Fiction + Drawings/Paintings
- Will Stocksdale
Finn Colla had just eaten the worst deep-fried catfish of his life. It wasn't inherently bad. It was his favorite food, after all. But the taste of shame was baked into it, and the flavor lingered on his tongue.
Just a few hours before this dreadful meal, Finn had come home from work early to find his wife Jennifer in bed with his lifelong buddy, Blake. Forty years had grown the Colla marriage tired, but Finn never thought that their vows had worn so thin. Finn also knew that Blake’s marriage was on the rocks, but that was no excuse. They might have been lifelong friends, but this was a betrayal that his friendship with Blake couldn’t recover from.
Blake left with shouts from Finn that “he better not ever see Blake’s face again or else.” Finn retreated inside and sat down at the kitchen counter. Jen sulked in the kitchen; she couldn’t bear to look Finn in the eyes.
“I’m sorry,” Jen apologized, though rather insincere in her remorse. Little did he know, she had broken her vows many times before. She didn’t want a divorce, though. Jen appreciated her husband’s salary. In an effort to make things right, she cooked Finn his favorite dinner delight: deep-fried catfish. He ate it, of course, but the flavor was off; there was a hint of something that just wasn’t right.
He remembered how different the deep-fried catfish of his childhood was. On summer weekends, Finn’s dad would take him fishing for Blue Catfish in the Chesapeake Bay. They would bring their catch home to Finn’s mom, and she would make Finn’s favorite meal. “Baked with love,” his mom would say.
This was baked with something else.
Finn grabbed the keys to his Prius and left, determined to find a plate of deep-fried catfish that could do better. First, he set out for the Columbia Diner. The booths were nearly empty, except for a young, happy couple in the corner. He sat on the opposite side on the diner. Within minutes, a plate of deep-fried catfish laid before him.
Finn took one look at the plate and knew that it wouldn’t meet his standards. Still, he took a bite. It was gritty and dry… akin to chewing on a piece of sandpaper. He spat his bite into a napkin. Finn ordered a cup of coffee, stared blankly at the empty seat across from him, and listened to the grating laughter of the couple in the corner booth. After a second cup of steaming joe, he paid the check and left.
Finn drove to Meadows Country Club. “It has to be good here,” Finn thought. After all, his membership fees totaled $30,000 – enough to expect a more delectable plate of deep-fried catfish. Unfortunately, the club’s dish still wasn’t what Finn was looking for. The chefs had tried too hard; there were herbs and spices baked into it that Finn had never even heard of before.
Finn longed for the simple deep-fried catfish of his youth. He longed for the slight imperfection in a home cooked meal. He longed for a modest sprinkling of salt and pepper. He longed for a little oil left on the crispy, baked flesh.
After three inapt dishes of deep-fried catfish, Finn decided to make the trek to the eastern shore. He hoped that seafood restaurants by the ocean might do better.
“Maybe the fish would be fresher,” Finn thought. Three hours of driving later, Finn arrived at Big Daddy’s Seafood Shack. It was eleven-thirty, and Finn was tired, but the drive would be well worth it if Big Daddy’s deep-fried catfish was up to par.
Finn entered the restaurant, which was busy with the summer rush of post- graduation seniors. The hostess found Finn a table, and he ordered right away. Just short of fifteen minutes later, a fourth and final plate of deep-fried catfish laid before him. Finn took a bite. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t his mom’s home baked catfish either. “Eh,” he shrugged. Finn left the waitress two twenties and drove home.
His bed was empty this time when he arrived; Jen was sleeping on the couch. He didn’t want to sleep in his bed either, so he crawled into the twin-sized bed of the guest bedroom. Finn laid there till morning, eyes open, thinking about how happy he and Jennifer used to be.
Finn knew that the days of his deep-fried catfish being “baked with love” were long gone. “Everything must come to an end,” Finn sighed.
“Eh,” would have to be enough.
Lucid - Rio Valenzue
- Will Erdman
His parents had left his room thirty minutes before, but David was still in shock. Staring at the email, David sat at his desk completely still. It was still surreal.
Saturday, December 21, 2019
Congratulations! The admissions team has reviewed your application, and we are excited to offer you an invitation to the Harvard Class of 2024.
"What's next?" David thought. He reached for his pad of Post-It notes, wrote "Harvard confirmation payment" across the top, and stuck the yellow square on the flat space just to the right of the mousepad of his laptop.
