Boys in Company C

Part 1: The Bushwhack

By Patrick Dowds

 

            Waking with a jump, the rat heard the muffled booms echoing of the concrete walls off the bunker. His eyes gradually adjusted to the dim light, most of everybody was up already leaving their bags and blankets in matted heaps on the floor where they were slept in. Except for Albert Ross, the big badger rolled over and snored contentfully. Rummaging thru his pack, he got out his mess tin and cup hoping that breakfast was made by now. Stammering up the stairs he turned the handle to the heavy metal door that creaked on its hinges as he pushed it open. What was a muted rumble is now a deafening roar. The large artillery guns just next to the bunker he was assigned to cranked shot after shot at some distant unseen target. The rat stepped out into the trench and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes as he craned neck upward: daybreak. He nearly got ran over by a shell-laden cart being hurriedly pushed on rails down the center of the trench.

“Morning, Jenny.” The hare surprised him from behind.

“Dammit Jason, I wish you would call me that.” The rabbit just smiled. The rat scratched his and turned back to the pounding guns. “What’s with all the racket this early?”

The rabbit cocked his head and smiled, “It’s 6 in the A.M. Time to wake the Geridians I guess. C’mon, Cookie should have breakfast made by now then we can find the Sarge.”

Corporal Samuel Jennings and private first class Jason Biggsley, after filling their mess tins, eventually found the sergeant and the rest of the squad sitting around a fire in a pit dug into the side of the dirt trench. Used as a small storage area covered over with a camo tent and half filled with crates of spare parts for guns and trucks and other miscellaneous stuff. No ammunition though, that was kept in armored concrete bunkers underground. Sergeant Pete Richardson poured two mugs of coffee from the pot stewing over the fire and handed them to the hare and the rat as they picked a crate and sat down. They sipped it noting the particular tang as oppose to the usual thick blandness of baked mud that usually passes for coffee here. Breakfast wasn’t much better. White gravy with gray lumps on toast and of course the universal side: beans.

“Pete, why did you get us in one of those concrete ones? Everything just echoes off those walls.” Samuel complained as he took a bite of gravy-slathered toast.

“You say that now, Sam,” Pete said, “But wait till those guns are firing in the opposite direction and then we’ll see who’s complainin’ about being in one of those concrete bunkers just because it’s a little noisy.” He took an ample bite of his own breakfast, “Besides, we’re probably going to be moving out of it soon and be in those lovely dirt ones.”

“Joy.” Sam supposed he was right. All that artillery currently making all that lovely noise was probably to keep the Huns heads down in their trenches and holes a few miles away so that Samuel, Jason, Lou, Pete, Karl, Randal, Doyle, MacDuffy, Georges, Tony, Darrel, Charlie the raccoon fresh back from sick leave with a new dent in his face to match the one on his helmet, and the rest of the 128th would be sent of to defend some anonymous position in a trench and crater filled field somewhere.

By that time Al Ross came stumbling around the corner. “What’s with all the racket?” He grumbled rubbing his eyes. Pete handed him a cup of coffee. He took a sip, “Coffee kinda tastes a little funny today.” With out giving it much thought he guzzled the whole cup.

“I couldn’t find any coffee filters,” Pete said, “ so I used Lou’s sock here.” Sam and Biggsley did the classical spit shot. Al continued emptying his mug and finished it contentfully.

“Ah! That’s good stuff. Gemme another.” Pete gave him a refill with a chuckle. “Cheers.” Al lifted the cup up and gulped it down. Sam and Biggsley looked at each other, then at Pete and Lou, and back down at their mugs.

“What? I washed it before I used it.” The rabbit sniffed it, shrugged and then drank the rest of the coffee. The rat did the same.

Pete was right about them being soon to ship out. Later that day they all had to pack up their things, stuff them into their packs, hoist them over their backs and march from the city of Ankirk 8 or so miles north east. After a brief respite in the small town of Yldes, they all set out north to enforce a small star shaped fort of Hunt’s Redoubt in the Jondel Forest. The fort was nothing more than a dilapidated stockade that was built for the 50 Years’ War that ravaged the continent over a hundred and fifty years ago. They immediately started to dig in sets of trench works and foxholes in and around the forest and the fort.

