'The Thing With Battles'

  Photo courtesy of  Davide Seddio on Flickr

Photo courtesy of Davide Seddio on Flickr

By Marcus Morales

It was New Year's Day in Chenogne, Belgium, and there were scattered Germans fighting Americans in the misty, snow-dusted forest. It had something to do with gaining control of the strategically desirable and architecturally adorable port city of Antwerp, but the soldiers had all but forgotten that there was a point to this game. The Germans were bad and the Americans were good, so you know who to root for.

PFC Carver and PFC Walton took cover behind a dead Panther, but they were certain it was a dead Tiger. For six minutes they had been firing at a broken up battalion of Germans and ducking behind the bulk of the vehicle in turns. They were good on ammunition, so they decided it'd be better to pick off as many enemy combatants as possible from cover before advancing.

But they were getting awfully comfortable behind that tank.

Carver scratched his nose and peeked out.

"All I'm saying is that if Patton slapped me, I'd shove my fist up his ass, turn him into my little meat puppet."

"No you wouldn't."

"Yeah, I know," he sighed. "Man, I've been trying to kill this one kraut for about five minutes, but he's still movin' and shakin' and up to something."

"Who? That one hiding behind that tree straight ahead?"

"Yup."

"Shit, buddy. That one just got Murphy," Walton said as he wiped away frost from the barrel of his rifle.

"Oh yeah? Never much cared for that spud-eating mick anyway."

"Yeah, well, he owed me a sawbuck. Now I ain't ever getting it back."

"He wouldn't of paid you back if he survived. Micks are delinquents."

"Yeah, I s'pose."

Carver licked at his cracked lips.

"Man, I am sick of this fuckin' battle. It's damn boring. Honestly, I wish one of these krauts would just pop one off into my thigh so I can pass out and get some decent shut eye."

"I'm sick of this war in general. I wouldn't mind if a jerry popped one off in my brain."

"Yeah, but I wouldn't want a headache before kicking the bucket. But yeah, I ain't a fan of this Europe. If I was running the show, I'd let the krauts keep it. I'd throw in Canada and Alaska if they promised to quit being troublemakers."

"It might work. They seem to not mind freezing their sacks smooth."

"I should'a been a diplomat."

Walton began to rise from snow ground seat.

"My turn."

"Stay put and save your rounds. I'm gonna kill this one tree kraut."

"Okay, but—"

"Charge!"

They heard Captain Papanikolis' proclaim with staunch abandon.

They turned around and saw the superior officer fifteen yards away near a creek. He was suffering from sustained head trauma and dead set on going out with gusto.

"Where the fuck does that blowhard think he is?" Carver asked.

"Little Bighorn."

"He probably thinks he's at Thermopylae. The oily Greek son of a goat." He then put his hand beside his mouth and called out, "You charge, Jason! We'll phone the Argonauts!"

Walton grinned.

"Good one."

Captain Papanikolis charged ahead with three subordinates foolhardy enough to follow orders from any mad dog who outranked them. They were all shot.

The subordinates survived their flesh wounds only to die of more serious ones later, but the good captain took one in the heart and was done as dinner.

"You think he heard my barb?" Carver asked in a lighter tone. 

"Nah."

"Goddamn."

There was a moment of silence for the wasted barb.

"Don't you think we should advance already?" Walton asked.

"Yeah, yeah. I just got to kill that shit-assed kraut hiding behind the tree. He's run out of ammunition. He's gonna make a run for it so he could catch up with all his little buddies. I'm gonna get him from here.

"I have a feeling that if I don't do it right now, he'll catch up with me later, and skewer me with a bayonet like breakfast sausages. It's the ones that frustrate you that end up killing you."

"Yeah, it'd be the pits if you went out with a blade in your belly."

"It'll be the double pits if I'm knifed by that one particular kraut."

A bullet whizzed past Carver's ear.

"Whoa."

Walton laughed. "You wanna borrow my helmet?"

"Jesus, shit," he said with a wave his hand. "I'll pass on the lice."

"But, hey, you almost got your wish."

"No, no. That was your wish to get popped one in the head. I told you, I can't put up with headaches. Even for a second."

"But it wouldn'ta been with a knife and it wouldn'ta been by the hands of your tree-lurkin' jerry."

"True. Goddamn, I really want to kill that particular kraut. More than anything."

"More than you want to drink a nice bottle of Kentucky bourbon?"

"Yup."

Walton's head cocked.

"Really? Hmm. More than you wanna be deep in your brother's wife's snapper?"

"Yup."

"Damn it all. You're serious, aren't you?"

"Yup."

Walton stopped asking questions. They waited for something to happen.

***

GEFR Lamprecht and GEFR Mundt were lying on their bellies behind the propped up corpses of lesser soldiers. Earlier Mundt joked that the men were more resourceful dead than they were alive. Lamprecht didn't laugh, but he grinned so Mundt was certain that what he said wasn't in poor taste.

Conversation between the two had died down after they shot the imaginary horses out from under that saber-rattling officer and his three-piece cavalry.

Mundt decided to break the silence.

"Where's Rommel when you need him, hm?"

Lamprecht cleared his throat.

"He's playing tic-tac-toe with Otto von Bismarck in hell."

