SORTIE # OF THE DAY
PILOT F. Irish S/A
EQUIPMENT General Wayne
This entry is going to be a short story, one that will need some explanation before hand. My bowls are named after militarily historic figures, so when I write a short story like this, the characters are usually related to the bowl's name. General Anthony "Mad Anthony" Wayne was a Revolutionary War hero, who mostly controlled the Continental Light Infantry units. The enemy in this particular story is not that of the British Empire as we would commonly expect when discussing the American Revolution, but that of depression, represented in this story as the Black Guard. But, I hope you will enjoy this short story.
Ghosts in the Snow
Cannon fire rolled like thunder through the snow covered woods. I stopped to try and gain my bearings, but it was impossible in the cold air of the night. The sounds seemed to come from every direction. My nine soldiers continued past me, picking their way across a small stream as their blue and buff coats shifted in the pale moonlight. The extreme left wasn't the best place to be in this fight, but it was much better than the center, where the enemy cannon turned the open field into a grinder. The sergeant held up his closed fist and the men hugged the frozen bank, two of the riflemen trained their long rifles down range. I snaked across the small obstruction and slipped in beside the Sarge.
"Enemy patrol, sixty yards ahead on the hillside," he was barely audible, wary that sound travels through the cold night air. The seconds passed like minutes as we awaited the enemy patrol. "Fix bayonets." The men moved slow, ever cautious of the noise they could make. I drew my two-handed sword while the three other riflemen pulled out tomahawks. Silence was the key, the enemy patrol needed to be removed from the picture without a single shot being fired. I heard the footsteps crunch through the snow, approaching with no clear sense of order or direction. With a single hand motion the Sarge sent one man over the top. I peered over the bank, alarmed at the sight of shined boots a mere three feet from me. With bayonet trained at mid-back, Hart timed his footsteps to match his target. Another hand signal came from the Sarge.
The bayonet protruded through the poor devil's neck, his hands slowly wrapped around the spike in quiet horror. Hart wrapped his arm around his victim and disappeared behind a tree, one down, seven to go. The last man in the remaining line stopped, turning to look for his missing comrade. It took a second for Higgins to raise up and bayonet this man in his neck, this time the body was brought behind the bank, his eyes fading as life escaped him. The patrol seemed to be oblivious to their missing comrades, continuing along the well beaten path past me. One by one, my men would take out the last man in the line. With just two of the patrol still walking, they followed a bend in the stream, and disappeared behind a small hill and out of ear shot. I turned to the Sarge and motioned for him to move the rest of the men across the path, and we slipped into the shadows of the forest. Footsteps came crunching back up the path as the two men returned. Alarm was clear on their faces as they continued in our direction. The pair passed Donovan at a trot and he rose to follow, his bayonet ready to strike. A tomahawk sank into the lead enemy's head and his body slid to a stop on the path, the snow going crimson in the moonlight. Donovan's bayonet appeared through the coat of the remaining soldier, his eyes going wide as the spike was removed. Like ghosts we drifted up the hill and into the darkness, lined up single file to leave just one pair of footprints in the snow.
It wasn't long before we spotted the enemy camp. From behind a small stand of trees the Sarge and I surveyed the enemy dispositions. A two story farmhouse sat behind a waist high stone wall, the large windows illuminating the snow covered yard. A fire cast large shadows against the front door as two Black coat guards warmed their hands, their muskets resting against the house. Outside of the wall a small tent camp glowed with the light of two or three small fires. The trees over the tents looked ghastly, their twisted branches broken apart by the black shadows. Facing up the road toward the flashing horizon, two medium sized cannons gleamed, their brass wet with snow. The crews huddled around another small fire, their dark coats sported a blood red chest pinned down with silver buttons and black chord; Artillery. I alerted the Sarge with a tap as I pointed at the two cannon. He nodded and we withdrew to where the men had taken shelter.
"Bong," a challenge drifted past me ear.