It was now late December and fresh snow drifted down thru the tall trees and blanketed the frozen ground. Sergeant Pete Richardson observed the digging of the trenches and emplacements as the men in his squad he commanded shivered in the cold as they scraped at the hard dirt with their picks and entrenching tools. “First they make us march all the way out here from Ankirk, then we have to put up barb wire, chop down trees with shells flying over our heads, and now we got to dig a hole that keeps getting filled with snow. It would be a lot easier if the dirt wasn’t so frozen. Look.” Antonio Bocceli, the mouse from Ballogne, held up his bent shovel to the sergeant.

“I got more to worry about that some half-pint dago bitching at me about a little snow.” Pete said with annoyance.

“Your lucky. You’re a badger; you got a little more fur on your ass. It doesn’t snow much in Ballogne. You try doing a twelve hour shift hauling crates on the docks in Augusta in August.”

“You’ll get used to it. Look at Biggsley over there. He’s not having much of a problem.” Pete pointed over to Jason Biggsley. The hare took a step back as he put the finishing touches on his snowman. “Hey, antenna head! Get your cotton ball ass over here and get back to work. I got a schedule to keep and I don’t want the quartermaster bitching at me.”

“Ah, let him bitch. That’s all that squirrel does.” The hare waved an uncaring paw. He would have said more, but was stopped by a snowball to the face and was tackled to the ground by Samuel Jennings. The rat playfully shoved his face in the snow and jumped down into the trench. He tried to get back up and get back at Sam but was shoved back face down in the snow. He rolled over and saw Albert Ross towering over him. Biggsley jumped up and try to wrestle Ross down but could even budge the badger’s massive frame. Ross simply picked him up by the collar, walked over and dropped him in the trench and jumped in after him.

“Now then,” Pete said to Ross, “let’s try out your new toy.” Ross picked up his Spencer machine rifle, slapped on the flat drum magazine on top of the gun, pulled back the cocking lever, and braced it against his shoulder. He leveled the hefty machinegun at the complement of snowmen and pulled the trigger and didn’t let got till the magazine was empty. The snowmen splattered and exploded under the hail of bullets and Biggsley added a grenade for extra measure. “Sweeeet.” Ross commented simply.

“Now, wasn’t that entertaining.” The quartermaster said standing at the end of the trench. “Now get back to work!” he adjusted his peaker hat and stomped on down the trench.

“Do this, do that.” Biggsley picked up his shovel and scraped at the dirt. “Can’t take a break without being yelled at by some guy with a pointy hat.”

“Ah, quit your bitching Biggsley you haven’t done any work to break from.” The rabbit mumbled to himself at Pete’s comment.

 

Picket duty again. Samuel buttoned up his long coat and pulled the knit sock hat over his ears to keep out the cold. He crossed his arms and sucked on his cigarette to get what warmth he could out of it. He looked up into the dark night at the low drowning echoing from high above the clouds. Zeppelins and the higher buzzing of plans and bombers zoomed overhead, thankfully for him, heading for more opportune targets. Probably to aid in the leveling of the Naholland capital of Osalo to the south or the city of Ankirk to the west. He turned back to the rest of the fort and trench works. Seeing the men sing festive songs and carols around open fires. It made an open target but sense nothing much has happened here they mostly looked over it he reckoned it would be like that much longer.  

After writing his name in the snow, he zipped up his fly, jumped back down into the trench and walked back into the observation post. Wasn’t much of one, just a covered square built at the end of a trench that stretched out from the main breast works. He stooped down and sat near the kerosene cooker in the center of the floor. Picket duty as usual, except this time he had Karl to keep him company and of course, the always-pleasant presence of Darrel Kidd. The mink sat in the corner as he always did and just sharpened his knife. Karl sat by the cooker. He had some tailoring skills and worked on mending a tear in his jacket. He got up and stood at the slit and peered out at the forest thru the gloom. “I wonder what’s taking them so long? Thing I hate the most is waiting.” Karl turned to them. He took off his helmet and scratched his head, “Well, lest the scenery is nice much nicer than Locateau or La Croix. This place got lots of nice trees. I like trees.” Him being a squirrel, he had a natural affinity for trees.

“Best to keep your helmet on son,” Darrel turned to Karl, “case a shell lands in one of those nice trees and you get a six inch splinter between your ears.” Karl immediately tugged his helmet back over his head and buckled the strap tight under his chin. Darrel turned back into the corner and continued sharpening his knife.

After a short period of hearing nothing but the constant grinding of his knife, Sam bursted out, “Dang it, Darrel! Ain’t it sharp enough?”