Mrs. Larue had ordered pizza for David's special occasion. During dinner, his older brother Stuart called from Yale to congratulate. David's phone was buzzing with all of the texts he was receiving, but he left his phone in his room for dinner. After the meal, it was business as usual for David; he checked Blackboard and crowded his sticky note with all his assignments due on Monday. He typically did his homework on Saturday nights, but as he began his Calculus worksheet, he got a call from his best friend since Kindergarten, Amanda.
"Hey One-Eye, I heard the news. You're gonna do great things over there."
"Thanks Amanda. These last few hours have been pretty unreal"
"What is it like being committed to a college? I don't hear back from Dartmouth until March," she said.
David said, "It’s the greatest feeling ever--like image not needing to worry about school. Next semester's gonna be cu-ray-zee!"
"Well, I still need my first semester grades, so make sure you edit my History term paper. I did yours today and it should be in your inbox."
David quickly appended "Amanda's paper" to his sticky note to-do list. "It's due Tuesday," Amanda added, "And yours is going to need a near-total rewrite."
At that point, it was just another item on the list.
Sunday came and went. David decided he deserved a break, as he hadn’t taken a day off since eighth grade. That night, he glanced at the sticky note on his laptop, and decided it was too cluttered, so he moved each assignment into his computer’s calendar, with a strict schedule for all the work to get done on Monday. He timed out each assignment and set notifications to keep himself on pace. He tried to knock out Amanda’s paper before he went to bed, but he couldn’t find the motivation to even click his red fountain pen.
David made it to school on Monday, albeit without having done any homework over the weekend. He toiled throughout the day, expending extra energy searching for motivation to put any effort into his schoolwork. Exhausted, he arrived home and began his homework. He was only fifteen minutes into editing Amanda’s paper when his attention wandered to the upcoming Patriots game. Out of nowhere, a notification he set up the night before shouted at David that his two hours allotted to Amanda’s essay had expired, and that he should be on pace to begin rewriting his essay soon.
He tried to refocus on his extensive to-do list, but each time his mind wandered until another notification came, mocking him for his inability to perform seemingly basic cognitive functions. He began mindlessly swirling his pen around on a piece of paper; the next moment the doodling resembled “FML” in beautiful, connected letters. After what felt like hours without productivity, David decided he needed a short mental break to re-center himself. He lay down in his bed, anxious about all the work he had yet to do. He looked at his alarm clock: 11:02 P.M. It was going to be a late night.
“I’m serious this time. You have to get this done,” David said to himself.
He spent the next hour scribbling cursive letters on blank lines of loose-leaf before he was overwhelmed with stress again. Procrastinating had failed him. He opened a drawer in his desk and washed the sticky residue out from the inside of a shot glass his brother had brought home from college. It brought him back to his childhood memories of drinking liquid Advil from a small plastic cup before he was able to swallow pills.
The small object felt David’s stress under the choking grasp of his right hand as he stomped into his basement to the bar. Half of a lime lay face down on a plate in the mini fridge, right next to the half-empty bottle of tequila from the week before. David took both out, set them on the counter, and climbed into the high chair. The bottle’s metal cap rattled against the glass as he unscrewed it. One shot followed another as his stomach reached its limit. He moved into the bathroom just in time to project alcohol-laced pizza and stomach acid into the sink (it was too late to make it to the toilet).
David stared at the mess he created. He turned the faucet on, pumped hand soap into the sink bowl and wiped it clean with toilet paper. Exhausted, he sat on the hard tile floor, leaned his head against the wall, and closed his eyes.
Reality 410 - Kintrez Fowlkes
Nina Leen - Aidan Sachs
- David Adebogun
He begged. Begged every day, every month, every year to be freed from what he considered a disease. The rigid mountains with imperfect peaks, squares formed with obtuse angles decimated what he longed for— the “bright” smile. The solution was clear. So, he continued to plead and patiently wait for a savior to come along with a “cure.”
Peculiarity filled his mind. His savior didn’t have long hair touching the brim of a robe. His last name included three letters separated by a comma as if part of his identity— “DDS”. But beyond his initial suspicions, he trusted the savior who then led him into the room. Upon entering and lying flat on the cold, dark seat he examined his surroundings closely. Asking questions about the equipment and suppressing his worrisome state as though to fulfill some unspoken ritual to his savior. He needed something to reduce the void of the unknown future which awaited him, but the future came quicker than he expected.
