Soldier, frightened and confused, desperately made his way up the beach.
He was one of the thousands of young Americans thrown against the French coastline, each with the task of driving the Nazis back to the Fatherland.
Frantically moving between the anti-tank obstacles, he hoped that the miniscule cover would offer some sort of protection, as the defenders continued to rain down death all around him.
His unit had been pinned down all day, almost decimated by the Germans fanatical resistance, which now left them unable to help the reserves as they landed fully exposed on the beaches.
Finally, after concentrated fire support from the Navy’s cruisers offshore, a weakness was utilised in the beach head, and a breakthrough was mounted, enabling the liberators to make their way forward.
Casualties from the artillery situated inland had been horrific, and due to the bad weather, any hope of Allied air support disappeared as darkness fell.
Any semblance of order amongst the troops had now long since disappeared, as the fire from the German 88mm guns continued their relentless fusillade, each round impacting with such ferocity, that the landscape seemed to rise like some giant creature heaving in pain.
Spotting an enormous crater left behind by one of these explosions, The Soldier began to stumble towards it, momentarily oblivious to the hell going on around him.
Reaching the edge, he flung himself headlong into the chasm; the darkness enveloping him as he pitched and rolled towards the bottom.
A large boulder that had become unearthed, lay hidden at the bottom of the void, and was waiting in the shadows as he tumbled downward.
With no time to react, he impacted the rock and was instantly knocked unconscious, his body twitching slightly as his rifle and helmet slid down the edge of the crater, stopping against his limp form.
The roar of the barrage suddenly ceased, and instead of quiet, the night was now filled with the voices of platoon leaders trying to rally the remains of the scattered units, their desperate shouts drowning out the screams of the broken and the dying.
After a time, The Soldier came to, and as his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he looked up out of the hole and stared blankly into the night.
Mesmerized by the stars blinking in the distance, his gaze was broken by a flare that shot up, illuminating the sky, causing him to grimace from the glare.
As if this was a signal, the roar of the battle started again, artillery rounds exploded and bullets slammed into the top of the shell hole, causing him to shrink lower into the safety of the crater.
Suddenly, out of the glare loomed a shadowy figure, that scrambled over the edge and skidded to a stop at the bottom of the shell hole.
Hidden in the darkness, The Soldier silently reached for his knife, as the shadow now sensing the movement turned to face him.
Lunging forward, The Soldier drove the knife deep into the shadows stomach, viciously twisting the blade and pushing him off, as the victims last breath slowly ebbed away.
This wasn’t the first time he had taken a life, but it was the first time The Soldier had killed up close.
Using his rifle had removed any emotion, but now as he felt the knife and the dampness of the blood, he began to shake with rage.
Another shadow dropped into the crater, and The Soldier drew his 1911 Colt and fired off a round.
Completely taken by surprise, the victim barely had a chance to cry out, as it slumped to the ground.
At this point The Soldier was now in a robotic state, any sense of feeling or remorse had left his body, and his only thought was survival.
His grasp on reality was slowly ebbing away, as two more figures slipped over the edge and made their way down, into what they thought was the safety of the shell hole.
When they stopped and looked through the shadows, to their confusion they were met with the muzzle of a pistol… “Fucking Krauts” yelled The Soldier.
“No stop…” called out the voices in unison.
Frowning, The Soldier in that split second could sense there was something not right…but with anger and hatred clouding his judgement, he squeezed off two more rounds, and watched as the bodies dropped in front of him.
As this was unfolding, more figures appeared over the edge of the crater and instantly reacting to the movement, he fired his pistol in that direction and three more bodies fell into the shell hole.
Shaking with fear, he peered into the darkness at the crumpled forms in front of him, and frowned as he noticed something on their uniforms.
But before it could register, one of the figures who had only been wounded, leapt at him and tried to wrestle the firearm from his grasp.
With all his strength, The Soldier forced the muzzle of the pistol into the body of his attacker, as the figure frantically screamed out…“Please no…”
But his final words were cut off by the gun shot, and the familiar sound of the slide locking open, indicated to The Soldier that it was over.
Collapsing against the wall of the shell hole, he began to sob uncontrollably as he looked at the carnage that had taken place all around him.
Pulling himself together, he rolled one of the bodies over and after searching their pockets, pulled out a packet of cigarettes.
In the light of the flares overhead, he stared down at the packet of Lucky Strikes, and as he lit one, thought to himself.
‘Fucking murderous bastard, has stolen these from one of our guys.’
Drawing on the cigarette, he coughed, and lay his head back against the wall of the crater and closed his eyes, allowing his body to relax as he slipped into an exhausted sleep.
A noise woke him with a start, and he instinctively reached for his pistol, levelling the now empty weapon at the Red Cross of a medic’s helmet that was slowly making its way towards him.
With a soothing voice, The Medic gently eased the gun from The Soldiers hand and helped his limp body to its feet.
Stumbling and tripping over the bodies, they made their way up the slippery side of the crater…the shell-shocked soldier murmuring to himself.
“So many Krauts……they just kept coming.”
The medic frowned and started to say something, but thinking better of it, said, “It’s alright son, it’s over now.”
The morning light was beginning to illuminate the area, as they carefully made their way back down to the beach, while behind them, the sounds of the battle had moved further inland, the Allies now at full speed in their relentless pursuit of the enemy.
“This poor guy’s in a bad way, his mind is gone…” said the orderly, as they loaded him on a stretcher, and slid it into the rear of the military ambulance.
“This was nothing but a god damn meat grinder, it’s a wonder anyone survived.”
Closing the doors, The Medic pounded firmly on the back of the vehicle, and watched as it headed off on its journey to a temporary field hospital.
Walking back to the edge of the crater, the Medic took off his helmet, and as he slowly lit a cigarette, peered over the edge, into the abyss.
Littered around the base of the shell hole were several bodies, their limbs and faces twisted in their final poses; the peaceful scenario contradicting the horror that had unfolded.
As the sun rose, an ice-cold wind howled in from the ocean, slowly dancing around the dead bodies, who were now lying raw and exposed along the beach head.
Nearing the shell hole, the wind eased slightly as it circled around The Medic’s legs, disrupting his gaze and sending a slight shiver through him; before it silently dived down into the base of the crater.
Taking a pull on his cigarette, he watched as the dust swirled around and around, as it seemed to be checking every lifeless body one by one.
Then with its grim search finished, it raced up the side of the crater, leaving the dead soldiers in its wake.
Still looking down, The Medic watched as the arm bands on the dead GI’s uniforms, danced back and forth in the breeze as it subsided, these tiny American flags seemed to wave to The Medic in a sad salute.
Taking the last draw of his Lucky Strike, he shook his head at the futility of it all, knowing that more young men were going to die before this would be over.
Stubbing out his cigarette; he turned, and placing his helmet back on, yelled out,
“Nothing more we can do here fellas; get ready to pull out, graves registration will take care of the rest.”