He tilted up the broad brim of his hat and glared at him thru his piercing yellow eyes, which made him shudder. He then stuck out his arm and pulled up his sleeve, “Like Darrel’s old pappy always said,” he dragged the oddly shaped blade up his arm, “a knife ain’t sharp till it can shave the fur off your arm.” He then stuck out his tongue and licked down the length of the blade. “And no. It ain’t sharp enough.” He spat on the sharpening stone and continued to sharpen his knife.

“Riiight.” The rat got up and went over to the slit that looked over the field and the forest. He picked up the binoculars and looked thru the heavy snow and the dark with the binoculars he could barely see the first line of trees. He looked down at his watch and sighed, “11:40, it’ll be Christmas soon.”

At about that time Sergeant Richardson and Jason Biggsley bursted into the opening. “Well, ho, ho, ho then!” Pete greeted them heartily in an attempt to spread a bit of Christmas cheer.

Then Jason placed on the floor a twig nailed to a plank of wood with bullet casings and ration cans hanging on it. “What the hell is that?” Sam inquired.

“Why, it your Christmas tree Jenny.” The rabbit gave a stupid smirk.

Pete threw his arm over Sam’s shoulder, “Cheer up, Sammy. It’s Christmas, here.” He stuck a cigar in his mouth. “We didn’t want to leave you outta all the fun. Just because you all are stuck in here don’t mean we can’t have are own little party now.”

“So, what’s everyone else up to?” Karl inquired.

“Oh, you know, all being a little too friendly with the nog. Doyle’s already flat on his face. By the way, did you now Biggsley here has a cousin?”

“Really? A cousin, here?”

“Yeah, in B Company”

“You remember Lennie right?” Jason asked.

“Oh yeah, little Lennie.” Sam recalled, “So, what’s he been up to?”

“Learning the ways of the world my friend.”

“Yeah, and Randal and Charlie are gonna sneak him off down to town, get him something else for Christmas.”

“Yeah, that’s my Lennie.” Jason brimmed with pride.

“He should be careful around Randal, if anyone could teach Charlie about that it’s him.” Sam snorted with a slight hint of jealousy, not so much for Randal’s womanizing skills, but also for his fine pair of leather flight boots. Everyone wanted dibs on them when Randal kicks it.

The sarge walked over and took a gander out of the window into the endless white. “Still nothing yet, huh. Those Geridians sure are taking their time. Or is it the Naphallans? Every time they move us somewhere we’re fighting someone else.” He turned around and leaned up against the wall, giving a heavy sigh as if to try to relieve himself of all the pent-up frustration and exhaustion from the past two years, “In Malcé it was the Geridians, in Locateau it was the Malainians, in Leonia it was the Reds, in Malacene it’s the Kollognans, in Calavaka it’s the Pepistineans. And here it’s the Naphallans. I don’t see why they can’t stay up in that peninsula of theirs and go around invading everything. Well, I guess that’s politics for you. I never much bother with politics, too dirty. And that’s comin’ from a guy who lives in holes and trenches with a bunch of guys that don’t often find an opportunity to bathe much.”

Jason shrugged, “Well, just because we’re in a war don’t mean we can’t have a bit of fun.”

“Sure as hell don’t.”

He was surprised to see everyone in the dugout suddenly stand at attention. The rabbit turned to see Captain Peterson standing behind him and immediately jumped up and saluted. “At ease, men.” The skunk stooped in and smiled as he took of his white officer’s cap. He was never one much for formalities. He motioned to the window, “Anything happening out there?”

“Nothing yet Cap. Beginnin’ to think nothing ever will.” Pete answered.

“Well, keep on looking. Don’t want them sneaking up on us now.”

“Say Cap,” Sam spoke up, “how come we’re always getting stuck out here. B Company gets to stay in the fort, A Company ain’t even here yet, they’re still down in Yldes. And were out here in the trenches in the cold. I’ll tell you, C Company’s always getting shafted.” Everyone else seemed to agree with him.

“You’ll all get your turn. But I’ll tell you what,” he reached into his trench coat, “hope this’ll make up for it.” He tossed him a bottle of fine brandy. “Intel says nothing might happen for a wile and they’ll most likely not be attacking on Christmas. So, you might as well all enjoy it.”

“Hey!” Pete admired as he examined the bottle and then took a swig, “Ooh, that’s nice. Thanks Cap.”

“You all have a merry Christmas now, and that’s an order.” They all cheered him as he exited.

Karl looked out of the window and turned to Pete, “Hey Pete, back in Malcé, did you and the Geridians really meet each other on Christmas?”