The savior observed the “disease” from different perspectives (directly above him, to the left side and right side of him) until finally choosing to start the “cure” from the bird’s eye view. Silver squares glistering in the light removed his attention from the eyes of his savior. One by one, the savior delicately apportioned the sparkling objects to each deformed shape and rigid mountain. A thin dull wire was the next tool of use. The wire pushed forcefully between each and every square, he wailed in pain. Agony permeated throughout his body from his feet to ears: perfectly symmetrical in distribution.
Seconds felt like minutes, minutes felt like hours, hours felt like days—days in agonizing pain and torture. What he once felt was a disease, he saw as a blessing. A return to normalcy. The “bright” smile so longed after, wasn’t so bright anymore.
Building History - Kintrez Fowlkes
Nina Leen - Aidan Sachs
Jay Z Vol 4 - Kintrez Fowlkes
Hands - Rio Valenzuela
Saved by the Bell
- Michael Moreno
The heavy bathroom door cracked open. David stuffed the item into his pocket, as jeers and jokes slipped out of the bathroom. He rolled his eyes and smiled at the hooligans. As he returned to his desk, David glanced at the clock. His best friend Amanda sat next to him. She glanced at the clock.
“At least you timed it right,” she said, half a moment before the church bell tower from across the street rang. The school’s bell rang a minute and a half late, but the bell tower sounded with painful punctiliousness, especially on Friday at 3 o’clock.
He intentionally pulled on his backpack’s zipper, drawing attention. The sound caused an avalanche of a half a dozen students packing away folders and notebooks. Mr. Bray chastised his class, while David stole out of the room out amid the bustle. Amanda stayed behind to leisurely pack away her notebook and backpack listening as the teacher spoke.
“Finish the worksheet for home—” The ringing of the belated school bell cut into his words.
Outside, students already poured into the hallways. David opened his locker, and Amanda joined him after saying a quick thank you to Mr. Bray and wading gently through the crowded halls. His friend dealt patiently with obnoxious teachers. Maybe she was more persistent than David, or maybe she was simply more obedient; David did not care to judge which. She handed him a copy of her notes and assignments.
“It matters. Don’t tell me that it doesn’t,” she said. “You could sit through class. Was it really necessary to scurry out of class like a rodent?”
“The bell rang,” he said.
David took the notes reluctantly. While exchanging books between locker and backpack, a notebook, with a black cover and crumpled pages, fell from his locker. He jolted, dropping the other books and notes he held to grab the notebook before it could fall to the ground and flop open.
“Maybe one day you’ll let people see that notebook.”
Amanda shook her head.
David stuffed the notebook away, ignoring her comment and glancing to see if anyone was watching. One day, he promised himself. Someone who would appreciate it, which meant not Mr. Bray. The notebook hid at the bottom, beneath textbooks, a fake ID, vape pen and pods all carefully concealed behind a light green folder.
“It’s his fault for pushing me out of class. If he weren’t preachy or boring. Well, I just want to be done with him and move on. But, I’m making some friends with the guys in the bathroom. At least, they aren’t scared of Mr. Bray.”
“You’re better than that, better than them,” she said.
“Johnny and Luke are hanging tonight,” he said. “Do you want to come?”
“Don’t change the subject. They—that is not you,” Amanda said. “Besides, you know I don’t like parties, and I never know what to wear.”
“Layers,” he said. “Always wear layers, that way you can change to be whatever you need. Whether drinking in the basement or chilling at a movie. That’s the cool thing to do. Plus, Carly will be there, Diggy, and Jack.” He let the last name hang in the air for a moment.
“Just do your homework," Amanda said, blushing, but she would not let David pull her away from the point. “I don’t get it, David. You waste your time just to spite Mr. Bray.”
“I couldn't care less what he thinks,” David said.
“I don’t think that’s true.”
David frowned as she left. He turned the other way and ran straight into Mr. Bray.
“Excuse me, Mr. Larue, may I have a word.” Mr. Bray was already leading him into the classroom. “I’m concerned, Mr. Larue. Do you have any idea why?”
“I couldn’t tell you,” David said. The teacher eyed the student.
“I think it’s fairly obvious. I just wanted to give you a chance to confess before this gets messy. Lately, the work you turned in simply doesn’t match up with your behavior.”
