It was a dark out. Far too dark to see the man in front of me. The only way I really knew he was even there was by the sound of his boots caressing the wet grass as he ran. We were all running. The breathing pattern was different, but we all breathed incredibly hard. Some of the men stumbled. Others collapsed. We had to help them up. We were running from the battle. An extreme loss on our part. We wanted to stay alive. We had to stay alive...
“Sir,” Dalemir choked out the words. “Sir we have to stop.”
The Captain slowed down to a quick jog. We were all still tired. So tired. Our AK74 assault rifles dug into our backs. Our packs carrying our supplies were dumped of anything unnecessary. We kept communication equipment, food, water, and ammunition. We were to going to be hunted by the enemy, for sure.
Captain Voika stopped, his breathing heavier then the rest of ours. “Take five,” he commanded. “Secure the perimeter. Wagon wheel formation.”
Dalemir and I checked the area. We knew there weren’t any enemies around. We could not take the chance. The area was wooded, but not densely. We stopped in a clearing. The distant chatter of machine guns ripping bodies apart could be heard like wolves howling at the moon on a cold night. Many of our men had died that night.
Dalemir looked at me with a shake of his head. He took a swig from his canteen, and sat cross legged on the ground. His face was soaked with sweat. Areas like his armpits and back were darkened from his sweat. He wiped his face with his sleeve, and looked at the dirt.
“That was close, Volkha.” He gulped a breath between each word. I patted his shoulder with a nod. I was too much in shock to reply.
I sat beside him, my body shaking. He eyed me strangely, but did not say anything. I knew he wanted too. We leaned against a large tree, and listened to the quiet whispers of the men a few yards away. I shook from the cold. I shook from the nervousness. I shook especially from the fear. My breathing was sporadic and strange. Dalemir shook my shoulder.
“Are you going to be okay?” He was concerned.
I nodded, turned my head, and vomited. He rubbed my back, sighing deeply. My body fell over in my own puddle of vomit, the shaking beginning to calm down. The Captain quickly walked over, seeing my upper body fall limp onto the ground. He knelt beside me, turning my face to face him. He looked me over, from what he could see in the dark.
“What is wrong with him?” The Captain asked firmly to Dalemir.
“I think it is combat stress, sir.” Dalemir replied.
“Combat stress, huh?” The Captain continued his examination, feeling my hands, and checking my pulse. “Give him something to drink. We continue in five minutes. I’m sending out Talka and Volkov to make sure we aren’t being followed. We continue when they arrive. Be alert...”
With that, the Captain walked away. Dalemir helped me to sit up, and made me drink from my canteen. It tasted horrible for some reason. It was only water. He asked me so many times if I was going to be okay. Each time I said yes. Each time, I lied.
I awoke to the sounds of screaming. I looked to my side, Dalemir was not around. My hand shot to my pistol, and I yanked it out. My eyes took too long to adjust to the darkness. By the time I could see, Dalemir rushed over to me. He was pulling me up.
“Come on, come on!” Dalemir shouted.
“What is it?” I scrambled to stand and grab my assault rifle.
“They’re onto us! We’ve got an extraction point, come on!” Dalemir ran ahead. I followed.
I ran past the body of Volkov, lying stiff in the clearing. Three gunshot wounds in his chest, blood splattered his uniform. I shook my head, trying to clear the image from my mind. Six other men were ahead of us. One of the men was the Captain.
“What about Talka? Where is he?” Dalemir asked.
“He never came back!” Captain Voika shouted. I could see the city in the distance. It was our extraction point.
The Allied Grizzly tanks crashed over the trees where we had been positioned before. They rested idly near our clearing, engines humming like wild cats. Soon, a platoon of Special Forces units swarmed over the area. Staff Sergeant Jack Scott led the hunt. He was a tall man with a thick build. His face was dark with dirt and faded camouflage paint. His eyes were dark, his hair unwashed and shaggy under his un-strapped Kevlar helmet. The Battle Dress Uniform in which he wore was a faded olive drab.