“Sure as hell did. But that was two years ago.” The Sarge reminisced, “It was odd too, we all heard this singing and then this rat, I think, in a pointy helmet holding a Christmas tree just like that one,” he pointed to the stick on the board, “But we all soon got to singing, and laughing, and drinking, and laughing, and drinking, and vomiting, and… more drinking. Oh, what a grand time it was, but three days later and we were at to killing each other again. War,” he punched Karl in the shoulder, “ain’t it great.”

“Yes it’s just dandy isn’t it.” He groaned as he rubbed his shoulder.

 

Apparently when not likely to attack on Christmas, didn’t mean the day after Christmas. There had always been some stray shelling mostly directed toward town, but now it started to pick up. The small town of Yldes is a small, rustic, community with cross-timber buildings and old world charm. Well was anyway, the once busy streets and bazaars are now empty and are mostly occupied by soldiers. Captain Peterson stepped up into the main administration building for the town. It was a large domed government building with a pillared front. The captain of Company C walked into the office that now served as the command center and logistical router for the regiment. Colonel Harper sat comfortably at the large desk piled high with maps and papers. A servant stood next to the desk with a pot of coffee. “Merci” the colonel waved him off after filling his cup. He looked up from the papers that he was reading, “Captain Peterson, you wanted something?”

“Colonel, the men, they’re growing anxious. They don’t want to be waiting here for the Nephallians to attack us.” A nearby explosion raddled the windows, “And incase you haven’t noticed sir, the shelling is starting to increase.”

“Yes I have noticed. Just be satisfied that it’s artillery and not bombs from zeppelins. And it so happens that I got these orders from Home Office.” The beagle waved the papers he was holding, “The Nephallians have begun attacking Ankirk. Turns out that they have a pretty sizable army. They’ve managed to hold them off for now; apparently General Gladstone knows what he’s doing. And the Nephallians have begun to advance toward here, hence the shelling. So we are here to keep them from flanking up and around the cost. And these orders tell me to intercept them before they encroach any further.”

“But sir, they’re already in the forest. There’s been reports of sightings and sniper fire from the tree line.”

“I know. That’s why I’m sending in B Company to flush them out.”

“Captain Reynolds? Are you sure he can handle something like this? And it’s the smallest Company in the regiment.”

“It’s all we can spare for now, and I am sure Reynolds can handle this, new as he may be.”

As new as you may be he thought. “Sir, Allen,” he slipped and used his first name,  “we don’t know how many are there. They could have an entire brigade hidden in that forest. It could be a trap.”

“Well, we’ll certainly know that when they’re sent in there. And we just can’t be sitting here waiting for them to go first. And for all we know, they could be digging another mine. We don’t want what happened to Fort Bradley to happen here.” Peterson couldn’t argue with that. The beagle sipped his coffee from a fine china cup returned to his papers. “Will that be all, captain?”

“Yes sir. Thank you sir.” He saluted and walked out. Standing in the snow-covered courtyard outside the town hall, he looked up at the statue of General Hunt at one end of the courtyard, the legendary hero that the redoubt was named after. The labrador wore a fancy uniform and oversized hat. He struck a heroic pose on horseback. It was put here to commemorate the battle that took place here during the 50 Years’ War. He looked up into his stern unflinching eyes, even if it was a statue, he could see they were the eyes of a man of stern resolve. Eyes of a man who would look upon an opponent in numbers many times more than his own and think: “Shit, this was a bad idea.” But never say it out loud. He continued to look up at the statue deep in thought. Things were much simpler back in his day. All you had to do was line men up in a line shout “Fire!” then say “Charge!” but, that was back in the day of single fire muskets and cannons. Guess that wouldn’t work much now against rifles, machineguns, tanks, aeroplanes, and zeppelins, but of course everyone had to learn that the hard way.

Another explosion that rendered a house to splinters somewhere in town brought him back to his senses. He tugged his cap back on and walked back to his waiting motorcar. He gave a heavy sigh and looked back at the impressive statue before the motorcar sped off down the road and back up toward the fort.

 

“Hey, Karl. You’re the tailor, how’s this look?” Lou held up the dummy on a stick.

“He looks alright,” Karl adjusted the officer’s tunic it wore, “but it’s missing something.”

“I know.” Pete added. He went up to Charlie who was sitting by himself cleaning his rifle. Pete snatched his dented helmet of his head.

