216 - able
nother volley of mortar fire rained down upon Thomas' squad. The earth shook around them as they ducked for cover under what was left of the small town's buildings. Concrete, wood, and asphalt flew in all directions.
Thomas couldn't hear a thing, his ears filled only with ringing. His eyes still worked. Though he wished they didn't. He couldn't accept what he was witnessing.
War had always been a far away thing, conducted in lands that only existed on maps. But when the front metastasized to the homeland, it became real. The battles meant more. Thomas felt an extraordinary sense of purpose as they had advanced towards his hometown in an attempt to hold a rapidly receding line. He was ready to do whatever it took.
Watching and feeling everything around him being torn to shreds, Thomas knew that all their efforts were too late. Successful or not at holding the enemy back today, this place was already irrevocably gone.
His captain yelled something at him. Still unable to hear anything clearly, Thomas was only able to parse the man's hand signal, telling him to move forward. The group of men were strafing through the debris frantically.
Another mortar landed, striking them square. Thomas witnessed his captain being vaporized for a few milliseconds before everything in his vision quickly bloomed into bright white light. He had no time to process his own demise.
Struggling to open his eyelids, Thomas remembered the flash of light. He saw little but darkness now. Night had fallen, and upon regaining consciousness, he experienced a few blissful moments of being totally unaware of where he was or what had transpired. He felt the relief of a person who awakens from a nightmare to realize it was just a dream.
But this was not his bed. He was encased in a chunky pile of rubble, and an attempt to move his body was met with every limb screaming out in painful protest. This was real, Thomas knew.
A burst of machine gun fire in the distance helped bring him back to the present. He remembered the nightmare, putting the pieces together in his mind. His squad had been hit, clearly, but somehow he had survived.
He wondered if anyone else was still alive with him. He wondered how many hours had elapsed since they had come under fire. He wondered about the extent of his injuries as another attempt to move his body under the rubble proved futile.
Then, voices. They spoke in a foreign tongue, but they carried a casual and relaxed tone. From his position, Thomas could not see very much, especially through the darkness. But he soon heard the steady clacking of motorized armor rolling through the ruins of the nearby streets. The chatter of more infantry accompanied the tanks.
Their guns did not fire, their treads did not move with urgency. Thomas did not have to wonder how the battle had gone, at least. His town had fallen. The enemy continued to move, to advance.
Thomas listened as the noises approached, and then gradually grew distant. They would not even stop here, much less attempt any sort of fortification. This place had just been a road apple, a quick bump in a continuous march onward, to repeat today's victories tomorrow.
Thomas recalled childhood memories of a park that he knew to be nearby, though he could hardly imagine its current condition. Everything that lives will someday die, Thomas reminded himself.
The sound of the enemy faded completely into silence. Calm crept over what was left of this place, along with the cold. Thomas slowly closed his eyes.