"Rip," I replied. Kelly rose from the snow, his rifle covered by a small shred of blanket. "Where are the rest of the men?"
"Five meters past me in a small cave." We moved past him and soon discovered the cave, smoke drifting from holes in a white sheet pinned over the entrance. I had to hand it to the men, they knew how to be smart about smoking while we were on patrol. I lifted the cover and moved into the smoke filled cave. The Sarge and Kelly packed in behind me.
"Listen up guys," a clay pipe found its way into my hand and I took a long pull. The smoke filled my lungs, calming me down before I briefed my small force. "Just over the hill is the enemy. There looks to be about twenty or thirty guys down there, including two medium cannon facing in the direction of the battle." The faces went solemn, we'd been up against cannon before. I went on with the briefing, "Hart, Jenkins, Long, and the Sarge will be our shock force. Once we silence the artillery crews, they will rush the building, tossing grenades through the first floor windows." They looked at each other and nodded, resigned to their task. "Higgens, McCork, Donovan, and myself will assault the artillery crews. Once we capture their cannon we will turn them against the camp. Kelly and Sharp will provide sniper fire from the hillside." I looked around the cave, faces appeared in the orange light of the burning pipes, "Any questions?" Silence. "We move out in twenty. Good luck gentlemen, General Wayne is counting on us to destroy the enemy command post and we cannot fail him or his men fighting in the distance. That is all." I turned and exited the confines of the cave, inhaling the cold winter air before lighting my own pipe.
"Sir," I turned to find McCork at my side. I had not even heard a footstep to warn me of his approach, "I want to try something with our ambush. If we can get a grenade into their fire of the artillery crew we may be able to take out the whole lot of them at once."
"How do you suggest we do that?"
"I can throw it in from the hill."
"Sure thing sir." No emotion showed on his face. His gray eyes were not eager or fearful. They gazed directly into mine with a mute confidence. A half burnt joint hung from the corner of this mouth, the white paper in contrast the the black stubble of his unshaven chin.
"Well alright." I pulled a grenade from my side pocked. A long cord of fuse was wrapped around the black ball, I lobbed it in his direction. He caught it without looking, and turned to look at the sky.
"Stars are bright tonight."
"That they are." The wind swept past us, hiding the movement of my unit as they began their trek.
I lay a short distance below McCork, looking up the hillside as he rose to his feet. Without a sound I watched him toss the black bomb, following the grenade as it sailed past my group and landed with a thud in the fire. McCork crawled past me as I watched the six enemy soldiers lean toward the fire, curious as to the origin of the noise. Then one of them noticed it.
"Oh shi..." Coomph. The grenade exploded, sending shrapnel and embers into the artillery crews. They fell to the snow, blood draining from their torn bodies.
"Go!" I stood and began my charge down the hill, just a few steps behind McCork and Higgens. "Get that cannon turned around!" They rushed to the near cannon and began to maneuver it around as Kelly dropped one of the guards in the yard. I hit the road and glanced down just in time to see the Sarge and his group sprint across and over the wall. Jenkins ran the second guard through with his bayonet, lifting the man off the ground and tossing his lifeless body aside. Noise from the tent camp was soon drowned out by explosions as the first floor of the house erupted in a cloud of smoke and debris. Donovan and I began to shift the second cannon toward the tents when the first rounds began to whiz past our heads. Against the soft orange of the campfires shadows began to form up in a line. Flashes illuminated the ugly faces of the Black Guard, each one a large lead ball sent in our direction.
"Fire in the hole!" Higgens set the match to the captured cannon. The brass dragon spit a ball in a burst of flame. The heavy sphere arched toward the line of shadows, skipping off the frozen ground and embedding itself into an apple tree. "Fuck! Reload McCork!" Higgens rammed the charge home while McCork lifted another ball from the pile. Boom, the splintered tree fell into a tent. All around the bodies lay in grotesque poses, large spears from the tree protruding from their shredded uniforms. Explosive rounds, the enemy was cruel, and we were giving it right back to them. I turned to Donovan.