“Hey man, I need that.” The raccoon bursted with annoyance. Ever since he had been hit by an airburst shell back at Locateau, he never took the thing off.

“Don’t worry. You’ll get it back. There,” he place Charlie’s beloved good luck charm on the dummy’s head. “Good idea Lou for using the lieutenant’s uniform. Can’t resist taking a whack at an officer.”

“Will you hurry up, Sergeant? I'm cold.” Lieutenant Straddling stood shivering with out a shirt.

“Oh, just be a little patient, sir. Here,” Pete tossed the lab a flask. He sucked from it eagerly, the fiery liquid did what magic it could, “This shouldn’t take too long. Okay Lou, you just hold it right there.” They all leaned up against the side of the trench as the collie held the dummy up over the top. There was a calm moment where there could only heard the howl of the chill wind.

Eventually, Biggsley got impatient and stuck his up. “You think he would shoot at it already. Wonder what the hell’s taking him so-,” His sentence was cut short. The bullet struck the ground in front of his face spitting dirt and snow into his eyes. A second shot followed shortly after hitting the dummy’s helmet with a sharp plink.

“Did anyone see where that came from?” Pete asked.

“Beats the hell outta me.” Jason sat rubbing the grime out of his face, “Somewhere over there.” He waved vaguely.

“I know.” Ross said flatly. He ran down the trench to the heavy mounted machinegun which nobody else dared to even touch since the sniper fire picked up. The badger jammed a 30 round strip into the side on the gun, pulled back the large cocking slide, and proceeded to vent himself upon the line of trees where the supposed sniper was hiding. The Rollins heavy machinegun wasn’t called the “clanker” for nothing. The large cocking slide ran the entire length of the gun as it spat spent bullet casings high into the air. With a heavy chunk, chunk, chunk, the distant shrubs and trees were rendered splinters and stubs as .40 caliber bullets chattered out of the gun, capable of taking out a tank if you were lucky.

As soon as the first strip of bullets expelled itself he reached over, slapped in another one and didn’t stop till the last bullet exited the barrel and bolt clanked closed. Steam and smoke vented out of the cooling jacket and condenser box as Ross rubbed his paws trying to get numb stinging out from harnessing the guns massive recoil. Pete looked across at him, “I thing you got him.”

“You damn right I did.” But satisfied smile was wiped off his face as a distant crack followed by a sharp plink as a bullet ricocheted of the gun. Ross jumped and then reached for the machinegun again when Karl stopped him, “Al, wait. Why don’t you get Darrel to handle this?” he motioned to Darrel who was sitting on a crate cleaning his gun. It was not the standard issued Sofield rifle, but a double-barreled magnum hunting rifle.

Ross ducked as another bullet cracked over his head, “Maybe you’re right.” He whistled over to the mink, “Hey, Darrel. Why don’t you see if you can help us with this little problem? That is, if you’re not to busy.”

Darrel got up and walked over to them, “Where is he?”

“Not sure.” Ross scratched his head, “Somewhere over there.”

Darrel made a quick glance over the top of the trench. He saw where Ross had chewed up the trees. He then noticed along the tree line a log lying over in its side. “Alright.” He fed two oversized bullets into both barrels, “Gonna need a distraction.”

“Gottcha.” Ross then grabbed Karl by the collar and held the little squirrel up over the top of the trench.

“Hey, Al! What the hell are you doing? Put me down!” Karl flailed against his powerful grip.

Darrel snapped the rifle close and leveled it over the top, “You just hold him right there.” Before the sniper hiding under the fallen log could put a bullet between Karl’s eyes, Darrel put one between his. And shortly after that he then fired the seconded shot.

Ross dropped the squirming squirrel, “Say, Darrel, what was the second one for?”

The mink broke the barrel letting the empty brass shells jump out, “They have spotters, don’t they?” He then sat back down on his crate and continued to clean his gun.

“Oh, Charlie here you go.” Pete tossed Charlie his helmet plus one hole. He huffed and grumbled to himself as he put it back on his head.

“Hey,” Sam perked up, “where’d Jason go?”

“Didn’t you here?” Lou answered, “B Company is being sent out in to those woods.”

“Yeah,” Pete added, “the Colonel’s all paranoid about them being in the woods and all. So he’s putting B Company in there to flush them out, or something. Well that’s what I heard from the Lieutenant, which is what he heard from the Captain. Anyways, antenna-head went to go see Lennie before he leaves.”

