The constant bombardment at least made it easier to keep awake during sentry duty. Rocket attacks, and from who- Government or rebels? It was hard to be sure sometimes, especially amid the chaos of a city under siege. A few days before, one of them had come down in a busy street, right on top of a bus. The authorities were still having trouble identifying the bodies.
Ilya was careful. He didn’t go out on the streets unless he had to, and in the meantime he stayed put, reading, smoking, gambling and sleeping. Tonight, however, he was out, watching for enemy movement on the outskirts of town.
It was a boring job, mostly. Listening to shells being traded overhead for a few hours, then back to the city for a drink and a bed, thank God. For all its dangers, at least combat in the field had fear and excitement to get the blood moving.
The dugout shuddered.
“Ukrop bastards, that one was close…”
An hour passed. Shells began falling nearby, not as close as earlier, but only a few blocks down from their position.
Ilya looked up from his book and listened.
An impact, then another, and another, and another…
“What the hell are they trying to hit?”
“Just be thankful it isn’t-”
It was as if the sun had come rushing back for a few more moments of day. The world seethed in shades of red as fire rose, unfurling in the sky.
“Ilya! Look at this! Ilya! Holy shit!”
“I see it, Andrei… Jesus Christ…”
The flame began to crumble, and the brief day crept back into shadow.
“We’ll feel it in a second, grab onto something…”
The ground heaved and the dugout buckled, caught in the shock-wave. Then the sound of thousands of hammers striking as one, bounding along on the heels of the blast.
Minutes passed- The noise of other shells landing in other places.
“Andrei, are we dead?”
“God, I feel as if I’ve been hit by a train…”
“Ugh, what the fuck was that?”
“I don’t know, munitions, petrol station, maybe?”
“Wait a minute, the chemical works are down that way…”
“Well shit, they picked one hell of a target.”
“Somehow I don’t think I like fireworks anymore.”
“Fuck, me neither.”
The next morning, the two sentries limped back to town, half-deaf and half-dead. Ilya was just happy to see his bed again.
(Prompts: chemical plant photo, sentry)
by Paul Inglis