Two shells in the shotgun, and five rounds for the rifle. How many men would come down the trail, no one knew, and maybe they wouldn’t come this way at all. But we expected the main force to hit us head on, at the camp, and a smaller group to try to sneak around the back. My mission was to guard this path that led to the farm, and I thought they put me here because I was older, less useful in the attack up front, and the only man in the camp not a veteran of at least one firefight. At a minimum, I would make enough noise to let everyone know there was company coming. Yet it was hoped there would be bloodshed, and not all of it mine.
Deer, maybe a racoon. That noise, the sound of leaves being crushed underfoot. Loud in the early morning stillness, the sun now above the horizon, the silence of the day just being violated. A tree branch fell to my left, and distinctly someone whispered, “What the fuck was that?”
I saw a spider crawling up the stem of the bush in front of me. It was a small, tiny, and slow moving thing, and the smell of crushed greenery wafted in. They had come in slow, without a sound; my heart pounded. In front of me, close, and they too, were waiting. I knew they would rush forward as soon as the shooting started. I eased the shotgun barrel forward and became part of the woods. I felt sweat flowing like tears. I felt small, and helpless, and scared.
Twenty feet of light underbrush would mean nothing to the stainless steel ball bearings loaded into the shells. Finger off the trigger, finger off the trigger, wait, wait, wait.
The sound of the rifle fire crackled, two hundred yards behind me, and this was the moment we would live or we would die. The men rushed forward, suddenly, and one of them saw me, too late, he stopped, halting the men behind him, and both barrels of the shotgun erupted in fire and smoke. Screaming, screaming, screaming, falling bodies, wild shots, and smoke.
“Aim low,” Billy told me, “knock’em down, make’em bleed bad, and they’ll be useless in a fight, and somebody’ll have to carry’em, after that, you got five rounds, no more, make it count, Mike, close the backdoor.”
I was the only man between the camp and the raiders coming in from the back. If they got past me, there was nothing.
Two bullets made a frying sound by my left ear, close enough for me to feel the warm breath of the Gods of War. I pulled the rifle up, another bullet whizzed by, but men were down, screaming, screaming, I sighted and there was only one shooting back, wildly now, panic taking over. He saw the rifle and his eyes opened wide.
The man jerked hard as the first round caught up just below his throat, and he threw his hands up, as if he might undo the damaged flesh. A man got up, limping hard, trying to run, and the second round caught him in the back at the waistline. He screamed, screamed, and kept screaming. Other men were yelling, “How many of them? Where are they? Jesus Christ, we’re surrounded!” and for some reason, they thought the sounds of gunfire from the camp, echoing through the woods, were coming from all directions. Another broke and ran, dragging a body behind him. My next shot caught in him in the right eye as he turned to fire, and the top of his head exploded like a fountain. That was enough. Two men threw their weapons down leaving me with the injured and dying. I stood and fired. Pop! Pop! Both men went down hard.
“Don’t get your ass up for nothin’,” Billy told me. “We lose the front, stay down, make a run for it. You go south, move at night, take care of yourself best you can. We hold, if’n we do, and we’ll come get you. There’s be a party after we bury the dead.”
I waited. The screaming stopped. The shooting stopped, but who won? Who would come down the trail to get me. Five feet away a rifle lay on the ground so I inched forward, grabbed it, and checked. Ten rounds in the magazine, one in the chamber. The former owner started at me with the half open eyes of a dead man, the first I had ever killed. He looked past me into the void.
“Mike!” It was Salman, the foreign guy who had moved to America a few years ago. He was good with guns, and I looked over my shoulder at him and grinned.
“Sal, we win?” I asked.
“Yes we win. What you think?” Sal crouched down. “How many get away, Mike? You make a mess in the woods. I tell Billy you messy.”
“None got away, none got past me. We lose anybody?” I asked as Sal handed me a cigarette.
“We lose men, Billy’s brother Hank. And new guy, odd name. Bubbles. Wounded gonna die.”
“Bubba,” and I actually laughed. I looked up and saw a woodpecker fly over, glorious and huge.
“Let’s get the guns, go back and see what happens now, okay?” Sal said and he helped me stand up. “Billy tell me, ‘We put Mike on the back, nobody live, nobody get past.”
Wrex pawed at my face, waking me up. I sat up and smelled blood and gunpowder.
But I held the line before I came out.
The night was locked in clouds, a light mist, no moonlight, no stars, and I could walked to the place on the trail from here, in the darkness and it felt real, as if the bodies would still be there.
Breakfast felt odd, too much light showing, they would see me. The dogs whined, went in and out, as if they sensed the veil had been strained, the dreamworld and this one had gotten too close to being in the same time. I was a vet in that world, and I would miss the party. Billy, Sal, and the guys who I had drank with a few days before the fight. Bubba was dead. His wife, two kids. Billy brother, I can’t remember his name now. Quiet man, reliable, it ran in the family.
It fought me. I went to Yoga class and was dizzy, I stumbled a couple of time, this reality isn’t holding, the other cannot.
This is the explanation of a dream, if that was what it was. What about the other side? Are they used to people just disappearing? Did I? Am I still there, drinking to our fallen, secure in a place I helped defend, or is it gone, all gone, forever?