It was desolation for miles. The network of trenches had caved in to the west, and the bodies of the men that tried to escape the blast were half buried in dirt. Northward were the crossed posts holding up the tangles of barbed wire, where hunched silhouettes of stumbling figures were moving in the haze like ghosts, no longer human. The breeze from that way was thick with the smell of sulphur and burnt rubber, and breathing didn’t come easy without a mask.
I looked down at the blood on my leg. I’d gotten off lucky; a bullet to the thigh had just missed the bone. Strangely, after everything else, it felt like the pain was more relief than burden.
Destination ahead, I kept walking.
The radio crackled at my hip and it was Commander Yew. “Rogers, you are out of position. Get back to base camp now,” he said.
“I can’t do that, commander. Something I need to take care of first.”
“Wasn’t up for discussion. Come back now, or you’ll be charged. Over.”
“Sorry, but I can’t do that Jim. Not yet. See you on the other side.”
I unclipped the receiver from my belt and neatly wrapped the cord and dropped it to the ground. She couldn’t be far.
The afternoon sun was setting in a suspended horizon of smoke. At the peak of a mound I stopped and removed my mask. Familiar signs were ahead. “Bella,” I tried to shout, but it was barely a whisper. Reality had been chewing away for miles. If she was out there, she wouldn’t be the same. How could she be? I pushed the last good memory down with an effort and was thankful when the pain in my leg came back.
The last stretch of the journey would be without anchor. Pure will from here on in. The internal fire that lights itself and forces the body to action no matter how crippled and hopeless you are.
I was going to find her.
“Bella,” I shouted, with everything left. I’d seen her limp behind the truck that was now tipped on its side a hundred paces away. Nothing left for excitement – here, simply, was my last remaining duty. The few days previous had been an education in expecting the worst.
The earth crunched beneath my feet as my pace quickened, and something caught my eye. Among the tangled wires and broken posts and the scorched dirt that smouldered there rose a lone sapling, its leaves golden green in an orange spotlight of sun, bending a feather in the breeze.
I reached the truck, and placed my hand on the upturned wheel to make certain it was real.
My head forward slumped and my legs were losing rapidly their last remaining strength. Sudden came gunshots from somewhere far away, but I couldn’t hear them anymore. I was submerged in that thick substance of a warfront, there, but, not there at all. She was probably as dead as the rest of them.
And yet, had that been a whimper?
I pushed back and stepped back and limped my way around the back of the truck. What I saw took a moment to register. Tucked behind a boulder, curled in a ball, shivering, tail between her legs wagging as she jumped up and ran into my arms with a thump that threw me backwards, it was Bella. My sweet, beautiful Bella.
“Hey girl,” I said, as she licked every inch of my face. “Miss me?”
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