David took a moment before he realized what the man was saying. His cheeks burned hot on his face.
“Just because I think you’re a boring teacher doesn’t mean I can’t be smart or—” He stopped as the church bell rang again. His attention veered. “Why are they ringing the bell again?”
“What?” Mr. Bray said, his face a mix of anger followed by confusion. “I don’t hear anything.”
He followed David’s gaze to the window. “Oh, you mean the church bells. I barely hear those damned things anymore,” he said. “Listen I know you have friends who are willing to help, but the work you turn in has to be yours.”
“Call me a cheater. I don’t care what you say. I know the truth.”
David regarded the man and walked out the room.
Grid Painting - Peter Macdonald
Cantaloupe Repition - Nsebong Adah
- Tyler Cahill
HAPPY HOUR DRINK SPECIALS. His gray, sunken eyes had wound around the white block lettering at least 100 times. Every choice of draft beer and premium bottle and vodka shooter grooved into his brain in the same cursive that swerved across the blackboard at the bar. He whirred his bourbon in one hand and drew the Marlboro Light from his mouth in the other. Tobacco was very much not to be enjoyed inside, let alone right at the counter, but Murphy didn’t pay any mind, and, in all fairness, the aim of the smoke was not exactly for its appealing quality anyway. Ol’ Blake Murphy barely lifted his head from the towel rag he scoured each edge and surface with, only rising to whip it over his shoulder and advance to the next cedar table.
He was your blue-collar, coy, 9-to-5 man, Murph, traditional to the essence of the word. He wore a slender frame, long, frail arms, a narrow, groomed face matted with silver hair and stick-thin legs. Not much of an impressive person, but he hung an American flag banner on the pole outside his porch every morning, he owned two rifles – a Remington 870 shotgun he kept on top of the china cabinet, and a Smith & Wesson 10MM revolver under the bed – and, if you could engage him enough, he’d lecture you on everything wrong with Obamacare and the Democratic platform.
The looming silence was customary; Murph wrapped up in his work. Finn was in his spirit. There wasn’t much conversation, but then again there never was, which he liked since neither of them was in the business of expending precious energy on trivial chit-chat anymore. The light from the window panes cascaded into the tired, grotty tavern and laminated the faded wallboard panels, a loathing gleam that only reminded Finn of how long he had been posted on his rickety ebony stool.
Getting up was a grim order of maintenance and took rallying, but Finn drained the last of his whiskey, tossed a few bills onto the bar, and made his way to the door, grumbling something about the weather. His dismount surged his head with throes of agony, thoughts bursting and clattering against his skull. He nodded to Murph, his expression somber and daunted as he shuffled through the pub.
“Take care, Mr. Colla,” Murphy uttered in a distant, dreary voice.
Finn took a final inhale of his cigarette, plucked the butt from his lips, and put it out in the sidewall.
The fierce evening sun draped over Finn’s shoulders, the weight of which seeming to submerge him deep into the cement with every pace. To step meant a shooting flash of anguish and fatigue. Once he arrived at his car, a surly, old jet-black Toyota sedan, he crumpled into the front seat, stuffing the keys into the ignition. He gazed into his reflection in the rearview, a cold, idle stare, and darted out of the lot onto Snowden.
It was the fifteenth of May, a designation day that Finn was to navigate to the countryside of town to visit his granddaughter for a very special birthday celebration. The prospect of such a long-haul wasn’t flattering, particularly with how groggy and drowsy he was, but it was better than whatever development would have ended up transpiring that night, and he wouldn’t miss seeing his little girl for the world.
The Toyota trudging through backroads and straights of farmland, he mashed the radio until it hit 93.1, so he could coast to some Garth Brooks and Keith Urban. Yellow painted fields and vast pale creeks were backdropped with the hum of guitars and brawny Southern twang. Somewhere along, he noticed the glistening meadows and patches of sallow water yielding to rather desolate, hazy wasteland pastures he didn’t recognize, but couldn’t help being mesmerized by. Chilling dimness and fog trickled through the horizon, gradually at first, then more consuming, as an overcast crept in and mangled the sunlight. The road curled and deformed, soaking into the void where earth struck sky.
