This is the second installment in my 50,000 words in 30 days challenge. It’s a completely unedited first draft written with the primary goal of getting out as many words as possible in a short time, so don’t expect too much from it. More parts will come each week as the challenge progresses. You can read the previous chapter here.
Chapter 2: An Unlikely Hero
“A dinosaur,” Eli muttered to himself, “it’s really a dinosaur… How…”
The man on the back of the pteranodon reached an arm down around the beast to the harness around its slender body. His fingers slid down to one of the round bombs and unhooked it from its holster. He held it out over the shoulder of his mount as it quickly glided toward Eli and Sgt. Lewis. The monstrous shadow silently slipped over the two men and the beast’s rider let the bomb slip from his grasp.
“Move!” Sgt. Lewis shouted grabbing Eli and wrenching him from his reverie. Snapped back to his senses Eli sprinted after Sgt. Lewis up the steep slope towards where the the other soldiers had been bombed. Glancing back over his shoulder, Eli caught a glimpse of the rounded black mass gracefully gliding down to the spot they had stood a moment before. It fell heavily onto the sand and instantly a fiery explosion blossomed where it landed.
The shock-wave slammed into Eli and Sgt. Lewis like a truck. Eli’s breath was pressed from him and he landed roughly face-down in the sand and dirt. A warm trickle rolled down his forehead and glided around his right cheek. Sgt. Lewis was already back on his feet and was pulling Eli up by his uniform. “Come on, we have to keep moving before that thing turns around.”
Regaining his footing Eli stumbled after Sgt. Lewis toward the pillbox at the peak of the path. He could hear soldiers shouting down on the beach as they saw the beast, followed by the dull booms of the bombs its rider dropped. Eli turned around again just in time to watch the pteranodon swing back over the casement topped cliff and disappear from sight. Sgt. Lewis grabbed him again and pulled him along until they reached the pillbox.
They collapsed against it with their backs to the concrete, charred pieces of the soldiers that had been trying to open it smoldered, sitting scattered at their feet. A drop of crimson fell from Eli’s cheek and formed a bead in the sand. “I’m bleeding,” Eli muttered distantly.
Sgt. Lewis glanced at his forehead.”You were nicked by shrapnel, you’re fine,” he grunted. “Now, what did you say that thing was exactly?”
“I’m not entirely sure but, I think that was a pteranodon,” Eli said, still not entirely believing it himself. Sgt. Lewis lifted his eyebrows slightly, looking for more explanation. “They’re dinosaurs,” Eli continued, “well, o.k., pteranodons aren’t technically dinosaurs since dinosaurs have to be from the Saurischia or Ornithischia groups but they…”
“They’re dinosaurs,” Sgt. Lewis interjected, “got it.” He surveyed the top of the cliff from their position behind the pillbox, the stock of the carbine tucked against his shoulder. Low concrete walled trenches ran from casement to casement and formed a network at the top of the cliffs. Set back from the cliff at the top of the path was a two-story concrete bunker with a large metal roll-up door on the front. Sgt. Lewis expected there to be more German soldiers in the trenches, but it was strangely deserted looking. “The shooting has died down…” he muttered.
He was right, Eli realized. The relative quiet that had fallen over the beach was nearly as frightening as the explosions and gunfire it had replaced. “Why do you think the Germans stopped firing?” he asked.
Almost before the words had left Eli’s lips, another shadow fell over him and Sgt. Lewis. They instinctively crouched and looked skyward. Sgt. Lewis raised his weapon instinctively, then swore loudly and lowered it again as he took everything in.
A line of the pteranodons soared overhead in a very slight v-formation. There were at least ten on each wing not including the monster flying at point. The riders all unhooked their bombs in unison and began releasing them one by one as soon as they found targets. Shouts and screams mingled with gunfire as the soldiers still on the beach scrambled for cover and returned fire.
Sgt. Lewis lifted his weapon again trying to get a bead on one of the flying monsters. He had just peered down the sights when behind them at the top of the path the large door began to grind upward. Sgt. Lewis jumped to his feet and trained his weapon on the door as he and Eli backed away from the pillbox. Eli’s foot caught in a clump of grass pushing through the sand and he fell backwards. Scrambling to get back to his feet he glanced under the slowly rising door.
