Old Soldiers

Zombie or Post Apocalyptic themed fiction/stories.

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DannusMaximus
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Old Soldiers

Post by DannusMaximus » Fri Oct 21, 2016 10:59 pm

The boy crouched next to his grandpa, both of them shivering in the early winter breeze. He had never been so hungry or so scared, exhausted to the point of collapse from the constant running of the last few weeks. A short barreled black carbine was cradled in his thin, filthy hands. He stared with wide, teary eyes at the field beyond the barbed wire fence. A thin wash of snow is falling. He is 6 weeks shy of his 14th birthday.

The old man’s mind was no longer sharp, but his fingers remembered the rifle. It had sat in a forgotten corner of his basement for decades, mostly untouched. An awkward block of wood and steel. Heavy but familiar. Steady. The man peered out at the approaching swarm, bent and scratched glasses perched on the tip of his frostbitten nose. He was well into his 8th decade.

They had run into the pack of shamblers at a small farmhouse just outside Rapid City and had not been able to lose them. The things weren’t fast, but they weren’t slow either, and the family had had been moving on foot nearly nonstop for 8 days, barely able to pause long enough to rummage through an abandoned house for food, or to check a vehicle hoping against hope that they could get it started. Six women, 4 kids and 3 men, slowly being ground down by a lack of food and rest and the increasingly bitter weather, followed by a group of diseased freaks who didn’t need to eat, or sleep, or seek shelter, and who would continue to stumble forward on blood blackened stumps long after their feet had been mashed to hamburger on the frozen ground.

Scant hours before, one of the men who was using a bicycle to scout ahead in a small town had found salvation - - a van with a working battery and fuel in the tank. The starter was fried, but the man had been a shadetree mechanic before the collapse, and he was convinced he could replace it with one from a similar make and model just a few miles down the road. All he needed was a bit of time, a couple of hours at most. A hurried conference had ensued, and the extended family had split into 3 groups. Two would go ahead on the bicycle and start working on the van. Nine would continue towards the town, following the main road and staying in the treeline. The old man and the boy would stay behind and buy time, delaying the shamblers as long as possible before breaking contact and moving back towards the town, also along the main road, counting on being picked up by the van and the rest of the family.

It was a good plan, but it was a cold, calculating plan. The boy would stay behind because he was far and away the fastest person left in the group. Everyone else had some combination of injury or fatigue which left them scarcely more mobile than the stumbling masses following them. The boy had the best chance of outpacing the shamblers and making his way to the rest of the family. And the old man? In the harsh logic of this harsh new world, he was the most expendable, and he knew it. Old and infirm, with a rapidly declining memory, a bad hip, and beset by a laundry list of medical conditions, it was only a matter of time before he was gone anyway. Unsaid was the fact that they shivering lad next to him was his first and favorite grandchild. He had volunteered to stay behind.

There had been hugs, an exchange of worried glances and whispered good luck, and the family had parted. The grandfather and grandson had waited behind until the first straggling figures appeared over a nearby hill, and had then moved perpendicular to the main road, drawing the mass of creatures towards them and away from the town ahead. They moved for a few minutes, then rested for a few minutes, the distance between them and the staggering swarm steadily dwindling. Finally, too winded to move any more, they had crawled under a teetering barbed wire fence and slid into a shallow ditch between two fields, the boy tugging on the exhausted old man and helping prop him up against one of the posts. The two lay on the ground, wordlessly watching the shamblers grow closer, the boy unconsciously edging closer and closer to his grandpa until they were nearly lying on top of each other.

The old man cradled his rifle, aware of his grandson’s proximity. Scared kids did that. They crowded you, wouldn’t listen when you told them to spread out so one shell can’t get everybody. Some primitive instinct he had both practiced and witnessed a long time ago. His grandson had only ever known him as a cheerful, chubby, white-haired old man who spent his days doddering about the house, busying himself with small projects or relaxing in his yard. None of his family had known about the rifle, and even his grown son was bewildered when his father had shown up at his house carrying it after the decision had been made to abandon the overrun city. His wife of 58 years had known about it, he supposed, but had also known enough to not ask, an unspoken agreement to ignore the heavy object sitting wrapped in an old GI blanket tucked into a corner of their basement. Truth be told, on more than one occasion she had gone looking for him in the middle of the night after waking up in an empty, cold bed. She had quietly slipped back up the stairs and to their room the few times she had found him sitting in the dark cellar, holding the rifle and staring at nothing, or crying huge, wracking sobs, shivering in the damp blackness. The next morning would find him whistling happily over a pot of coffee and the morning paper, cheerful as always, the demons satiated, oblivious to what had happened the night before.

“Grandpa. Grandpa?” Hushed words hissed through blue-tinged lips.

The old man turned slightly, rhuemy eyes focusing on the curly haired youth.

“What now, Grandpa?”

“Well, son, we’ll wait a few more minutes. Let them get a little closer. No rush. Corsairs should be on station pretty goddamn quick, we just have to hold ‘em up a little.”

