Ian had eleven rounds in his rifle, ten in the magazine and one in the breech. He had a five-round clip lying on the ground. There were more clips in the cloth bandoleer, but they were hard to pull out in a hurry. Ian hoped that sixteen rounds would bring help before the Jerries got to him.
He was on outpost duty, a hundred yards along the sunken road. He watched them move across the field toward him with the steady motion that showed caution. They knew what they were doing and Ian was afraid as he raised his rifle. He fired and they went down.
A stray shot? A coalscuttle helmet raised slowly, eyes searching the hedgerow for movement. Nothing. He came up to one knee, Schmeisser leveled.
Ian’s bullet took him squarely in the chest. The others fired back from the ground, scything the hedges, bullets whipping and crashing through the branches, spraying earth in long, ragged geysers.
Numb with fear, Ian fired again and again at the faint muzzle hazes and felt savagery when he saw the jerk of a hit.
The bullets came thicker, and he slid down as branches rained on him and the ricochets screamed. He crawled away and peered through the foliage. They were up now, and running, and he sent the nearest one sprawling. They were closer, too close.
Livid with fear, Ian fired. They were going to kill him! He could see the twisted faces, as filthy and as terrified as his own. The deep helmets hid their eyes as they panted, straining to reach the hedgerow.
They’ll kill me! Jesus Christ, save me! He fired, yanked the bolt open and rammed it home. It slammed shut too easily. The rifle was empty.
Frantic, slobbering, Ian clawed at the bandoleer, but the clip would not come free. He saw a contorted face rise up in the hedge, the gray tunic blotting out the sky, and he jammed blindly at the monster, sobbing.
The eight-inch spike bayonet went in to the muzzle and months of his half-forgotten training made Ian jerk it out. A wretched, choking scream erupted from the man. He saw the slavering mouth, the red frothing behind the teeth, spilling over the stubbled chin.
The man grabbed fiercely at the hole in him and went to his knees, yelling and spitting blood. He fell forward, twisting, kicking at the hedge. Ian glared, frozen, the red spike pointing uselessly.
Another man crouched, swinging his Schmeisser at Ian. Bullets came across the lane and cut him down. A voice shouted, there was more firing, and Ian sobbed hysterically until the sergeant whipped him across the face.
Ian looked at the bayonet, but he could not look at the doubled-up thing in the hedge.
The sergeant spoke to him and Ian nodded. He reloaded his rifle and rammed the spike into the ground to clean it. His face stung as they walked back down the lane.
—From Fearsome Battle
Robert Rogge, an American, fought with the Canadian Army in World War II. He wrote of his experiences in Fearsome Battle. Under the pen name, Robert Elliot, he is also author of The Eagle's Height, a novel of air combat in World War I.
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