The light coming through the widening opening glinted off two sets of three ebony talons. Each talon was contained in a long toe which traced upward and joined its companions in forming a thick, muscular leg. Each leg looked like the twisted, sinewy trunk of a tree wrapped taught in a leathery, scaled skin the color of moss covered bark.
Eli didn’t wait for the door to get any higher. “Run,” he blurted out as he clawed his way to his feet.
“What?” Sgt. Lewis asked, noticing Eli’s wild-eyed expression.
“Run!” Eli shouted over his shoulder, legs already pounding as he raced down the sandy slope to the seawall. Sgt. Lewis glanced back at the door. The opening had grown to about six feet and he could clearly see the two enormous legs, shifting impatiently as they waited for the door to release them. Sgt. Lewis turned and ran after Eli.
Eli’s heart pounded in his chest and his lungs burned as he ran for the gap in the wall. He heard Sgt. Lewis gaining on him and looked back to see that he had almost caught up. Behind him, at the top of the cliff, the door finished its ascent.
Atop the two powerful legs sat a powerful, equally muscular body. Enormous hips tapered forward leading to a thick, s-shaped neck. Below the neck, two three foot long arms were tucked in close to the body – surprisingly small in relation to the rest of the gargantuan creature. At the end of its neck, held around thirteen feet off the ground, its monstrous head made up for the diminutive proportion of its arms. It opened its jaws, revealing the five foot long rows of gleaming daggers that were its teeth and bellowed. The sound was strange to Eli’s ears. It was as if the trumpet of an elephant and the roar of a lion had been blended with the sound of rolling thunder then amplified tenfold. He suppressed an instinctive shudder as the sound met his ears.
Eli had always wondered what a tyrannosaurus would sound like.
The monster launched itself through the doorway, its toes spreading as they sank into the dirt and sand under the massive weight. Over the titan’s sides were draped two long, flowing banners. Each was dyed the color of blood and bordered all around with a band of jet black. In the center of each banner was a black shield, embroidered with a silver eagle resting atop a swastika – the Heeresadler. Strapped over the tyrannosaur’s shoulders, nestled into the slight depression behind its serpentine neck, was a black leather saddle. Two long reins draped from each corner of the creature’s massive, slavering jaws to the hands of the man seated on its back.
Eli was mesmerized as the tyrannosaur thundered toward them. Sgt. Lewis raced past him down the hill reaching up with his left hand and smacking Eli firmly on the forehead. “Move!” he shouted.
Snapped back to reality he turned and chased after Sgt. Lewis. The ground shook as the tyrannosaur charged down the path behind them. Eli didn’t dare hazard another look over his shoulder. Chest heaving poured all of his strength into racing down the hill. The ground shook more violently under Eli as the sandbags and entrenchments that lined the incline blew past him in a blur. He could hear the heaving of the tyrannosaur’s breath behind him. He wasn’t going to make it. Suddenly, Sgt. Lewis’s right arm shot out from in front of him and grabbed Eli’s collar as he felt a blast of hot, moist air wash over his back. Sgt. Lewis left hand lashed out and caught the edge of a pillbox, the momentum swinging himself and Eli around to the left seconds before a wall of teeth and flesh roared past.
The rider tugged hard on the reins as the beast roared in frustration. The tyrannosaur tried to stop but its momentum continued to launch it down the hill. The claws on its feet dug into the sand but it was futile. The monsters feet slid out of it and it fell to its right side continuing to slide down the path in an avalanche of sand.
“Now’s our chance,” Sgt. Lewis barked, dashing out from behind the pillbox to race back up the hill. Eli forced himself to follow him, his legs burned and he still hadn’t caught his breath, but the thought of what waited for them at the bottom of the cliff drove him to move.
The rider pulled back hard on the reins, as the tyrannosaur lumbered back to its feet. Pointing it to the path he whipped the reins and kicked hard with his boots. The beast looked up at the sandy incline and hesitated, unsure of whether its weight would hold after the painful fall. Shouting in anger at its disobedience, the man pulled a long metal bar from the loop where it hung on the saddle. He pressed the end of the rod to the back of the creature’s head and a loud crackle sounded as the end touching the tyrannosaur’s skull flashed with the blue glow of arcing electricity. The beast bellowed in surprise and obediently charged forward up the slope.
