Jacob hunkered down further in the mud and sighted down his rifle barrel, pulling the trigger. The recoil bit into his shoulder like it always did but he ignored the pain, as he always did and set his rifle down to grope for spare bullets. His leg hurt like the dickens too, but he ignored that as well.
It seemed like they’d been here for days, but Jacob wasn’t sure, he’d lost track of time long ago. He’d probably have gone mad by now if it hadn’t been for Dave. They had joined up together, when it seemed that the only right thing a young man could do was go to war to defend King and Country. They had learnt how to fight and kill together and they were together now in this hell of noise, blood and mix of dirt and body parts that rained down on them constantly.
“Running short of ammo, Dave.” Jacob said as reloaded and set his rifle to aim again. “Reckon it won’t be long now.”
Dave didn’t answer but Jacob hadn’t expected him to anyway, Dave had always been the strong, silent type.
“Retreat, retreat.” The words were indistinct at first, distant murmurs in the ocean of screams and explosions shattering the air around them, but becoming clearer as they were passed down the line.
“‘Bout bloody time.” Jacob muttered as he looked along the faces in the trench. He could see the wide staring eyes close briefly in the only relief his comrades allowed themselves before they hauled their rifles back from the firing positions and began to back away. But Jacob didn’t move, even when all that remained of those that had surrounded him and Dave were hollows in the dirt.
He stayed and waited. Waited for life to return to the eyes of the boy who lay beside him, for the well known face to break into the larrikin smile he knew so well or the hands that had held him when he was afraid to move again. The noise continued, the bullets whistled still, sending up small chunks of earth beside him. Somewhere close another louder explosions marked the growing accuracy of the enemy’s heavy guns. Still Jacob didn’t move.
“Come on, soldier. They’ve called the retreat.” The captain was beside him, pulling at his arm trying to drag him to his feet.
“Ain’t leaving, Sir. Not without Dave.”
“You can’t help him now, son. He wouldn’t want you to stay here.”
Jacob looked at the beloved face. “Maybe not, Sir, but we came here together and we’ll leave together. Besides, not going far on this, am I?”
The Captained seemed to notice Jacob’s blood encrusted trouser leg for the first time and the white of bone showing through the material.
“I’ll send a Medic and a stretcher for you.”
“Best not to worry, Sir. Reckon we’re both just fine here.”
The Captain looked at him for a moment, then nodded. “Good luck then, son.”
Once the Captain had gone Jacob settled back down again beside Dave his rifle in firing position. “Wouldn’t change anything either, you know. We’ve been good together, you and me and I’m glad of that.” Jacob smiled slightly as he imagined Dave’s expression at his words. He wasn’t the sentimental type either.
“Not long now, Dave. Not long at all, wait up for me.”