Survival of the Fittest — Pt. 7 – Running Away From the End – Medium
First they took my gun; then I was stripped of my coat, boots, and heavy winter pants. Leaving me in my thin army green shirt and a pair of black tights. I had been wearing them as extra protection from the cold Russian winter. Lacking my winter clothing my underclothes became damp and my soaked socks felt as if they had frozen, covering my feet in icy castings. Glancing over I found Anders at my side and in a similar situation to mine.
Quickly the four soldiers bound our wrists and tightly secured the three of us with a large rope sitting back to back in the snow. Anders was still in shock and all she could do was sit there staring forwards, but Drew pulled on the ropes as hard as he could, squishing Anders and I closer together and chafing us with the rough icy ropes.
“Keep still!” A German soldier shouted at Drew, hitting him in the head with the butt of his gun, “dummer Amerikaner” he said hoarsely to himself as the rest of the soldiers laughed at Drew’s bleeding head.
I couldn’t see behind me, but as soon as I heard the soldier’s gun collide with Drew’s head, the tugging on the ropes stopped and was replaced with periodic swaying. Eventually as the snow fall became heavier Drew slumped down and didn’t swing back up. Time seemed to have stopped in my numbness, even the vulgar mocking soldiers seemed to disappear from existence.
“Anders?” I spoke at a whisper.
“What’s up Lieutenant?” Anders replied weakly.
“Can you tell if Drew’s okay?”
“I’m okay” Drew answered his voice shaking, “Just really cold”
“What about your head?”
“I’ll live… if we make it out of this that is” he joked almost laughing.
I don’t know why I asked if he was okay. I knew the answer; we were all in the same predicament it didn’t matter if his head hurt he is going to die either way; we’re all going to die. And the worst part was that they are going to just stand there and let us freeze to death. The soldiers stood there like it was summer, if I’d been in their place — winter gear or not — I would have shot us and gone inside from the start.
“Holen Sie sich etwas Wasser” commanded one soldier to another who ran back into the base as the remaining soldiers laughed.
I wasn’t sure what they meant. In fact, I didn’t even comprehend what they were doing when the soldier came out with two large buckets handing one over to the soldier who had requested them.
It wasn’t until I saw the water pouring over me that I remembered “Wasser” meant water. Not that I could have prepared for what was next regardless. The icy liquid, burned my skin. I wanted to scream and I tried, but all that came out was the fog of my breath. Behind me Drew jerked as the water hit him and Anders let out a faint shriek. Just then another soldier, dressed different from the others exited the base and headed toward us.
“Nein, nein, nein” he screamed at the laughing soldiers. “I need them to speak before you kill them”
The soldiers jumped back like scared puppies as they let him through.
“So which one of you is the leader” He turned to us, “Huh?” He growled.
I never once looked up at him and I never answered a single question. I’m not sure if Drew or Anders dared to look at him, but I never heard either them make a sound. It was silent for only a matter of seconds, but it felt like an eternity.
“I suppose that doesn’t really matter though… you all know your mission don’t you”
There was no response, continuing to frustrate the already angry man. We sat in complete silence. Silent except his heavy breathing. When he stood over me it created the same feeling in my heart as if a hungry wolf were behind me ready to attack. How much longer could we really survive this cold, how much longer could this torture last?
“Where are the bombs?” he screamed
I remained silent but I couldn’t help but smile a bit. In the midst of our failure, I had forgotten where we had succeeded, and it couldn’t be much longer until they went off.
“What bombs?” I heard a quiet voice behind me.
My heart sank. I couldn’t believe she had made herself a target when we were so close.
“Maybe this will refresh your memory”
I still had my head down and I missed him pulling out the pistol. The shot created a ringing in my ear.
It seemed unlikely that I had been shot considering I felt nothing even after the shock was fading, but I didn’t hear anyone scream. Could she be dead? But why would he kill her if she was close to talking? Once the ringing in my ear subsided, I could hear Anders’ heavy breathing behind me, however it was slowing and breath was becoming less frequent.
I looked back because I had to know if she had a chance. He had shot her in the knee at close range. It looked bad, so bad that I could only look at it for a second, but even after I had put my head back down and closed my eyes the image remained painted in my memory — the broken bone with skin barely hanging around it, and the blood.
