The Rearguard
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The platoon picked through the rubble slowly, cautiously creeping forward to the rally point under cover of darkness. The broken smelters and shattered blast furnaces of the factory offered their advance perfect cover and concealment, although there were many obstructions for them to navigate around. The full moon was obscured by clouds and haze, and offered them little assistance. Their eyes were locked open, alert for any telltale signs of the Hun—especially any snipers that may have crept across no mans’ land.

They had retreated through here, in 1941 when the Hun first invaded. Overwhelmed and outgunned, they had no choice but to withdraw from this area and fall back to the next line of defenses, leaving behind only a rear guard to delay the Germans. Before they’d left they had shook hands, promising to return and relieve them—if they’d managed to survive that long. Now they were back, but as was expected there was no sign of the rearguard anywhere, not even their decomposing bodies. That was the norm, though. The shell fire had churned the earth into an unrecognizable landscape more akin to being on the moon than in Ukraine.

They reached their jump off point and waited for the proper time. Hours passed and finally the sun rose at their backs, casting long shadows from the broken steel girders angling skyward. The ground trembled as the heavy guns began their cannonade, and every man felt the soil beneath his boots move and give way to the shockwaves. The whistles blew and they stood, ready to go over the top—except when they tried to move, their feet sunk into the ground like quicksand. The platoon stumbled and toppled like toy soldiers as the ground opened up beneath them and swallowed them whole, plunging them into darkness.

The unfortunate souls found quickly that it was not a long drop, only a few meters down and broken by the dirt that had fallen with them. They stood and brushed themselves off, adjusting their eyes slowly. The smell hit them immediately, overpowering the senses and nearly inducing nausea in even the most battle-hardened of them. Vaguely they heard the sound of movement, whispering in hushed tones emanating from within the chamber. They raised their weapons, nervous and more frightened in this hole than they’d been while under enemy fire.

“Identify yourselves!” called the senior sergeant, and in an instant they were upon them. A few reactionary shots rang out in the darkness, the muzzle flashes illuminating only enough for them to see themselves swiftly knocked across the floor by their unknown assailants. The surprise turned to horror as faces appeared above them, peering down and blood dripping from their teeth, skin pale as a white cloth. Their tunics were filthy and covered in soot and blood, the rank insignia almost unreadable. They froze in terror as one of the men spoke, his voice unrecognizable, raspy and dripping with disdain.

“You’re late. There are only a few of us left now, and we are very, very hungry.”

The heavy guns drowned out the screaming of the butchered. The tractors came later and bulldozed the tomb shut once again, leaving the besieged defenders once more to their own fate.

The worst part is, this is based on a true story. Welcome to the Eastern Front!

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