War’s End (A Chuck Wendig Challenge)

Posted: April 23, 2015 in Fiction
Tags: , ,

This week’s challenge was to take an opening line crafted by someone else and create a story out of it. I went with divanyl66’s line.

I decided to experiment with voice and tense a bit here, and will be the first to admit it might not work fully.

War’s End

The war has been over for months, they tell me, though nobody bothered to pass us that memo. We’ve been out here for years, sitting in the ruins of the world, stationed out here on what we consider the front. We exchange fire like Valentines with the enemy, making sure to give out as much as we receive. Our hearts aren’t in it anymore, if they ever were, and we all want it to end. But we’re all afraid.

What will we do when it’s over?

Liddel sneaks out after dusk, slinking from crater to rubble mound, no more substance to him than a shadow. He slinks into the blasted no man’s land between the armies, armed with his rifle and a long, serrated hunting knife he calls Bella. He smears himself with muck before he heads out, crude camoflauge against the other scavengers out there. Some of them are the enemy come daylight. Some of them are allies. Out there though, where a can of dog food is a precious commodity? There are no friends, especially when the supplies stopped coming.

I have last watch before dawn, my rifle heavy in my hands, and my eyelids ike lead weights. I stare out into the darkness, straining my ears for the sucking sound of a boot pulling free from mud, of a safety being disengaged before the bullet is discharged. Somehow, I still miss Liddel coming back. Sure, he knows where our crude alarms are, empty cans strung on strings and broken glass strewn on the ground, but it is eerie how he’s always able to come back without us ever knowing he’s gone. The knapsack hanging from his shoulder, empty when he left our camp, bulges with promise.

“How is it out there?”

Liddel shakes his head, and that’s when I notice the blood srayed across the tatters of his uniform.

“You’re hurt? Let me get Doc.”

Liddel shakes his head again, holds a finger to lips perpetually chapped and peeling. “Not mine,” he replies in his hoarse whisper. I’ve never heard him speak loudly, not even when he caught a round in the shoulder and Doc had to pry it out with the tip of a knife.

“It’s bad out there. Getting worse.” He stares toward the east, at the sun coming up and setting the horizon on fire. “I killed two scavengers.”

“Ours or theirs?”

Liddel shrugs and reaches into his knapsack, producing a crumbled packet of smokes. “Does it matter?”

MacKenzie joins us, slipping out from comfort of the half-collapsed house we’ve taken refuge in. The faded stripes on his jacket tell of the authority he used to have. His gray hair and the lines carved into his face tell of the authority hes’s taken on.

“You all right?” His gray eyes are on Liddel.

Liddel’s lips turn up in a smile. “No worse than I ever am. Blood’s not mine.”

MacKenzie licks parched lips. “Good. Get inside and get some rest. Sharp says an attack’s comng today.”

I blink, grabbing my rifle tighter. “Is he sure?”

MacKenzie gives me a look like I should know better and follows Liddel back into shelter. I should know better. Sharp hasn’t been wrong yet.

Fi places her hand on my shoulder. I nearly clock her with the stock of the rifle before I realize who it is.

“Easy there,” she says, hands up at her shoulders. Fi might have been pretty once, before the war, but now her face has the same hard edges and sunken features as the rest of us. “MacKenzie says to get some rest. He tell you what Sharp said?”

I nod. “He wants us to move?”

Fi shakes her head. “Not this time. He seems to think this is a good spot.” She spits on the ground and smiles. “Not sure why though. Go on, we set some food aside for you.”

“Thanks.”

She shrugs and turns to scan the horizon. We’ve got a nice clear kill zone set up, and with the sun coming up, there’s nobody going to be sneaking up on us. There are other makeshift fortifications to the right and left of us. Sometimes MacKenzie sends one of us scampering over there, see if they are still there. See if there is any word.

Stumbling into the shelter, it takes my eyes a bit to adjust to the darkness. The rest of the squad shifts, eyeing me, before turning back to what they were doing. MacKenzie is reading a book, Sharp is in the corner, rocking back and forth, and Doc is checking after Liddel. That’s all there is, all that’s left of us after months of fighting.

“That for me?” I point to the plate on the table. I don’t recognize what’s on it, but figure it’s probably dog food. Liddel hasn’t been finding much more than that recently.

“Yeah,” Liddel responds. “Sorry it’s not more appetizing.”

I pour myself a shot from the still we set up in the corner.

“Sure that’s a good idea?” MacKenzie looks at me from over his book. His lips turn down in a disapproving frown more suited to a classroom than a battlefield.

“I’m allowed my ration, aren’t I? We aren’t so far gone as all that, right?”

“I’m not stopping you. Thought you might be more concerned with the fight coming up.”

Sharp looks up. “One last push before the end. One more last push. One more. One.”

“Uh-huh. It’ll help all this go down though, right? Besides, you telling me you haven’t taken your ration yet?”

MacKenzie looks away, goes back to his book.

“That’s what I thought.” I try hard to not think about what I’m eating, but it’s not easy. Still, hunger is an awesome spice, and my stomach’s been growling for hours.

I’m spooning the last of the slop off the plate and into my mouth when we hear rifle shots from outside, hear Fi shouting. We’re all out the door in nothing flat. None of us want to be caught inside once the fighting starts. A single grenade in an enclosed space like this will turn us all into so much chunky salsa.

Coming out, keeping my head down, I spot figures moving through the kill zone, running hard toward us. Rifle goes up to my shoulder and I’m pulling the trigger. Training takes over, and short controlled bursts rock the stock against my shoulder. The enemy advance slows, their bullets digging into the entrenchments around us. Sharp breaks out his sling, a makeshift weapon of rubber tubing and copper pipes, and sends a few grenades out into the enemy.

We see them pulling back, a ragged cheer erupting. I turn to talk to MacKenzie, but his face has gone ashen, staring up at the sky.

I follow his gaze, and feel my stomach tighten into a cold ball of panic. Long flat shapes winging through the sky. We haven’t seen air power from either side in a long time, and these look like the enemy’s craft. Their long, low buzz sounds like a million bee hives.

Somehow, inexplicably, bombs begin dropping from the aircraft, impacting among the enemy ranks.

“They’re bombing their own people? That doesn’t make any sense.” I shade my eyes with my hand, studying the horizon, but I know I’m right. I watch as bodies get flung into the air like so many toys.

“Maybe it’s a mistake,” Fi says. “We shouldn’t complain though.”

That’s when we hear the sound of aircraft approaching our position. The markings are for our side. And the bombs begin falling on our positions.

We’d refused to die in all this time, and neither side wanted to take us back. We were no longer civilized. No longer needed. And this was how they’d dispose of us.

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Comments
  1. That was really good. I thought you did the first person voice really well. It sounded just like me so it must be good. 😀

    Yes, well … moving right along.

    Your descriptions were excellent and I ‘saw’ the scenes as you told them. The bombing was a really good twist. I didn’t see that coming but it was an excellent finish. The chunky salsa sentence was a bit jarring and seemed out of place, but that’s just me. I like the way you write. It’s inventive, fresh, and interesting.

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