Fiction

Last Bastion

15th October 2019 — 3

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Fiction

Last Bastion

15th October 2019 — 3

Here’s my entry for last week’s Reedsy writing prompt challenge #10 – Peanut’s. It’s my first time having a crack at this very popular writing prompt. There are some hugely talented writers on the platform, be sure to check it out and why not have a go yourself.

Each competition offers a choice of writing prompts I went with:

“Write a story about two friends who have a knack for understanding each other better than anyone else.” 

You can read the story (~1750 words) below or over on the Reedsy website by clicking the image below:


I remember that first time we saw Camp Bastion, it was from the chopper as we came into land. It was a sight to see, a living, breathing city scratched into the desert. Looking over at Jack, I could see he was buzzing with nervous energy. He gave me a nod and flashed that stupid bloody grin. We were up for this; we’d been training for months and we were desperate to get into the action.

I’d met Jack back in basic training. He was a big lad. Not too much going on between the ears, mind you. We complemented each other perfectly. He was the brawn to my brains. I’d help him with tests. He’d drag my arse around the obstacle course. By the end of six months, we were inseparable. We’d both come from The Valleys and we loved nothing better than getting out there and getting our hands dirty.

As the chopper touched down, we’d stepped out into a brutal heat and a tornado of dust whipped up by the blades. Jack was already making friends with the ground crew. Always outgoing, he had a knack for making friends fast. He just had that kind of personality, how I envied him.

They bunked us in a tent with eight other guys, part of the squad we’d be working with. Any concerns I’d had about us fitting in were dispelled when Jack launched himself into their kick about outside. He was a terrible cheat and a worse footballer. By the time I’d unpacked, he had eight new best mates he was sharing a beer or two with.

In fact, the squad were glad to see us and who wouldn’t be. Anyone stupid enough to go searching for IED’s was okay in their book, if not a little mad. They never said what had happened to the last guys. It wasn’t a topic either I or Jack would push. Turn over in the squad wasn’t discussed.

The initial rush of adrenaline had subsided as we settled into the reality of day-to-day life in the camp. They had given us a couple of weeks to get acclimatised before we’d be going out with the guys on regular patrols. The time dragged.

Jack as always was off making new friends. The son of a bitch was always getting into some scrape or another. It was always me who had to pick up the pieces and carry the can with the brass. He could be hard work sometimes, but it was hard to stay mad at him. He’d always flash that cheeky grin and give me a wink. Yeah, we were good. Half the camp would be his buddies before we’d step out of those gates.

Eventually, the day came for our first deployment. Suited and booted, we set out with the squad on our first sortie. It was stiflingly hot in the back of the armoured personnel carrier. Jack was suffering. His Welsh blood didn’t do well in this heat. Two hours in and he was desperate to get some fresh air and stretch his legs. As were we all.

With a jolt, the vehicle stopped, the doors flung open. It wasn’t any cooler outside as we peered into the bright sunlight at the outskirts of a small ramshackle village. The officer in charge strolled up, happy to see us. His lot had secured the compound, but they were loathed to move in for fear of booby-traps. That’s where we came in.

Jack didn’t need a second invitation. We grabbed our kit and set to our well-practised procedures. Now, Jack might not have been the brightest of the bunch, but he had a skill for finding shit. It was next level, sixth sense stuff. The squad would joke he could smell ’em, taste the C4. I knew it was something far more than that. He had a gift. My job was to keep the big bull from wrecking the china shop and probably both of us in the process.

Gingerly we entered the compound and slowly moved from room to room, searching everything, careful not to disturb a thing. We knew the enemy could be ingenious when it came to leaving surprises. We had a connection me and Jack, we both knew what the other was thinking. It would only take a wink and nod to speak volumes. Mind you, I still had to keep him on a tight leash, just in case he got carried away. It was a nervous half hour before we could give the all clear. A pat on the back from the rest of the squad and we were happy to be in the game.

The next week had been rinse and repeat. A car on the roadside, a farm, a couple of houses. Oh, and a bloody chicken coop. That one had been tricky for Jack. Being a big lad, he liked his food, and he wasn’t going to miss out on an opportunity for a free lunch.

It was a fortnight before we saw some real action. We got called up to look at a rickety old wooden bridge that crossed a rocky stream. There had been some intel that the insurgents had rigged it to blow. The stream meandered through a valley, craggy hills on either side. It was open, and the hills provided excellent cover. It hadn’t come as a complete surprise when something flitted past me. I heard the crack a second later. Even then, I was slow to react until Jack barked at me to get undercover. Spurred into action, I threw myself into a ditch as two more shots zipped past and landed in the dirt just feet away.

