Battle of Attrition

Near the border of pre-war Poland,
24th Platoon & 25th Platoon,
October 11
Thursday, 0200 hours,
Sgt Pearson P.
Pvt Vasili K.

It has been 4 weeks since the last supply truck came. We are low on food and ammunition. But most importantly, we’re running low on men. The ‘Line’, is a trench stretched throughout the borders of the town with only 30 men keeping watch. One man for almost a half of a kilometre in the cold dark night of October, two tops. If any movement were reported, the tower would send backup from other points of the ‘line’ and the local militia. The orders were to hold the lines as long as possible until reinforcement arrive. It’s either one of ours, or one of them. Mission states that the line is ‘the least possible entry for hostile forces’ due to the ‘no-tactical-advantage’ rule and harsh weather thus requiring no extra men or artillery. To be honest, it’s also ‘the least possible area for allied fortification’. Nevertheless, it never stops the opposition to send one or two squads to ‘scout’ the surroundings.

“Hmph…”
‘Scout’. Tell that to the last mortar strike.

“This is tower ..”
“.. Status update..”
The radio and the sound of insects were the only thing keeping me company ever since.

“.. Everything is normal..”

“..Copy that..”
Surely it was a lie. There’s nothing normal in such place. Rain has completely messed the surroundings. There’s mud in our weapons, food and water. Puddles of water inside the trench caused great discomfort especially to those who are new to this kind of stuff. Not to mention the smell, it’s just horrible. I served in the world war, this is nothing new but it still manages to give me the shivers. There’s nothing great about war.

“I hate this place!”

“Lower your voice, we’re not welcomed here”

“Huh?”
He wondered. I pointed my finger on a nearby bush. He couldn’t get his eyes on it but it was clear to me. It’s a wild dog, and its puppies. There’s nothing far scarier than a mother protecting its children. Not even heavy weaponry.

“What are you doing here?”

“I was assigned by tower to provide support..”

“Just keep your head and voice down”
I couldn’t see his face but guessing from his voice, he must be young. Very young. The night was somewhat peaceful even though the thought of someone or something out there lurking, waiting for the right moment to kill us was there, I couldn’t help it but to feel relieved.

“Where you from kid?”

“Grey country…”

“I meant before the war..”

“…A village nearby a city called Lviv.”

“Ahh, Ukraine. What are you doing behind the grand line?”

“…Saving my country or what is used to be..”
“.. How about you old man? Where are you from?”

“Pre-war England”

“I’ve heard of it…” He smiled. “The tale of Knights and Dragons, Damsel in distress isn’t it?”

“Yeah, you can say that.”

The grand line was like a border, or at least for the moment. It separates two major forces, the west and the east. The ‘Line’ is just a fraction of it. After the war erupted, major countries take those smaller countries under their wing or some sort. Forming an alliance, the biggest the world had ever seen, dividing the world into two forces, black and white. Each of the alliances is now under one name. Most people decided to stay with the original names but it died out. Literally. And it wasn’t that easy, white was not that innocent and black was not that hostile. In the end it’s just people trying to satisfy their greed of power and control.

The capitals of each Alliance were categorized with the colour pure white and pure black. While those smaller countries around it were coloured with a fade of white and a fade of black and territories where the alliances are left ambiguous, were coloured completely grey. In some way it’s funny because in here, no one knows who’s on either side. During the shut-in period, where the two forces chose to settle out differences through the table, most skirmishes happened in this place were among themselves. That’s why I was sent here in the first place. When the blitz strikes pre-war Italy, we were taken aback, pushing the ‘grand line’ to the west. No one survived. Those who lived probably joined the opposition. It’s not their fault; they are just trying to reclaim their home.

“…It’s quiet..”

“.. It’s horrifying…” He replied

“Why?”

“I grew up during the early stages of the war. The shut-in. My lullabies were the sound of distant gun fire, artillery shot and sounds of madness marching through the pavement. My father joined the local militia, protecting the town from invaders. These invaders weren’t even the army. It was just people from neighbouring town scavenging for supplies. There were no announcement made, no evacuation. One night it could be the west, the other it could be the east. We have no alliances, we only have ourselves. We continued our lives with such thoughts in our minds but it was enough. Life continued. The sound of war has been the norm of my life. While silence has been the complete opposite”
He stopped for a minute and takes a short breath before continuing.

“The day the war broke out of its captivity was the day we had the worst. The day I had the worst. Nothing was told. Everything just blew up like fireworks. We were taken by both fronts. It was a battle which no mere groups of militia can handle in one day. My father fell protecting the last line of defence against the east or whoever who was shooting back at him. My mother and I were captives at first but we were freed by the west when they moved in. That’s how I got here.”