Private First Class Mike Connolly walked over to the body of the dead Russian soldier; Volkov. He examined it, and nodded to himself. A trophy.
“They were here...” Connolly whispered.
“Nice fucking observation, Connolly.” Scott replied with a harsh tone.
“Oh come on Sarge,” Connolly sighed, turning to face Scott. “Work with me here.”
“I’ll fucking work with ya,” the Sergeant replied. “Help me find any survivors.”
The two men scoured the area, looking for any Russian survivors. They never did. They did, however, come across my canteen. I had left it behind. Sergeant Scott picked it up, examined it, and even took a swig from it. Connolly gave him a disgusted look, and Scott shrugged it off. Suddenly, Scott looked over to the city. It was about four and a half miles away. He threw the canteen down and began to jog back to the tanks.
“Sergeant?” Connolly asked, bewildered. “What is it?!”
“They’re headed to the city!” Scott shouted. “That’s the finish line, and we have a backdoor to it. Come on!”
We rushed into an office building. Dalemir was the first to set up machine guns. I sat down, gulping for air, and reached for my canteen. Shit. I had left it behind. Captain Voika let me have a sip from his.
The building, even fortified with machine guns, was not very large. It would not hold off an armored or air attack. I didn’t think we should be resting there. The extraction point was only a few blocks away. We could make it. I asked Dalemir why we had stopped. He motioned over to Captain Voika. Voika was sitting in the corner, his hands shaking violently. Blood was dripping down his face from under his helmet.
“What...what happened?” I whispered to Dalemir.
“He caught something trying to save Volkov and Talka. I think it was grenade fragments.”
The medic moved over to Voika, and tried to pull his helmet off. Voika pushed him away, shaking his head. He looked at me and motioned me over. I crept over to my dying comrade, and stared into his eyes. They were glazed over. He was nearly gone.
“You will take the men to the airport. It is very close. A pickup will arrive soon. Go when you think you are ready...” He looked away, as if he had been defeated. I turned my head away from him, and walked back to Dalemir’s side.
“What did he say?” He whispered anxiously.
“He said I’m in charge. He said to take all of you to the airport.” The other five men looked at me, worried. “He said to leave when we’re ready.”
“We’re ready now, Volkha. Right?” The other men nodded, gripping their assault rifles tightly.
“No...” I whispered.
“What?” Dalemir hissed. “What do you mean no?! The Allies are on our tail. They’ll be here any minute!”
“We cannot leave the Captain here...” I said, standing firmly by my belief.
“Are you crazy! He’s a dead man already! We have a fighting chance, Volkha!”
“Then you go...I will defend my leader.” Everyone looked at me with wide eyes. They were in disbelief. The Captain looked up to me in bewilderment. I stood up, and picked my rifle up. “Go...I will catch up and hold up the rear.”
“You’ll never make it alive...” Dalemir shouted as he led the other men out of the building.
“There is a difference between bravery,” the Captain choked. “And stupidity.”
“Do you believe I have made a stupid decision?” I asked him, watching as the men ran away. They disappeared into silhouettes. The city was burning, many of the buildings aflame from the bombing runs of the Allied aircrafts.
“I believe it is a decision that will follow you the rest of your life,” he sighed.
I swallowed hard. I had a chance to make it out. I didn’t take it. I pulled my helmet off my head. My hair was a matted mess of mud and sweat. My eyes averted to the forest. I could hear the Grizzly Tanks rumbling towards my position. I didn’t care.
“And what,” the Captain’s voice startled me. “Do you expect to get out of this?”
I pretended to ignore the question. My heart was pounding; the adrenaline was flowing like the rivers of blood that this war has shed.
“I expect to save your life!” I turned around quickly with a shout. His body was slumped on the floor, lifeless. His last breath was completely wasted on me...and I didn’t even answer his question. My body shook. I was alone with an incredible force headed my way with one objective: to take my life.
“Or,” my voice shook. “To slow them down.”