Eli and Sgt. Lewis breathlessly reached the top of the cliff as the monster below began its climb. Its ascent was slowed by the shifting sands underneath its massive weight but it was gradually gaining ground. Overhead the squadron of pteranodons soared back from where they came, on their way to replenish their supply of bombs. Sgt. Lewis headed to the left and dropped into the trench leading to the nearest casement. Eli followed suit and started to run past, bent on getting away from the tyrannosaur. As he stepped in front of the doorway to the casement, gunfire erupted from inside. Sgt. Lewis caught Eli by the back of the collar and pulled him back from the doorway. Eli felt a sharp sting as a bullet grazed his left arm, the top of his sleeve blossoming in red.
Sgt. Lewis pressed him back into the wall of the trench. He snatched a grenade from a loop on Eli’s chest and pulled the pin. The release flew off the top and landed softly in the dirt a few feet away. Eli’s eyes widened as Sgt. Lewis clutched the grenade close to his chest, his eyes pressed close in concentration. “Three,” Sgt. Lewis whispered as he wheeled around and lobbed the grenade through the door of the casement then pressed Eli back into the wall. Shouts of frantic German came from the doorway. Before they had time to react a blast roared from the doorway with a flash of fire and a rolling wall of smoke.
A deafening roar sounded from behind them and Sgt. Lewis looked up to see the tyrannosaur had crested the top of the hill and was pounding toward them over the packed dirt. He grabbed Eli and threw him into the smoke-filled casement, diving in after him as gargantuan jaws snapped down on the spot they were standing.
Eli coughed and rubbed his eyes as the smoke slowly cleared. The tyrannosaur was struggling vainly to force its head into the door of the casement but the concrete held fast. Its slavering jaws filled the doorway as it tried to push its way in. All Eli and Sgt. Lewis could see of the monster was a wall of gnashing teeth draped over a tongue the size of a man and encased in a scaled hulk of muscle. A slight foam bubbled from its nostrils with each heaving breath as it snapped at its trapped prey.
Sgt. Lewis scowled and lifted his carbine. He fired several rounds into the monster’s snout and throat, small red pockmarks bursting open in its scaled flesh. With a snort the tyrannosaur yanked its head from the doorway. The men could see its two legs straddling the trench, then it slowly stomped out of sight as if it were headed back down the incline. Sgt. Lewis surveyed the inside of the casement, ending with a disapproving glare at Eli. “Pull yourself together, it’s embarrassing.”
Still coughing, Eli pulled himself to his feet. “If anything tries to come through that door,” Sgt. Lewis commanded, “you shoot it. Understand?” He turned away from Eli and stalked over to the opening in the casement overlooking the beach. Pure carnage lay before him on the beach. The landing craft had finally stopped their delivery of soldiers, and the beach was carpeted in bodies. Two more tyrannosaurs raged down on the beach, one in the center and one at the far edge. Unlike the one he and Eli had faced, their saddles had been outfitted with MG42s and their riders fired into the pockets of remaining soldiers on the beach.
The U.S. soldiers fought back as much as they could, but the monsters and their riders were too much for them and they were slowly being forced back into the waves. A plume of smoke blossomed from behind the shingle and traced to the side of one of the tyrannosaurs. The rocket exploded on contact and with a painful bellow the creature fell to the ground. It writhed in pain on the beach, kicking up giant waves of sand. It, at least, would never get back up. Sgt. Lewis shook his head and pulled his pack of cigarettes from his pocket. Lighting one, he turned back toward Eli.
“I thought I told you to cover the door,” Sgt. Lewis growled. Eli was dragging what was left of the torn bodies to the center of the casement. The struggle to not be sick was evident in the pale green that flushed his face as he worked. The bodies all in a pile, he began to methodically remove the laces from their boots one by one. “What are you even doing?” Sgt. Lewis asked, anger replaced by puzzlement over his behavior.
“That tyrannosaur’s still out there waiting for us.”
Sgt. Lewis strained his ears to listen. Over the faded gunfire and screams from the beach below he could hear the footfalls of the monster that had penned them pacing outside. They were trapped. “There’s another one down on the beach,” he remarked. Eli froze his strange work for a moment in consideration, then resumed. “That still doesn’t answer my question,” Sgt. Lewis continued.