I don’t understand how she could be alive and not screaming, not crying, just sitting there barely breathing. Perhaps she was screaming on the inside and was simply unable to externalize her pain. Or perhaps it took a great deal of concentration and her goal was to further frustrate the soldier.
She may not feel anything- the thought occurred to me. If I couldn’t feel my feet maybe she couldn’t feel a bullet? We really could be so close to death at this point that hypothermia has taken over us completely.
“Where are the bombs?” he repeated.
There was no response this time. I didn’t look at him but I could tell he was becoming desperate. Had they really not found the bombs? No, that would be impossible. They had surely found most of them- maybe all of them and they just haven’t realized it.
“You three are the only ones left we have already caught and executed the other members of your troop.” Then he leaned in close to me and breathed heavily in my ear “The only ones left to protect are right here.”
He cocked his gun and pointed it at my right ear. It felt like eternity I waited for the bullet, calm and silent. This perturbed him greatly and I find it surprising that his finger hadn’t managed to slip in the midst of one of his angry tremors. The tip of the gun barrel was vibrating against my face; he was really scared I could hear it in his voice.
“No?” He pulled back the gun and brought it in front of my face “What about him?”
I turned my head in the direction the gun was pointing. They were getting desperate. I shouldn’t have turned; Drew was staring straight down the barrel of the gun with no fear or perhaps he just didn’t know what was going on anymore.
“Which ones have you found?” It came out before I even knew what I was saying. Quickly I looked back down at my feet hoping that what I said had been nothing more than a mumble.
“What was that?” He forced my chin up with his free hand.
I sat there like a statue, refusing him the satisfaction of breaking me.
“Perhaps some motivation” he pointed the gun down at Drew’s right thigh.
“Sir” One of the soldiers yelled and pointed just as the gun fired.
I could feel Drew flinch and jump back against me, but he never made a sound
“What?” The man yelled, “What is so important that you made me waste a bullet?”
I turned to look at Drew’s leg then beside it where the bullet had pierced the snow. It was just a scratch, a deep and painful scratch, but the least of his concerns at the moment. Then I looked up at the poor soldier who interrupted his superior. The young man, who was really more of a boy, simply answered the man’s yelling by pointing to something moving just past where we were sitting.
“Harris?” Anders grunted.
Both Drew and I turned to look. It really was Harris and he was still wearing his explosive pack. What was he waiting for?
“Perhaps he will be more eager to talk” the man said boldly, arms out welcoming Harris and his captors.
I could feel Drew tugging and pulling at the ropes; he had been doing so a while but it was just now that I understood how close he was to freeing us.
Harris stopped, still a little way out from us, and wouldn’t move. The soldiers escorting him pulled at him and yelled threats both in English and German. I could see him look down at his vest and I thought I could see his lips moving. I couldn’t make out quite what he was saying, but then it occurred to me. There were still bombs, outside of ours, that had been dropped and perhaps were still hidden. Harris was wearing the last one right now, counting down.
That’s when his lips stopped moving, it was time, Harris looked up straight at us, turned and ran towards the mountain. The soldiers chased him for a moment then pulled out their guns and started shooting.
“Run” Drew yelled right as the ropes dropped off our wrists.
Drew jumped straight for the German soldier in charge, using the element of surprise to knock him to the ground and take his gun.
I had lost most of the feeling in my legs, but when Drew shot the man, the ringing of the gun shot jump started my adrenaline, and got me to my feet.
“Get up, we have to go” I screamed pulling at Anders.
“Joe” she screeched
I looked back where Harris had last been darting towards the mountain. There was a trail of bloody footprints that followed him all the way to the side of the mountain where he finally fell with soldiers swarming around him. I could still see his hand twitching on the manual override, ready to go.
There was nothing we could do for him, other than make sure his sacrifice wasn’t in vain, so with all the strength I had left I picked up Anders and darted towards the forest’s edge with Drew covering us.
We were almost to the cover of the trees when I realized that the soldiers had ceased all fire. That’s when I heard Harris’ pack go off had, it was just seconds before the others, with just the one explosion I could feel the heat coming towards us. Then just as we crossed over into the brush, the mine turned into a mountain of fire. The force of the explosion threw us all forward, scattering us across the forest floor.
The explosion was so loud and so close that everything went black and all I could hear was a loud ringing that was penetrating deeper and deeper into my brain. The pain felt as if my skull was shattering.