"Guys, look." Mark points across the blocked bridge.
"What now?" asks Nicola, her trademark eye roll showing through the exasperation in her voice.
"Just look," Mark replies in a tone filled with relief and hope. "Abrams."
The soldier wonders, with amusement, how an American cop can identify an American frontline battletank via a silhouette from over a mile away. He takes a look through the scope of his rifle and sees why.
"They're not Abrams; they're Challenger twos," he answers simply.
The grumbles that arise from his response instantly make him angry.
"Challengers are British battle tanks, they are deadly and can give the US tanks a run for their money in every department. Anyway, any tank on our side at this stage is a fucking welcome sight to my eyes."
Almost on cue, the sudden introduction of creaking, squealing and grinding noises from behind send shivers down his spine. Without looking, the soldier knows what he will find behind him.
He looks at the sky with a "why me" expression and he feels an arm encircle his waist. He looks down into the bright eyes of the woman he loves. The woman he had fought his way through Illinois to find. Her eyes display her fear as she too knows what the sounds mean.
An enemy tank lumbers into view as it halts and lines up its turret with the civilian traffic on the road.
"I love you, now go, get everyone out of their vehicles and across that bridge but do not stop for them, shout as you go. I want you safe."
"I love you too and I won't leave you. Don't get involved, jus' come with us. Please," she pleads. "Let those tanks up there deal with the enemy."
He looks deep into her beautiful eyes and feels his resolve weaken. Closing his eyes, the soldier shakes his head.
"It's my job, the tanks are too far and they won't have spotted the enemy behind all this traffic," he sighs and his heart breaks as she shudders and begins to cry against his chest.
She knows he cannot just walk away and leave all these people at the mercy of the advancing enemy. The sound of the first shell tears the air nearby and lands off to the south of the traffic column sending up clumps of dirt and concrete as it explodes.
"Go... please. That was their ranging shot," he whispers as he kisses her forehead and pushes her away towards the rest of their group.
The sound of the tank's heavy machine gun creates a terrifying soundtrack to the moment as a lone tear escapes and trickles down his face. He turns away and walks towards the gunfire.
She looks at his back as her mother and sister drag her away towards the bridge with gentle but persistent movement. The tears continue to fall as she regrets all the wasted time with him, the way she had fought against her feelings for him for weeks as they crossed the US interior. Blaming him for everyone they lost along the way. She sobs silently as they thread their way through the cars, trucks and buses.
"Enemy to the rear, get out and walk across the bridge, do it now and do it calmly," Mark yells as they pass each car.
The soldier keeps low ducking behind cars and using any cover he can to mask his approach toward the tank. He goes prone and crawls his way along the dry roadside drainage ditch. The noise of the tank gets closer with every move he makes and screams pick up from behind him as people begin to realise the danger. The enemy advance has been alarmingly quick, forcing the US and British forces back as the Allies struggled to form - and hold - a line from north to south.
Looking through the scope of his suppressed rifle he lines up with the head of the machine gunner on the top of the tank whose fire is chewing up the road, attempting to cause chaos and destruction among the civilians queuing there to reach safety.
A few adjustments of his scope as he spots the fluttering of the wind on the gunner's scarf.
"Idiot," he mumbles as he uses the scarf as a wind gauge.
"Three," he sucks in a deep breath - to calm himself, "...two," he sucks in another - to oxegenate his brain, "...one," another deep breath and he holds it in as his finger finds the trigger and the crosshair steadies over the enemy gunner's head, "...firing."
The thwump of the bullet leaving the suppressed barrel of the rifle gives him a satisfying feeling as the gunner slumps over the large calibre weapon and the chattering fire stops. Using the scope the soldier determines the shot has landed perfectly in the forehead of the target.
Darting up on to the road he ducks behind a burnt-out car and removes his bergen. Rummaging through he pulls out three grenades, laying his rifles propped up on the rucksack, he takes one last look at his objective and spots enemy infantry further along the road - half a mile or so beyond the tank.
