Today's story hails from Canada and is by Douglas E Wright, a "supernatural suspense" writer from (you guessed it!) Canada. Douglas has been published in various magazines and anthologies throughout the US and the UK, and works as the submissions editor at Dark Discoveries magazine. After reading, and enjoying, his novel excerpt titled The Last Regiment, feel free to read his previously published story, Crimson Hearts, here or read more by him on his website - here.
The Last Regiment
By Douglas E Wright
By Douglas E Wright
“Lord t’underin’ Jesus, where are yas?” Max yelled as he traipsed inside the hilled bunker. His ragged voice smacked into the concrete walls, returning as a phlegm-filled growl. He rose off the cement bench and stepped to A doorless portal that looked out far beyond the scorched hillside.
He breathed in a sigh as the twitter of a lone chickadee broke the grey stillness. Ethereal smoke layered the hillside as he perked an ear into the heated wind, hoping to hear more than just a lone bird; he squinted his eyes, fingered a bushy brow before calling for his friend one more time. A faint whirring chopped the air overhead. He looked to the sky where a series of sparkly lights hung in the stormy clouds while their rapid jeweled flashes reflected off the windswept Atlantic.
He returned his sights to the desolate area that surrounded him. There was a time he recalled that the land was more than desolation and dead scrub brush. A lush forest paraded down the hill where glittering bolders swept from the land into the sea.
Max stepped back into the bunker and returned to the broken cement slab perch that was haphazardly wired to the wall. His eyes traced the uneven concrete wall where he soon caught hold of an icy thread sparkling from the ceiling to the floor down the cracked concrete partition. The crystalized string reminded him of forked lightning out on the sea, back in his younger days when he rode skiffs and tilled the rocky Newfoundland landscape. He raised a finger to his cheek and pushed back a tear before angrily flicking it off his face. Dreaming of the past wasn’t necessary, nor was it healthy. He possessed not only daydreams, but also the damnations of war.
He would have none of either.
Thoughts of his youth shot back. Happy childhood memories. Each complete and alive. He recalled the jig dinners, the moments his sisters teased him about being the only male in the family. Then, without warning his mind wandered to an image of a girl. The one that slept with his best mate during the night of the invasion.
Then, a series of broken semitransparent pictures flooded his mind. Bits and pieces folding into recollections from various periods of his life. Not one anchoring to the last. Every one he had ever known was alive again. All of the folks he had come across were talking. Strolling the land as if the foreigners had never touched down. A time before the country folk had been decimated and the fleshy farmlands plowed into stringy shreds of gravelly earth.
A frosted white flash forked against the velvet sky. His lonesome smile continued as his recollections melted away.
James bellied to the ground. The long grass ahead of him weaved in the blowing wind like worms tunneling through a freshly buried corpse. James shifted his eyes from side to side as he glanced over the ocean for some indication that German U-boat periscopes were slicing its choppy surface. He breathed in the misty air. The fog hovered slightly overtop of him. He stayed flat to the hilly terrain. His thoughts scrambled back to Moose Jaw, to a time where he once heard that the enemy routinely patrolled the Newfoundland and Canadian coasts. Nope, he was not going to take any chances. Lives were at stake. His thoughts went back to Max. The old bastard had promised to stay in the bunker while he scouted the terrain. It was a pact they made. Max would stay as a sentry while James scouted for the enemy.
A crimson flash ignited overhead. The ragged Atlantic crashed into the rock-laden shoreline. Its wet smell was far different than the dry Saskatchewan prairie lands. He turned over onto his back, and looked to twinkles of red, blue and white exploding inside the clouded universe. There they were again. Trying to capture both. He could not let it happen. The mist dragged over his face like a set of moist, lacy sheers. The lights snapped like dead limbs as they veered toward Max. James was not worried. Max could take care of himself. He blinked a couple of times and then rolled over so he could rise onto his knees. He glanced toward what should have been St. John’s harbor. He strained to see the searchlights of Signal Hill. Nothing. Fort Cape Spear had been sealed by the dense ocean haze.
