Friday, August 10, 2012

Flashback - a novella

I celebrated the publishing Part 3 of The Western Front by - strangely enough - writing.  This is the first chapter my next project; it will be a short work that will probably only take a week or so to write and publish.

He tapped the bottom of the mag to ensure it was fully seated in the well; the last thing he wanted was a failure during the engagement.  He pulled the charging handle partially back and peered into the receiver at the chambered round.  He was extremely anxious; he could not keep himself from going through the continuous cycle of equipment checks.  He always got this way just before a strike.  He focused on his breathing to help him remain calm; as soon as he got out of the Humvee he would be fine.  As soon as he got out of the Humvee he would be an instrument of death.

They had been pursuing tonight’s mark for nearly two years.  Their mark had waged a war of attrition against them by sabotaging their equipment and maiming and mutilating good men.  Dead soldiers were a tragedy, but gravely wounded men tied up resources and marred morale.  The only victories they had achieved were utterly pyrrhic in nature.  They were slowly being bled by a repulsive group of dissidents, until tonight; finally, he would have his pound of flesh.

The rains were torrential and unyielding; the extent of their vision was reduced to merely several feet beyond the end of the broad hood.  The raindrops pattered rhythmically on the roof as they nervously crept into the perilous ward.  He felt claustrophobic as the walls of the exceedingly narrow alley surrounded them; it appeared as if the side view mirrors would scrape along the ancient looking, waterstruck, brick walls and alert the entire district to their trespasses.

If the decision was his, he would burn the entire ward to the ground and ventilate everyone that tried to escape.  Every day that the buildings towered over the narrow cobblestone lanes, every day that the ancient tunnels connected the basements, under-buildings and subterranean nether-structures, and every day that the large arched sewers ran from junction to junction was a day that one of his comrades lost their limb or life.

Scorched earth won battles and wars, not hearts and minds, they told him.  But he did not subscribe to their policies and doctrines; he knew the people of this ward intimately.  As long as their hearts and minds were in their chests and heads, they would resist; they were irrationally radical and dogmatically dissident, it was the nature of their existence.  That’s why nights like these were so very fulfilling; these were the nights where they would defy the war doctrine under the veil of darkness and fight the war the way it ought to be fought.  One day, he reasoned, statues would be erected of him in remembrance of all that he did.

He knew how to break the backs of a resistance, through sheer force of will and arms.  No matter how much current they ran through a partisan, he would not falter; he knew his fate either way, there was no incentive.  Scalpels and pliers would not work either; neither would any amount of deprivation of any stripe.  The key was in the others.

The others were the citizen soldiers, the support system.  The others were the smiling, crippled, old men that hobbled down the sidewalks and acted as their spies.  The others were the beautiful young women that winked at his comrades and appropriated their secrets.  The others were the laughing children who played marbles and knucklebones in the street, and then slipped away to deliver the messages and reports to their brothers and fathers.  The others were everyone and everywhere.

So he snatched them from the outdoor tables of their cafes and shady concrete benches in their parks.  Sometimes, he would simply kick down their doors and drag them away by the napes of their necks.  They would resurface several days later on a street corner or in an alley, but they would not be the same; other times, they would not resurface at all.  And it worked; oh, did it ever work.  They were here tonight because it worked.

They stopped several blocks south of the sprawling brownstone complex; it was composed of numerous rows of apartments, cafes, shops and villas, all interconnected through closet hallways and hidden makeshift staircases.  It was a wandering network of ambush and death, but he had had the key.

They slipped out of the vehicles like specters, all but invisible under the starless sky and in the relentless downpour.  In a world of green hues, they slipped through the shadows and along the walls.  His carbine was shouldered and the center of his ACOG was illuminated by the phosphorescent contained therein.  Silently, in their orchestrated manner, they divided up and fanned out along several side streets as they worked their way to the rally point.  

