Taking Prisoners by Derek Osborne

We had stopped by the side of the road to make camp in a big field outside the town. It had been slow going because we had prisoners and needed to stop every hour to keep them in line. The corporal complained how they slowed us down. There were beds and showers waiting in Leon. He complained to me but I ignored him. I was very tired after marching all day and wanted nothing more than to get some sleep.

He and the others stayed out by the fire, the kid from Liverpool, the sergeant who carried the biggest rabbit’s foot I have ever seen, and the huge Scott with his red beret and heavy, Browning machine gun. There were others as well but I do not recall them with any clarity. Around ten I heard the lieutenant come up and speak in urgent tones. I pretended to be asleep when he looked inside the tent. Then I heard them move out, so I got up and went outside. It was cold now and the stars were thick above the trees. You could hear the rifles clanking against their cartridge packs as they walked up the road in the dark. I found some soup in the pot so I made a seat of my rucksack and sat in the wet grass to eat. It was always cold at night and then hot on the road in the afternoon. The warm soup tasted good.

I heard shots and then screaming, then several more shots, the steady thud of the Browning gun firing short bursts underneath the sharper crack of the rifles, and the whole time there was the screaming. I sat and stared at the fire. The silence was awful. Then there was one more very loud scream and one last shot.

When they returned none of them wanted to talk. The sergeant couldn’t keep anything down. After that night, the corporal never complained again. He wasn’t a bad sort, and apologized when his orders came through. He made me promise to visit if I ever I got back to England.

Copyright 2009

Author's Bio: All of us learn by imitating others. For me, it was Hemingway. It took years to get that voice out of my head, but he taught me the basics - like riding a bike. Regardless of politics, the guy was a hell of a writer, and I owe him a great deal.