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A Soldier's Strength

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Ambushed. As the bullets flew by, I looked around and saw my comrades falling in masses all around me, the howling Russian wind smothering their cries. We were surrounded, and our numbers were rapidly dwindling. I couldn’t think of anything to do other than drop quickly and throw myself into the snow and hope the storm would provide adequate camouflage. I pulled my locket out that I kept next to my heart and kissed it, praying that I’d be safe.
I waited with horrid anticipation of my capture, trying vigorously to remain hidden from our attackers. Operation Barbarossa was turning out to be a disaster. As the storm began to die down and when the bullets had subsided, I slowly picked my head up and glanced around at the silent array of bodies scattered in the blood stained tundra. There was no sign of our attackers. I shook the snow off and pushed myself up with trembling arms. I scuffled through the remnants of our ranks with no directive, just with an apprehensive hope of discovering more survivors. While I continued to slide through the bodies, scanning with dead eyes, I heard a faint voice through the winds. I called out to him, and was answered with groans and pants. I followed the sounds leading away from main cluster of bodies. Looking down, I noticed a thick crimson trail leading towards the voice. As I got closer, I could see his face. It was Klaus. Blood was spilling out of his leg. The piercing grimace in his eyes was unnerving. I could almost feel his pain. I lifted him up and helped him walk to a tree which I propped him up against, along with my sniper rifle, and, with what little medical experience I had, started treating his wound. Luckily, the bullet had penetrated straight through his leg without hitting the bone, but there was still severe muscle damage. “Can you walk?” I asked urgently, tearing a piece of my coat and tying it around his wound. He nodded with a sharp wince. “Good. We don’t have much time before this weather becomes unbearable. Unless you want to continue our suicide mission, I suggest we get our asses out of this godforsaken country.”

“Yeah, I hear you, Bastion,” Klaus panted. I grabbed my sniper as Klaus struggled to his feet, cringing with each subtle movement. As I waited for him, I started scanning the area around us, trying to determine which direction the evacuation area was. It was much too easy to get lost in this snow for my liking. As my eyes adjusted to the conditions, I noticed two figures approaching our position. Promptly, I raised my scope to my eye and my vision penetrated through the thick white abyss accordingly. My heart pounded as I tried to steady my cold, trembling hands. I heaved a sigh of relief when I recognized Heimlich and Mikael’s flustered faces. I flashed them our regiment’s hand signs to signal that we were friendly soldiers, and they continued making their way to us.

“Are there any other survivors?” was my first question when they arrived.

“None. Everyone is dead,” Mikael answered calmly. Mikael was our party’s second commanding officer. He could keep his cool in situations like this. He knew how to play his role. The other man with him, Heimlich, on the other hand, was a simple trainee. He just sat solemnly with terror in his eyes. This was his first real mission. He was a child for God’s sake! Only 17 years old!

“Are the two of you injured? I’ve already treated Klaus’ wound. We need to get to the evac site as soon as possible. I’m not sure how long any of us can survive after this weather gets hold of us,” I said pressingly.

“I agree. We need to leave now. We don’t know if those damned Russian dogs are gonna’ come back for leftovers,” Mikael snarled. He gave a spiteful spit accompanied by a menacing glare.

“Is he going to be okay?” I questioned, motioning towards Heimlich, whose expression hadn’t changed since I’d first seen his face through my scope. He simply sat in silence, with one hand clutching a scrap of paper and the other clenched into a fist by his side, shaking furiously.

“Well he sure as hell better be,” Mikael snapped, shooting a malicious stare at Heimlich. Heimlich didn’t seem to acknowledge him. “We don’t want him to be a burden to us. On your feet, Private.”

“Y-yes sir,” Heimlich stammered.

“You too, Klaus. We need to get going. Mikael, do you know which way the evac site is?” I asked, pulling Klaus off the ground.

“Yeah, the shortest way is through those woods,” he answered, pointing to the thick mass of spined giants. They looked rather unsettling, but at least they could shield us from the glacial battery we’d been assuming from the snow.

