Andy lay under the hedge. All around him was silent, but he knew he wasn't alone; he could sense it, the way old people sensed rain was on the way. His boots were wet, and his feet were cold, but he didn't dare to move to remove the uncomfortable footwear. He just prayed he wouldn't be here much longer. He grasped his rifle, holding it close to his chest, as one would a loved one and peered out under the foliage.
Nothing........not a murmur, not a movement. Only the gentle whisper of the wind through the leaves. The sun shone, making a mockery of the previous night's torrential rain, and the day grew warm.
Still Andy didn't move. He knew, instinctively, he wasn't alone, and wasn't about to call anyone's bluff. He patted his breast pocket wherein lay his love, Charlotte. It was only a picture, and didn't do his girl justice, but out here it was all men had. He had had no letters for nearly a month, he had been separated from his unit for weeks, they probably thought him dead. In fact, his CO was probably already writing the letter to his parents, telling them how bravely and courageously their son fought, and that he died a hero. He did neither, however, and that is how he ended up here, starving, cold and wet, lying under a hedge in a foreign land, waiting for his enemy to show.
He needed this kill. It would mean an incredible difference to his life. He reminisced as he lay still in the damp ditch.
He was a gentle boy, everyone said so. He would rescue injured animals and nurse them, he would grow beautiful plants, and always remembered his mother on Mother's Day. His father was a stern man, who wanted his only son to be an example of manhood, but Andy was never inclined to do as his father wished. He refused football, and instead went to cookery classes and treated his mother to a home made meal as a Sunday treat. He never went to rugby, preferring to read books and broaden his mind. So there was Andy, surrounded by flowers and animals and his doting mother - and the letter arrived. No one had given a thought to the fact that Andy would be called up, he just never seemed the type. But the draft isn't quite so discriminating, and Andy was sent away to learn how to shoot a gun, preferably hitting and killing his opponent, how to disarm a man in combat and how to run for miles with a heavy pack. It wasn't the life he had envisioned at seventeen, but he made of it what he could.
So here he was, miles away from his unit, pitted one against another. He gently rolled over to ease his aching limbs, and watched the sun dapple through the hedge over his head. He concentrated on one leaf, a deep green leaf through which the sun shone as the wind gently shook it. He really ought to take his boots off, but he was still not sure where his opponent was, and he didn't want to risk exposure at this point. He concentrated back on his leaf. He wondered what type it was, certainly none that he had ever grown in his own garden, and he didn't recognise it from any of his numerous flora books, now sitting neatly on his bedroom bookshelf, undisturbed. He thought this was the epitome of being in a foreign land. How much more comforting if it were a simple privet or broom hedge. How much more comforting if he could flag down a car and speak in English, sure that the driver would understand and comply with his request. The leaf quivered, almost as if agreeing with Andy, and he held his breath.
Footsteps........approached and receded..........
He breathed again, being sure to do so deeply and evenly as shown in training to avoid loud panting. his hand was clammy on his rifle, when he was sure his nemesis had passed, he gently released the gun from his grip, and flexed his fingers. Oh, he would give anything to be back in his own garden, he would even play football for his father, if only he didn't have to be here, under this hedge, waiting to kill. He didn't want to do this, he really didn't want to do this, but he knew he must.
He eased himself out from under the bush, keeping an alert eye out all around. He reached back in for his rifle and plucked a leaf from the hedge, which he put in his pocket with the unflattering picture of his sweetheart. A memento. He checked his watch, he had been under the hedge for about six hours, some of the night and most of the morning. It was eleven am, and he was getting hungry and desperate.
Suddenly his opponent broke from the trees on the other side of the clearing, and they faced each other. Soldier and enemy, killer and victim. His enemy was unarmed and alone. Andy lifted his rifle to his shoulder and squinted down through the sight, figuring the best shot for a straightforward kill. He squeezed the trigger gently, as he was taught so long ago at training camp.......
And slowly released it. He couldn't shoot. He couldn't take this life any more than he could take other lives. He had run away to avoid killing, so why would he start now. Was three weeks all the difference between the old Andy and the new Andy? Or was it the routine and discipline of the training camp, had the rigorous training served it's purpose without him realising it? He gripped the trigger again.
And slowly released it. His target watched him unblinkingly. Andy lowered his rifle and looked straight back at the deer.
Maybe he would eat tomorrow.
(c) cq 2003