As the final team arrived at the back of the complex, he approached the dumpster; it looked like any other dumpster at any other loading dock in the city, but he knew it was different.  He nodded to his comrade to open hinged lid on top of it; it squeaked loudly as it was pushed up and then back, but the sound was muffled by the continuous rumble of the approaching thunder.  He nodded again and the man scowled but obeyed the order; one by one the bulging black bags of rotting food and refuse were removed from the large metal bin.  The smell of the waste was near unbearable, as if it had been fermenting in the dumpster for ages.

Stinking, black, ankle deep leachate was all that remained in the dumpster, besides the tiny, hinged steel door.  Several of his comrades climbed into the dumpster and slowly opened the tiny door; they ducked low and crawled through the opening and into some arcane back room of the brownstone complex.  After several tense moments of silence, a hand appeared from within the pitch black interior and beckoned the men inside.  One by one, they crawled through the portal.

The room was small and musty and full of empty crates and boxes.  An old claw-foot bathtub laid broken in the center of the room, its hull cracked and two of its feet missing.  On the far side of the room, a makeshift staircase was constructed of scrap lumber; the staircase ascended several feet to a rusted but functional looking steel door.  He held the small steel plate portal open while his comrades crept into the room and towards the rickety stairs.

He saw it as it happened, but it was too late; the left foot of the lead man tripped over a tiny steel strand of wire that had been pulled taut across the room.  Instead of shouting, he crouched and covered his head to protect it from the blast.  As he hit the ground, the explosion engulfed the room with its intense heat and deafening roar.  The flames were all around him, burning and blistering his body; he shrieked in pain and rolled out through the portal door and into the dumpster beyond.

He fell headlong into the heavy black syrup of detritus in the bottom of the dumpster.  He retched violently as the sickening liquid filled his nostrils and mouth.  Disgusting as it was, the leachate helped to extinguish the flames that danced mockingly on his uniform and skin.  He lay in the bottom of the dumpster for several moments, alternating between retching and shaking uncontrollably; finally, he mustered the strength to stand.

He half climbed, half rolled out of the dumpster and tumbled onto the hard cobblestone below.  The abrupt impact forced the air from his lungs and he gasped in vain for another breath.  As he rolled over onto his back in the street, he could feel his skin beginning to bubble; he looked at his arm, but he did not even recognize its leathery, black texture.  Surprisingly, his arm did not seem to hurt.

He knew that if he remained in the alley, they would find him.  Oh, they would love to find him; this would be pleasurable compared to what they would do to him.  He surveyed his surroundings as he writhed in pain until he saw the door; it looked to be the side door of a warehouse, maybe seventy feet away.  He began the painful crawl in its direction.  

He tried to stand again, but his legs refused to function, so he continued to drag himself across the flooded lane.  He would pull himself a dozen feet and then rest his head on the hard pavement, struggling to muster the strength to continue on.  After what felt like an eternity, he reached the door.  

He pulled himself up to a sitting position by grasping the door knob.  As he sat and rested against the stone wall, he tried the knob with his hand; surprisingly, it turned without argument and creaked open, revealing the large, open, storage room on the other side.  He slid back down the wall and onto his stomach and crawled inside.  

The sound of the rain echoed through the warehouse as it pelted the filthy windows that were spaced along the length of the room.  He crawled across the room to a pile of old tarps and boxes to seek refuge from anyone that may come looking for survivors.  Like a dying slug, he left a trail of filth and blood as he struggled across the concrete floor; only then did he realize his rifle was still slung around his body as he heard the scraping sound of it being dragged behind him. 

As he reached the stack of boxes, he pulled himself up into a sitting position once again and rested his back against one of the crates.  He grabbed a canvas tarp that was draped over several nearby pieces of machinery and pulled it over his body.  He breathed a heavy sigh of relief, but as the flow of adrenaline began to subside, the intense pain rushed over him like a chill wind.  As the throbbing pain hit him with its full effect, he wanted to scream but could not; his vision began to narrow and the tremors started to return.  He battled to remain conscious but it was in vain; darkness engulfed him.

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