OK, I am taking a fiction writing class. Here is my first short story. Ever. (Not including high-school assignments...) Anyway, some day I hope to write some CyberPunk, but I want to get some practice before I give it a go.
So here 'tis...
René's shoulders hurt. There was nothing he could do, no way to relieve the horrible, persistent pain. His legs on the other hand had mercifully gone numb, as had his wrists.
He looked down at his shadow, which was growing longer. The sun, he thought, seems to have passed its zenith. He thought that perhaps it would cool and relieve him of some of his misery.
Sergeant Reynaud was talking again. He was cursing some unseen person, the words random vitriol, directionless, but no less spiteful. It amazed René that that even now, after all of this, he still hated the sound of that man's voice. He hated it more than he hated the sun, the Spaniards or even the pain in his shoulders.
René could remember the exact first words he had heard that detested voice speak. It had been Reynaud's first day after taking over from Fournier as company sergeant. Walking into the bright morning light of the depot yard Reynaud, had taken one look at the company formation and then made a beeline for René. René had no idea what it was that had so attracted the sergeant's attention. He knew that he was fit for inspection and that one would be hard pressed to find a deficiency. Sergeant Fournier, with a little help from Austrian musket balls, had turned René from cobbler's apprentice into a right and proper soldier of the Empire.
Standing almost nose to nose with René Reynaud said, "You're shit. You look like shit and you smell like shit. You must be shit."
René had weathered this sort of treatment before. He did not know why Reynaud was playing the new conscript routine. It was old news to René, to the point where he was almost immune to it. Almost. Despite the knowledge of what it would bring, René could not resist the urge to respond.
"Perhaps the sergeant smells himself?" René quipped.
Knuckles to the stomach. René picked himself up off his knees and re-shouldered his musket. How drôle. He missed sergeant Fournier. Fournier knew how and when to dispense a beating. In fact, he made something of an art of it. He rarely did it simply to make a point, and he never, ever, did it for the pleasure. That meant you could trust the man. Reynaud, it seemed, was going to be no Fournier.
That incident had been the first interaction between Reynaud's fist and René's stomach. Later, the company sergeant would also introduce his big, calloused knuckles to René's jaw, mouth and cheeks. Reynaud was smart enough not do any permanent harm though, because Colonel Legrand had no use for soldiers in the hospital.
René lifted his head a little. Reynaud's cursing had degenerated into babble now. It had an almost singsong quality, not unlike a drunkard arguing with nobody, Reynaud was continuing his defiance of the world right up until the very end.
"That man seems to hate the whole world. However, for some reason, he really hates you, René. Why do you think that is?" Bruno mocked without twitching a muscle.
"Shut up you idiot! He's probably standing right behind us, waiting for you to run your damn mouth."
René and Bruno had long ago mastered the art of gabbing while on post. From any angle and from almost any distance they were two ramrod straight sentries in front of red and white striped guardhouses. However, these two had spent many an hour on post badmouthing their comrades and superiors without betraying a hint of their indiscretion.
"Nah, he's not in the yard. Listen. You can hear people talking. When that son of a bitch comes around everyone shuts up so not to give him an excuse. Everyone but you that is. Before you say anything, I know what you are thinking. He will break down before you will. Well, you are wrong. Look at Reynaud's hands. Look at his back and shoulders. That man is a lifer. I heard he was at Marengo"
René groaned at that.
"Everyone over thirty claims they were at Marengo" he replied.
Bruno paused for a second, "Well, maybe he was and maybe he wasn't, but I'll bet he was in the army then."
René replied with a doubtful Mmm-hmm. "So why isn't he in the Guard? He would be experienced enough and he is tall enough. He has the moustache too."
"Maybe that's it", replied Bruno, "Maybe he's miffed he's not in the Guard. The moustache is a pretty good clue."
"So, why isn't he then?"
"I don't know. Because he's an arsehole?"