Sucking in a deep breath to slow his heart rate as the organ threatens to beat its way out of his chest. He stands. Works his way around the car with the grenades in hand. He runs, for all he is worth, he runs. Towards the bulk of the tank. His fear-heightened senses detect the movement of someone trying to shift the dead gunner out of the turret and he prays for some luck. He asks for some divine intervention as he picks up speed. Up on his toes now, something gives a touch of energy to his exhausted body, the wound on his thigh reopens and he can feel the blood begin seeping through the rough bandage.
He reaches the tank and hears excited shouts from beyond as the enemy infantry spot him.
The group crosses the bridge and they find themselves being roughly handled by men in familiar uniforms with a Union Jack on the upper arm.
"... My boyfriend," she tries to indicate back across the bridge but is ignored and told to "move on" in a gruff Scots voice.
She doesn't give up, she grabs someone with a similar emblem on his shoulder to the man she is trying to help. She screams incoherently in his face.
The man looks puzzled and removes her grip firmly, but gently, and sits her down while he takes a knee in front of her.
"My boyfriend..." she tells him through sobs, "... Same regiment, a Sergeant with you guys, Scottish."
"Wait, a Sergeant? What's his name?"
She tells him. "He's taking on a tank..." and then she breaks down.
"I know 'im, he's been missing, presumed dead. Where?"
She points back over the bridge.
"Thank you, and don't worry, we'll get him back," he stands and runs off, she watches him approach one of the men clearly giving orders.
A heated discussion follows and the same soldier nods and calls men to him as he heads for the bridge. Hope flutters in her chest as she watches a group of the soldiers set off with determined expressions and purposeful strides, towards the enemy.
The shouts of the enemy give a boost to his movements as he springs onto the tank hull and clambers his way to the top.
Bullets ricochet off the hull as he climbs and the sweat drips into his eyes. The climb becomes harder as his grip on the armoured skin slips. His heart is hammering his chest again.
"Almost there," he grits his teeth as he makes one last surge towards the open turret.
Pulling his sidearm, he reaches the top as the body of the gunner is thrust out. He opens fire. Directly into the open hatch, at the same time he pulls the wire connecting all three grenade pins. Another bullet impacts the hull near his foot as he lunges forward and dumps all three of the "pineapples" into the hatch. The clinking of metal lets him know they have reached the tank's main compartment. He slams the hatch cover down and runs back to the burnt out car. Grabbing his gear without much of a pause and he's running again, looking back in time to hear three explosions in quick succession. He keeps running - he knows what's coming next. He looks back again to see enemy infantry on the tank hull trying to open the hatch.
Something crashes into his back knocking the wind from his lungs. Followed by another which knocks him to the ground. He rolls over, now breathless he waits.
The tank explodes completely. The ammo inside cooking off because of the heat from the exploding grenades. It tears apart like a wet paper bag, the shrapnel from the exploding hull shredding anyone unlucky enough to be nearby, into a mess of blood and offal.
The soldier sighs in relief and lays back to rest. He closes his eyes, everything seems so surreal, his heart slows.
"... Sergeant? Fuck me, it's good t' see ye," he feels something skelp his face, "...don't you dare sleep, ye've got some interesting stories for me I'll bet. Now come on, let's get you back."
He feels himself being lifted and dragged by two strong sets of arms. He tries to take some of his own weight but his legs won't work. Just tiredness, he thinks as the gunfire picks up again.
Who has been hit? He wonders.
"Fuck, fuck, fuck!" she sobs as she drags the soldier's dead weight along the road.
A weak groan escapes his lips and through her tears there is a flicker of hope as she spots the hospital sign 150 yards away.
"Please," she begs, "please don't die. We're nearly there. We'll get you help. Don't leave me, not now."
He grunts something.
The power of the refusal gives her the strength to hold him up and push on. Reaching the hospital doors she crashes through.
"Help us, please, help my boyfriend, please, please please," she screams above the bustle of the ER.
Doctors and nurses rush over and within moments he is thrown on a gurney and from nowhere the crash cart appears as they begin CPR.
"... Charge to 150... Clear!"
The shock has no effect.
She screams in horror as the lifeless body shows no response on the monitor.
"... Charge to 200... Clear!"
Another scream and then she blacks out from the terror of another non-responsive shock jerking the inert man on the trolley, the same man, she realises in the moment oblivion takes her, is the man she can't live without.
© Copyright 2017 M K Brown. All rights reserved.
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