This blast from the past was first published on October 30, 2014.
Symphony of the Damned
I turned eighteen the day before we hit the beach. Rockets and bombs were the candles on my cake, explosions crept well into the small hours of the night. The beach would be clear, rushed like we had done in training. The bombers did all the work for us already.
My buddy Charlie, we planned to meet after the war. We were going to open a ritzy jazz place together. He went down in the first wave, bullet right between the eyes, shrapnel from a grenade ripped through half his body. Meat for the worms, ’bout all that was left of him.
Pineapples hit the dirt all around the rest of us, a hard fight for cover. Machine gun nests halted our forward advance, locked us down. The few of us to make it through that first day, those first waves, not all of us were still in one piece.
I’m not just talking about the physical wounds. Jerry O’Connel, he set up next to me, he kept talking to himself, a prayer before he took aim, every time. I never really recognized the words, were they Latin? But that look on his face, that sneer malice and hate in his eyes as he gunned down them Germans. I made sure to give him room.
My lieutenant called in another air strike, a death wish. When the bombs dropped down on us, they didn’t discriminate. Us, them, it didn’t matter, a body was a body, a sacrifice to the gods of war we worshipped here on this beach.
Maybe like Jerry, I prayed a little too. I didn’t really care who it was to either, what ever gods were willing to listen to my words. I called out that first night, called to the heavens to send down a miracle any miracle to finish this.
I was a fool.
We saw them before the first morning. A writhing mass of men, gathered in a formation of sorts. The crawled, they shambled in a wave across the beach in the dim light of the half night. Misshapen creatures brought to life by our prayers our cries for the end.
This army of the damned filled its ranks from both sides of the war. In death we came together, our differences forgotten. The rise of this army brought the living together as well. We turned our weapons away from each other and fired upon the creatures.
It wasn’t enough.
Bullets are not enough to kill the dead. In this war of attrition they were able to replenish their number from our own dead. Our only recourse, retreat and attack, retreat and attack. But they were determined, the shambling mass forever pushed forward.
I don’t know what came over me, don’t know what sparked this thought. I knew I couldn’t escape my doom by fighting. Flight, a useless proposition with an enemy that doesn’t tire, doesn’t rest. Jerry fired into their ranks, eating through ammo, precious ammo. And still that same prayer. He never stopped with the damn prayer.
I struck him in the back of the neck with my bayonet, drove it deep into the soft flesh again and again. A strike for each prayer he said to his dark gods. His blood oozed and splattered over my hands, across my face. I sliced him open, gutted him like a fish. His guts and skin became my armor, armor of the dead to chase away the undead demons who chased us down. They recognized me as one of their own.
The bullet shattered my skull, struck from behind by the men I once fought with. As I fell to the sand, the horde passed over me, ripped and pulled at my flesh.
I was finally free.
If you enjoy these stories, consider leaving some coffee money in the jar or you could buy a book or two. Either way helps keep the stories flowing.