Author Topic: The Good Soldier - Historical Fiction  (Read 641 times)

Offline sbernich

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The Good Soldier - Historical Fiction
« on: January 13, 2019, 08:34:27 PM »
(note - I had some formatting issues so hopefully they look right in your screen)

Wil   6 june, 1944

He would never forget the thunder of the morning he decided to go home. A righteous thunder to punish the sins of a nation. Or was it simply to punish him for his own crimes? As the naval bombardment battered his bunker and concrete dust stung his half blind eyes, it hardly mattered to him whether civilization was enacting vengeance for the unspeakable crimes that had thus far gone unpunished. He decided right then that he needed to get home to Elise and Katerine as shells that sounded like freight trains screamed overhead, shaking the very earth with their fury. Enough of war. He needed to be with his family.

   They’d known that something big was coming. The Allied planes had dropped hundreds of tons of ordnance on them and those inland from the shore for days before. Before that leaflets dropped to the civilian coastal population to move inland, or get into basements. There was no clear indication as to which beach would get hit. What surprised them was that it was all of the beaches in the Normandy region. No amount of training could have prepared them for the onslaught they were about to receive. Even the frantic building and preparations of the last few months did not allow the defenders of the Atlantic Wall to adequately deal with wave after wave of human beings and material being unloaded on those beaches. Those in German High Command thought otherwise, but they were hundreds of miles away and could safely insulate themselves. Countless tons of poured concrete into huge monolithic structures with gaping mouths from which massive ship sinking cannons pointed at the sea. Others with guns pointed at exits of the beaches, or even at each other, in case an enemy took a bunker from them, fire could be directed on the new enemy strongpoint. Endless stretches of barbed wire and metal structures submerged in the sea, some with explosive mines attached. It seemed enough to stop any invading army. But Willem saw, with his own eyes, that they had all been wrong.
Willem glanced at Jurgen, the other man in his machinegun position. The soldier’s ears began to bleed red lines through the dust and mortar that rained on them through the deafening bombardment. They shared a shallow grin. A doomed man’s smile. How long had it lasted? Probably only an hour, perhaps less. But with the screaming of shells all around, enormous eruptions of earth and metal flinging shards through the air, it seemed to take days. All of that was forgotten though, when the dark shapes appeared out of the fog over the channel. Hundreds if not thousands of them. Ships. It made little difference if they were American or British. They all had a single intent.

     The entire German 353rd Infantry Regiment was arrayed along cliffs in machinegun nests, concrete bunkers, trenches and half buried tank turrets.  All overlooking the beaches. But to Willem, it felt like it was just Jurgen and he. At first, there was little to do in France; simply watch, wait. Count the time. Imagine other places to be. Remember friends long gone. Think and worry about family not heard from. Write another letter. And prepare. Dig holes in the ground. Pour concrete. Literally tons of it. But then the ships came out of the fog. Wil stared. Motionless. All these years of war and it had come down to this. Jurgen shouted in the radio and received orders neither of them liked. Hold in place. Repel the invaders.

     Smaller dark shapes had begun to approach the beaches, churning white wake trails in the gray channel behind them. Landing vessels. Willem knew that this was the beginning wave of the invasion. Certainly there’d be more. Followed by countless more, spilling boatloads of soldiers on to the beaches, forming critical mass and finally washing over the German defenders. Explosions all around him as shells impacted on their beach. Jurgen was busy soaking towels in a tub of torpid water. “For flamethrowers!” he’d explained to Willem two days ago when they had rotated to this little part of the trench line. Their responsibility was the beach in front of them out to a thirty-degree angle to their right and left. After that, there were other machineguns. And more after them.
Defending these beaches had been the best Willem had had it for years. After Warsaw, he’d suffered, but the choice had been clear after they came for him. “Fight for us, or stay here,” they’d offered. Fighting with German gray on your shoulders was better than prison camp stripes. His own starving ribcage had been testament to that. Then there had been Russia.