I was wrong. Shortly after the four of us had begun our excursion into the immense garden of bristled behemoths, Mother Russia began her assault, assailing us with a merciless blizzard. With our hindered sense of direction through the impenetrable wall of white, and the vivacious winds whipping at our faces, impeding our progress, we had no other alternative other than to set up camp.
Soon, the night engulfed us, and so too did the chilling Russian winter. As the four of us sat by the fire, huddled close, our rosy pigment slowly transitioned to an eerie pale blue while we shivered and trembled in unison. It was evident we wouldn’t survive another night like this, if we even survived this one.Not a word was spoken that night, but I knew we were all thinking the same thing.
Before we retired for the night in our separate cots, I had to customarily wish my family goodnight. I dug under my layers of clothing and withdrew the locket that was pressed safely against my heart. I opened it as usual to the comforting and enlivening faces of my twins’, Jonas and Daniela’s, pink faces pressed gently against my wife’s. Each face was painted with a warm smile and spirited with hope and strength. It was the last picture I had of them before I left for the war. I longed to hold my children again and see them play. I can’t believe they’re already six. I’ve already missed their fifth birthday. My wife wrote to me about them all the time, so often, in fact, that my footlocker was primarily used for her letters. She told me how Jonas used to stomp around the house bare-ass naked, twirling his dirty diaper above his head pretending to be a helicopter, and how Daniela stood and cried as splashes of urine and feces blemished her dolls. She demanded my return so I could potty train him immediately. I chuckle to myself every time I think of it. They’ll be starting school soon. My wife ensured me that Jonas is very bright for his age, and to disregard anything she may have written me illustrating otherwise. I couldn’t help but to think of his helicopter impersonation once more and chuckle. I kissed the picture and placed the locket back under my clothes against my heart. I fell asleep peacefully that night, smiling with my teeth chattering, and making helicopter noises.
I awoke around dawn to the savage snarl of bloodthirsty wolves and the distressed screams of my comrades. “Bastion! Ughh! Do something! Wolves! Gahhh! Mikael! Two! Urgh!” Klaus screamed at me while in a heated struggle with a large, grey wolf looming above him, its jaws clenched around his forearm. I looked around for Heimlich and Mikael. Heimlich was fairly close, but he was in a completely frantic frenzy, bloodied and scarred, as a wolf, whose coat would have been a pure, beautiful white had it not been stained with Heimlich’s blood, snapped playfully, yet dangerously at him. Heimlich had completely lost control and kept attempting to crawl away. The wolf was simply toying with him, nipping at his heels and pulling him back. Mikael was a few meters behind him, with two massive, black wolves tearing viciously at his body. The snow around him was blanketed with blood, and I could note very little movement from him. I instinctively turned around to grab my pistol; unfortunately, I rolled over directly to a grey and white wolf, staring at me with murderous intent. I watched it size me up, as saliva dripped from its concaved lips which portrayed its bloodcurdling teeth. I remained poised throughout the encounter, however, and once it lunged at me, I swung my right fist around and met the wolf’s skull in the air, sending it tumbling a few feet in the opposite direction. Far enough, at least, to reach my pistol, turn, and put two shots through its throat before it could spring its second assault. It let out a gargled whimper as it fell lifeless to the snow. I quickly stood up and ran towards Mikael, firing a few shots in his direction, being mindful not to hit him. I was successful in driving the remaining four wolves away, but not without a loss. Although, Klaus and Heimlich suffered only minor impalements and lacerations, Mikael laid helpless in the snow, surrounded by his own innards, which the wolves had torn from his stomach. He was dead, but he held an ominous countenance. One that you wouldn’t expect someone who perished as he had would carry. It wasn’t of fright or pain, but rather of a keen sadness or pity. It was as if during that moment, before he died, he witnessed the outcome of our journey, as if he witnessed our fates. “Let’s go…” I said dismally, but executively, turning back to the campsite to get the gear and weapons, including Mikael’s compass and map to the evacuation zone. Heimlich was still trembling with terror by the time we started moving again, clenching that same folded piece of paper tightly in one of his hands.
We must have been in God’s favor since we neared the end of the forest and came within a single mile of our destination with no other hindrances, disregarding the ever-below-freezing temperature and unrelenting wind.“Guys… wait up. I need to take a break. I’m tired as hell,” Heimlich said, panting. He was a good ten yards behind us, dragging himself lifelessly ahead.
“No, Heimlich. We don’t have time. We need to keep going,” I ordered. I was mostly concerned for Klaus’ wound. I wasn’t completely aware of its severity. Klaus wasn’t the type to complain about anything. If something was bothering him, he wouldn’t show any sign of it. He was strong like that.
