I was listening to a song, and suddenly I had an urge to write. The song was Saboton’s Camouflage, and this snippet of flash fiction was what fell out of my head today.
The mud stank. Private Jonah Staedler buried his face in it anyway. Overhead, the deadly whine of bullets snapped past his helmet and made the stink the least of his concerns. He turned his head, slightly, so he could breathe, and snorted a little mud out of his nostrils. The fallen log he was using as meagre cover was solid enough, but it meant he couldn’t see what was coming. There shouldn’t have been enemy in this area, but obviously the scouts had gotten it wrong. Again.
A shell exploded somewhere behind him, not too close, but still he did his best to turtle further into the stinking mud. A herd of wild pigs had been through, it smelled like. He wondered how long it would be until the enemy gave up, or came charging through the foliage to cut them all down. One of his platoon was lying where he could see the man’s boot. He wasn’t sure who it was, anymore, and did it matter when he was so obviously dead? Jonah choked back a curse, or a sob.
“Sarge?” He managed after a minute, in a voice just louder than a whisper. “Sarge, you there?”
The only answer was silence. Even the noisy birds were silent for a change. There was just… nothing. Jonah took a breath of reeking air, then another one. He squeezed his hand, hard, around the rifle he had nestled between him and the log. He didn’t have a lot of ammo. But he had some, and if they came for him, he’d take a few with him.
Cautiously, he started to wriggle around so he could get in a position to shoot. He was nearly perpendicular to the log when he felt the warm pressure of a hand on his shoulder. He jerked in alarm, and whipped his head around to see who was there.
In the falling darkness he couldn’t quite make out the sniper’s face. He knew it had to be a sniper. No one else wore the bulky ghillie suits that would obscure their shapes, yes, but also weighed a ton and felt like you were walking around in your own personal sauna. The man pressed a finger to his lips, then bellied up to Jonah’s log, pushing the barrel of his weapon over it, just as the young soldier had been about to do.
Jonah felt his eyes widen. Damn, that was big. He couldn’t quite make out what it was, but it looked like it might be bigger than a BAR. He blinked, and missed the man’s shot. He felt the big body, radiating heat, jerk, then twitch twice more as the shots cracked out into the dark. The suppressor held the muzzle flash to a minimum, and the sound was diffused into the dark. Jonah shook his head slightly and pushed his rifle up over the log, too.
The other man reached out and patted his side. Jonah met his eyes, and followed the swift, subtle gesture to look over to their left. He saw the muzzle flash, and fired toward it in a short burst, then ducked behind the log before it could return fire.
The big sniper didn’t even bother taking cover. He just fired, another tight three-round burst. There were no returning muzzle flashes. Jonah huddled next to the man, panting. He waited for the sound of bullets, or footsteps, but there was nothing. The sniper shifted. He held a hand out at his side, and Jonah could make out the two-fingered walking gesture in the light of the rising moon. Silently, the gesture was repeated. Jonah nodded, then hesitantly reached out and gripped the other’s hand. The calloused fingers squeezed quickly, then released and Jonah followed his instructions.
Doubled over, moving as quickly as he could with stiff muscles for his long hide, Jonah first crab-walked, then ran back in the direction his platoon had come from. Behind him, he heard the sniper’s gun boom, then fall silent. He sneaked a look over his shoulder, still moving, and in the brief glimpse he saw the man leap up, hurdle the log, and charge across the tiny clearing dappled with moonlight. In the dim light he looked like he was nine feet tall, and he carried the big gun like it weighed nothing. He was yelling in an inarticulate roar, and fired from his hip in a steady staccato. Jonah paid attention to his own path, then, and ran into the night, away from his rescuer.
He was staggering, barely able to move, and the sun was brimming on the horizon when he reached the encampment.
“Hold!” a crisp voice snapped. “Who goes there?”
Jonah stopped, swaying, his rifle slung over his shoulder. “Private Staedler.” He croaked hoarsely. “Password White Sox.”
The sentry appeared from his hiding place. “Man, you look rough.”
Jonah grunted and took a step. Dimly, he could hear the sentry hollering for a sergeant. The rest of the next hour was mostly a blur as he reported what had happened while his voice faded into a thin whisper.
“Let him sleep.” The doctor ordered. Jonah pried open his eyes with pure force of will and realized he was sitting in the company commander’s tent, with his cheek pillowed on the wooden table that was serving as the commander’s desk. He felt gentle, firm hands picking him up by the arms.
“Hey.” He mumbled and tried to get his feet under him. “I’m ok.”
“There’s nothing wrong with you, Private,” The doctor was closer, now, and sounded reassuring. “You’re just worn out.”
“When… When that sniper comes back in?” Jonah managed to stand up. He let himself be steered toward the tent door. Over his shoulder, he finished. “Tell him that brown ghillie suit is awesome. Never seen anything like it. Looked like real fur.”
Jonah was out the door and on his way to the nearest open cot, so he didn’t see the confused looks the doctor and commander were giving one another.
“Have you got a sniper out there?” The doctor asked.
The commander shrugged. “He’s not from this company. Could be from Bravo? Brown furry ghillie isn’t issue, though.”
“Eh. Special Ops writes their own rules.” The doctor shrugged in turn, and left the commander to the grim task of planning advance and body retrieval. Neither of them thought any more about the big man who’d rescued their young soldier, unless it was a slight gratefulness that they’d been warned of the enemy.