René could not help laughing.
"Easy shoe-boy," said Bruno "Or the Spanish will notice you are not dead. Now why don't you come down off of there and join the rest of us?"
René jerked his head up again. Looking right, he saw Bruno's body, hanging there, just as it had been since yesterday.
The sun was behind him now, the wood blocking the sunlight and cooling René's back ever so slightly. His shoulders still hurt though. Worse, he had no one with whom to talk. That would be nice he thought.
He really missed Corporal Neville. He wished Neville were here. It was always fun to speak with the good corporal.
Neville could read and not just in French. René remembered looting a schloß in Germany, near Ulm he recalled, fighting with a Gascon over a silver place setting when the corporal walked in. He figured the corporal would pull rank and take the silver for himself, but he had walked right by.
On the other hand, René had been distracted and gotten a fist to the face from the Gascon fusilier.
Giving up on his prize, he turned and watched the corporal skimming a bookcase that dominated one wall of the room.
Walking up to the corporal he said, "Neville, why aren't you an officer?" The corporal shot René a glare for his trouble.
Ooh. Sore point he thought. He pressed anyway. "You can read and all that, you know drill really well and someone said you can ride. Sounds like a rich boy upbringing to me."
"Did I just see you looting Fusilier Broussard?" the corporal queried as he pulled books off the shelf and tucked them under his arms. "I do recall that looting is a crime punishable by flogging". The corporal turned, shot a look at René and walked out of the room, books under arm.
Later René found out that Neville's family were Royalist sympathizers. His father, an officer, was killed during the revolution. Even Napoleon seizing power and declaring general amnesty to Royalist officers had not convinced the family to withdraw their support for restoration. It seems that Neville was stuck with the stigma.
René kept at the corporal though, and eventually convinced him to read some of his books aloud to the boys.
The last time he had seen Neville was after that hellacious artillery bombardment at Talavera. The corporal had been lying on his back holding his guts in with both hands. Reynaud was nowhere to be seen, but Neville had stood his ground and kept many of the new fusiliers from running. Right up until a cannonball ripped through the company's ranks, and through Corporal Neville.
"The sun was going down, but it was still hot," he heard Corporal Neville say. It was nice to hear Neville reading again. René stood over the mutilated Neville who turned his head toward René and continued to speak, "Fusilier Broussard's shoulders ached. The wind had kicked up the dust again and Broussard inhaled a nose-full. Now if you would just stop screwing around and come down off of there I'll read you a book…"
René jerked his head up. Reynaud was not speaking anymore. He tried to turn his head to look at the sergeant, but the best he could do was roll his eyes left.
The sergeant's head was hanging straight down, mouth open. He was gone. Damn it, thought René, the first voice I hear when I get to hell will be that son of a bitch.
Looking outward, René saw that Señor Jefe was back. Jefe was stocky, brown, weathered and balding. He was like any other Spanish Campesino between here and Cadiz. He was a hateful, fanatic, superstitious, grubby little dirt monkey who took joy in slitting French throats. You could see it in his dark little piss-hole eyes. He would probably kill his mother to get his own way. He would sell you a melon in the morning and cut you a new smile ear to ear that same night. The sneaky, skulking Spanish way. Oh, but get them into a stand up fight and boy would they run. You simply could not trust a people like that.
Not the English though. They would stand and fight. René never really hated the English. He had probably killed or wounded a number of them, but with all the musket and cannon smoke on a battlefield, you never really knew if you had hit anything.
Sure, René had killed some Spaniards, but always in reprisal for some typically Spanish atrocity. The poisoned well that had wiped out half the company. The whore who had murdered Sous-lieutenant Devereux in his sleep. None of that really bothered him. It certainly did not bother him now. Not now, since Señor Jefe and his band of dirt monkeys had confirmed his every Spanish prejudice.
The one that had bothered him had been the green jacket. That was the only time that René knew for certain he had killed a man, Spaniards notwithstanding.
