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Dirtscapes

Read. Suffer. Try to Enjoy.

Short Story - Crimson

Dawn broke out in a crimson streak as the Commander stared at the blood red patterns over the pallid sky, through the dense foliage. The irony of the situation made him smile. Crimson was one colour he wished he’d never see again…never. As he shut his eyes again, he felt the wretched shivers run through his body, jarring his very being. He shook uncontrollably, as his febrile mind tried to recapitulate what had transpired over the last 36 hours…


He had been posted to this region to aid in fending off a group of Rebels who were agitating for a separationist moment. His earlier track record in eliminating such outfits had played a part in this. Ever since he had taken charge, he had assembled a crack team of his own men, and was doing an excellent job of “cleaning up this toilet bowl”, in his own words.


Establishing a strong network of informers had been his first priority, and the second was winning over the trust of the people. The first part was easy given how easily food was available in the wretched state; it was the second part that was proving to be a little difficult. The terrorists could be slain, but the ideals never died. They merely remained dormant, and waited to re-group and re-surface. The commander compared himself to an oncologist. Treatment had to be a continuous, non-localized affair.

The Rebel Leader had totally infected the psyches of the villagers, to the point where to hope for any sane communication with them was totally hopeless. It was a laborious process, building up a foundation, convincing them about his intentions, and empowering them to make a choice and think for themselves. The Rebel Leader was a very erudite and cunning opponent. He knew the rural human psyches well, and excelled at molding them to suit his needs. They had been engaged in a gory, yet fascinating game of chess over the past 6 months. Each had a fixed goal in sight, and neither gave the other an inch more than what was necessary.


So it was with mixed feelings that the Commander had received the news on that fateful evening stating that the Leader was attending a ceremony at a village not too far from his camp. It was dark and overcast when he and his trusted team of four left for another try. They were going to get him this time.


The company made their way through the dense jungle, silent and determined. It was almost impenetrable, and tested their skills to the maximum. Progress was laboriously slow, cutting through the underbrush, marking their path, and keeping their eyes peeled covering each other. As expected, there was a massive thunderbolt, and it started raining. Gently at first, then the barrage got heavier…steadily, but surely. The ambient noise increased making it harder for them to concentrate. The Leader was allegedly stationed in a village, which lay beyond a stream, which was the demarcation of the Rebel Occupied Land. The Rebel strength was already depleted due to the relentless operations carried out by the Commander. It was just a matter of time, the Commander felt, before the entire uprising was quashed. As per the tip-off, if the Leader was not going to be accompanied by his full band of followers, this would be easy.


Gradually the stream loomed into view. They could hardly make out the outline, because of the sheets of rain that kept battering everything in sight. The company huddled together, and charted out their course of action. Two commandos were to scout around to the left. The Commander and one more were to go to the right. One was to remain back and cover both the flanks. They would meet back in half an hour at the same point, and decide the point of entry.


The stream was in spate. It was like a wild animal under the moonlight, furious, barely restrained by the banks. Visibility was dim, the inky blackness broken by stray beams of moonlight, which filtered through the treetops. Trees lay uprooted all along the periphery, with branches and driftwood coursing through the stream. The Commander, straining his eyes for some activity on the other side of the stream, was compelled to marvel momentarily at the sight. Morbid beauty at it's best.


They started scouting the river bank, looking to cross over to the other side. They located a reasonably safe part to navigate. The Commander radioed the left flank. No response. He radioed the lone commando covering both the flanks. No response from him too. Definitely not what he expected. He asked his companion to stay put by the stream, out of sight near the bank, and headed back to check after the other three. He reached the point where they had branched out. The lone commando was sprawled hideously, his throat slit, two bullets in his chest. The Commander rushed to the left...to find them both dead too. He could smell his own fear now...a perfect ambush. They had walked right into it...how could that informant have done this to him?! He'd trusted him, and relied on him after checking his antecedents thoroughly enough. His earlier tips were always true. Half expecting the worst, he rushed back to the bank. His fears were confirmed, as the body of the remaining commando was slumped dangerously close to the water. Snipers, he thought to himself...they would be watching every move I make from now on. Silent, deadly assassins.


