Survivor by David Macfie

The soldier peeped through the leaves and branches of his hideaway. He had been lying there since he’d lost touch with his patrol during the ambush. He knew some of his mates were dead but not if any had survived. He’d been lucky. He’d dropped his rifle when he bumped into the branch of a tree and had been bending over when the gunfire ripped through his friends. At the first deafening sound, he’d fallen on his face and crawled into a small depression in the ground. There he’d remained until the cacophony ceased. He’d silently crawled further away until he’d reached this small copse of bushes next to a minefield. He figured he’d be pretty safe there because the mines would keep most everyone away. He dared not go back to check on his friends because he could still hear the enemy celebrating their small victory. They didn’t sound very far away. He decided that he should just stay quiet, exactly where he was. If he didn’t move, the enemy couldn’t hear him. And if they didn’t hear him, they’d never know that one, at least, of the patrol had survived. He wormed deeper into the leaves and soft earth beneath the bushes and settled down to wait. The noise became muted but didn’t stop. He heard sounds of preparing a camp and cursed to himself. If the enemy settled in for the night, he’d have to cross the minefield to escape.

He waited patiently until all sound ceased. And then he waited a time longer until he was sure that most of his foes were asleep. He slowly eased himself out of his sanctuary and began worming over the minefield. His progress was painstakingly slow. He had to survive and to survive he had to avoid all the mines. Again he was lucky, the terrain was not too difficult and there was enough of a moon to create shadows of the trigger mechanisms as they lifted above the ground. He inched forward and took diversions round each telltale shadow. His nerves stretched near to breaking point and beads of sweat dripped from his brow. He tried to make as little sound as possible, but there were noises. A rustle here as he crossed dead leaves, a clink there as parts of his equipment bumped stones. He strained his ears, trying to keep contact with the enemy camp’s sounds of the night. He hoped against hope that the small sounds of his passage would not attract any unwelcome attention. He had reached halfway and felt exhausted from the physical strain of his snake-like movement and from the mental stress of the almost unbearable tension.

Inch by inch and foot by foot, he slithered. He could now see the longer grass, copses of bushes and the odd tree or two at the far end of the minefield. He took several deep breaths to calm himself. He couldn’t blow it now by moving too quickly. He’d counted as he’d moved. Nine mines so far he’d found and avoided. How many more? How many more? Inch by inch and foot by foot, he approached the relative safety of the other side. Finally, with a silent sigh of relief, he wormed into the long grass. Now things got more difficult, if that was possible. The grass was so long he couldn’t see where he was going. He had to rise up, from time to time, and get his eyes above the gently waving tops of the vegetation so that he could maintain his chosen direction. Every time he did this, there was a danger that he’d be spotted from the enemy camp. He still wasn’t far enough away that he couldn’t be seen by a sentry with field-glasses or an eagle-eyed soldier. He was heading for the largest of the trees he’d spotted. Slowly and carefully he progressed, closer and closer. At the tree he moved to the backside of the trunk from the camp, and silently scaled the trunk into the branches. He climbed as high as he could and sighted through the tree’s canopy towards the camp. He watched for many minutes and noticed two sentries who looked less than attentive. There was no other movement. He was safe for the moment. He checked his watch. Good, there were still five hours of darkness for him to make good his escape. But which way to go? He scanned the landscape for two hundred and seventy degrees. He left the ninety that centered on the camp out of his deliberations.

After careful scrutiny and much thought, he made his choice. He would go directly away from the enemy. He slid down to the ground, ducked and made his way through the vegetation. He had no way of knowing if there were other patrols in the area so he still maintained a rigid control over the speed and silence of his passage. He still maintained the utmost caution when he checked his direction. And he still didn’t assume that had finally got away. He lost track of time as he progressed. But he recognized the point at which he was safe from the ambushers. In celebration he took a short rest and considered his options. Should he sleep for a while or should he keep going? He decided that sleep could wait and set off again. Finally he had moved so far that he believed he had escaped and would survive……..

“Robbie, come in from the garden, it’s supper time,” came his mother’s call.