“Tyrannosaurs were probably scavengers in addition to hunters,” Eli explained as he worked, “even if we’re wrong on that, I’m pretty sure he won’t pass up a fresh kill. I’m guessing they didn’t feed them this morning so they’d be hungry for the battle.” Eli shuddered a little. “I think we should give him a little snack.”
As he was speaking, Eli had woven several of the laces into a cord, roughly six feet long. At the end, the cord split into ten equal length sections of a single lace. Digging through the pile of bodies again, he started unhooking their belts. Once he had removed all the soldiers’ belts, he carefully examined the mangled pile of corpses. His searching eyes quickly stopped on a soldier that must’ve been very near to the grenade, because he was little more than a charred torso. Sgt. Lewis stood dumbstruck, idly puffing on his cigarette. Eli’s explanation had made nothing clearer.
Intent on his mysterious labor, Eli dragged the torso from under the pile and pulled it to the hallway leading out of the casement. Retrieving the pile of belts he had removed from the soldiers, he began strapping them all back onto the length of the bloody, dismembered torso. By the last belt, he had run out of room and he stood over the torso, surveying his work in deep contemplation. Finally, he removed the two grenades from the last belt. He tucked one into the only pocket still showing under the belts. Shuddering again, he gingerly wriggled the other into the man’s open mouth, the pin sticking out from between his teeth. As he knotted each of the ten individual laces at the end of the cord onto the pins of the grenades, Sgt. Lewis finally understood. He shook his head. “You are out of your mind, Watts.”
“I don’t see any other way out of this,” Eli replied, finishing the last knot. “I just hope it works.” With that he hoisted the torso up over his shoulders. He was still visibly fighting back his revulsion but something else stirred in him now alongside it. His hand shook less as he reached up and took hold of the long end of the cord. Taking one last deep breath he dashed through the casement door into the sunlight. He was no more than a few feet into the trench when the tyrannosaurs roar thundered over him. His head snapped to the right and and every muscle froze as he saw the beast barreling toward him, head lowered and jaws gaping in anticipation.
Move, Eli screamed in his head. Move, move, move, move!
The tyrannosaur’s powerful legs drove it to close the distance quickly. Its dripping maul filled Eli’s view. The rows of dagger-like teeth were less than ten feet from Eli when he broke the iron grip terror held on his muscles. Screaming at the top of his lungs he hurled the torso into the monster’s looming jaws and collapsed to his knees. With a loud snap the tyrannosaur’s jaws clamped shut, only a hand jutted out of the side of its mouth. It lifted its head up, the momentum carrying the beast forward. Eli held his makeshift cord in a death grip as one massive, taloned foot slammed down inches from where he crouched. The beast paused and lifted its head to gulp the torso down whole. Eli seized the opportunity to bolt back through the doorway into the casement.
The rider, thinking that his mount had swallowed Eli, scowled at him savagely as he darted out from under the tyrannosaur and pulled the reins hard to the right, bringing the beast around to bear on him as he slipped back into the casement. As the beast lunged forward to jam its head into the doorway again, the rider saw the cord trailing from Eli’s grasp, the glint of grenade pins bouncing on the end of it.
“Nein!” he screamed, struggling to free himself from the saddle as the tyrannosaur plunged into the tiny, cement doorway of the casement. Eli and Sgt. Lewis barely had time to roll around the corner of the hallway inside when the gullet of the beast erupted in a cloud of blood, fire and torn flesh. The force of the explosion resonated through the chamber, and Eli and Sgt. Lewis clamped their hands tight over their ears. With a ground shaking thud, the limp body of the tyrannosaur collapsed into the trench. The explosion had all but severed its head, only a thin strand of sinew where the front of its neck had been attached it to its charred shoulders.
The colossal head lay in front of the doorway. It slumped slightly to its side, jaws still open, and completely blocked the exit except for a small opening in the corner where a thin shaft of light beamed in. Eli slowly slid down the wall he had flattened himself up against and fought to control his pounding heart. He slowly became aware of a warmth running down his leg. Was I hit? His thoughts raced, imagining his legs drenched in warm, sticky blood from some grievous wound. He forced himself to look down at his legs and quickly snapped them shut in embarrassment. It wasn’t blood that soaked his pants, but his own urine. He forced himself to his feet and hoped Sgt. Lewis hadn’t noticed.