     The small boats began to vomit up scores of troops. Willem was unsure if they were American or British or some other ally. It hardly mattered. Jurgen opened fire with their MG42. The buzz of the weapon still made him shudder. It shot so fast, he was unsure how anything could possibly survive being in front of its fire-spitting barrel. Willem crouched next to him, keeping the belt of ammunition straight into the feed. He had several metal canisters of ammunition at his feet, ready to feed the next belt into the deadly weapon after the previous one was spent. He tried not to look at the carnage that Jurgen was beginning to create. Men fell in the water and on the sand. Was this as bad as Russia, he wondered? Surely nothing could be as bad as the horrors they were witness to… no, he stopped himself. The horrors that they had created.

     An impact broke his reverie back to the task at hand. Jurgen’s machinegun was firing its last round. Willem bent for another. He straightened and, bringing the belt into the open breach, saw the massive amount of ships coming into shore. Jurgen slammed the breach closed and kept firing like mad, as was every other weapon along the coast of Normandy. The noise was incredible as was the sheer amount of metal flying through the air. It didn’t seem like anyone could live through the horror on display that morning. But Wil knew then and there, that these determined men could not be stopped. They slowly made their way up the beach like tiny ants, swarming. For as many as were shot down, more continued onward. His fingertips burned from the heat of the belt being pulled through the belching machinegun. Replacing the ammunition belt kept him reaching down and not looking at the slaughterhouse before them. Slaughterhouse? Son of a butcher. However, he ventured a look and the scene brought a tear to his eye amid the dust that plastered his face. Again, his thoughts returned to Russia. Was this worse? 

     Jurgen continued to fire at the men on the beaches for what seemed like an eternity. Shell impacts from heavy German guns miles away began to take their toll among the invaders, sending sand, metal and pieces of flesh flying in all directions. Wil had no real idea how long they stayed in that bunker. The sun was just visible through the gray haze. It was not a nice morning. The snap and whine of bullets ricocheting off their bunker forced him duck, wondering when one was going to find its way through their thin firing slit. The men on the beaches were fighting back. More and more explosions rocked their position, each one closer than the last. Finally, one heavy shell struck its mark and Wil recoiled as he was splattered with Jurgen’s blood and brains in a pink mist mixed with concrete dust.
               #
The blood of the animal splattered young Wil’s face and he almost vomited right there.
“You do as you’re told Willja!” His father shouted perhaps for the fifth time that morning. The man was not truly angry, simply short and sharp. An old Prussian officer, he was used to giving commands and them being obeyed. Prussia had produced some of the finest military officers in several generations. And those officers had gone on to storied military careers. Wil’s father was one of them and expected perfection from his two sons. He punctuated his command with a light slap to the back of Wil’s neck. There was no doubting the message.

     The wet metal smell of blood and iron permeated the air of the room in the back of their butcher shop. Farmer Volkov had brought in twenty head of cattle, five more than he promised.  A good problem to have, to be sure. But Wil wanted no part of it. Butchering cattle was lucrative business as the wealthy and elite of Krakow would pay top dollar for good beef, especially in the trying times. But the cries of the animals. The screams. Of course, it would be hard to argue that the animals were crying out in terror, for they did not know their fate, or at least Wil reasoned as such. Just the same, the cries and guttural calls of horror haunted his sleep. Not real nightmares or anything with any real meaning. Wil would go to sleep as a normal ten year old should. But the middle of the night, in the wee hours when only the truth is there to stare you in the face, he would hear those cries anew. In his heart, no matter how much he told himself otherwise, he knew those cows were calling to him to save them. A ten year old boy in his father’s abattoir the only salvation of a cow. As ridiculous as it sounded in the light of day, the cold light of the moon saw it true.

     Jon, his older brother moved and took the lead animal into the pen. Wil knew he should take the next animal. The belief was that it gave some comfort to the animals, used to being around human beings, to be handled and sent into the pen. Of course they did not know their fate. Wil hesitated, his hand on the back of the neck of one of the doomed beasts.