 

Jason Biggsley stood along side his cousin who was getting ready to join the rest of his company. “Did you have fun that night, man? I hope you liked our present?”

“Oh, did I ever. That fox sure knows his way around women.”

“Company ready!” Captain Reynolds called out. The soldiers that made up the company formed up a loose column.

Jason put his paw on Lennie’s shoulder, “You be careful out there. I mean it, you watch your ass.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll keep a good eye on him.” Captain Reynolds stood next to him, “You just stick by me, kid.” The tall black cougar rubbed Lennie’s wispy blond hair.

“Yes sir.” He took his place in the column.

“Company!” The cougar shouted, “Move out!” Roughly 200 men of Company B of the 128th Regiment marched at the double time down the road that lead to the forest. Sam came up behind Jason and but his paw on his shoulder, “Don’t worry about Lennie, he’ll be fine.”

The hare watched his kid cousin and the rest of the company disappear down the road and into the trees and turned to Sam, “Worried? Who me? Nah, the little squirt will be fine. C’mon, get me something to eat.” He winked and smiled at Sam.

“What’s with you and eating, always eating.” This always baffled him for that hare could eat three times as much as him and still be as thin as a rake. He just shook his head and followed his over indulgent associate.

 

As they marched thru the forest, little Lennie tried to stay as close as he could to captain Reynolds. “So, what exactly are we suppose to be doing here, sir?” he inquired.

“To locate and assess the enemy’s activities in this forest here. But the question is what do we do when we find them? The Colonel wasn’t too specific on that. I guess we’ll when we find them, if we find them. Don’t seem to be anyone here at the moment.” He stopped when he got to the east-west road that ran thru the forest all the way to the coast. The captain stood for a moment and scratched his head. He took a swig from his canteen, “We’re already half way thru this damn forest and we haven’t even heard any of these bastards.” He took another swig and thought some more.

“Maybe they’re hiding?” Lennie added.

“Maybe.” It was at that time something else caught his attention. Thru the trees on the other side of the road something, someone was running back into the brush.

“There goes one!” a soldier shouted.

“I got him.” Another soldier said. He stepped forward and took aim with his rifle. He barley noticed the cord snap and slack around his foot before the resulting explosion tore his to ribbons. Similar explosions detonated along the road. Then, as on cue, the shrubs on the other side of the road lit up with hundreds of flashes of rifle fire and the sweeping arcs of machinegun tracers. Captain Reynolds’ canteen was shot out of his hand before he threw himself to the ground. Lennie so happened to look over to see a young mouse get cut in half by machinegun bullets. It would have got him too if the captain hadn’t have pulled him down.

Staying as low as he could, Captain Reynolds dragged himself and Lennie to a ditch that ran along the shoulder of the road. He popped up momentarily to empty his pistol at the flashes thru the trees, but something made him duck back down other than the raking bullets. More explosions, mortars now crashed down thru the trees and onto the entrapped men. He thought about running for it but he saw those that tried. Cut down by bullets or blown to bits by the falling shells. He saw a weasel turn from his hiding spot and run but didn’t get very far. A shell landed in a tree stump and sent a foot long splinter thru his neck. Another one, a fox, for a moment seamed like he just might make it. He ran as far as he could before a shell landed between his legs and splattered him over the trees like so much tossed salad.

Just as he thought the next one would land right on his head, it all suddenly stopped. He poked his head up and heard orders being shouted in something thick and guttural that he could not understand but didn’t take him long to know what it meant. “Fix bayonets!” he shouted, “They’re coming!”

“What! Coming! How do you know that?” Lennie exclaimed with horror.

Reynolds pulled him over the ditch just as the line of Naphallans charged out of the woods, “That’s how.” He threw a grenade that sent the first set of them sprawling. “Best get that bayonet on that rifle, son.”

He got back down and quickly stuck the bayonet on the end on his Soflied rifle and tried to remember what he learned in boot camp: thrust, twist, and pull, thrust, twist, and pull. He jumped back up and stuck his rifle out and at the same time a squirrel ran right on it. Now were they able to see what the new enemy looked like: mostly the same as the old Geridian uniform, dark gray double-breasted tunics with spiked pikelhaube helmets. The gray clad squirrel’s face twisted with pain. Panicked, he pulled the trigger and blew him of the end of the rifle. A red mist sprayed over him as the squirrel backwards. Lennie dropped the blood coated rifle and stumbled backwards.