If he did, he didn’t have time to comment. As Eli rose loud, furious German swearing echoed through the gap between the severed head and the doorway. “Filsy Americans!” shouted a heavily accented voice through the opening. Eli stretched up to look through the hole and saw the tyrannosaur’s former rider standing outside.
He was dressed entirely in black, accentuating the deathly pallor of his skin. A short black hat sat askance atop his head, in the center of it gleamed a polished silver skull. His face was thin and jagged. Sharp cheek bones jutted out from a sunken, scowling mouth. Short-cropped flaxen blond hair framed the sides of his head. On his right collar two lightening bolts were stitched in silver, on his left a series of four small squares. The rider’s left hand was pressed tightly across his left eye. Blood was smeared over his hand and forehead and flowed freely from where he pressed it to his face. His remaining eye glared at Eli and Sgt. Lewis with a frigid hate that fit the icy blue of his iris. With his right hand he leveled his Walther P-38 at Eli’s head.
Sgt. Lewis jerked Eli from the opening just as the shot rang out. “Know zis, Americans…” the rider shouted, spitting the last word out like venom, “my nahme ist Heinrich von Schädel, Sturmbannführer. You have murdered meine little Liebchen. You vill pay for zis!”
Sgt. Lewis whipped his carbine up and stepped to the hole firing two quick shots, but von Schädel was gone. He swore under his breath. “A Sturmbannführer…” he said, “do you know what this means?”
Eli stared back at him blankly.
“You nearly just bagged a major in the SS.”
Eli still didn’t seem to grasp the gravity of the accomplishment. He heard a strained and painful bellow through the casement opening overlooking the beach and ran over to look. The last tyrannosaur stumbled and collapsed to the surf heavily. Its carcass was riddled with bullet holes and the banners hanging from its sides were blood soaked and cut to tatters. Cheers rose from the soldiers on the beach as they started to recover the ground they had lost. The brief moment of triumph passed quickly, and the cheering gave way to panicked shouts as the squadron of pteranodon bombardiers swept back over the battlefield.
“We have to do something about those things,” Sgt. Lewis said as he stepped up to join Eli. He looked around the chamber they were in. The two MG42s were completely destroyed by the grenade he had cleared the room with. “You’re the paleontologist. What’s their weakness?”
Eli stared back at him dumbfounded. “Their weakness? I don’t know. All we’ve ever had to study are fossils and remains. How they got living dinosaurs…”
“It’s not our problem how they got them, it’s our problem how to kill them. You did great with that grenade thing, think!”
“I am, I am…” Eli closed his eyes in concentration. “Let’s see… they’re sticking together in a squadron. They have the bombs, but didn’t look like they had any other weapons. They fly out for a bombing run and then head back.” His eyes opened and he looked at Sgt. Lewis. “They must not have a very long range with all that weight. Otherwise they would give them more bombs to drop. If we catch them on their way back, they would have no way to return fire.”
Sgt. Lewis considered what he said for a moment. “Alright, the first thing is to get out of here then.” He peered out from the casement opening at the vertigo inducing drop to the beach below. That way was out of the question. He and Eli walked over to the massive head jammed into their only exit. Thick saliva still dripped from the teeth and mingled with the growing pool of blood seeping through the doorway. Both men leaned into the snout and pushed as hard as they could, their feet slipping on blood-slick concrete, but couldn’t make the gargantuan carcass budge.
Stepping back they surveyed the wall of flesh that confined them. There would be no moving it, their combined strength wasn’t even close to being enough to shift the jaws. They couldn’t slip through between the head and the door either, the beast had wedged itself in tight. The only opening was the one von Schädel had fired at them through, and it was barely enough to get an arm through. Eli sighed loudly as he realized there was only one way out.
Placing a hand on the creature’s snout, he leaned into the partially open mouth. Its scaled skin felt rough and leathery, with a faint diamond pattern pressed into it. In its throat, behind ragged and bloody folds of torn flesh, he could make out just a glint of sunlight. That was their way out.