“I-I can’t, Bastion. I’m too… too tired,” Heimlich responded, collapsing against a tree, catching his breath.
“Damn it, Heimlich! You have two minutes,” I scowled. “I’m counting. Klaus, you can stop. We’re taking a short rest.”
“Yeah, yeah. I just want to check out the clearing ahead. Catch up when the kid has had his nap time,” Klaus joked, hobbling onward.
“Hah, you got it Klaus. Twenty seconds, Heimlich,” I informed him. I sat down on a snow-covered log, enjoying the rest I’d been deploring. I closed my eyes and listened to wind as it lashed at the trees above me. It was surprisingly soothing. I had nearly escaped to serenity, but my tranquility was interrupted by a crumpling of papers. I opened my eyes and looked over to Heimlich. He was sitting against the tree with a note in his hands; the same note he had clenched in his hand earlier. This time, however, he was trembling ferociously as tears filled his eyes and rolled down his face. I can only assume it was a letter from home. Although I did feel sympathy for him, I needed him to be strong. “Ten seconds, Heimlich.”
“Y-yeah. I hear you,” he said, wiping his eyes and folding his note back up.
“Nine. Eight. Seven. Six. Five. Four. Thr-,” I counted, before being interrupted by frantic screams. It was Klaus, hobbling back from the forest’s edge.
“Bastion! Hide! Enem-,” Klaus began. He was silenced by a roaring gunshot that ripped through the quietness and echoed throughout the forest. It was followed shortly by a large .50 caliber bullet that spiraled into the back of his skull and tore out the front, right between his eyes. I watched with inexhaustible horror as Klaus’ headless body crumbled to its knees. The ground around him was littered with chunks of his skull and brain.
I grabbed my sniper and sprinted back towards Heimlich, who was vomiting profusely, and pulled him to cover around the tree. “WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED?! I THOUGHT WE WERE GONNA’ BE SAFE! NOW WE’RE BOTH GONNA’ DIE! JUST LIKE KLAUS!” Heimlich wailed.
“Quiet!” I shouted. “Calm down, Heimlich. We’re gonna’ make it. Just follow me, and do exactly as I tell you. Can you do that?”
“DEAD! THIS IS IT! THE END! DIE! DIE! OHH HO HO, WE’RE GOING TO DIEEEE!” Heimlich began to sob. His tears ran down his face and met the snot from his dripping nose. The mixture quickly frosted over on his face, leaving crystallized patches of gunk that were only exacerbated as he smeared it upon trying to wipe it away.
“HEIMLICH! SILENCE YOURSELF!” My cry was answered with cooperation. “We are not going to die out here, but we have to move, and move quickly. Do as I tell you, and I’ll get you out of here. Got it?” I repeated myself.
“What? Yeah, yeah.Sorry. Yeah, I can do that.”
“Good, let’s go.” I laid down on my stomach. Heimlich obediently mimicked me. We crawled ahead towards the tree line, advancing slowly and cautiously. I took extra caution not to lead us towards the section of the forest Klaus exited from. I was certain that the gunman would be attentive of that spot. As we neared the tree line, I drew out my sniper and stared through my scope, searching the barren flat ahead, and hunting for Klaus’ killer. There. I found him. There was a single sniper lookout tower. I continued to analyze the image in my lens. I could only spot two snipers. One was in the tower, and one was at the base on the tower. There was no other activity around them. They had a 360 degree view of the area, however, so I presumed they acted as a stationary scouting unit. I had to assume they already radioed about Klaus to their base camp. Russian reinforcements may very well have already been on their way. We didn’t have time to go around. Our only option for survival was to eliminate the snipers. I checked the ammo in my gun. I only had three shots left, and this was my only clip. I had lost the rest of them during the ambush. The snipers we were up against were no pushovers, either. They hit Klaus from at least 400 meters, through the wind and snow.
I was contemplating how I could take them both out without being spotted for quite some time before finally developing a plan. I turned to look at Heimlich, and his eyes were already fixed on mine. They were filled with dread and sadness, and sought guidance. “Well, Bastion…?”
“Heimlich,” I sighed, “there are two snipers about 400 meters ahead. There’s no way to sneak around them. I need you to give me some distracting fire go I can take them both out without being spotted.”
“What?! Are you crazy?! You’re going to get me killed! No way!”
“Heimlich, this is the only thing I can think of. You need to trust me. I won’t let you die.”
“Even if this works, I only have half a drum left in my gun. What if there are more Russians after this?”
“First we have to make it past these snipers. We’ll worry about that if it comes to it. The only way we can survive right now is to go straight through. There’s no time to sneak all the way around them. I need you to be strong here, Heimlich. You can save us.”
“I… Damn it, Bastion. Alright, fine. I’ll distract them.”
“Thanks, Heimlich. I won’t let you die, I promise. Do you see that rock about ten meters out to the right? That should cover you well enough. On my mark, I want you to haul ass fast as you can and just start spraying bullets on the bastards when you get there,” I told him, as I attached my silencer barrel onto my sniper. Heimlich nodded in acknowledgement.