"Fire!" The ball bounced through two of the enemy before crashing into a carriage further into the camp. From the top of the hill I could hear the rifles of Kelly and Sharp crack, watching from behind the cannon as one shadow then another dropped to the ground. With a flash and a roar the carriage disappeared, the flaming debris falling across this new scene of hell. Tents caught fire, and soon the orchard was an inferno, the black coated enemy running to escape. From behind the stone wall, Long and Jenkins began to take shots at the fleeing enemy. Kelly and Sharp continued to snipe from the hillside while Donovan and I shot from behind the cannon.
We soon had a comfortable command of the field. The bodies of twenty three Black Guards lay strewn about the ashes as I shuffled over to McCork and Higgens. "I want you to reposition the cannon to fire on the house if necessary." Without another word I turned, signaled Donovan to follow and started down the road toward the house. I glanced up the hill at Kelly as he sighted in a target. The crack of his rifle echoed in the frozen air, only to be accented by a grunt and thud off to my right. I looked back toward the house in time to see the flash of a musket from a second story window. The ball zipped past my right ear and connected with Donovan. I stumbled and fell to the snow covered road, rolling off to my right toward a drainage ditch. I looked up to see Donovan, his hand holding his stomach as he slowed to a walk. He staggered before falling to his knees.
"Sorry sir." He leaned forward and closed his eyes as his last breath escaped his lips in a cloud of steam. In an instant every window on the second floor was alive with musketry. I took aim at the first window I saw. I could see the shadowy figure as he reloaded his weapon. The ramrod was still in the barrel as my ball connected with his head. The window lay vacant as I began to reload my rifle in the prone position. I slid the ball into the barrel and retrieved my rod. The snow beside my head erupted in a small geyser as the window was reoccupied. I rammed the ball home and removed the rod, taking aim at the new shadow. I squeezed the trigger and once again the window was vacant.
"Sarge, get the fuck outta the yard!" I ran for the cover of a nearby tree, chancing a glance every few feet to see where the Sarge and his guys were. I slid to a stop behind an apple tree, my legs protruding from behind the small amount of cover. I yelled from behind my little tree, "Sarge?"
The ball screamed toward the house, punching a hole through the wall. The cannon rang like a bell as several enemy rounds skipped off of the polished brass. I watched McCork and Higgens retire up the hillside just as the back of the farmhouse disappeared. They took up positions alongside Kelly and Sharp, their weapons trained on the smoking building. Silence returned to the field, and for the first time since we had started our fight, I noticed that the cannonade in the distance had ceased. An uneasy feeling crept over me. I listened long enough to hear the sound of approaching cavalry. Shit. "Fall back!" I ran to Donovan's body, slung my both my rifle and his musket before hoisting him to my shoulders. McCork met me halfway and we scurried up the hill just behind the Sarge and his group. I stopped to rest just over the crest of the hill. The men were kneeling in a half circle facing me as I lowered Donovan to the ground.
"What are your orders sir?" The Sarge was standing to my right, his eyes toward the sound of an enemy force approaching.
"Our mission has been accomplished sergeant. We shall return to our lines with the utmost haste. The enemy has cavalry approaching." My eyes remained on Donovan's body.
"We can't take him back with us sir," the Sarge knelt down beside me and retrieved his affects. "The best we can do is lay him to rest in the cave on our way back to our lines."
"Very well," I stood to lift Donovan back onto my shoulder.
"Let me sir," McCork's cold gray eyes showed no emotion as he stared into mine. Without a sound he raised Donovan onto his shoulder and started out for the cave. The men fell in behind him in single file, leaving just one pair of footsteps away from the ruined enemy camp. Behind us the scream of horses echoed through the cold winter night as we faded back into the snow covered woods.