A stubby ventilation pipe protruded from the wet grassy earth. It was the only visible reminder of a storage facility under the ground. Far past that, the faint outline of white clapboard hovered on a two hundred foot cliff. James scrambled across the well-kept lawn until he reached a battery access in the ocean-facing hillside. Rusted artillery sat anchored behind a low brick wall on the ocean perimeter. He scurried toward a vacant doorway and pushed his spine into the damp cement wall. He examined the adjacent area. A breath hitched in his chest when Max’s distant voice caught his attention. “Please be quiet,“ he whispered to himself. “You’ll get us caught.“ He moved into the bunker where a long squiggly interior block wall unrolled before him. His hand slowly fell to his belt. James cautiously touched the right leather loop as he glanced down the dark underground corridor. It felt frayed to his fingertips. A frown crossed his face. He then moved his fingers to the left; his holster had completely vanished. Damp, cold air invaded his lungs. What the hell did I do with it? he thought. I couldn’t have left it with Max. He pushed his hat back over his forehead. Sweat glistened beneath his puffy eyes, fear played his stomach and nervous farts filled his drawers.
Max eyeballed the surroundings until he sighted sails floating over waves of smoke and destruction. The vessel with its golden masts and dark hull penetrated the changing haze. Its far-off tinny bell replaced the intermitted lighthouse foghorn. Faint voices drifted from its bow. Then, all vanished over his head into another roll of fog. He looked about the ravaged landscape, searching for his friend, James. Have they captured him?
Screams of young Turks erupted from above the battleground. Rapid gunshots sent white sheets of gulls winging over the shoreline. A round of laughter and applause followed each burst. War games, Max thought. Funny, t’ey didn’t come for us to play along. Why?
He slowly crept down the embankment opposite of the woods. He rounded the hillside toward the ocean calling out for James. Another entryway reached out of the gloom. Slushy waters had filled the tunnel while grim daylight filled the first gun-well. The emplacement lay deserted; its ancient M1894M1 disappearing-carriage sat frozen against the grey sky.
James plodded through the wet underground interior. A ship’s bell sang beyond the cliffs and its ring ricocheted off the tunnel walls. It certainly didn’t sound anything like the Saskatchewan thrashing machines he had become accustomed to as a child. He stopped at a glassless window. The smell of spilled diesel fuel saturated the air. Outside, the New Jersey cannon remained silent. Moisture coated its rusted exterior like speckles of crushed glass. His eyes narrowed into thin watery slits, “What the Christ?” He stuck his head out the rudimentary window and looked beneath the gun. “It’s gone!” Then, he lowered his voice, “Where’d that damn carriage go to?” We’ll never be able to fire that honey again, he thought. “Shit,” he said. “The krauts’ll take that out.” He looked along the tunnel’s corridor. The gun’s receiving bay stood littered with paper, driftwood and bags of garbage. As James eased toward the open berth, an artillery storage room came into view. Inside, hanging like time-worn skeletons, was a host of gardening implements. A jerry can sat unplugged. Oh, God, he thought, the shells are gone too! He quickly inspected the shadowy room. Dank odors permeated his nostrils while terror filled his gut. Across the hall, sunlight stretched its skeletal fingers into the artillery room.
And then, the burst of colored lights and whirring thunderclaps reclaimed the sky. A bell sounded from the ocean. James unhooked a shovel and swung it over his shoulder. His movements were fluid now. Water sprayed through the open gun-bay window. He inhaled the salty air as waves smashed into the jagged shoreline fifty feet away from the rampart. His mind shot miles away where the cold mist suddenly turned warm. It delivered interludes of wondrous memories: the sound of trashing-machines, the smell of wheat fields, the feel of prairie rain on his youthful skin.
His lips curved into a wide toothy grin.
Then, without warning, the sound of pebbles, sand and rocks trickling onto the concrete floor beyond the first gun-emplacement filled his ears. His weary eyelids fluttered and his ears pricked up. He squatted to the floor; turned and stared at the gunnery shadows.