Next time I dared lookup I got a glimpse of Jack running for the bridge. He’d drawn most of the fire, giving the squad the moment they needed to rally. It would be an Apache that delivered the coup de grâce, but not before the squad had scratched up a handful of kills. When I caught up with Jack, adrenaline still pumping, I’d grabbed him by the neck and threw him to the ground. “Stupid bastard,” I screamed at him. “Are you trying to get yourself killed?” He just stared backed at me, panting, exhausted and shot me that shit-eating fucking grin. I could have killed him. Everyone thought he was a hero and damn it if they weren’t right.

The weeks stretched into months. The work was tough, yo-yo-ing from the mundane to the insane. It was taking its toll. We were dog-tired, dead on our feet. Each night we’d get back to camp we’d fall into our beds. The relentless heat and countless miles through that spartan terrain slowly sapped the life out of you. Jack never complained, even when his blistered feet were killing him. What we’d have given for day back in the lush cold wet valley’s back home.


Fatigued, neither of us was on the top of our game the morning they called us out for checkpoint duty. The brass was meeting with some high-up local leaders and we were there to make sure no one got any clever ideas. We hated doing checkpoints. It was tedious work and exhausting work in that stifling heat. By midday, we were both knackered and probably a little complacent.

It was an innocuous-looking battered grey Toyota Corolla that pulled up. It looked like it might have been a taxi at some point. Inside, there were two guys. The squad were checking their papers. Jack and I were giving the car the once over. Nothing unusual, nothing that was until Jack suddenly froze. His stupid grin gone. That was never a good sign. When he started sprinting towards me, I knew we were in the shit. Time seemed to slow down. I turned on my heels, Jack was right behind me. I yelled at the squad to take to cover, but it was too late. Realising we’d rumbled them, the bastards detonated the vehicle.

Next thing I know, I’m on the ground. I can hear screaming and there’s something heavy on my legs. I’ve looked down and seen its Jack. It looked like he’d taken the brunt of the shrapnel. I tried to reach down and realised there’d been plenty of white-hot metal to go around. I had a chunk sticking out of my stomach. I grabbed Jack by the neck, my hand tightened around his dog tags before I lost consciousness.

It was a day later when I awoke in the hospital. First thing I did was check everything was still there. II was so grateful to feel my legs. My second thought was for Jack, I struggled to pull myself out of the bed and when I saw his dog tags on the bedside table. My heart sunk. I was halfway down the ward, tags in hand before a nurse stopped me. “Where’s Jack,” I yelled at her.

“Jack who?”

I lost it. It took one of the squad to step in. “Calm down! I can take you to Jack.”

He shoved me into a wheelchair before my legs gave out. Pushing me through the labyrinth of corridors, he tried to prepare me. “I should warn you. Jack’s in pretty bad shape mate. It’s still touch and go.”

He was alive! I’ve never been so relieved in all my life. “He’s alive! How bad?”

He didn’t answer. “You know we’d all be goners if it wasn’t for you guys?”

“How bad?!” I repeated, angrily.

He wheeled me into the room and I looked down in horror at his scarred face. He was missing an ear, and there was a bandaged stump where a leg should have been. Fuck! I was out of the wheelchair, my face pressed up next to his. I cradled his head with shaking hands and whispered his name. “Jack.”

His eyes flickered open and with a thud thud thud his tail wagged and he licked my face.

“Jack!” I cried. I looked down through tears of joy as the bastard flashed me that fucking grin.


It was pissing down as we reached the top of the hill. It had been a hard slog, especially for Jack, but the big lug wasn’t going to be slowed down by only having three legs. He never was one for complaining.

Image by Erik Tanghe from Pixabay

3 comments

  • Peter's pondering

    15th October 2019 at 7:30 pm

    This is a first rate piece of sheer genius Chris. Really well written, gripping, and it fooled me right to the end! I think you can count yourself amongst the hugely talented writers you mentioned.

    Reply

    • Chris

      15th October 2019 at 7:34 pm

      Thanks Peter. Fantastic, my hope is that the majority of readers would not realise. It’s a fine balance between dropping enough hints and a few bits of misdirection. Thought I might have given the game away in a few places 😉

      Reply

      • Peter's pondering

        15th October 2019 at 7:43 pm

        Even as a veteran of 28 years service I still missed all the hints!

        Reply

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