Smokin' Ashes

Desperate for rest, I call the troops to a halt for the night. Sliding my back down the side of a tree, my body hits the ground in an exhausted heap. I adjust myself to find comfort among the roots protruding from the ground that stick in my backside. Showers of rain drops off the leaves with the coming gusts of wind. Onto my head they fall, the soft tings of the drops bounce off my helmet as I lay it down beside me. Beginning to dampen, I slick back my dark brown hair, causing dandruff to flake off and fall into the dirt. Today was a long day, the troops and I had an encounter with a small army of guerillas just off the coast of the Xo river. Chaotic as it was, it has been similar to every other battle we've been in lately. I lost two more of my soldiers, cutting my numbers down lower. Young soldiers at that, at least 20 years apiece, add both their ages together, and you couldn't even come close to how old I am. Glancing over to another tree, I see Peter, our medic, bandaging Lieutenant Scots’ arm. Peter is a good medic, pathetic as a soldier, but if limbs are meant to be snapped back in, or holes plugged and sewn up, he’s able. The guy he’s working on, Lieutenant Scots, great head on his shoulder, tough fighter, loves pain. If Scots’ injury on his arm wasn’t difficult to reach, I’m sure he’d sew it up himself.  After Peter finished bandaging Scots, he packed up his supplies quickly, then went off to help another wounded man. I called Scots over.
"Yes Captain?"
"How's your arm?"
"Oh, it's alright, sir, just knicked the bone, I’ll be fine in a couple of days"
I paused, pulling a pack of cigs from a chest pocket.

“You still smoke Scots?” I asked, pulling a single stick from the pack.

“Been smoking since I was 12 Sir”

”Mother must have raised hell when she found out”

“She ain’t found out yet Sir”

I chuckled.

“Does she know you’re even in the army?”

“That she does”

I tossed up the pack to Scots, then, pulling out matches, I struck one, covered by my hand from the rain, raised it, ignited the tobacco and sucked back a long drag.

“Good work today, you deserve those, they’ll help take away some of the pain from that wound of yours”
"Thank you Sir”

I took another long puff, ignoring Scots, savouring the cigarette.

“Is that all, Sir?
"Yes, wait! No, I need you to grab some of the men and set a perimeter around our platoon for the night, put two men together and set shifts for each of them, make sure they're not the same men from last night"
"Yes, sir"
"And tell Upton to come see me"
"Sir...he's on the other side of your tree"
"Well, you’re up, you get him!"

As Scots walked briskly away, I looked down at my leg to see a bug, foreign to me, probably poisonous, crawl just above my kneecap. I took the cigarette from my mouth, held it close to the bugs’ rear-end and chased it down my leg until it flew off. I looked back up to see Swanson standing there, motionless.
"Yes sir?"
"You have a nice spot of the other side of my tree?"
"Yes sir, it's very nice, sir"
"Great, I just wanted to tell you that you did a good job today"
"Thank you sir"
"And since you did such a good job today, I'm going to let you keep your spot on my tree, now go get some rest, no patrol for you tonight"

Giving Swanson half a salute as I closed my eyes, the short pops from a round of an AK-47 in the distance lulled me into a deep sleep, my last thoughts before passing out were "better to wake up listening to gunfire then to bombs exploding..."

I woke up to bombs exploding all around my tree, I watched in horror as a replacement opposite of me, who I did not know his name, blew up along with the bottom of the tree into tiny pieces of flesh, blood, and wood. With a final crash like a jockey whipping his horse after the beginning bell rings, the tree came crashing down in my direction, i scrambled away just in time as the branches hit the ground. I broke off into a run, didn't matter what direction, i didn't know where the bombers were. I jumped and hopped over all the limbs i saw, tree and human, not a person in sight; they're probably hiding, like I should be doing. Still running in whatever direction i was running, i heard one of my gunners blasting away his rounds, shells bouncing off of metal, i ran towards him, and dove into the trench 10 feet behind him, I looked up over the top of the trench.
"Yea! I got him!" the gunner yelled, his voice shrill in jubilation. "I got him..."

Cutting the gunner off in mid-sentence, the final bomb that was sent off drove deep into the bunker, sending a cloud of smoke and dirt into the air. I stood up and scanned the area for my troops, all of them dead, everywhere the sightless eyes stared back. I sat down against a tree, or what was left of a tree, the blood in my veins pulsing full of adrenaline with each heartbeat. I grabbed the pistol from my back holster, watching the shadows of the advancing guerillas; I raised the pistol to my temple. The leader of the rebels casually walked up and stared directly into my eyes, not lifting his weapon an inch above his waist, he knew what I had to do, and would let me do it. I fired, and fell to the ground, the red mist still lingering in the air, the leader walked on and with him, his troops followed. A small kid carrying a pistol pumped a few more rounds into my lifeless body, and with satisfaction and triumph, ran to catch up with his friends in the back of the group.

The End

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