He grabbed the boy’s shoulder and squeezed, smiling warmly at him. The boy was shocked - - he had never heard his grandpa swear before - - but he smiled nervously back, shifting his gaze back across the field. Grandpa got confused sometimes, once had even showed up at their house just wearing his underwear. He loved him, though, loved him for his corny jokes and the twinkle in his eye and the way he always took time to listen, even when his own mom and dad were too absorbed in their own lives to make much time for him. They lay on the ground, shivering, watching the steady march of the rabid crowd across the frozen field.

The old man adjusted his grip on the rifle. It’s just kids isn’t it? Always just a bunch of goddamn kids, and they’re all goddamn dying. He couldn’t even remember how many had died, first at the Naktong river, when he was just a terrified teenage draftee himself, then during the Pusan breakout and the long slog north and the horror show of Kunu-ri. He was a goddamn Staff Sergeant by then, believe that? No genius or hero, his main talent seemed to be that he had managed to not get killed in the preceding weeks. Not that you could tell rank at that point anyway. Dug in on an isolated backslope, bearded, skeleton thin, frostbitten and bundled in filthy rags, he had thrown his jammed, useless carbine down in the freezing mud, grabbing an M-1 from a boy who had been shot through the throat and was too busy drowning in his own blood to object. He had carried it for months, all the way to Bloody Ridge where a Chinese bullet had shattered his hip and ended his war.

Field stripping the rifle and sliding it into his seabag as he was being evacuated onto a medical ship was the easy part. Pencil-whip a form TA-50 and the Garand was officially a ‘combat loss’, the nervous PFC clerk never thinking to question the sunken-eyed Sergeant First Class any further. Decades later, as civilization begins begins grinding to a rapid, wheezing end, a rifle is unwrapped in a basement, covered with dirt from a faraway land and the fingerprints of a dead, terrified boy-soldier. Bright cartridges are loaded into clips, a sling is oiled and snugged tight. Arthritic fingers can still do their tricks, and an enfeebled mind still remembers the mechanics of killing.

More moments passed.

“You remember where you’re supposed to meet your dad at, Toddy? Remember what direction the road is from here?”

“Yeah, grandpa. Back towards that silo,” the boy points.

“That’s right. I’ll let you know when it’s time for us to go, okay? You alright? We won’t be here very long, I promise.”

“That’s a lot of them, grandpa, isn’t it? I’ve never seen that many at once before.”

“It’s a lot of them, Toddy. Seems like it always is, son.” The old man turns away again, pulling his wool cap down further. It is snowing for real now, heavy crystals of ice skidding across the gray sky.

Cold minutes passed. A boy is lying next to him. The boy who he had taken the rifle from, maybe? What was his name? Becker, or maybe Beckham? He should get it back to him. Good kid, no sense in him getting an ass-chewing from some brass for losing his rifle. He must have found another one, the little shit was at least holding tight instead of running away. Fuckit. Worry about matching serial numbers to forms if we get out of this one, you know? Goddamn, that’s a lot of gooks. Slogging forward like they’ve got all the goddamn time in the world. Shit and shit, and shit some more. Well, General Walker says we hold here, we goddamn hold here. The old man raised the rifle to his shoulder and rested bleary eyes on his sights, lining up a shot. Remember to squeeze, not jerk.

“They’re close enough, son…”

Breathe. Aim. Squeeze.

The rifle roars, a blast of flame which instantly vaporized the skim of snow on the ground in front of them. A stumbling figure dropped. Another shot, and another shadowy form tumbles to the dirt. They continue onward, implacable, unconcerned as more fall to the ground, motionless. A growing pile of spent brass sizzles in the frost.

The bolt locks open with a clack and the ping of an ejected clip, and the old man reloads with startling speed. He stops as he shoulders the rifle, glancing sideways at the boy.

“Get that fucking rifle going, private! This isn’t a fucking one-man show! Where’s your grenades?! Set them in front of you like I taught you, you dumb sonofabitch! Won’t be time to go digging in your pockets if the gooks make a run for us!”

The boy reacts in shock, begins to pull the trigger, shots spraying into the crowd, the dirt, the sky. More bodies stack in the field, replaced by endless throngs of grasping shadows.

Over the thunder of the rifle and the chatter of the carbine the old man screams nonsense to people who are not there.

“…Jenkins! Get that goddamn Browning up and running, TODAY motherfucker!”

“…Corporal Davis, get the CO on the horn, tell him we’re ready for that fire mission and it’s going to be danger close!”

“…Smith, take your team south, set up at the end of this defilade, tie in with Baker! I don’t want a single goddamn gook making it around that flank! Move it NOW!”

The boy’s carbine is steaming in the frigid air. He fumbles a reload and begins to cry, undone by the noise and the fear and the man next to him who has turned into a howling stranger with madness in his eyes.