In a flight of consciousness, he jerked the wheel, narrowly veering the front of the vehicle away from executing a nose-dive into an abandoned, windswept scarlet barn. He reeled into the shoulder lane. He lay there a moment in a trance, accompanied only by the sound of croaking insects, the whizzing engine, and the hammering of his heart against his chest.
He allowed himself to get collected, desperately working out any sort of bearings. After determining he was a mere block from the house, he resolved to hop down from the car and cover ground from that point on by foot. While the walk proved onerous, there was no chance of him climbing back into his four-door.
It was a cozy, small-town rural neighborhood his daughter resided in, the kind where families gathered to pass the afternoon on the chairs outside, making side conversation with joggers trotting through or spectating as the children pretended a game of football in the lawn. The houses all looked the same – plain, simple cottages with a few windows, wrap-around decks, some planted flowers.
What felt like miles culminated in his approaching the splintered, washed planks that led up to the home’s entryway. The mailbox was adorned with balloons, a big 6 tied to the railing. Burning pangs writhed from his feet through his legs, like a pinball machine shattering his bones.
“Grandpa!” Sloane shouted.
He scooped her up with all the strength he had left to muster, brushed her hair from her face, and pecked her forehead.
“Hey bunny, happy birthday.”
Silhouette Drawing - Preston Runge
- Kevin Lankford
I’m pretty sure Geometry teachers use me as an example when they’re talking about intersections, and how messy that point of intersection is. And the two lines my dumbass decided to cross together were the squiggly line of alcohol and the 3-D line of weed. Not my smartest decision, that’s for sure.
My door bursts open as my mother comes in to yell at me for sleeping in. Damn it. I knew I had slept in a little bit. I bite my tongue to hold back sarcastic remarks while she scolds me. I’m almost missing work and senior pictures. A nicely folded pair of khaki shorts and a white dress shirt wait for me on my dresser, at risk of being stained by the bong sitting next to it. My mom doesn’t care what I do; she’s barely able to wake me up in the morning. I put other clothes on, grab my keys and my fancy get-up, and plod out to my car, a beat-up Toyota Corolla.
The engine starts on the third try, making a sound akin to a 35-year smoker, which may be because I bought it from one. Before shifting out of park, I grab my dab pen from its hiding place in the sunglass holder and take a quick hit. I drive better high.
Around ten minutes later, I pull into my parking spot at Walt’s Roast Beef, my favorite place to eat (and my current employer), to start my shift.
My best friend, Amanda Bloom, throws an apron at me.
“Nice job last night,” she says, with a hint of a smile on her face.
“What?” I say, the adventure lost in my jumbled mind.
“You landed a tre-flip last night, then threw up on Stephen’s skateboard,” Amanda replies, a smile reaches the corners of her cheeks.
Sometimes I want to grab her and kiss her until we’re both gasping for breath. This is one of those times. Someday I’ll act on those urges, and then I may lose my best friend.
“Shit. I don’t remember any of it,” I say, burying my head in my hands. This is usually how it goes. I do some crazy thing the night before, and “Always-Sober Amanda” tells me about it the next day at work.
I throw a few pieces of brisket on the grill and head out to the sitting area to serve, trying to focus on my steps as I serve the customers. The Hot and Spicy is smacking today, the customers say, as the regulars come and go. It’s because Amanda’s "womanning" the coals today, I want to tell them, but I bite my tongue.
I make it through my shift and tell my manager Marty that I have Senior Photos today, so I have to leave now.
“Good luck kid,” he says, as he rests a hand on my shoulder, getting barbeque sauce on my nice white shirt. It was going to get stained anyway, I think.
Half an hour and a 7-11 trip later, I stand in front of a building complex. The woman meant to take my photos is most likely waiting for me, so I should hurry up, but I don’t want to.
I head into the building, reeking of all kinds of substances, a melting pot of addictive drugs. There’s a burn stain on my white tee, but it’s covered by the blazer given to me by the young woman taking my picture. She gives me a quizzical look, and I give her my most charming smile.
Amanda would have made fun of me for it
She turns on bright lights, and my brain starts to hurt. This was a bad idea. I should’ve rescheduled. I flash a quick smile as she takes the first picture.
The headache is moving behind my eyes now, and I’m losing my vision. I can’t do bright lights when I’m crossed.
I feel my head and vision clouding up, so I turn away from the cameras, but the sudden movement makes my head spin, and I lose control.
I can’t see anything, my ears are ringing, my brain has shut down.