“We have to crawl through the throat,” Eli said.
Sgt. Lewis took one last long pull on his cigarette then tossed it to the ground. “Are you serious?” he asked.
“The hole’s more than big enough, and we’re never going to move that thing. It’s our only option.”
Sgt. Lewis stared into bloody, dripping tunnel of flesh and teeth. “You’re going first.”
Eli gingerly stepped over the row of front teeth. His foot sunk into the soft gums next to the tongue, and he carefully ducked his head under the daggers hanging above him. The still-warm tongue was slick and bumpy under Eli’s hands as he crawled forward toward the back of the tyrannosaur’s throat. A warm, thick glob of saliva dripped onto the top of Eli’s head and he realized, as it slid down the back of his neck, that he had lost his helmet at some point during the fighting.
The thick stench of rotting meat rolled from the back of the monster’s throat making it hard to breathe. Eli wondered if the Nazis had fed it livestock, or men. His hand slipped off the slick tongue and fell down to the sharp teeth below. Expecting to feel a six inch long tooth impale his hand he flinched instinctively. Instead, his hand landed on something cool and soft. As his fingers curled around it, he realized Sgt. Lewis must have caught his fall. Eli turned around to thank him for holding his hand and realized he was still standing at the entrance to the mouth. A lump formed in his throat. He looked down to find his fingers curled around the hand of the man he had thrown to the beast. Leaning over the side of the tongue, Eli vomited.
“Ugh,” Sgt. Lewis groaned from past the curtain of teeth, “I shouldn’t've let you go first.”
His stomach now emptied, Eli pushed on and slid down the back of the muscular tongue. Pushing and groping through the curtains of flesh, most thick as a side of beef, he finally found a place where his hand pushed through and he felt a cool breeze on his blood-soaked hand. He grabbed hold of the slabs of charred meat at the edge of the hole blown in the tyrannosaur’s throat and pulled himself through. Gasping, he slid out onto the dirt of the trench. Climbing to his feet he peered back through the small gap. “Your turn.”
With a lot less vomiting and a lot more cursing, Sgt. Lewis followed suit and within a few minutes the two men stood in the trench alongside the carcass of the behemoth. Both men were completely drenched in blood, and a pool of it rose to their ankles. Sgt. Lewis struggled to light a bloody cigarette.
With the tyrannosaurs defeated, the battle had pushed its way up the paths to the top of the cliffs. Gunfire rattled from the trenches and casements. The German soldiers had taken back up the fight. Sgt. Lewis carefully lifted his head above the trench walls and scanned the area. The trench network ran on into the distance, dotted with bunkers and pillboxes. Ahead of them to the right was the two-story building that had housed the tyrannosaur and its rider. The inside of the building was bare looking. In the center of the room a steel chain as thick as a man lay coiled in a heap, one end affixed to the floor. Along the wall to the right of the door was an enormous pile of matted down straw. In the back corner, Sgt. Lewis could just barely make out what looked like gigantic piles of dung. It was evident they had housed the beast there for a while.
To his left, above the casements and bunkers, he could make out the tops of two more identical buildings, each one sitting at the top of a pathway up the cliff. A dark shadow passed over them and both men instinctively ducked, looking skyward. The pteranodon squadron flew overhead from the beach, returning to wherever they were resupplying with explosives. Sgt. Lewis tracked them as they went. They were headed toward to tall tower in the distance. It’s cement block walls rose sixty feet in the air, then broke into four pillars at the top, supporting large arched openings. Men waited on the platform inside the archways to resupply the beasts or take over for a fallen rider. As the pteranodons glided toward the tower, their shadows passed over something that made Sgt. Lewis smile.
Eli must’ve seen the same thing. “What about that big gun?” he asked.
“It’s an 88,” Sgt. Lewis explained, “they’re using it to shell the beach, but I think it’ll work.”
“I don’t see any other option,” Eli observed.
