Hell Is War

on March 14, 2011 in Fantasy, Horror

It was coming up near midnight in the foxhole. Jerry spared a glance down at the last cigarette, but only a glance. He didn’t have time to light it, let alone look at it. He was the only one left of the machine gun crew, and that included the machine gun. It had spat out its last round ages ago. If the enemy could muster enough men to come at him en masse they’d have him, and he couldn’t do anything but take one or two with him.

It seemed the other side was having problems, too. He’d watched as their nerve and manpower dwindled, and the massed charges had given way to smaller and smaller groups. They didn’t charge, they peeked their heads cautiously over the embankment or rose with distressing casualness into his line of sight. He’d just kept plugging away with his rifle, though, and now it seemed like the enemy couldn’t muster more than one man at a time.

Every once in a while there were two or even three, sometimes with fresh recruits who didn’t even have a uniform. This had taken Jerry by surprise the first time it happened, but not long enough to stay his hand. It had been a long war, after all. Terror can have a monotony all its own, and Jerry welcomed the break. That had almost got him killed once or twice, he was sure. Once the bastards had sent a man over the top with a white flag of truce. Jerry hadn’t lowered his rifle. There was only one of him. Relief was coming, he knew, but until it got there he was alone. They wouldn’t be surrendering to him.

Maybe they wanted his surrender? Not likely. He’d seen the eagerness in the bastard’s face, the elation when he got close. He was way too happy for a man in a war zone.

Probably gone right round the bend, Jerry had thought. Probably hiding a pistol or a grenade. He just can’t wait to blow me away and he doesn’t care what happens to him.

Also, there was something disconcertingly familiar about his face. After he’d been at it for so long, the faces of the enemy had sort of blurred out. He didn’t see them as individuals any more. You couldn’t, or you’d go round the bend yourself. But this one had got in close and something about his face had almost stopped Jerry cold. He knew he couldn’t let anything slow him down or he’d be stopped for good, so Jerry had blown him away, and the bastards hadn’t tried that again.

But they hadn’t given up. Like a drippy faucet, the enemy came over the top reliably but irregularly. Sometimes it was almost continuous, sometimes there’d be a maddening delay when it seemed like they’d finally stopped right up until the moment a head popped up again.

There was one now. Jerry hardly needed to take aim. He’d become a machine; mechanized warfare, incarnate in a man. He squeezed the trigger. There was a report. The man fell back. This had become Jerry’s life, since the rest of the machine gun crew had gone crazy. One by one they’d given up and ran right across no man’s land, right over the embankment and into the arms of the enemy.

Shell shock. It had to be. They’d all had some close calls with artillery bursts, especially that last one just after they’d fed the last belt through.

Jerry had watched in horror as each of his mates scrambled out of the hole. He’d waited for the inevitable, for the shots to ring out and shatter their skulls or the machine guns to tear them pieces. They had never come. The enemy wasn’t going to waste the ammo. Instead the bastards had taken them alive and then sent them back after Jerry.

Their poor broken brains had been so receptive to the enemy’s lies that they’d believe anything, and spout it back out.

The war’s over. The fighting’s over. You can put down your gun and join us. You have to see it, Jerry… on the other side of the trench. It’s beautiful, Jerry. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen.

Jerry knew if he let the stress get to him, he’d be next, but he also knew that relief was coming, reinforcements were coming. He couldn’t last forever, but he just had to hold out five more minutes. He couldn’t lose his nerve. He couldn’t let anything slow him down. He had to keep fighting.

And so he’d done the only thing for his comrades he could do: he’d put them out of their misery. Eventually the bastards stopped sending them, and now it was down to just one man. Not one man, Jerry thought to himself. Can’t kill the same man more than once. One man at a time.

It was coming up near midnight in the foxhole. Jerry spared a glance down at the last cigarette, but only a glance.

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