“Your father was a hero” I commented.

“He is. He still is”

I couldn’t see what’s happening. But from the sound of his voice, I could hear sorrow, pain and sadness. I grew up in a suburban town filled with peace and joy although the first war had already started. I joined the army when I was 19, lied about everything except my name and live through it. Survived the war and built a family near the country side. It never crossed in my mind for me to be sent back here.

“Do you have a family Sergeant?”

“Kind of..”

“Please. Do tell more”

“I have a wife. No kids but we’re happy. We were supposed to live the rest of our lives together in a quiet village facing the sea. Unfortunately, she died because of a certain illness 3 years before this happened”

“I’m sorry…”

“It’s alright. I’m glad. At least she won’t experience the harsh life of war ever again.”

We both laughed at our pitiful lives as we burn our midnight cigarettes. The air has gotten colder as time passes and the sound of nature began to fade into complete silence.

“Sergeant! Look!” He rushes over my sleepy shoulders and pointed his fingers towards the skies. It was flare lighting up the night skies.

“It’s a signal!” I screamed.

Suddenly, the sound of screaming broke the silence. From the bushes and ruins of building on the other side, came probably 12 or 13 men running towards our position. I shot my bolt-action rifle, killing few of the moving squads. Being completely hidden and covered under the trench provides the comfort of aiming without the hassle of worrying about a stray bullet. It was an easy task until I discovered that they weren’t coming after us. They were running away. They were frantically running across the trenches, and over the barbs wires. They completely ignored us.

“Inform the tower!” I shouted to the kid earlier. I quickly positioned myself inside a wooden bunker and hold a machine gun between my grips. I have no idea of what maybe after them or us.

“Sergeant, they are all over the place! We’re getting pushed back!” The kid quickly grabbed his gun and positioned himself near me. The trenches suddenly were bombarded with heavy artillery. The grounds were shaking as if it was scared of the opposition’s power. Our position was spared but it won’t be long before another trouble comes along.

“There they are!”
Countless, from what I could lay my eyes upon were the numbers of soldiers running towards the line. Their numbers are increasing faster than I could fire this gun. The only option was to retreat, fall back and regroup with the others. The kid and I left the bunker as soon as we set up a little surprise for the visit.

“Run like hell kid.”
I shouted. From the opposite side, we were two guys running from artillery fire, stray bullets, a battalion of men and probably nature itself too. It would make a damn good movie if you asked me.

When the first few line of men landed inside the ‘line’. The bunker explodes, shattering them to pieces, igniting the trail of oil left by the only people who had ever lived there. Us. It was effective to stop them for a while. But it won’t do much against an army of men. I’ve been running back and forth between the line and the tower for supplies and food but tonight, the tower feels a whole lot farther than it used to. My adrenaline kicked in and I found myself jumping inside a barricade of sand bags nearby the tower. Surrounded by familiar faces, I quickly grab my rifle and prepare myself for an impending strike. The kid was, as expected, brave. He was shooting very precisely despite the pressure. I guess war do that to people.

Our group of 30 men were reduced to 17, but that was before the local militia decided to join in. From what I could see, it was over 50 men, against god knows how many they are out there.

“Hold the line, hold the line, hold the line,…”
Those were the words of a nearby combatant, fighting for his life. I know we can’t win this battle. Some of our men had already fallen, some had already lost all their ammo, and some lost their sanity. Charging head towards the enemy line while holding a hand grenade.

Some need to run, to surrender, to die, in order for others to live. I quickly handle the machine gun positioned nearby and started shooting randomly, providing covers for those who are unarmed, and unfit for battle to escape. Of course, I’m not alone. The kid is still there, at the same spot from before, not budging even an inch. In his eyes, all I could see is nothing but fear. Not for death but the fear of defeat.

“You need to escape!”

“And let you die here!?”

“Just go! It’s an order!”
I commanded. He was persistent as ever. I retreated to his spot as I had fired all the bullets left in the machine gun earlier. I know he won’t retreat but there’s no other way.

“I’m sorry”
I whispered before firing a single shot on his thigh, just enough to stop him from firing his gun for a while. I ordered the last of the remaining platoon to carry him to safety.

“Hey kid, would you tell the others my story as well?”
I asked. He nodded as he was carried by a stretcher.

All that left was me, alone, in this wretched place, facing against an army of thousands.

What am I feeling?

Peace.

“I’m coming honey”

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