Saturday, May 12, 2007

A Second Excerpt from PARASITIC SANDS

The Free

From The Desk of Liz Ensley:

by Paul Harris
(another story from PARASITIC SANDS, with permission from the author)

     I blushed as they gave me a brief round of applause and then whirled round as I heard it echoed from my rear. The rest of the men, the ones who had made it onto the beach first time around, had gathered silently behind me. If I’d been starting to forget that all the men in front of me were dead, the walking corpses I was faced with now were a horrible reminder. The better ones bore only the odd bullet hole from a sniper’s rifle or a burst of machine gun fire. But the majority of them had obviously been through so much more and hadn’t quite been remade whole. There were arms and legs at odd angles, or even back to front. I averted my eyes swiftly from one poor chap whose head was on back to front.
     “Sorry about the state of them, sir.” Sergeant MacDonald said. I was about to reply that I was sure they couldn’t help their appearance when he carried on. “Less than half of them having weapons, I mean. A lot of their gear got destroyed when they were killed.”
     I managed an understanding nod, even as I wished MacDonald had phrased it a little less straightforwardly. My eyes drifted back to the poor fellow with the reversed head. Randomly I wondered what he would do if anyone gave the order, ‘about face’, and I had to bite my lip to avoid bursting out in hysterical laughter. Sergeant MacDonald must have seen where my problem lay and decided to do something about it.
      “Private McCoist.” The words were spoken in the low growl that only NCOs have ever mastered. “If you can’t get your head on straight, at least go and stand at the back. You’re turning the Captain’s stomach.” I watched in fascinated horror as McCoist tried to twist his head round to face front, failed, gave a salute to the back of his head and fell out to trot round to the back. How he could move without falling over was beyond me, but McCoist seemed to be managing. I forced my gaze off him and addressed the assemblage.
     “Men of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, we came here with a job to do. Our objective was to secure a beachhead and link up with the airborne troops inland. Circumstances have left us stranded here,” I paused as someone muttered ‘I told you we couldn’t trust the bloody navy’ and a ripple of laughter went through the men, “but that does not alter our mission. We need to get across the beach, up the cliffs and through the enemy. Are you with me?”
     “Sir, yes sir.” Came back the answer, sotto voce.



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