Sgt. Lewis nodded. Sloshing in the blood, they crept along the body in the trench, not daring to show themselves above it for too long. Sliding over the top of the tyrannosaur’s leg, they inched to the corner. Sgt. Lewis used his mirror to ensure it was clear around the corner, and they waved for Eli to follow. Moving as fast as they could while crouching, they advanced to the next corner. The artillery piece was only about fifty yards away in a straight line, but they couldn’t risk a dash on top of the trenches. They would have to snake their way to it. Sgt. Lewis’s mirror flashed in the sunlight as he checked the next corner. Six German soldiers stormed down the trench toward them.
Sgt. Lewis quickly slipped the mirror back into his pocket. Pulling his carbine up he whipped around the corner, keeping to a crouching position. Six shots rang off in quick succession and he lowered his weapon. Motioning for Eli to follow he slipped down the trench. Eli crept along after him, and found him inspecting the bodies of the soldiers. He pulled a short, black weapon from under one of the bodies and slipped the strap off its limp shoulders. “Give me your rifle,” he ordered.
Eli slipped his own strap off his shoulders and held the weapon out to him without question. Sgt. Lewis took it and handed him back the black German weapon. It was made of stamped metal, about two feet from barrel to end, with a long thin magazine clipped into the bottom. A thin metal stock folded back down over the body of the weapon. Eli slipped the trap of the firearm over his shoulders and hefted it in his hands. It was lighter than his rifle.
Sgt. Lewis slipped the strap of Eli’s rifle over his own head. “I’ve seen you shoot with this thing,” he said, patting Eli’s rifle. “I feel a lot better with you having that Schmeisser, it’s got a lot more bullets. You see a Kraut, you just point that down the trench at them and squeeze the trigger till it’s empty.” He paused and thought for a second. “Just make sure I’m out of the way first.”
They continued snaking along the trenches until they came to the last corner. Sgt. Lewis carefully slid his shaving mirror out to get a look. The 88 mm gun was draped loosely with a green cargo net, set up in a shallow open area dug in the trench network and walled with extra sandbags. Four men operated the weapon busily. One stood along the edge of the sandbags, binoculars pressed to his eyes surveying what he could see of the beach. He was shouting orders to the other three men. One sat with eyes pressed up against the targeting system attached to the gun, another spun wheels and cranks making adjustments to the aim as the man in the targeting unit barked directions. The fourth man scurried between a crate of shells and the gun. He slid a shell into the giant weapon and turned away, hands shooting up to cover his ears. A second later it fired, the blast shaking dust from the walls of the trenches. He immediately turned to retrieve another shell.
The dark shadows swept over Eli and Sgt. Lewis again. The squadron of pteranodons had resupplied and was gliding out over the beach to rain more fiery death on the soldiers fighting their way up the cliff. “Now’s our chance,” Sgt. Lewis said and rolled out around the corner dashing toward the 88. He lifted his carbine to his shoulder and opened fire. The man with the binoculars fell first, a red cloud erupting from his throat as he toppled backwards into the trench. The next shots found the chest of the man loading the gun and he crumpled over the case of shells.
The other two men ducked behind the artillery piece. Sgt. Lewis’s shots glanced off the metal of the gun as he rolled behind a stack of crates at the edge of the open area. The two German soldiers leaned out from behind the gun and fired at the crates and into the trench, one with a rifle and one with the same weapon Eli now held. Sgt. Lewis calmly reloaded his carbine and took a long draw on his cigarette. He flicked the butt casually over his shoulder at the artillery piece.
The German soldiers waited, their weapons trained on the crates. Eli was in shock, peering cautiously around the corner at the end of the trench. His mind raced for a way to help Sgt. Lewis. The soldiers at the 88 didn’t know he was there, but he didn’t want to risk firing the unfamiliar weapon with Sgt. Lewis between them.
Sgt. Lewis let his reloaded carbine hang from its strap and picked up Eli’s rifle. Without looking, he slid the rifle over his shoulder resting on the crates and began squeezing the trigger. The German soldiers ducked back behind the 88 as rifle bullets zipped past wildly. Sgt. Lewis didn’t seem to care where he was aiming, some rounds bounced off the gun, others missed the cover of the soldiers by almost ten feet. After the eighth shot, the empty clip was ejected with its distinct metallic ping and it bounced in the dirt of the trench.
The German soldiers heard the ping and shot each other a quick look. Realizing that he was out of ammo, they charged from their cover weapons raised. Sgt. Lewis tossed Eli’s empty rifle to the ground and rose, spinning around to bring the carbine to bear on the soldiers. They had only a second for their triumphant grins to widen in horror, then with two sharp cracks fell to the dirt dead.