     “Go on Wil, move her in,” his father commanded. Softer now. Wil thought for a moment, what if he just led the beast out of the barn. Out into the sky and the cold sun and let it free. Would it even know? But Wil’s heart pounded. Let his duty to his father be one that did not smell of viscera and death and smear his clothes. He took a deep breath and guided the calf into the pen. Jon moved up behind it with the old shotgun they used and fired a single shell into the back of its skull. Brain matter splattered out its nose and it dropped like a heavy wet sack. Wil thought he just might get sick right there. He’d never get used to the slaughterhouse, but it was good work and kept them well off. Wil went back out to get the next one as Jon began to dress the creature. Wil didn’t let the tear that formed in his eye drop nor the sick building in his stomach out. It just didn’t matter either way.
     
     Jon stared at him.
     “What?” Wil managed. He wished Jon would just keep busy. He felt himself want to vomit, to scream, to run. To paint in purple and red. Anything but be here.
     “Nothing. You ok?” Wil’s brother would try to intervene in many of the conflicts between Wil and his father. Ever since Ellia. Wil just nodded.
     “Get the next cow.” Wil entered the holding pen and the cow looked up at him with deep eyes.
                                                                              #
Wil woke from his nightmare. The same one. For how long? Decades maybe. The smell of fire and iron and concrete filled his nostrils and the war rushed back to him as he stared into lifeless eyes of what was once Jurgen. His partner had just been raining hell on the Allies storming the beach before him and he had gotten what was coming to him. Wil wondered where his punishment would come from as he wiped the man’s brains off his face. And what about Elise and Katerine? Would they receive a cold letter from the Reich, informing them of his death? It was enough. Time to go. For good.

    Will stumbled to the exit of the concrete bunker, unaware if his position was overrun or if he would have just enough time to make a run for it. Willem wondered, not for the first time, if he had made a mistake that would cost his life. Emerging onto the dunes, he remembered to breathe fresh air and saw German defenders running in every direction. Some men were jumping into trenches to add their rifle fire to the salvoes hitting the beach. Others were running from the very same trenches amid calls of “Cowards!” at their backs. Wil ducked down behind a pile of sand that half-covered a concrete wall and peered at the ocean and the beachhead below. The site was incredible. More men then he’d ever seen were covering the beach, although he knew that many of them must be dead. At the shingle, however, where the tide line created a natural wall of cover, he could see troops ready to rush uphill at the German defenders. A bullet whizzed just past his head. It was time to go. He joined the cowards and ran down the beach lane towards the town of Vierville. Certainly the Germans would be creating defensive lines in depth. He would much rather join them then take the brunt of the invasion once it got over the beach walls.  His imagination conjured the fury of those men as they got themselves off of that horrid beach. A true slaughterhouse.

     A plane roared overhead, spitting lead at the retreating Germans. A man in front of him was literally split apart into a pink mist by several impacts from above. Wil threw himself into a hedgerow and looked up. Americans. Elise had always wanted to visit New York. Perhaps not now. Maybe after the war and its dirty business was over. He could at least hope. Picking himself out of the sand and bramble, his sleeve ripping on a thorn, he headed south away from the civil world’s vengeance, hoping for a chance. It was at that moment that he whispered a short prayer, out of breath, panting, heaving, as he ran with no real destination. No true idea of where he was going. Just trying to get away. He had to try and get home. Back to Elise and Katerine, wherever they were. Get through this day, and then the next. After that, somehow, get home. It was the first time in his seven years as a soldier that he remembered running from those he was supposed to fight.
« Last Edit: January 13, 2019, 08:37:57 PM by sbernich »
Writer of Fantasy and Historical Fiction; one finished manuscript, working on #2; enthusiastic about my family, books, hockey, whiskey and beer; Teacher, Slytherin, Stark.