“Lennie, get the hell outta here!” Captain Reynolds shouted. The schnauzer manning a machine gun next to him flew back with a bullet to his face. He grabbed the machinegun just as the Naphallans started to charge again. “Go! I’ll cover you!”

He didn’t need to be told twice. He got up, ran as fast as he could south thru the trees, bullets chasing him all the way. Pretty soon the bullets were replaced by shells again as they fell on the retreating soldiers. He tripped and fell in the snow. He looked behind him to see Captain Reynolds limping and bleeding from several places. “Go kid, run!” he shouted.

“Captain?” Lennie got up to meet him. The captain didn’t. A bullet ripped thru his torso and stumbled into his arms. “Captain!”

“Go on kid, get out of here.” He winced at his more than one wounds.

“I can’t leave you sir”

“No!” he grabbed his collar and pulled him close as blood ran from his mouth, “I will hold them off as long as I can.” He turned emptied his pistol into a Naphallan that got to close. He turned back to Lennie, “You can make it son-” he looked up at the high pitched whistling above his head, “Get down!” With his last ounce of strength he shoved the hare as hard as he could as the shell thudded home. Lennie heard only ringing as he staggered upward covered in dirt and snow. As his vision cleared he saw the small crater and the red smear in the snow next to it. He then realized that he was covered with more than just snow. All he could do was scream at the sight of his former commanding officer now reduced to the filling of a pastry caked over his once khaki uniform. A bullet to his neck stopped his hysterical screaming.

 

Jason was busy stuffing his face as usual when the shells started to fall again. That didn’t stop him though, he continued to munch away as the shells thumped overhead as they sat in the dugout. “Looks like your cousin’s found the Naphallans already.” Pete said.

“Looks like that way,” Jason held his arm over his tin trying to protect his precious food from falling clumps of dust and dirt.

Charlie whistled contentfully as cleaned the barrel of his rifle and worked the bolt mechanism making sure it was all in working order. Georges and Tony were arguing with each other over something unintelligible; one in French the other in Italian. Randal, Shamus MacDuffy, Lou, and Joe Doyle played a game of poker, using bullets instead of money. “Dammit Randal!” Joe shouted, “There’s no such thing as a four of a kind. There you go cheating again.”

“Cheating? Me? Why I’d never.” The fox played it innocently as usual.

Joe leaned over, grabbed his arm, and pulled a king out of his sleeve, “Well, there’s that,” Lou pulled an ace in his collar, “and that,” and Shamus plucked another king Randal was hiding up under his cap, “and…that.”

Before Joe could ring Randal’s neck, the thumping that echoed from above suddenly stopped. “Alright,” Pete stood up, “you know the drill.”

Though heavier than what they’ve seen so far, it didn’t last to long and pretty soon officers were shuttling men out of their hiding places up to the front trenches in the anticipation of the attack that usually follows a bombardment. Shouts and shots could be heard from the woods as men in khaki sporadically began to emerge from the trees and run toward the trenches and presumed safety. Mortars rained on them thru the long expanse between the forest and the trench works. They panicky scrabbled into the trenches as Lieutenant Straddling questioned them about if they knew what happened to captain Reynolds. None of them knew or were too hysterical to understand.

“Heads up!” Sergeant Richardson who was standing up over to the trench, yelled to the Lieutenant. The Lieutenant joined him at the firing step. There was a line of gray, soldiers of gray stood along the trees. They just stood there for a moment, viewing each other over the snow covered grassy field.

“Men at the ready!” Lieutenant Straddling waved his pistol around as they ran along the communication trenches and steadied themselves up against gun bays and firing positions.

Then someone shouted in something that they couldn’t understand. The Naphallans all shouted something back in return. And then they did something that would have shaken the hardest of soldiers, they charged. Running over the straggling remainder of Company B impaling those with their long saber like bayonets they didn’t want to waste the bullet on.

“Man the machineguns!” the lieutenant shouted. All along the front line machineguns chattered to life. The men in gray began to stumble and fall but still kept coming. Even thru the volleys of rifle fire they ran thru the tall dead snow covered grass. Sam started down the sights of his rifle. A Naphallan came up in the sights he pulled the trigger and the Naphallan tripped and fell. Sam twisted and pulled the bolt open, the empty shell flew out, pushed the bolt back closed cycling a new bullet from the ten round clip into the chamber, glanced thru the sights again and fired.