I sit in my car fifteen minutes later, and I hear a tapping. Amanda Bloom’s face appears beside me, beckons for me to open the passenger side door.
“I heard what happened. Marty let me get off to come get you. You okay?” she says.
“I don’t know what happened. Honestly, I don’t know,” I say, shaking my head.
She motions to the back seat. “I can help you.”
My eyes widen. I look into her eyes.
She means it.
- Caden Heiser-Cerrato
The sky is open, but dark. David and Amanda are sitting on the top of a hill that overlooks Providence, and the city has unfolded before them. They can make out some of the individual people who are still working, still moving.
David is drinking a beer, and Amanda is smoking a joint. There is a space between them that Amanda fills with pot smoke, and where David puts his beer intermittently after sips.
“Where did you get that hat?” Amanda asks.
“I found it walking here. It was just left on a bench.”
“Isn’t that kind of nasty? What if it has lice?”
David laughs. “Lice? Come on Amanda. This hat doesn’t have lice.” He takes a sip of his beer, and gazes across the city at a 7-Eleven, whose green, orange, and red lights are almost swallowed by skyscrapers.
He points to it, “Amanda, you see it? You see our spot?”
Amanda looks to where he is pointing, “Yeah, I see it. It looks way smaller from up here.”
“Yeah, no shit it’s smaller from up here.”
Amanda takes another drag of the joint, whose end is smoldering. The smoke is wispy and rises above her short, blonde hair.
David studies her hair, which used to be dark brown and fall over her shoulders. Amanda is trembling, and she puts out the joint, so she can tighten her coat and put her hands in her pockets.
David’s beer is empty, and he leaves the bottle beside him.
“Are you doing alright, Amanda?”
“I’m just a little cold, that’s all.” Amanda wraps her arms around her body.
“I meant are you actually doing alright?”
She looks away from him.
“You can tell me anything. I’m serious.” His eyes are sympathetic, and searching.
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“I’m here for you, you know that?”
“Yeah, I know.”
David moves to put his arm around her, and she moves away.
“Can you just fuck off?” David recoils.
“I never should’ve gone to that stupid party.”
David doesn’t respond. He looks at the grass by his feet. He sees little pieces of trash that weren’t there before, and his empty bottle is only adding to the mess. He picks it up, and walks over to a nearby trash can.
Amanda has gotten up. Her joint is still lying there, on the ground. David picks that up too and throws it away. Amanda is already walking away. David jogs to keep up with her.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to push too far.”
“No, it’s not. I’m sorry.”
They walk down the hill together. The city has darkened considerably. As they pass under a street light, their forms glow spectral in the dark, and David is tempted to hug Amanda and hold her tight, but he knows he can’t.
She keeps her eyes on the path.
“It was one of your friends.”
David looks at her, and his eyes grow large in the night.
“Oh my god. Who would have done something like this? How could one of my friends do something like this?”
His words grow softer.
“Amanda, who did it?”
“Charlie? You mean gentle giant, Charlie?”
David pauses. The enormity of the world has gotten to him, and he feels very small.
“Do you want me to say something? Because I will… I will—"
“Please, David don’t.”
“But I care about you— I really do.”
“I know David, I know.”
They walk silently down the rest of the way.
David wants to scream, but they are near townhouses now, and if he does, some worried resident will call the police. They reach his house, but he refuses to let Amanda walk home alone. And so they walk on in the darkness--he with his puff-ball hat, and she with her cropped, dyed hair.
The World Within - Nsebong Adah
Last Stand of the Seventh Cavalry
- Seamus Wyatt
Within two hours of hostilities being declared, 7th Company, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, 8th Division, I Corps of the Carolinian Army rolled out into action. Six armored scout cars, accompanied by a squadron of light tanks rumbled out the gates of Fort Semmes, onto the dirt road, dust trails flying up behind the convoy. The scout cars, built for reconnaissance, raced ahead of the tanks for several hours, carrying the troopers, while the slower tanks trailed behind.
In the lead scout car, the company’s CO, Captain Douglas Burns, his XO, First Lieutenant Gibson Reid, and the company First Sergeant Cormac Mulcahy, studied a topographical map of the area. Burns smirked, amused at how quickly the sergeant, a career noncom in his late forties, had changed demeanors so quickly. Only yesterday morning at the daily muster call, a red faced Mulcahy had been screaming complaints at the young enlisted men of the company, usually directed towards unpolished boots, dirty rifles, or unshaven faces. Now, Mulcahy was all business, studying the map, conversing with his superiors.
