Demetri trudged through the ankle deep mud as the large tank rumbled along beside him and his small squad. Up ahead the captain rode in the back of a jeep, smoking a cigarette and thumbing through a short book, his clothes and hair were immaculate, untouched by the filth that splashed up on Demetri and his companions.
As the jeep crested a short rise in the road, the captain stood up in the back of the vehicle, looked forward, and then signaled for the tank to stop. With a jolt it did and the heavy diesel engine slowed, allowing Demetri to hear the ringing in his ears caused by walking this close to the loud tank. He motioned to his squad to spread out, and wearily they did so. Grateful for the break Demetri pulled a battered pack of cigarettes from his front pocket and after a few moments of patting pockets trying to find a lighter, one of his unit leant over and offered him a light.
Drawing the smoke in Demetiri smiled and leant back against the small tree behind him “So Rodya, what do you think?” he asked. The young soldier blinked and pocketed the lighter “Well sir, I’m not sure. I don’t see why the army needs to come out to some remote village. Why can’t the local police sort it out?”
Demetri smiled “It’s a good question Rodya. It is a question for politicians and for generals. It is not a question that you should be asking” He indicated the captain “Now pay attention, he’s seen something”.
The captain, who had been looking ahead through a compact set of binoculars, picked up a loudspeaker next to him and shouted out “By order of the army, you must disperse. If you do not then we will be forced to take action!”
Demetri frowned, the captain had sounded nervous, his voice cracking as he had laid down the ultimatum. Turning the captain waved at the troops and tank behind him to advance. As they did so he turned back and yelled again into the loudspeaker.
Scrambling up the incline Demetri crested the hill. There several hundred yards ahead of him was close to a thousand villagers, many injured, tightly packed and slowly making their way up the road toward them. As they moved closer, paying no heed to the shouting captain Demetri squinted at them, trying to figure out why it all seemed wrong.
Several seconds passed and then he saw it, the way they moved, was halting and heavy. The wounds in some should have stopped an ox, but these people were upright, walking toward them with massive gashes and missing limbs. But most of all, the thing that sent shivers down his spine, was the blood around their mouths and down their shirts, as if they had been feeding on raw meat with no regard for decency or cleanliness.
The captain screamed once more into the loudspeaker, then turned and ordered the men to open fire. The heavy NSVT machine gun mounted on top of the tank opened fire, lighting the small road up as it roared and spat lead and tracer into the crowd of villagers. Demetri crouched, and began to fire bursts of automatic fire into the crowd and watched as bodies were torn apart and dropped heavily to the ground.
As the first row of villagers fell to the ground, Demetri reloaded and took aim again. As he did so one of the first to be shot pulled herself back to her feet and began to stumble toward the soldiers, daylight clearly visible through a large hole in her chest. Demetri began to panic, as more villagers began to stand back up, blood pouring from their fresh wounds, while others, who had literally been torn in half by the gun fire, reached out and began to pull themselves forward.
Demetri opened fire with the rest of his clip, watching in disbelief as blood fountained into the air over the unstoppable mass of people. Looking up at the captain, he could see the man gripping the rails of the jeep, knuckles white in fear as he watched the horror moving closer to him. The captain leant down to the driver, yelled something in his ear, and with a roar the jeep shot backwards, until it was clear to swing around, and then shot off back down the dirt road. Dimetri swallowed and yelled at the tanks mounted gunner “Fire the cannon! FIRE THE CANNON!”.
Moments later the air was ripped asunder by the massive blast from the Tanks main gun. With a massive flash and boom of smoke and debris the villagers were blown apart. Body pieces were thrown everywhere. Again Demetri watched, and slowly more villagers emerged from the smoke, arms outstretched, soaked now in blood and continued to move toward them.
“FIRE AGAIN!” he yelled as he opened fire with his third rifle clip. With a loud clunk the tank locked another shell in place and the gunner pulled the trigger. The round tore into the crowd, shredding bodies with shrapnel and fire. As the explosion ripped through them the last thing Demetri saw was the torn and bloody stump of a leg flying through the air toward him.
Demetri woke with a cough, hacking blood up that was choking his lungs. After a few moments he breathed deeply and looked around. He was in a small cave, sharp, cold rock below and around him, at the entrance stood Rodya with a look of concern on his face. “Stay quiet Demetri” he said “If they find us we are both dead this time”.
Demetri looked at him, aware that his face and chest felt like they had been run over by a horse “What happened?” he asked.
“Nothing good sir. One of the tank rounds threw a piece of them at you. I dragged you away sir, to here. And when I went back the squad… the squad was with them sir. All of them, they were climbing over the tank. I, I watched as they pulled the gunner out. They tore him to pieces!! His screams, I, I have never heard anything like it, and then they climbed through the hatch for the driver. I don’t think he made it sir, I heard him screaming as I came back here”
Demetri swore. Suppressing a cough he looked up “Where are they now Rodya?” Rodya, in the dim light, looked scared, but he looked out and pointed east “That way, they just walked about a little and then all set off in that direction sir, if you listen you can hear them, they groan. I don’t think they’re human sir. Not anymore.”