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A Moment in Time – a short story by ffox

It splattered across my face. That was when I started to function again. I remember it tasted bad and stung my eyes. Spitting and cuffing my face with the back of my hand I looked and saw the smears of blood and shit. It was still hard to hear. Not that it was silent, more like all the unholy noise of hell was sounding off at once, continuous, unrelenting. The fact the crap that spattered my face had gone in my mouth and eyes meant that both had been open but for a while but I'd heard nothing, I’d seen nothing, registered nothing. I didn’t know how long I’d been there, gawping into that madness. Could have been a minute, could have been a day. What I was sure of was that I wanted the oblivion back. I wanted it back so bad I started to shut down again.

Others, it seemed had different ideas. Sand exploded in a fountain a couple of inches away from the fingers of my left hand. Dirty, grey sand. Fascinated I watched it rain down on my wrist and arm in heavy wet lumps. Amazing how much sand a single bullet can throw up in the air. It occurred to me that two more inches and my hand would have gone. Slowly, I pulled my limbs up to my body.

The dead soldier I was hiding behind jerked twice as his empty carcass took two rounds. More bits flew out of him and spattered me. Again, he’d saved my life. Earlier when I’d jumped into the water, lumbered with pack and gun, it had been hard to move, a slow trek until the surf line was cleared. Men had fallen around me some exploding into showers of red gore. I didn’t remember after that. The sole objective was to get somewhere safe. That was a joke.

Sound began to come back. Amid the overall din the individual sounds of rifle fire, machine gun fire, the crump of mortars, the screams of men. Thinking was restored and with it the definite conviction of imminent death. I looked at the gaping holes in the body that was my shield and wondered what it would feel like when my guts were blown away.

A shower of sand and a gasp of breath signalled the arrival of another seeking the shelter of my dead saviour. “Are you wounded?” the voice sounded educated. Just what I needed, an officer.

Looking around confirmed it. “No, Sir,”

“Time to go then lad,” he said. I took in his Captains pips and looked at his face, his eyes told me was shit scared as well. Lad? Jeez, he was younger than me, way younger than me.

“We… we’re gonna die here…” I said but my voice was lost in the din. “We’re gonna die,” this time I shouted.

The Captain’s throat convulsed a couple of times, laying there, low as possible, cheek on the dirty sand he took a deep shuddering breath and nodded. “I know,” he yelled back. “tell you what. I’m not going to die cowering behind a corpse. I’m done waiting. Let’s do it,”

I couldn’t help myself. He had a head start on me but I was up and running. We hadn’t gone twenty yards before others were up and running with us. We didn’t know where we were going, we couldn’t see anyone to shoot at and the bullets kept coming. Men were falling again, dying, but this time I didn’t freeze I just wanted off that fucking beach. One way or another I wanted out of there.

The Captain was jinking about, leaping over the fallen. He must have been an athlete the way he kept going. I just kept following, breathing getting ragged, the pack and the gun were heavy, the sand was loose, but every step was another gone and still alive. Forcing myself against fatigue I kept going. I didn’t want to hide any more, I didn’t want to fight. I just wanted somewhere safe to rest. There must have been fifty or more of us when we reached the dunes.

Suddenly the Captain’s headlong rush stopped dead and the back of his battledress blew away exposing shattered ribs and torn organs. I was so close I nearly tripped over him, leaping at the last second as he went down in front of me.

His killer was taking aim again as I pushed myself faster up that dune. I could see him control himself, steadying, taking aim and I knew my end was here. A shot sounded to my left where one of ours loosed off a quick one. Sand kicked up in front of the rifleman, throwing his aim.

His shot went wide and I was on him before he could work the bolt on his gun. He went down under my weight. Rolling over my pack, turning, aiming, I pulled the trigger. Nothing happened.

Shit. I hadn’t even released the safety.

Two seconds was all it took. I did it by feel and watched his fear filled eyes the whole time. He knew he was about to die. He dropped his gun and threw up his hands. His eyes begged me not to do it.

He was the only man I killed. I didn’t kill him because I had to. I wasn’t looking for revenge. Shock was receding to the release of adrenalin in my system but I wasn’t even angry. No. I killed him because I could, because fate and that fucking stupid conflict had given me the right.

The next day I picked up a shrapnel wound and was sent back for hospital care. I never saw the front line again. That was many years ago but I still taste the fear and I dream about those men often. The soldier who died before I got there but who shielded me and saved my life twice. The Captain who showed me the way off the beach and who never fired a single shot. The rifleman who I could have spared and didn’t…