Hello everyone, hope you’re having a good summer.
A few months ago I entered a short story writing competition. The theme was hope, and the word limit was 1,000 words. I was awarded second place for my piece! I hope you enjoy.
He could leave him behind.
It would be easy. All he’d have to do was just get up and walk away. William would never catch him.
The paltry fire that they’d kindled had burnt out some time during the night.
He sighed, clenching his frostbitten fingers stiffly. ‘William,’ he rasped, ‘wake up.’
He half hoped that he wouldn’t. It would be easier then. But William stirred with a groan.
‘Come on, we have to get moving.’
‘I can’t, I’m too weak,’ he mumbled, his teeth chattering like the muffled echo of machinegun fire.
Alfred’s lips curled down into an ugly grimace. If William was just going to give up anyway, he wouldn’t have let him have the blanket. He looked down, measuring his own worth as a man – as a soldier… As a human being.
He rose in a moment of waning strength and laid his hands on the prostrate figure of his rear gunner, rolling him over to get at the edge of the thick woollen covering. William knew what he was doing, and said nothing. He simply looked up at him with defeat in eyes. Alfred met the apologetic stare and faltered.
He swallowed hard, his thirst riddled throat grating. ‘Come on,’ he muttered, ‘I’ll carry you if I have to. I’m not going to leave you here to die.’
William only nodded, meekly proffering his arms like an infant to its mother.
With the last of his waning strength, Alfred heaved him to a crooked stance and pushed William’s makeshift crutch against his ribs. He winced, but didn’t make a sound. He was trying dammit – with everything he had. He just didn’t have anything left.
No water, no food. Everything had been lost in the fall. What were they thinking? Sixty miles inside enemy territory. Of course there would be AA guns. Six crewman strewn across the country, lost to the white-washed tundra. The plane had gone down like a top, spinning towards the frozen earth backed by the dying scream of the engines. Alfred and William had leapt together, hand in hand, brothers until the end, but the wing had clipped William, and sent him spinning into the clouds. It was a miracle he wasn’t killed then and there, and even more of a miracle that Alfred had heard his cries before an enemy patrol. He’d found him strung from a conifer, all tangled in his own parachute cords like some mangled marionette. It’d taken Alfred an hour and a half to cut him down. By then night was upon them, bringing with it a wind that scythed through the trees and whispered of death.
Morning broke as a sick reminder of their circumstances, and there was nothing to give them any notion the others had survived. The only sign of the plane was the thin pillar of black smoke that rose into the sky over the dusted treetops. They took solace in the thought that the crash site might draw the enemy troops for a little while. Hopefully it would give them something of a head-start. They were resting their survival on might.
Progress was pitiful, and by Alfred’s reckoning, they still had the best part of fifty miles together. But they had to try, didn’t they? If they could get to the front maybe, just maybe, they could find a way to slip through and call for help. Hopefully their troops would recognise the accents, and they’d be rescued. It was all that they had to cling on to.
But then it was snatched from them. A crack, like twigs under foot, echoed through the silence of the forest. William cried out and buckled. He fell to a knee, his left leg crooked sideways at the shin. Alfred had known it was likely broken, but they had to push on. He dared not even roll up his trouser leg to look. He could see the jagged end of the bone pushing against the fabric. The crimson stain spread, black against the milky snow.
Alfred sagged backwards and sat down hard. ‘We’ll camp here,’ he said flatly.
Alfred reached into his pocket and pulled out a tarnished silver case. He’d not dared light a cigarette before. His sergeant had always said that you could spot a burning cigarette from two miles off. Five in the dark. But it didn’t really matter now. Alfred was spent. All his remaining strength had been used to keep William on his feet, and now it was over. Alfred lit two and passed one to William. When he didn’t take it, Alfred stuck it between his weather-beaten lips instead.
‘Just leave me,’ he mewled, the ember dancing as he spoke.
Alfred narrowed one eye at William, took a deep drag on his cigarette, and let it out though his nose. ‘Bit late for that now.’
‘Go on, you can make it.’
‘And what, just abandon you here to die?’ He scoffed, ‘What would Christina say?’
He winced, reaching for his leg, ‘She would understand.’
Alfred laid his head back and stared into the slowly darkening sky. He didn’t want to focus on the puddle of blood that was widening around William’s leg.
‘I’ll go and get some firewood in a little bit. Let me finish my cigarette.’
‘There’s still hope, Alfred.’ William breathed softly, ‘Don’t forget that there is always hope.’
Alfred smiled sadly and looked at his brother, ‘Of course there is. There’s always hope.’
They stayed there for a while, speaking little, but saying much. And then, just before dusk, two gunshots rang out and muzzle flashes lit the undergrowth.
Two snipers, clad in grey with rifles slung over their backs, approached the snow-covered corpses and inspected them. One still had a half-smoked cigarette burning between his blackened fingers.
‘You got this one in the head,’ One said haughtily. ‘What about that one?’
‘He was already dead. Bled out from this,’ He remarked bluntly, kicking William’s broken leg.
The first one snorted. ‘Good. I’m glad he suffered. Nazi scum.’
‘You think there are any more?’
The sniper looked around and a sinister smirk crossed his lips. ‘I hope so.’