They had been in a fight with Wellington again. The Colonel ordered the company out as voltigeurs. René and Bruno formed a pair, one of them shooting while the other moved. Their opponents had been British skirmishers, the green-jacketed men with their rifled muskets. The voltigeurs carried a smoothbore Charleville. That meant the British had an advantage over the company in terms of range and accuracy.
Nevertheless, the company was experienced in skirmishing and the pairs moved quickly to close the distance with the British. René and Bruno had gotten behind a large boulder for cover. From here, one could fire while the other reloaded, covered in part by the boulder.
René went to fire first, his target a pair of green jackets, not far off, but facing away. Just as he brought his musket to bear a green jacket popped out from the other side of the boulder. Equally surprised to have been sharing the boulder as cover with two Frenchmen, the Brit had been slower to react. René, finger already on the trigger swung his musket around and discharged it directly in the man's face. The familiar blow to the shoulder, the pan flashing in his face, and the smoke from the powder did not hide from René the impact of what he had done. The half-inch musket ball had struck the man squarely in the forehead, exiting the back in a liquid cloud of red.
The green jacket dropped like a rag doll. Drill took over and René, slightly in shock and without taking advantage of the boulder, set about reloading his musket. Putting his lips to the warm muzzle of the Charleville, he spat a fresh round down the barrel. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the green jacket's feet. The short black boots in green trousers were jerking and kicking. After ramming the round home he pulled out the ramrod and dropped it back in the holder. Lifting up his musket, he thought he heard Bruno fire. Try as he might he could not help but look at the man he had just killed. He looked at the British soldier, lying not far from his feet. The twitching had stopped and the smoke had cleared. The hole in the front of the man's head was huge. His face burnt black from powder burn and the angle of his eyes distorted by the blow to his skull. His rifle lay haphazardly across his chest. One arm was draped across the rifle, the other limp at his side. His mouth was open as if he had been about to cry out before the musket ball had carried his brain away.
The green jacket sat up and looked at René. "Well, what are you waiting for you bloody stupid frog bastard? Get down from there and join your mates."
René jerked his head up. Following his cruciform shadow to its apex, he saw Señor Jefe still standing there above one of the shadow's outstretched arms. Standing above the other arm, separated by the shadow's head was another man. He was taller than Señor Jefe was. The man was quite big actually, grubby (all Spaniards are grubby) and wore a straw hat. He carried a musket at the trail in his big right hand.
The two of them were obviously arguing. What these two dirt monkeys could have to argue about was completely beyond René. Señor Jefe was clearly not pleased with Straw Hat. It became clear to René that Straw Hat had some sort of authority in the little brown world and was exercising it to Señor Jefe's displeasure.
"He's a priest you little shit," said Sergeant Reynard.
René rolled his eyes left. Reynard hung there the same as he had before, head down, mouth open.
"Yeah, he's a priest. You mean you can't understand what they are saying? How is it that you have been here two years and you still don't speak Spanish?" asked Bruno.
Well, thought René, I would imagine the dead know a priest when they see one. So what does a dirt monkey priest, with a musket, have to argue about with throat slitting partisan?
Señor Jefe waved his hands forward dismissively towards the priest and stalked off back towards the village. The priest turned and walked slowly towards René, stopping at his feet.
What does he want from me, thought René? A confession? A conversion? I am not in the mood for superstitious rituals.
The sun had dropped to the horizon, giving the landscape a yellow glow and cast René's shadow out long before him.
The priest looked up at René, and met his eyes. He can see that I am still alive, he thought. Maybe, just maybe he will climb up here and let me down.
Instead, the priest lowered his head, and in the shadow of a crucified French soldier made the sign of the cross. He lifted the musket and cocked the hammer back. Putting it to his shoulder, he pointed the weapon straight at René's face.
Well, thought the young soldier, At least my shoulders won't hurt anymore.