A passage from the third book in my unpublished alternate history trilogy. After a month of intense distraction, the time has come to resume work.
Bill called out.
“That’s torn it, sir! Every Heinie and his mother will drop into our fucking laps!”
“Quite, Sergeant. Lieutenant McBride!”
“We have seen quite enough, young man. Do turn your men about with dispatch.”
Tracers zipped along, they would hit objects and curl crazily into the air. Bill looked heavenward; it looked much like a series of racing fireflies disappearing heavenward. Blokes started to turn to the north; as Bill watched a man was struck. From the sound it was a solid hit; a meaty “thunk.”
The poor bastard hit the ground, a flare popped and Bill watched as black crud and bubbles poured from his mouth.
He was a goner, for sure.
Someone grabbed the wounded man by the collar. They started to drag him north, toward safety. Or at least perceived safety.
The wounded man’s rescuer took a bullet to the thigh. Bill saw a chunk fly off. The man screamed and fell. Bill looked for someone to shoot at, anybody. All he could see were muzzle flashes and the quick bright lines of the tracers.
It was time to fucking go.
McBride’s platoon hustled rearwards. Bill and the Colonel took up the trail position. They were slowed by the wounded; the further they moved the more they had. Fucking Birdcage, Bill thought. We did a recon, all right. You get close to the Birdcage, you get shot.
The night lit for a fraction of a second, and it wasn’t a flare.
It was the whizz-bang gun.
Bill heard the “whizz,” he felt the “bang!”
A chunk of shrapnel pulled at his trouser leg. Bill leaned down to free himself from what he thought was barbed wire. When he found the hole, his blood ran cold. The damn thing had nearly removed his left calf. He kept the Colonel in sight, what had been an orderly, tightly disciplined raid had turned into a headlong flight to safety.
The screams and grunts of their wounded hastened their steps. The 7.7 gun blasted them, the machine guns lashed at the retreating men.
The raid had been a costly debacle, and it had put xxxxx into a rare downcast humor. Later that day, he looked to the south and spoke.
“Sergeant, I fear the Hun is mocking us.”
Bill nodded. He lit a cigarette.
“Smarmy bastards. I should call Divarta and shell that detestable Birdcage to pieces.”
“It’ll just make it easier to defend, sir.”
xxxxx simply looked at him. He said nothing, then he returned to his vigil. He put a cigar in his mouth then he spoke after he puffed it to life with a trench lighter.
“I say, Sergeant, do you think the Birdcage would make a worthwhile study on canvas?”
Bill shrugged. “Sir, I don’t know anything about art.”
“Surely you must have studied the finer things of life in school!”
“They taught me how to read and write.” Bill paused. “And a little arithmetic.”
xxxxx harrumphed. “It is a scandal, what they call an education for the working classes.”
Bill puffed away. “Good enough to run this, sir.” He held up his Bergmann.