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Posted on May 27, 2006 in Armchair Reading, Front Page Features

Fiction: Moving Out

By Roach

Who said there are no atheists in foxholes?

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This ain’t as comfortable as it looks! It’s all the water I have for cri’sakes!

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That looks nasty… A cautious approach, then…

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I think it’s safe to go back out there…

Several more rounds landed but then eased up when we heard the more distant sound of our 60s pounding the copse. Almost absent mindedly I reached outside the foxhole to drag to safety my canteen which I had left on the edge of the hole earlier – which was of course the cue for a mortar shell to explode in a tree no more than twenty yards away. It rattled every tooth in my head and I was lucky it did no more. I ought to have known better and vowed that it wouldn’t happen again and that next time the Supply Sergeant could just bill me!

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The mortars had petered out and the last of the smoke had disappeared when Bussard cautiously approached along the hedgerow. I think Gallegos had sent him down to check that everyone, i.e., me and Vest, were okay. We were, so after a couple of minutes of small talk and making certain that the krauts weren’t going to drop in a few late surprises to catch us out, he returned to the other end of the line.

And more time passed. Slowly. Very slowly. We were learning that when nothing was happening, it happened very slowly.

And then we learned something else: that just when you are getting used to it, something happens!

Gallegos suddenly appeared at speed, crouched down still some yards short of our position and simply yelled instructions at us. But the instructions were simple and didn’t need patient and careful explanation. We had to get all our gear together at once; we were pulling back. It seemed like somebody higher up the chain of command must have decided that the krauts were at last going to try something that was going to be far too big for us to deal with.

Gallegos told us we had five minutes to police our gear and then move up to that troublesome right flank, and then he scampered back in that direction.

And so, five minutes later we duly followed him, leaving nothing but empty ration boxes, cans and wrappers – the bastards were welcome to them!

Once we got on the right flank, after over 24 hours of nothing happening very slowly, things happened very quickly; it was like Gallegos had a hot tip about what was coming our way and he was wasting no time in avoiding it. He left three, maybe four of us holding the line; we were to cover the withdrawal of the rest of the squad across the open ground behind us back to the scrub wood that we had advanced from the day before.

Wiesel and Vest were either side of me, possibly Grossklags too but I can’t be sure. At the command we placed grazing fire on the copse and behind us the rest of the squad ran across the open ground. I was still firing when someone tapped me on the shoulder; somebody was telling me that Gallegos was signalling us from the scrub woods. It was time to go.

We all ceased fire, loaded full clips and in a half-crouch very slowly backed a few yards away from the hedgerow. And then somebody said it:

“Let’s go!”

So we did; we turned and ran like hell!

We weaved from side to side so as not to make too easy a target although I wasn’t aware of being shot at even though it seemed to take an age for us to reach the relative shelter of the trees. Frankly, I couldn’t see how the krauts could see us through the hedgerow that had separated us. I was probably correct for once as far as that went, because we all reached the trees unscathed – but we were all breathing heavily and nevertheless thanking someone ‘up there’ for letting us make it.

After a couple of minutes spent getting our breath back, we regrouped into something more recognisable as a functioning squad, and then a couple of minutes after that Gallegos headed us back to the positions that we’d left the previous morning.

With a great sense of relief, no matter how temporary it might turn out to be, I sunk into the hole I had once occupied to find it wasn’t empty. There was a crushed K-ration box and its scattered ex-contents that I must have left behind. I scrutinised the bottom of the foxhole a little closer: Hell! I hadn’t eaten the fruit bar! I picked it up like it was manna from Heaven.

I wasn’t sure if it was lunch or not, but as I examined it trying to figure out if it was still edible, the same old thought crossed my mind yet again: I really was getting too old for this man’s army.

I continued to scrutinise the fruit bar with some measure of distaste.

And then after a few more seconds of philosophical inner debate about whether to eat the fruit bar or not, I decided something else that definitely made a whole lot of sense: this whole damn show was just not my idea of earning an honest $60!

And then… what the heck…

I ate the fruit bar.

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