The dawn-lit trees drifted by, silent sentinels of the dewy road-less-traveled. Songbirds watched inquisitively from the high branches as a solitary figure ran past. A mechanical rhythm of footsteps and breaths seemed to reach only a few meters into the damp air around him, while his mind focused exclusively on the path ahead.
Holger's lungs collapsed back in on themselves with every third splash of his boots. Mud spattered across the trousers of every soldier in the platoon as they ran through the rain towards the sound of gunfire. Holger knew beyond the trees at the top of the hill, Jorgen was surrounded by the enemy and fighting for his life.
Machineguns roaring like engines breathed fire down the hillside, steam rolling off their barrels as raindrops burst on impact. Wet dirt exploded into their faces as lead impacted the edge of the trench, hurled so fiercely by the incoming conscripts. Jorgen’s finger was tight against the trigger as the gun rattled in his fists.
Occasional chirps would echo through the pines, piercing the mist until it could no longer be heard from where he was, though he knew it still went on. Each breath began to feel thicker, tougher to pull in and press out as his chest tightened. Apathetic, but strangely inviting, the road stretched into the light grey further than he could see.
Men in foreign coats carrying rifles trickled towards them at full speed between the drenched tree trunks. Without hesitation, the soldiers opened fire as they ran. Though the enemy had made it through, a cacophony of combat pounded through the pouring rain from atop the hill. They pressed on, dashing over corpses and roots with burning legs.
Bodies leapt overhead as the human wave crashed against their shoreline. Utter chaos ensued as the guns turned inward and intruders dropped into the trench. Stocks shattered skulls and bayonets bore into bellies amid the onslaught. Jorgen swung his bloody shovel with a single-minded drive to kill until he survived this hell.
Ache, tightness, cramping, pain pressed in on all sides from somewhere between where the cool air caressed his skin and further within where his muscles churned like pistons. He didn’t know where the road led, what lay along it, or even if it would end. He would follow this road until he couldn’t go on. “Just a little further...” every time the pain resurged.
Shot after shot recoiled into his shoulder as Holger aimed at the surge of figures pouring down the hill towards them. He didn’t stop to steady himself—now they could see the flashes and clouds coming from the trench above them where the soldier’s mentor might already be dead. The platoon charged with a renewed drive to aid their comrades.
Death and killing drowned out the pouring rain as screams and shouts filled the short gaps between muzzle blasts and explosions. Blood and water ran down his flesh from a soaked uniform as Jorgen shot, stabbed, and struck in a blur of adrenalin-fueled fear and rage. Knee-deep in his friends and foes, a shrill blast from down the hill cut through his mind.
He stopped, doubled over. Ahead the road kept going, forever, disappearing into the impregnable mist between the shady trees. A warmth touched his cheek and he turned from his pain to see where he'd stopped. Between a wide break in the woods extended a lush field sparkling with dew upon its flowers as it reached out towards the invisible coast, over which the sun’s orange glow burned through the heavy mist.
They’d run, the enemy. Retreated at the call of a dozen whistles. Their guns still fed, the platoon trudged up the uneven terrain to the hilltop. Mud gave way to mounds of bodies, fallen atop one another in a massive singular, grim, tangled embrace. The trench was choked with corpses of all colors, faces pale as the downpour washed mud and blood from their empty expressions.
Sitting atop what was left of his sandbags, Jorgen stared into the abyss before him. Holger walked over to his friend and placed a hand on his shoulder, looking for a sign of peace, sanity, or at least health. Jorgen didn’t respond for a moment, his mind blank and body numb. “Yes.” he finally said, still deep in the void. “I think here is a good place to stop.” He placed the pistol against his head and pulled the trigger.
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