Tag Archives: short story

The bridge across forever

Clarification: This post has no relation to the book “The Bridge Across Forever” by Richard Bach. I haven’t even read the said book. This piece was written by me for a creative writing competition in IIT KGP.

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July 7, 1944, 2300 h

We had been here for the past two days. Two days after Normandy, where the allied forces had taken the worst beating of the war. After wading through blood and limb on the beach, camping at night in the safety of an abandoned church, and writing by the relative comfort of a candle should have seemed like a walk in Piccadilly Circus.

But we knew it wouldn’t last. You weren’t sent out to war, and told to camp out next to a bridge unless it was vitally important. And you didn’t stand guard by a vital installation and not expect the Germans to attack. They would attack. It was just a question of when.

July 8, 1944, 0200 h

The incessant chatter of the captain’s radio told me all I needed to know. It was time. He looked at me from across the room and mouthed ‘1 hour’. Well, that just about gave us time to do what we needed to do. I raised myself and started preparing my kit. Next to me, Tommy started furiously penning a letter. To his sister? To his fiance? There were just too many people to say goodbye to.

I walked around and watched 19 year olds perform the last human acts they would ever do. They looked up at me as I passed them. I smiled reassuringly. But they knew there was no hope. Not with a division of Panzer tanks waiting to roll over us. They could see it in my eyes.

War was unfair.

The captain was smoking a cigarette outside the church when I found him. “You could get shot, sir”. ” I damn well could, Sargent”. He smiled and passed me the cigarette. I took a long puff and let the smoke fill my lungs.

July 8, 1944, 0300 h

The shelling started promptly at 0300h. The Germans had always been punctual. I admired them for that. At least we didn’t have to wait around anymore.

The first salvo took out a section of the church wall, and with a quarter of my platoon. As I ran past, I saw the letter Tommy had been writing clutched in his now lifeless fingers. I pried it from him, folded it neatly, and put it in my inside pocket. Something for after the war.

I cocked my rifle and ran out.

July 8, 1944, 0320 h

We had held the Germans so far. They hadn’t sent in the Panzers yet, and one-to-one my men were a much better shot. I could see the captain across the road, as I crouched behind a mound of rubble, shouting instructions and organizing what was left of the men. He never seemed to lose it.

I wouldn’t have fought for anyone else.

Two minutes later, as I ran towards him under covering fire, he was shot in the throat.

July 8, 1944, 0330 h

The Germans on the other side of the bridge had been silent for the past minute or two. It was a bad sign. It meant they were rolling out something big.

We didn’t have to wait long to find out what it was. All of us heard the sound of the Panzer rolling onto the bridge almost simultaneously. There is something about the sound of gravel being crushed under the weight of tons of monstrous machinery that’s hard to miss.

For an infantryman, a tank is his worst nightmare. Machine gun nests and mortars can be taken and destroyed. But in an infantryman’s dictionary, a tank is the definition of unsurmountable.

I looked around and saw the men looking at me. I stared back.

Well, better now than never, I said to myself, threw down my rifle, and ran.

I don’t know whether it was the cover of night, or the fact that they didn’t believe anyone was foolish enough to run towards a Panzer in full flight, but they never saw me coming. I pulled out the pins of two grenades as I jumped onto the tank. The hatch was open. I thanked my lucky stars, popped in the grenades and shut the hatch firmly.

As I jumped off, I felt rather than heard the explosion that ripped the tank apart.

Sometime later (it’s hard to keep track of time when you are half dead and under a pile of rubble), I woke, pushed a rock aside from what was left of my leg, and tried to stand. I gave up that thought as soon as the pain shot through me.

I wouldn’t be standing again for a very long time.

The mangled remains of the tank lay beside me, blocking the bridge. My thoughts drifted to the poor souls inside the tank, and then immediately back to my safety as I heard the rumble behind me. The Germans had finally mobilized another tank. I grabbed a pistol from a nearby dead body, and lay in wait.

I heard the first explosions behind me pretty soon. Another wave of pain shot through me and I grew groggier. Maybe I had lost too much blood. Through the mist that was slowly clouding my thoughts, I vaguely made out that something was not right. The rumble behind me was coming up too fast. Or maybe it was just my imagination. Then came the second round of explosions, and that knocked the fight out of me.

The last thing I remember seeing was the plane flying over my head.

It had the Allied insignia on it.

I clutched at my inside pocket. Tommy’s letter was still there.

Something for after the war.

I smiled and passed out.

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The Little Doll

A harsh light shone into his eyes. He slowly and unnaturally opened his eyes, and blinked twice. He lay motionless for some time and stared with a cold finality into space.

A melancholy wind brushed past, and he shivered. He was naked except for a tattered pair of shorts which clung to his scrawny legs. A half broken bracelet clung to his left wrist. A long, crescent shaped scar ran down his right shoulder, the remnants of a clash with a pack of stray dogs. His face was grimy and taut, the silt of months of living on the footpath adding layers to the dirt. He was just another of those faceless, nameless people, the kind who you look at once, take pity, and then forget in the next instant.

But his eyes. They were another matter altogether. They had the depth of someone who had plumbed the depths of life, and had faced tribulations that most people his age could only dream of. They were cold and distant, yet at some sub-conscious level you could see traces of a life left behind, a warmth that would shine through for a second, before drowning again in a sea of fear. You could almost feel his fear, it was everywhere, in the way his eyes kept darting around, in the way he curled himself up at the slightest sound, and in the way he clutched at his little red doll.

The little red doll startled me. No, it wasn’t because he was too old to play with a doll, it could be just another trinket of a life long lost that people of his kind usually carried with them.It was because the little red doll was, in every way, an antithesis of himself.

The doll was immaculate. It was clothed in a red frock with golden buttons which shone. The fake hair was perfectly combed and parted. The little white shoes were polished to a gleam and even the eyebrows were prim and proper.The only place where the doll was dirty was the place where he clutched it tightly to himself, a last vestige of his memory.

I felt pity, for the boy, for his doll, for a world that went on untroubled despite millions like him.

The wind started up again. The streetlight flickered and went out.

I turned and walked away.

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That night I had a dream that will stay with me forever.

It was the boy and his doll. His eyes were wide in fear as he clawed desperately at the ground to get at his doll. Unseen hands came out of the darkness. His eyes grew wide with fear, and a horrible scream ripped the night apart.

I woke up in a cold sweat.

The next evening, my road home from work took me past the streetlight once again. It was light enough for me to make out the shadows, and my eyes furtively searched for him. Unable to find him, I was turning back, when, ironically, the streetlight came to life.

There, under the light, at the very spot I had left him yesterday, I saw the little red doll. The blood froze in my veins.

The doll had no head.

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Open IIT Creative Writing Gold for this one! 😀