He emptied the magazine and ducked back down as bullets started to fly in the other direction. Sam changed clips on his rifle and looked over at Ross who was also ducking under the trench. “Hey, Al. They’re getting kinda close, don’t you think you should use that gun of yours?”

“Huh,” he looked up, “oh right, ‘course.” He picked up his machine rifle and leveled it over the top of the trench. He smiled with delight as he sprayed bullets at the charging wall of gray.

“You have too much fun with that thing, Al.” The badger smiled dumbly as he ducked back down and slapped on a fresh magazine.

He popped back up and sprayed a few rounds at the advancing soldiers. “Hey, what’s the matter with him?” Sam looked up from his rifle and over toward Karl. The little squirrel sat cowering in the mud with his gasmask pulled over his face. “Hey, Karl! In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a war going on.”

Karl covered his paws over his ears and shook his head to try and block out Ross’ irritable comments and the other horrific sounds filling his brain.

“That rifle ain’t gonna do any good down there, soldier.” Karl looked up. The Sarge stood over him. Though it wasn’t much, that’s all it seemed to take. Seeing Sergeant Richardson standing there seemingly perfectly calm, as if he was born for this. He picked up his rifle, stood up and pulled off his gasmask.

“Yes sir.” He steadied his shaking paws and braced the rifle against his shoulder. It jumped from his shoulder when it fired. Pete had to push him over knocking his helmet off, so that he could bring his shotgun up to blast away a Naphallan that got to close. He leaned over and clunked Karl’s helmet back on his head.

“Maybe you should just stay down there for now, son.”

“Y-yes sir.”

Even thru the hail of bullets, they kept coming. Now they were at the twisting belts of barbwire. Some would trip and stumble and become twisted and mangled like fish in a net. Others would somehow be able to jump straight thru it. But now they were in the reach of a hand grenade. Sam and Jason emptied their grenade satchels as fast they could while Ross continued to chug away with his machine rifle all trying to stem the gray tide.

Sam looked up to see a Naphallan, a rat, making his way thru the wire straight toward him. His rifle empty, he held up his rifle to meet him with the tip of his bayonet. But just before he could have the chance to figure out whose bayoneted rifle had the greatest reach, a grenade detonated under his feet. Gore and entrails hung on the belts of wire like laundry on a clothesline. His severed paws clinching on a strand of wire.

More were coming behind him.

“Not sure how much longer we can keep this up.” Sam yelled over at Jason who, after expelling all the grenades he had, was now busy trying to clear a spent shell stuck in the action of his gun.

“Well, Jenny, that’s why they give us these here long knives to put on the end of your gun for when you run outta bullets.” Frustrated with the stuck bolt on his gun, Jason hurled it like a javelin impaling it in the chest of the nearest Naphallan, “See.”

Hearing high-pitched screeching followed by thundering explosions they jumped to the mudded bottom of the trench. Noticing that the screeching was coming from behind them, Sam shouted: “Jesus! They’re cutting it kinda close!”

“Better than it not coming at all.” The hare countered to which Sam had to agree.

The cannon fire from the fort blew the remaining Naphallans to bits, forcing them to fallback, the artillery fire followed them all the way back to their supposed fortifications and positions. “Took them long enough.” Jason scoffed at the promptness of the artillery as he climbed out of the trench and went over to his rifle that was protruding straight up. He put his foot on the canine’s corpse and yanked his rifle out. He whistled with impression as he observed the scene before him: the snow-white field was now gray, gray and red.

“Didn’t know who you was messin’ with!” Ross shouted.

“Ya damn right!” Pete agreed with him. Jason stood there and stared out toward the trees, “Hey, antenna head, get back down here before you get yourself shot.” He turned around to see Karl leveling his rifle right at him. He jumped and cringed when the rifle fired. Hearing a thud, he looked up and over at the dead Naphallan behind him that had a bayonet in his limp paw.

“Nice shot son,” Pete punched him on the shoulder, “we’ll make a soldier outta you yet.”

“Yes sir.” He said wearily.

Jason jumped back down into the trench and found himself a spot to sit along the firing step. He took off his helmet, ran a paw thru his shaggy blond hair and let out a heavy sigh. Sam offered him a cigarette, which he took eagerly. He padded himself for his lighter, which Sam also offered him. “Don’t worry about Lennie. I'm sure he’s fine.”

Jason blew a puff and looked up to the gray sky as it began to snow, “You think so, Jenny?”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure he’ll turn up.” He lit himself a cigarette, “And don’t call me Jenny.”

 

TO BE CONTINUED