This isn’t where my story was supposed to start, y’know. Not here – maybe Anytown, USA, or at least Camp Something-or-other. I mean, that’s where the really good stories always start, right? At home, before the hero goes off to fight the entire fucking world. Yeah, save the world, bag the babe, and then ride off into the sunset at the end. Problem is, my story isn’t starting in either of those places. Shit, I didn’t even get to kick it off on the slow boat to this godforsaken country. No, my story wasn’t supposed to start here, in this shit bomb crater with bullets whipping over my head and my buddy’s brains leaking out over my boots, but this is where I am, so fuck it. Might as well get on with it.
Somebody whistles next to me. “Wow. I look at it now, and that really shoulda hurt, but I don’t remember feeling a thing.” Lenny Gransen was a real asshole, but he was my kind of asshole. We struck sparks the moment we met, and kept digging at each other till the friendship couldn’t have been dug out with a jackhammer and the entire 137th engineer’s corps. He was talking about the hole in his head – the one that had gone right through his helmet and made an exit out the back of his skull big enough I could have stuck my hand in there.
“I’m a little busy right this minute, Lenny,” I heard myself growl, as I sighted down my Thompson’s sites at a flicker of movement through the smoke. Shit. If I hadn’t been frightened enough at the battle raging around me to damn near piss myself, I’d never have made the mistake of-
“Wait – you heard me say that?”
Yeah, that’s right. The dead talk to me. Sometimes, I talk back – or at least I used to, before I realized just how much trouble it causes me. Still, you can’t do something most of your life and not develop a reflex to keep doing it. It’s sort of a family tradition, you might say, and big fucking genius me, I decided to become a soldier when I grew up. Because, y’know, not like there’s any dead people to be found on the goddamn slaughterhouse battlefields of Europe. Join the army, see the world, and watch entire fucking battalions head off down the Tunnel.
A shift in the wind finally blew enough smoke outta my way to make out the movement I’d seen earlier, a trio of German infantry trying to flank around the edge of my unit in the battle haze. The lead guy saw me about half a second after my first burst of fire took him in the shoulder; the other two dropped still trying to bring their rifles to bear on me. Grimacing, I ducked back down in the bomb crater Lenny and I had sheltered in, before the sniper that had done him in could make us a matched set.
“Damn it Travis, answer me!” The trouble with being able to talk to the dead is that if they realize you can do it, they get damn impatient if you keep trying to ignore them. I glared at the big man.
“Yeah, I can hear you,” I growled at him. It was bad enough when somebody I’d never met before realized I’d heard something they’d said, sometimes weeks or even years after they’d died. Friends, family? They were worse. “But if you don’t mind-”
“Perry, Gransen, get some fucking fire on that goddamn bunker before they cut down the entire unit!” The voice was my lieutenant, Everett Dunn, carrying over the throaty roar of a pair of MG08′s. Lenny and I had been trying to circle around on the pillbox that had our unit pinned down when he’d had his ticket punched. I peeked back over the edge of my bomb crater at the looming structure, and ducked fast as one of the gunners immediately swung toward me, a line of dirt sprays tracing a line straight toward my head.
Being able to talk to the dead does have one or two advantages on the battlefield. “Look, do me a favor and look around out there, see if there’s another crater I can scramble to,” I said.
“What, you think I’m section 8? Those 08′s ‘id cut me right in…,” he trailed off, his eyes falling on his own corpse, as I pulled his grenades, spare ammo and the explosives satchel he’d been carrying from the body. “Oh… right.”
“Yeah, right,” I muttered.