Choose Our Fate

Submitted into Contest #74 in response to: Write a story that takes place across ten seconds.... view prompt

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Historical Fiction Speculative Creative Nonfiction

As you evaluate the scene that lies before you in Leamington, Warwickshire, your thoughts drift back to those short but crucial ten seconds in 1918…


TEN…your grimy fingers lock the ten-round short magazine into place on your Lee-Enfield Mark III. The Huns are not yet routed, but most of them are in retreat. As you once again lift your standard-issue rifle, your mind reflects on your early schooldays at St. Peter’s primary school. You imagine playing kick-the-can with your old gang at recess and wonder at how you’ve transformed into a decorated war hero. After so many years in the service of England, it still baffles you.


NINE…you pull back the rifle bolt to bring one of the ten freshly loaded .303 British cartridges into your rifle’s chamber via one of the magazine’s two five-round stripper clips. Your mind remembers that moment you signed on the dotted line to enlist with the Green Howards regiment in 1910. You and your best pal naively grin at each other with wild fancies of honor and glory. Idiots.


EIGHT…you push the lever-action bolt back into firing position and lock it down. It brings back thoughts of the repetition of loading and firing, and loading and firing, and loading and firing, during your months of basic training. It’s second nature to you at this point, but back then it was still quite a chore to put the rounds on their targets. Even now when you sleep, you still dream of loading and firing.


SEVEN…you raise your rifle to take aim at a German foot-soldier’s center mass. His gray uniform is covered in mud and gore. It seems that he must’ve lost his weapon while engaging in hand-to-hand combat. You think back to the Battle of Somme where you were at the head of a bayonet charge. You vividly recall the Kraut knife that first wounded you in 1916. You can still feel the knife’s serrated edge gnawing on the bone of your left forearm. Bastard!


SIX…a bomb or grenade of some kind explodes to your left and your aim drifts upward to the enemy’s face. A gaping head wound on the helmetless soldier seeps with fresh blood. For some reason the ringing in your ears and the man’s injury force you to recall the second time you were wounded in battle. It was in 1917 at the Battle of Passchendaele, and you were very lucky to have survived such an intense blast. Since then the doctors have diagnosed you with tinnitus, but a diagnosis by itself brings you no relief from the periodic hissing and buzzing.


FIVE…through your rifle site you make eye contact with the dark-haired Hun and for some reason you hesitate. You remember the time that you and two fellow soldiers charged across no-man’s-land under heavy fire and bombed a trench. It took place in 1918 at the second Battle of Cambrai, and you returned with twenty prisoners. For this you were awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.


FOUR…the Second Imperial Reich soldier acknowledges your indecision with a simple nod and turns his back to walk away. Still vacillating, you think upon another time you distinguished yourself by leading a bombing raid to capture even more enemy combatants. For this you were awarded the Military Medal. You wonder how it was that you decided to take prisoners that afternoon.


THREE…you refocus your aim, this time on center mass of the man’s back. You know that breathing while firing hurts accuracy, so you take a final breath and hold it while you attempt to clear your mind of distracting thoughts.


TWO…you opt to place your first knuckle on the trigger rather than your finger tip, because you know that it makes it easier to fire since the Enfield rifle has a very heavy trigger-pull. Although you’ve done your best to clear your mind, it is still being bombarded by the memories of all the German soldiers that you’ve captured or killed during your decorated career.


[ At this point the reader must “Choose Our Fate.” If you opt to FIRE, read on, and ignore the last passage. If you decide NOT TO FIRE, skip the following section and read only the last passage. ]


ONE…as you’ve done hundreds of times before, you flex your trigger-finger and fire. The three-inch long bullet departs your thirty-inch rifle barrel and makes contact with your enemy slightly to the left of his spine just underneath his shoulder blade. The impact breaks three ribs, but more importantly pierces his callow heart. The man’s lifeblood sprays out of his chest and all over the front of his uniform before he lands face down in the mire. His essence merges with the earth and they become one. Your thoughts return to the present and you look over the party the city is throwing in honor of all of its First World War veterans. It is somewhat of a pointless celebration for the Soviet flag flying over Leamington’s courthouse discloses the fact that England was lost in a very short Second World War. No, it didn’t take long for the Bolsheviks to capture a relatively defenseless Germany, and Chamberlain’s negotiated peace was over in a blink of your eye after the Soviets had the bomb. You wonder if the world would be any different had you not killed that fleeing soldier so many years prior. Your name is Henry…Private Henry Tandey, and his name was Adolf…Corporal Adolf Hitler.


ONE…you let your finger slide off the trigger and watch the wounded soldier disappear into the smoke and chaos of battle. You are later wounded a third time and receive England’s highest honor: the Victoria Cross. Your thoughts return to the present and you look upon the rubble of your hometown of Leamington. The Luftwaffe did its job amazingly well as not a single second-story still stands. A young boy waves an English Union Jack flag as rescuers search for survivors. Your name is Henry…Private Henry Tandey, and you know that the name of the man you spared was Adolf…Corporal Adolf Hitler. Before leaving the scene you voice your regret to a Coventry-based journalist. “If only I had known what he would turn out to be. When I see all the people and women and children he has killed and wounded, I am sorry to God I let him go.”

December 27, 2020 22:24

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2 comments

Scout Tahoe
21:57 Dec 29, 2020

"You and your best pal naively grin at each other with wild fancies of honor and glory. Idiots." Haha, my favorite line. This was suspenseful and honorable and a very fun read. In my opinion, you mastered second POV. It's wonderfully written and I'm glad you invited me over. Thank you.

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David Brown
06:46 Dec 30, 2020

Thank you kindly! Thanks for taking the time!

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