Burns motioned on the map to a fork in the dirt road about three miles up the road. He tapped his index finger.
“There,” he began, “is where we stop. Two miles from there is border post oh-five-one, and then, the Montefalcans. We hold there, until we can mobilize the heavy tank battalions to reinforce the border positions and get spotters in the air for divisional artillery. We have one hundred and fifty men, plus vehicle crews. If we circle wagons here, we can halt any probing Monty assaults until reinforcements arrive. If we can hold for just three hours, that gives our forces time to repel any invasion. Gibson, Mulcahy, any questions?” he finished, eschewing the formalities of referring to his subordinates by rank.
Mulcahy spoke up, “Sir, with our firepower, we could perhaps repel an infantry battalion, light tanks and armored cars, as well, but if they start rolling medium tanks in, we’re sunk.”
Before Burns could reply, the usually taciturn Reid answered Mulcahy, “I took the liberty of taking, er, ‘requisitioning’ several anti-tank rifles from the Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant, and distributing them to the men.”
“I see,” nodded Burns, before turning to the scout car radio operator, sitting in the passenger seat, carbine resting in his lap. “Corporal, get on the horn with the tank platoons, tell ‘em to pick up their pace, we’re almost there.”
The radioman nodded and began working the radio. The cars stopped at the fork and angled themselves to block the road. Troopers jumped from the backs of the trucks and took up defensive positions, using the cars as potential cover. Troopers manned the mounted machine guns, ready to sweep the road with interlocking fields of fire. The tanks arrived, and traversed their turrets along the lengths of the road.
A Staff Sergeant saluted Burns, “Sir, we’re ready.”
Over by the command car, Burns watched down the road with his binoculars, then turned his head to look at the signal corps operator, who was attempting to splice his field telephone set into a roadside telephone pole. Burns questioned the Technician 5th Grade, “Corporal, have you gotten through to the border post?”
The man shook his head, “Negative, sir. We’ve been unable to raise them.”
“Damn,” cursed Burns, turning back to gaze down the road to the border. Just faintly, he could make out a large dust cloud moving in their direction.
“Montefalcan forces sighted,” said a spotter watching through binoculars in the back of one of the scout cars. “I spot twelve tanks perhaps, an unknown number of armored cars and a lot of infantry. Two companies at least.”
Burns turned at the tank platoon leader, Second Lieutenant Seward who was looking out his turret hatch in his tank about twenty feet away. He called over to the man. “Lieutenant, commence firing.”
“Roger, sir.” The officer grabbed the handset of his short-wave, keying the mic. “All tanks, fix aim at enemy column down range. Fire when ready, Mallard out.”
The seven tanks of the platoon swung their turrets in the direction of the enemy column and opened fire. They were answered by return fire from the Montefalcan tanks.
Burns looked to his XO. “Lieutenant, get those AT rifles ready.”
“Aye, sir,” answered Reid, running over to the firing line.
“Seward, have we hit anything yet?” Burns asked.
“Can’t tell, sir, too much smoke,” he replied, just as an enemy armor-piercing shell slammed through the thin armor of the tank, and exploded, undoubtedly killing the crew.
Burns rushed to the tank, and grabbed Crane, his lower torso and legs a bloodied mess, by the arms, pulling him out of the burning wreck. Two troopers helped Burns drag the wounded officer to a safe distance away, where a medic rushed over, and injected two syrettes of morphine into the man to ease the pain. The medic felt Crane’s pulse, then shook his head.
Another tank exploded behind them. Burns ducked, pulling the brim of his helmet against the back of his neck to avoid any incoming shrapnel, then turned back to the medic. The man was slumped over Crane, the back of his shirt soaked in blood. Burns recoiled in shock. He turned back towards his men, while the medic from 2nd Platoon went to take his fallen colleague’s satchel.
An explosion echoed down the road, one of the enemy tanks was hit. A cheer rose from the Carolinian troopers, as they poured all the ammunition they had downrange at the advancing column. The crew of four three scrambled out of their tank, disabled, though not destroyed, by a glancing shell destroying the barrel of the 37mm gun. Burns was brought back from his observer’s view by the voice of Reid behind him.