An orange burst pierced the murkiness. The bullet just missed his ear .He retaliated. The shots came from all directions facing him now, and he replied faithfully to every single one. The muffled sputters of the guns were barely audible over the roaring of the stream. In the frenzy, he hadn't noticed that a couple of bullets had grazed his left forearm, leaving behind a gaping flesh wound in their wake. A lull in firing made him suddenly aware of this, and it was all he could do to keep from screaming. He tried to retreat, since it was foolish to take them on all at once. He would round up support, and then make another try. Four of his best had already been lost. He did not want to be another statistic. He broke out into a brisk clip. The blood kept seeping through the flesh wound. He paused for a moment to apply a tourniquet with some bandage from his kit. It lessened the pain slightly, but the bleeding would not stop. He kept on running, careful not to push himself too hard. He then felt his legs give way and hit the wet ground with a muffled thud. His legs were shaking as he got up, and propped himself against a tree.

He tried to radio for backup. Static. He collapsed against the trunk of the tree, as his legs could not hold him up any longer.


The storm intensified. The steady battering of the rain had drowned out all other aural perception. The Commander tried his best to shield himself from the rain, but wasn’t too successful. The water kept soaking him through and through.


A maddening monotone.

And then along came silence. He was suddenly oblivious to the sound, the aquatic fury, the pain, everything.


The raindrops woke him up, with each drop feeling like a gunshot against his eardrum. Eyes watering, he groped about for his whereabouts. All he could feel and clasp was slush and dead leaves. Why did his arm hurt so much? It was just a flesh wound…


The darkness enveloped him again. He welcomed it this time. It was a lot more bearable.


The shivers were what actually woke him with a firmer purpose. He wasn’t going to rot away like this. No chance in hell. He would make it back to the base and get more troops. He struggled to his feet, disoriented and giddy. The rain had just let up as far as he could tell. He had to make the most of it.


He radioed again. Same old static.


He started to walk back towards the base, his instincts as sharp as they could be in the face of the dullness. The wound had not healed completely, since the rain had not let it dry. The bleeding was intermittent, but present. Out of breath, he sat down near a tree, dizzy.


He then heard the sound. Muffled sobs. Unmistakably a little girl crying. But what the hell was she doing here? Early in the morning, in this weather? He strained to hear more clearly. No question about it, it was a little girl. Cautiously he went nearer the origin of the sound. After around 50 feet, he saw her. Couldn’t have been older than 10. Clothes tattered, and bloodstained. Hunched against some underbrush, her frail body racked by those sobs. His instinct kicked in, making him do a quick recce to ensure that she was truly alone. He did not find anyone else. Panting from the effort, he went up to the girl, and touched her shoulder.


The kid leapt up with a shriek.


“Shh…relax, I’m here to help. What are you doing all alone here?!”


“My parents…they…there…they” the kid babbled incoherently, gesturing in the direction of the stream.


He knelt down beside her, and waited till she was a little more composed.


“They raided our village, and have killed everyone…but I know they haven’t killed my mother…”


“How do you know for sure?”


“I just know, I have to go back…please help me”


The Commander was in no physical condition to be of any use to her. But his heart went out to the poor waif. She reminded him of his daughter back home. He hadn’t seen her in two years. Two missed birthdays had been real hard to justify.


“I’ll come with you. Just do as I say”


As if on cue, it started to rain. He proceeded to tread through the slush and the rain, with the girl in tow. Altruism apart, he so badly wanted to take down a couple of the bastards who had killed his most trusted men, that it physically hurt him.


As they approached the stream, the girl started to lead the way. The commander’s footsteps were faltering. The exhaustion and the rage had drained all his reserves.


“My mother will be here, near the stream. She will be hiding here somewhere. This is where she had told me to run and get help…”


“Just wait, don’t rush”


“She has to be here…I know she just has to be! She told me she would wait for me. I cannot disappoint her. I promised her I would come!”


The commander was too weak to even try and restrain her. He followed, footsteps faltering even more.


The Rebel Sniper rubbed his eyes and stiffened. He could not believe his luck. Slowly from underneath the tarpaulin under which he was camouflaged, he captured the pale visage of the Commander in the crosshairs of his rifle. But it was hard to get a steady bead on the man. He was wandering so much, rambling loudly all the while. Didn’t he know that sound carried better across water? After scanning the areas behind the Commander, he was sure of the fact that he was alone. He confirmed this by radioing all the other snipers stationed across the stream.


There had to be some mistake. He was all alone.


With a philosophical shrug, the sniper took one final look through the scope, and pressed the trigger expertly. Once. Twice.


The bullets entered the Commander’s head with their intended accuracy. One through the forehead. One through the left temple.


“Long live the Revolution”, was the last thing that the Commander heard before his eyes were clouded by thick crimson streaks, as the girl seemed to spit on his face.
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