"You really think Rommel's in hell?"

"Everyone goes to hell."

"A comforting thought. Tell me more about all the things we can do in hell after we're killed by cowboys."

Lamprecht scratched his ear and took a deep breath before speaking.

"Well, first thing I'm going to do is put my name on the waiting list to play chess against Napoleon. I think I could hold my own for a while, and he'll have to resort to one of his filthy tricks to get my king in the end.

"Then we'll catch a play by Shakespeare. He's been writing consistently down there, and I hear his modern stuff really takes the cake." 

"Ooh," Mundt said, clicking his heels. "That sounds good. I hope he's written a play about American gangsters."

"He has. It's about Al Capone and the Valentine's Day Massacre, but he’s waiting until Humphrey Bogart dies so that he can play lead."

"I hope that happens soon enough."

"Hopefully. Then we'll play doubles tennis with Fredrick the Great and Peter the Great. We'll get trounced, but it'll be nice. They're gracious winners.

"Then we'll have drinks and a lovely seafood medley with Joan of Arc and Cleopatra. The latter has taught the former to be quite the blow job artist so if you play your cards right, you might have something to brag about to Rommel over tic-tac-toe."   

"I'm sold. Let's have the cowboys send us to hell already so we can be nice and warm, hm."

Lamprecht shook his head.

"No, I don't think so. I couldn’t just let someone kiss me off unchallenged. They'd really have to earn it. Besides, we wouldn't want to let down the Führer."

He raised a mischievous grin.

"Fuck Hitler," Mundt spat. "We'll see him in hell soon enough. I'll kiss Freud on the lips in front of him before beating him silly with leberwurst. The vegetarian cunt."

"No, you wouldn't."

"Yeah, I know," He sighed. "It looks like our dear comrade Spengler is going to wait there until the tank yank gets out and chases him out from under his favorite tree."

"That's likely. He's been eyeing Hermann's 42 for some time, but it seems as though he's become shy."

"He should try to come to us. The bonesaw can't have too many shells in it anyway."

"Yeah, he can use us for protection if he survives, and we can use him for protection if he dies."

"True enough." Mundt put his hand beside his mouth. "Hey, Tarzan! You can't live in that tree for the rest of your days! Come join us! We have warm cognac and your Jane is tugging us off like your mother ape taught her!"

They smiled at each other and waited for a response.

"Did he hear my joshing?" Mundt asked in a deeper tone.

"Go fuck yourself!" Spengler yelled.

They laughed and Lamprecht nudged his friend with an elbow.

"I think he did."

"I should have said it in English so the cowboys would see that we're in good spirits."

"You speak English?"

"Yeah. My French isn't too bad either."

"Good for you. I speak English some, but I'm not very confident in it."

"Let's see," Mundt said in English. "Speak some English to me, old man."

"Piss off." Lamprecht continued to speak German. 

Spengler called out, "Do you have any extra weapons? Or some ammo for a Sturmgewehr 44?"

"No, you're fucked in that regard, soldier," Lampbrecht said. "You might as well run over here. Either we'll protect you and you'll live, or you'll die among friends."

Spengler sighed, and then they heard him muttering prayers.

"You haven't told him the cold hard facts about the afterlife, have you?" Mundt asked.

"No, and I don't think I will."

Spengler made a run for it. Carver hit him twice: one in the lung and one in the kidney. 

They heard Carver shout, "Hell yeah!"

Spengler howled and fell to his knees.

"For the Fatherland!" He said before his head hit the snow with the grandiose grace of the white swan.

"What a dramatic death," Mundt said.

Lamprecht shrugged. "Well, he knew he had an audience."

A lot more Americans began pouring from the wood work. They were still a fair distance away, but they'd be too close before anything could be done about it.

"Are we surrendering?" Mundt asked.

"Not me. I'm not in the mood to surrender. Besides, like I said, I'm insecure about my English. I don't want to be taunted by yanks."

"Okay. Hopefully, we'll be lucky."

"In battles, it's best not to care too much about what will end up happening to you, either way."

Carver and Walton came from behind the Panther and charged toward Lampbrecht and Mundt the way Papanikolis would have if his head had been screwed on straight.

Both parties opened fire.

There were a lot of missed opportunities, but Lamprecht shot Carver square in the forehead.

Walton felt a brief pang of jealousy before rattling off three bullets along Mundt's twisted torso. He hopped onto Lamprecht. They struggled some, but he eventually pinned Lamprecht's shoulders to the ground.

Walton shouted, "You shot the wrong brain, jerry!"

He shoved the bayonet attached to his rifle into Lamprecht's neck twice. The first plunge was deep, the second was shallow. The sound of Lamprecht choking on his own blood made Walton's stomach drop. 

Walton continued to advance, leaving Mundt to bleed out without company.

Mundt saw his fellow soldiers made prisoners be taken up a hill, lined up like cattle, and mowed down with machine guns by some of the Americans.

He looked over to his friend's corpse.

"I just saw a New Year's Day massacre," Mundt said. "It's not Shakespeare, but it was fun to watch anyway."

It almost looked like Lamprecht was grinning, but it was just the blood crescent dripping along the corners of his mouth.

Marcus Morales is a Chicago-based writer. He is currently working his next project.

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