“Sir! Report from EASTCOM states that we’ve been cut off, the enemy cut straight through around us. We have five infantry and armor divisions holding off the enemy, and beating them back, but we cannot expect any reinforcements for a while. We are to hold out to either the last man, or the last round of ammunition.”
“Have we figured the enemy force’s strength?” queried Burns.
“Looks to be about a batallion, with an attached mechanized task force,” answered Reid.
“Fifteen dead, twice that number wounded, though most aren’t hit too bad. Enemy infantry are advancing behind their tanks, and we can’t hit them.”
“We hold here, understand, Lieutenant?”
“Aye, sir!” Reid nodded, and ran back to the firing line to inform each of the Platoon COs.
Burns jogged to the firing line behind the scout cars, and looked through his field glasses. The enemy column was nearing, with no signs of stopping. He looked to about three-hundred yards in front of the main perimeter, where the advance platoon was set up. Their tank was destroyed, and the twenty men from that platoon were sheltered behind their scout cars. Bullets pinged off the car’s armor, the enemy force only about a hundred yards from them. Burns looked to the radio operator in the command scout car. “Tell them to get the hell out before they’re overrun.”
The radioman nodded, cranking a few dials on the radio set, then spoke into the mic. "Moultrie, this is Palmetto, over.”
“This is Moultrie, what's the word, over?”
“Palmetto, orders from Fox. Fall back to the main line; you’re almost overrun. Switch to Pedersen, then run for it, over.”
Burns raised his binoculars again, and looked at the advance platoon, all of them fitting their Pedersen devices from their drop holsters. Once they finished, the platoon sergeant yelled at them, and they began running back in groups of two, while the burly sergeant jumped on top of the burnt hull of a tank, and grabbed the pintle mounted .50 machine gun. He began sweeping the enemy force with fire from the exposed position. The other soldiers who were waiting for their turn provided rapid covering fire with their now semi-automatic rifles. Bullets struck the sergeant, but he kept firing. Just as the last men reached the main line, the sergeant waved back, before a shell obliterated his position.
By now, only fifty men were unwounded. Lieutenant Reid had ordered the scout car drivers to encircle the five still-functional scout cars, just before a shell exploded three feet from him, flinging his body against the burning hull of a tank like a ragdoll and peppering him with shrapnel.
Crimson blood soaked through the fallen lieutenant’s olive drab shirt, pouring from seemingly infinite wounds.
Burns dashed over to his fallen adjutant, a medic not far behind. The medic reached Reid before him, quickly feeling the man’s pulse. The medic knelt, and quickly surveyed the mortally wounded officer, shifted his satchel, and withdrew two syrettes of morphine.
He injected the first into Reid. “First for comfort.”
He then injected the second, “Second for eternity.” The young medic looked up at his captain,
“Sir, we need to get back to the line. Cover me, if you would.”
Burns nodded, grabbing a fallen rifle. “On three. One, two, three.” Burns stepped from behind the tank, firing his rifle, as the medic ran back to the encircled cars. Burns looked back to see if the man had made it, then ran like hell back.
Suddenly, another car exploded, raining shrapnel and debris down on the surviving troopers in the small perimeter. The enemy troops drew closer now, spraying the dwindling formation with machine gun and rifle fire. Four of Burns’ troopers were cut down, leaving only three left, all crouching behind dead bodies or wreckage. The enemy soldiers advanced on foot, running pell-mell towards the improvised defenses. One cavalryman took a bullet between his eyes, crumpling over on his back. Another was cut down by machine gun fire. The third was sliced by a Montefalcan bayonet through his abdomen. His men all dead or dying, Burns made his last decision.
He stood up from behind the cab of a car, drawing his semi-automatic pistol from his hip holster. He advanced forward, towards his enemies. His first shot dropped an enemy in the back, the others turned, leveling their weapons on him. He was struck by one, perhaps two, shots, but he kept advancing, the adrenaline kicking in, wiping any pain from his nerves.
Pain didn’t matter. He continued forward, dropping two more with three well-placed shots. He took cover, and double tapped another enemy in the chest. He dropped another, and heard another coming behind him. He pivoted, and pulled the trigger.
Click. His gun was empty.
The foe’s shot knocked him backwards off his feet, pistol falling from his hand. The world was already going black. As the darkness grew around him, he glanced at his watch. Three hours. They had held the line.
He smiled, as life faded around him.