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A Few Final Moments

The artillery barrage came on like a storm. One shell exploding in the dirt was followed by a few more. Barely a moment had passed before the steel rain became a torrential downpour. Plumes of pulverized earth burst all around, accompanied by a ceaseless thunder. Once the air was saturated with smoke and dirt, the guns petered out.

That's when the Corporal turned to us and shouted, "Go! Now!"

I shook off the fear-born paralysis in my legs. The crowd of bearded old men and some boys who looked younger than me, pretending to be a unit, ran headlong into the thick shroud of smoke blanketing the field. 

We were herded into a pit where men adorned with the grinning face of death wearing blood and dirt splattered uniforms were shouting at us to "be ready!"

We jumped into the mass grave, and one of the black-clad troopers loomed over me. 

"He's small," he said to his comrades as if I weren't there. 

Finally, he acknowledged me directly. "You!" He shouted in a way that suggested the guns were still ringing in his ears.

He thrust an anti-tank gun into my chest, and I barely managed to catch it. 

"Wait for the tank to expose its belly, then fire!"

"Yes, sir!" I answered automatically

We waited at the edge of our hole and stared into the swirling dust, and smoke saturated air. We couldn't see very far, but we could hear their guttural growling getting closer, the clattering of steel gears growing louder and louder. 

We watched in breathless anticipation for the monsters to reveal themselves. Suddenly a series of flashes lit up the air like lightning in a cloud. Seconds later, the air cracked with the explosions, and we jumped face-first into the dirt.

The radio crackled with competing cries for help that merged into screaming static. I picked myself up and crawled to the edge of the dirt wall. I saw the long barrel of a tank cutting through the dissipating smog. First one, then another, and another until a whole army of them had emerged from the acrid fog. The turret on the tank in front of us turned towards me, and the steel monster began its charge. 

"Wait for it to show its belly!" the officer who gave me the weapon screamed in my ear.

The tanks had a machine gun jutting out the front, moving about like a metallic probe. Fire ripped from the barrel, and the stream of lead punched several holes into the man standing next to me. His blood exploded from his wounds like erupting crimson guisers. 

The tank adjusted its barrel downwards and fired again. The shell exploded in front of us. We were thrown to the ground and splattered with shrapnel and dirt. 

My eyes opened, and I was staring at the sky. The sounds of motors and guns were gone. I blinked a few times, and my senses returned. I felt a hand grip my arm. I turned my head and saw what remained of a man's face. His mouth was screaming, but I couldn't hear his words. 

The explosion had burned off his cheeks, and the shrapnel dug in all through the charred flesh. 

"Let me go!" I heard myself shout

"Please don't let me die!" I finally heard his plea. I shook off his grip and got to my feet when the tank fired another round. When I came to, I was the only one still moving. Everyone else had been shredded. 

I crawled through their pulverized remains and retrieved my weapon. I picked myself back up and saw the front of the tank coming down on me. I squeezed the trigger, and the rocket exploded against the tank, but it didn't stop. I dropped the spent weapon and shut my eyes, and waited for the world around me to disappear. 

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