Once my silencer was confidingly attached, I looked at Heimlich with great hope and trust, and motioned him to go. He eased up, and crept to the edge of the forest, and without any hesitation, jolted to the boulder and began unleashing wave upon wave of bullets towards the tower. Through my scope I could see the two snipers take aim on Heimlich’s position. It was my turn to fulfill my obligations. I steadied my hands and vision and positioned my cross-hairs to act accordingly with the wind. I squeezed the trigger and watched the sniper on the ground flinch with pain through my scope. Blood spewed out of his head as he collapsed into the snow. One down. Heimlich continued his bombardment while I repositioned my cross-hairs. My finger tensed on the sensitive trigger. I fired my bullet into the wind and watched it as it enacted its glorious dance into the sniper’s skull. Two down. I stood up and emerged from the forest and walked towards Heimlich, who kept firing until the distinguished click of an empty gun rang in his ears. He turned around to look for me with concern in his eyes, and was met by my smile of childish pride. We were still alive.
An hour of leisurely trekking through the painstaking conditions halted us at the bank of a frozen lake, however, in high spirits and with great optimism. I looked at Heimlich, and he nodded with complete understanding. He knew I what I was about tell him. The harsh and brutal night was coming quickly, and we didn’t have time to find an easier route across the lake. We had to walk across. I volunteered to take the lead and find a safe path across. Before stepping onto the ice, however, I reached under my clothes and pulled my locket out and kissed the picture inside gently. My optimism had completely abandoned me. Something about this sat uneasily with me. I could almost sense my own doom out on this lake. Then, I looked once more at the picture in my locket. I removed all doubt from my mind. “I had to survive. I had to get home.My wife and kids are waiting for me. Daniela has the most incredible singing voice. Even though she’s only six, she sings "Itsy Bitsy Spider" with remarkable skill. Her choreography for it is astonishing in itself. It’s so graceful and poetic. She truly is amazing. My beautiful girl... I need to be there for her first prom. She’ll look gorgeous. She’ll need me there when some jerk breaks her heart. My wife says she’s already got four boys from the daycare chasing after her. I think I need to meet these boys... Apparently, Jonas just sits by himself at daycare eating the putty and crayons… Happy as hell. *Sigh*. That boy. As long as he’s happy I guess. Oh,Jonas, he may never even learn how to use a toilet! I can’t leave my wife with that. And I can’t leave him in a house with just two women. I need to raise that boy to be a man. I need to make it home,” I thought to myself.
I slowly edged across the ice, feeling it groan and writhe under my feet. Heimlich followed closely behind. We gradually progressed across the lake, being mindful of soft spots in the ice. It wasn’t until about three-fourths of the way across that catastrophe greeted us. I can only imagine Heimlich became a little impatient and eager to reach the other side and quickened his step, because the ice around him shattered abruptly and he plummeted into the icy hell below. I turned to him quickly to see him flailing about in the isolated ring of torment. I dropped to my stomach and reached my hand out to him to pull him out. When he grabbed my hand, chills were sent racing through my entire body and it reactively shivered. By the time I had pulled him out, he had already been completely submerged several times. Disregarding any sense of safety or order, we ran across the remainder of the ice, and threw ourselves onto the bank. Heimlich was trembling fiercely in my arms. His skin was already fading to a dark blue. His entire body was shutting down on him.
“B-B-B-B-Bast-t-tion,” he stammered.
“Yeah, I’m here, Heimlich,” I answered, as tears engulfed my eyes. I knew there was no helping him now. He was in that water for too long.
“T-t-t-t-take th-th-this.Giveeee it t-t-to my m-m-m-m-mommmm,” he said, raising up his note in his trembling hand. “I d-don’t think-k-k-k-k I’m gonna’ m-m-make it-t-t-t-t. We a-a-almost-t-t-t m-made it-t-t though, d-d-didn’t-t-t w-we? W-was I a-a-a burden-n-n-n, B-B-B-Bastion?”
“No, Heimlich. Of course not. You were excellent. You’ve earned your rest, kid. Rest as long as you want,” I cried.
“G-good... I am pr-pr-pretty t-t-tired,” he said fading away. I closed his eyes and took the note from his frozen hands. I opened to read it as I wiped away my tears, and this is what it read:
Dear Mama,
If you’re readin this, then I’m sorry. I’m not gonna be comin home. I’m sorry I won’t be there for you. I do love you though, Mama. I wish I coulda come home to see you one last time. I really wanted to see you and Little Oscar again. I’ve missed you, Mama. I wanted to thank you for writin me all them letters. They kept me sane this whole time. Tell Little Oscar his big brother is sorry for leaving him and not teaching him how to play the drums. I really wanted to, Mama. I swear. Oh, and tell Hanna I’m sorry that I won’t be coming back too. Make sure you tell her I love her though. Tell her I planned on marryin her once this war was over, Mama. Uh-oh. I gotta go, Mama. We’re about to leave. I love you, Mama.






