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Heart of Purple
Dirt and debris exploded into the sky, backlit by the noontime sun. A hole, blackened by the heat from the GP bomb, dug the grave for tens of soldiers. Coughing and spitting out grit, a young private crawled from her primitive shelter behind a rock outcropping, dragging fallen comrades back into its relative safety.
“General! Five men down!”
“Call da medic.” Burly and barrel-chested, the general added two more men to the group of wounded, setting them gently on the rough earth.
The private opened the sturdy flap of her emergency first aid kit, gazing in despair at the minimal contents. She sighed and dragged the back of her hand across her forehead, smearing grimy sweat over her brows. “Radio com’s down, sir, and I don’t have enough bandages to stop their bleeding.”
“Well…do whutcha can; I’ll look f’more wounded.”
She dressed the worst of the filthy wounds as best she could, using water from their canteens. There was nothing she could do about the colourful bruises—varied like an artist’s palette—and none of the soldiers had any form of painkillers. Bomber planes droned in the sky, and the private thought it best to get her comrades into someplace with more shelter and out of the hot sun.
After a short search, she found a cave dug out of the side of a rocky hill. Years of rain had eaten away the side of the hill and flooded the inside of the nook, creating a sort of den. The private dragged the soldiers as gently as she could into the shelter, making them as comfortable as possible. Their pained groans and cries let her know they were still alive; they didn’t move at all.
She sat outside the entrance of the cave, waiting her superior to return. The sky turned orange, then red and violet. It was a clear twilight, cloudless and muggy. Trees blacked out by the diminishing light made shapeless, black silhouettes against the sky. Planes or people could be hiding, dusky and dangerous as the unpredictable landscape. Mosquitoes started to buzz around, attracted by the enticingly salty fragrance of sweat. A hot breeze ruffled her curls, and twigs snapping behind her made her touch the gun at her hip. “Found two more, Private.” The general knelt and laid the wounded beside the rest. The body in his left arm fell to the ground like a limp doll, rolling to a stop on its side.
Her stomach twisted, violently rejecting the taste her sense of small projected to her brain. The general looked to the horizon, unsympathetic but not insensitive to the young private’s reaction. “Burned ‘is face clean off,” he muttered. The embroidered name tag had been torn free of the green uniform when the ground the soldier had been standing on threw him into the trees.
There was no name to put to the man’s faceless body. The private covered his face with her jacket.
“It’s almost time f’da pick-up. Da chopper’ll be touchin’ down ‘bout a mile east from ‘ere. Grab da wounded ‘n let’s go.”
“I’ll get the dead—”
“No ‘buts’, private! He is dead; he gave his life in the line of duty. Taking him will just weigh you down, and we need all the men we can get to win this war.”
“I’m not leaving him; this is no proper grave for a soldier!” Dropping to her knees, she crawled into the tunnel, ignoring her superior’s angry mumbling. She knew she would be in trouble for it later, but she couldn’t leave him behind. Someone back home was waiting for him, and the private knew the pain and heartbreak from receiving a dead family member. It was worse when there was no body, and the only news was hearsay.
“Private, get outta dere! This whole damn thing’s ‘bout to collapse!” Rubble sprinkled from above her, dusting her shoulders and sliding down the neck of her T-shirt. The dead man was horizontal to the exit. She grabbed his ankles and pulled him, scooting backwards, towards the exit. The general took him from her and guided him out, leaving a sticky trail of coagulating blood in the dirt.
Just as she herself was ready to crawl back into the open air, a piece of colourful paper caught her eye. It was a photograph, where the dead soldier had lain. It must have fallen from one of his pockets, miraculously surviving the blast and short flight. She picked it up carefully, bushing dust from its surface. It showed a handsome, smiling private beside a beaming brunette—presumably his wife—holding a baby girl. He was standing straight and proud, close to the woman and child but seemingly not touching them. The woman’s head was inclined towards him, and she held the child up against her chest and shoulder where she could reach for her papa. Everyone looked so happy and proud, just like a family. “He was so handsome…” It was unfortunate his physical identity was lost in the blast. Flipping it over, there was a date written in black ink but no names. Someone must know them, however, and the private could read his name off his uniform breast pocket. RASSMUSSEN.
“I’m coming!” Folding the photograph into the zippered pocket of her trousers, she became aware of the world rumbling angrily around her. If she didn’t move fast, the cave was liable to simply collapse and bury her alive.
A rock fell to the ground, missing her fingers by inches. Scrambling through the chalky dust, she reached out for the opening blindly. Cool air kissed her palm, then a hot, calloused hand gripped her around the wrist and pulled. She dug her toes into the ground and pushed herself on her belly up through the hole.
High above them, a bomber jet zeroed in on their location and dropped another GP. Waves of heat and debris threw the general over the hole, protecting the private. The unstable cavern ceiling collapsed into itself, crushing the private’s legs and pinning her to the earth.
She could still move—barely. Her legs were trapped beneath pounds of rock and dirt, and no amount of pulling could free her. “Sir, get the wounded to the pick-up point. I’ll dig myself out and meet you there.”
“I’m not leavin’ you behind, soldier.”
“I’ll be fine! It’s just a bit of rubble; I can get myself out in no time.” She pointed to the group of dying and dead soldiers, safe among the trees. “They don’t have that time,” she reasoned.
He said a gruff farewell and made a makeshift stretcher, dragging it behind him.
Once when she was little, the private had wanted a favourite toy from a pile of other, heavier toys. By twisting and turning it, she had managed to pull it free. That seemed like a plan, since she had nothing but her hands to dig with, and she was lying on her stomach. She twisted her shoulders, shifting so they were perpendicular to the ground. When she worked her hips, however, a sudden jolt of excruciating pain shot up her leg straight to her chest, calling a scream to her lips. She bit it back, swallowing the tears threatening to flow over her lower eyelids and staying very still.
She couldn’t dig her way out, levering herself didn’t work, and there was nothing to try pulling herself out. It was completely dark out; the treetops hid any starlight. The air was warm, but she felt cold without her jacket. Crossing her arms, she laid her head down and closed her eyes, giving up on digging herself out.
Crickets and cicadas chirped and serenaded her with their slow, sad song.