The old man turns towards the boy, soot blackening his wrinkled cheeks.

“Becker! Christ, son, they’re right on top of us, didn’t you see the flares? Fall back! I’ll cover from here, you get back and set up at the secondary. I’ll be right behind you. Do it now!”

The boy stares, deafened and wide-eyed, snot and tears freezing on his cheeks. The old man grabs him by the back of the neck with crushing strength.

“GODDAMMIT BECKER! Are you fucking deaf?! You move your ass back to the lines! That’s a GODDAMN ORDER son, you understand me!!

Something about the boys panicked eyes seemed to jolt the old man awake, and suddenly he is the soft, gentle soul who had taught his grandson to fish and play checkers, watched a toddler catch fireflies in his big back yard. Tears abruptly leaked from old eyes.

“Oh, Todd. My Toddy, I’m so sorry. I’m sorry I yelled at you. I love you kiddo. I love you all. Get to your dad and tell him that I loved you all, okay? You get along now. I’ll be right there. Tell the others not to wait for me, though, okay? I love you. Hurry.” A final squeeze on the shoulder and his grandpa turned away, shouldering the rifle once more, lost in some dark past. It roars in his hands.

The boy looked back once as he ran, looked back as the old man slammed his last clip into the top of the old rifle and blazed away, dropping more of the staggering figures who had nearly reached the fence. He tripped over a stump, falling down hard on his butt, badly spraining his left wrist, then sat, staring through the swirling snow and chill fog. He could barely see as his grandpa crawled under the fence and rushed the swarming wall of infected, swinging the big rifle like a baseball bat. He was shouting something the boy couldn’t hear, then was lost in a pile of clutching monsters. The boy stood up, hesitated, then ran back towards the town, the cold air screaming in and out of his raw throat, and the words of his grandfather burning in his ears.

THE END...
Holmes: "You have arms, I suppose?
Watson: "Yes, I thought it as well to take them."
Holmes: "Most certainly! Keep your revolver near you night and day, and never relax your precautions..."

- The Hound of the Baskervilles

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Re: Old Soldiers

Post by Halfapint » Sat Oct 22, 2016 12:07 pm

Hot damn! That was a fantastic short! Great writing, fantastic characters, and you brought the horrors of the old war into modern time. Thanks!
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Re: Old Soldiers

Post by TacAir » Sat Oct 22, 2016 2:58 pm

I can only say - well done. Brought tears to my eyes.

Thanks for sharing.
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Re: Old Soldiers

Post by raptor » Sat Oct 22, 2016 4:40 pm

Excellent. Well written.

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Re: Old Soldiers

Post by 91Eunozs » Sat Oct 22, 2016 5:09 pm

Great, great short story... Engaging and poignant.
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Re: Old Soldiers

Post by Stercutus » Sat Oct 22, 2016 5:26 pm

Me like very much.
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be rememberèd—
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother

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Re: Old Soldiers

Post by majorhavoc » Sat Oct 22, 2016 7:57 pm

Efficient and evocative writing. And a compact, moving tale. Well done!

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Re: Old Soldiers

Post by DannusMaximus » Sat Oct 22, 2016 10:56 pm

Thanks for the kind words, folks! Glad you enjoyed it! My stories tend towards the depressing, but I was caught up in the notion of an old soldier fighting one last good fight, so it's maybe not as depressing as it seems at first blush.

Thanks again!
Holmes: "You have arms, I suppose?
Watson: "Yes, I thought it as well to take them."
Holmes: "Most certainly! Keep your revolver near you night and day, and never relax your precautions..."

- The Hound of the Baskervilles

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Re: Old Soldiers

Post by naanders94gt » Sun Oct 23, 2016 7:15 am

Really really good. Got me choked up for various reasons. Thanks for writing this one. I really enjoyed it.

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Re: Old Soldiers

Post by Spazzy » Mon Oct 24, 2016 9:22 am

I can seriously picture my uncle in that roll, except his language would be a lot more colorful.

Good read!
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Re: Old Soldiers

Post by wamba » Fri Dec 30, 2016 3:14 pm

Man it got dusty in here. :cry:

Excellent example of a short story sir.
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Re: Old Soldiers

Post by guntech59 » Thu Jan 12, 2017 2:02 pm

Great story.......thank you.

Reminded me of my father. :cry:

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Re: Old Soldiers

Post by by-the-throat » Thu Aug 31, 2017 9:37 am

Great work, DM, as usual.
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Re: Old Soldiers

Post by 2T2-Crash » Fri Sep 01, 2017 2:03 pm

WOW!
I absolutely loved it.

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Re: Old Soldiers

Post by bodyparts » Fri Sep 01, 2017 8:50 pm

WOW! that was amazing . quite likely the fastest i have become invested in a story !

thank you very much for sharing .

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Re: Old Soldiers

Post by Halfapint » Sat Sep 02, 2017 1:28 am

Thanks for bumping this. Read it again, do damn good!
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