Your son,







Heimlich
I folded his letter up and placed it safely inside my locket. I was going to be sure to carry out Heimlich’s dying wish. He deserved that, at least. The evac zone was a mere ten minute walk from the lake. He was so close. It wasn’t fair. He was just a child. It wasn’t fair.
I reached the evac zone shortly after leaving Heimlich. There was a note on the back of Mikael’s map saying to set off the green flare, that could be found in one of the hollowed out tree stumps, once you reach the evac zone for immediate response. I located the flare with little difficulty, and after launching it successfully, sat my battered and exhausted body under a large, sturdy tree. Twenty minutes passed by and I clung to my locket, fighting the pessimism with the hopes of seeing my family again. After thirty minutes passed without any response from the evac team, I abandoned hope and said my goodbyes to my family, short and sweet, and embraced my frozen tomb. I closed my eyes and slowly drifted off, listening to howling wind as it lashed at the trees above.
I was engulfed in crude blackness. I was ready to accept my death and eternal darkness, but there was a little sliver a light glimmering in my eye. It was an annoying little bastard. It wouldn’t let me be content in just drifting away. I reached out and walked toward it. As I neared the light, I realized it was actually my locket, and it was illuminating with its own light. “Of course... How selfish and naïve could I have been? How could I simply accept dying? My family is waiting for me. I need… I need to get back to them. They need me. Jonas and Daniela… They need their daddy. They’ll give me the strength. I’m not going to die here. I’m not going to die.” I pried my locket open and streams of light erupted out of it, blanketing the darkness with promising and reassuring light.
The brightness was overwhelming. My eyes eventually adjusted, and I found myself in a hospital bed, back in Germany. The evac team had found me after all. I looked around the room and saw my wife asleep across the room in a chair. When I moved my hands, I felt the locket in one of them, and looked down and saw two beautiful children holding firmly onto the fingers of my other hand. My two beautiful children. They were nestled together in a chair right next to my bed, sound asleep. I sat up in my bed and reached over and plucked them both out of the chair. I put them on my bed, and hugged them tightly. I nearly started to cry when I felt the diaper through Jonas’ little jeans.




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PrometheusThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Nov. 23, 2012 at 11:12 am:
Well thanks for the nightmares. Ha.  At least the nightmares will be vivid and well-written :)  Good narrative.  Reminds me of band of brothers.  Haunting. Disturbing.  Just like every war story.
 
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bulby545This teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. said...
Nov. 23, 2012 at 10:44 am:
NEAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
 
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