I grabbed the Captain’s weapons, and ran up to the 3rd floor of the building. I could see Dalemir and the others moving quickly towards the airport. I could hear the sounds of a helicopter’s rotors chopping up the air in the distance. It was ours. I knew it by the sound. I looked back to the forest, and a Grizzly Tank exploded from the woods, dropping trees like toy soldiers. Upon the tank were four men, armed to the teeth. Following the tank was an Armored Personnel Carrier, and another Grizzly Tank. I turned and looked back to my comrades: they were never going to make it at the speed the tanks kept.
I dropped my rifles, and yanked out a fragmentation grenade. I waited for the first tank to get in range, and dropped it right on the hull. The men screamed and scurried off, the grenade exploding and blinding the driver. The Allies began barking orders. The sky was dark out now, it would be difficult to find me. The second Grizzly Tank stopped and rumbled at an idle speed. Suddenly, the turret came alive and spun towards the city. Its machine gun pointed at the building I was in, and began to fire wildly into the first floor.
I ducked down out of sight and grabbed my rifles. The sounds of ricocheting bullets filled the empty floor. The rounds tore up the first floor, assailing the Captain’s carcass and tearing it to shreds. The APC opened up, and men came swarming out like bees. I stood up, smashed out a window, and began to fire upon the soldiers. A couple of them dropped, but the others took cover behind the APC. The APC’s light machine gun spun up to where my shots came from and opened up on me. I dove to the right, stuffing my face in side my right arm.
The sound was deafening as the world around me exploded. Pieces of cement and glass rained down upon my back. My rifles were tossed a few feet away from me. The firing stopped, and I lay there, motionless, afraid to move, afraid of what I was to see. I kept my eyes closed, and held my breath.
The sound of small arms fire made me sit up against the wall and gasp for air. The infantry was inside. I heard whispers come from downstairs. I looked at my hands. They were bloodied, ripped apart from the glass I was lying upon. Shards of glass stuck out of my hand, but I felt nothing. I yanked out my sidearm, and waited for the men to come up the stairs.
I heard them marching up the stairs, and leveled my pistol towards the doorway. My hand shook violently, my breathing was sporadic. I waited for the door to swing open and the enemy to emerge.
The door seemed to explode, and a body walked out of the doorway. I squeezed the trigger and the gun flew backwards. The soldier screamed and grabbed the left side of his chest, dropping his sub-machine gun. The man behind him, frantic to enter the room, pushed the injured man to the floor and fired two shots directly into my chest.
The gun fell out of my hand, and my arm fell to my side. I tried to take a breath, but gurgled with blood. It felt as if I was drowning. I stared at the man who had shot me. He slowly walked towards me, gun leveled at my body.
“Have someone check Martin, please,” he said calmly. No emotion crept over his face. He looked so serious, as if he was an important businessman about to enter a meeting. This obviously was his life. It was his business, and business was very good.
With one last burst of life, I reached for the gun. I was greeted by an unfriendly response from the soldier’s sub-machine gun: a three burst to my chest, and a single shot to my forehead. Blood and brains exploded on the wall behind me, and my body fell over without life. I was just another expired soldier.
Jack Scott stood over the body of the enemy soldier, and lowered the SMG. Three other men entered the room.
“Did you get him?” Martin, the injured one, asked.
“Of course I fucking got him. Why else would I be standing over his body? Does this look like a fucking movie to you?” Scott snapped.
“No,” Martin sighed. Scott was always so serious. “Thanks, though.”
Scott nodded. He didn’t want to be thanked. He was doing his job as a soldier to save another soldier’s life. He did not take casualties in his outfit very lightly. Every man had a certain skill and trait that could help them to eventually overcome the enemy. Losing one of the men was like losing an extra arm.
“Sarge?” someone called out. Scott spun to see a helicopter lifting off the ground a few blocks away.
“Mother fuckers,” he hissed. “They got away!”
Dalemir knew his friend was done in. He looked down at the floor of helicopter, shaking his head, trying not to cry. One of the men slapped his back, and cheered. Dalemir pushed him away, cursing him, and began to sob uncontrollably into his hands, his bloodied, shaking hands.