Eli crawled from his hiding place at the corner and rushed to join Sgt. Lewis as he stepped up to the targeting piece. “Do you know how to use this thing?” Eli asked.
“Not a clue,” Sgt. Lewis replied, peering into the eyepiece. “Can’t be too hard though, right?”
In the distance the squadron of pteranodons was wheeling back around to return to the tower. They didn’t have much time. Sgt. Lewis abandoned the targeting piece and turned to the cranks. Wheeling one around the barrel of the gun began to lift. He turned the other and found it rotated the gun around its mountings. The sight apparatus was useless to him, they would just have to wing it. Looking out at the gliding monsters growing nearer, Sgt. Lewis looked down the long barrel and spun the two wheels until he was satisfied. “Slam the shell in when I tell you,” he ordered.
Eli shoved the body of the soldier off the shells and pulled one from the box. “Now!” Sgt. Lewis yelled and Eli slid the shell into the chamber. He turned away and covered his ears as he had seen the German do and the world shook as the 88 fired. Their first shot sailed just in front of the pteranodons. Their formation wavered, unsure of whether the close call was an accident on the part of the artillerymen or not. Sgt. Lewis adjusted the gun again and watched the approaching squadron as Eli readied another shell. “Now!” he shouted again.
Their second shot proved better than the first. The artillery shell made contact with the body of the pteranodon just to the left of the squadron leader. The shell tore through the tender flesh of the pteranodon and the man riding it and kept going, its target evidently too soft to detonate the shell. The mangled creature and rider tumbled out of the sky into a heap at the edge of the cliff. The squadron broke formation, now quite sure that this was no accident. Sgt. Lewis spun the wheels frantically as they approached, trying to line up another shot. On his command Eli slid another shell into the chamber, and a second pteranodon was torn in half, its maimed rider still clinging to its shoulders.
There was not time for another shot as the pteranodons soared overhead toward the tower. Sgt. Lewis seized the handle that rotated the 88 on its base and been cranking furiously. Slowly, the gun was brought around to bear on tower. He quickly adjusted the barrel to aim lower and they fired. The ground shuddered and a cloud of smoke blew over Eli and Sgt. Lewis as the shell sailed toward its target. Sgt. Lewis’s aim was off though, and the round drifted to the left of the tower exploding in the trees that backed it.
He was adjusting his aim as the pteranodons, resupplied with bombs, launched themselves one by one out of the arches of the tower and resumed formation heading directly at them. Raising the barrel to meet the oncoming bombers, they fired another shot. The rider in the line of fire saw it coming and pulled hard to the left but was too late. The shell shredded his mounts wing and the pteranodon flapped wildly as it steeply banked to the ground below. The artillery shell continued its course and struck the cement brick tower near its center, blasting an eight foot hole in its wall.
The pteranodons were closing on them too fast. “Move!” Sgt. Lewis shouted and darted toward one of the trenches leading away from the gun. Eli dropped the shell he had prepared in the dirt and dashed into the opening of an opposite trench as the riders released a hail of bombs above them. Eli dove into the dirt of the trench and covered his head as a succession of explosions made his stomach twist in knots. Dirt showered down on him and he could hear heavy chunks of steel landing in the dirt. He turned himself around to look at the artillery gun.
It lay in a twisted, smoldering pile. The remains of the crates of shells were scattered around the open section of the trench and large splinters of wood jutted from the surrounding sandbags. They had to find another way to fight back. Eli struggled to his feet and tried to peer through the smoking wreckage. Sgt. Lewis had gone down the trench on the opposite side of the gun, but Eli could see no sign of him. He looked back down the trench he had dove into. About ten feet ahead of him, three U.S. Soldiers lay dead in the dirt. As he looked at them one thing caught his eye. One of the soldiers was a combat engineer, and in his hand a tightly clutched satchel lay in a pool of blood.
Eli stumbled down the trench toward the bodies, his ears still ringing slightly from the explosions. As he stepped into the intersection of the trenches a flash of movement caught his eye to the right. Three German soldiers huddled against the tench walls. They looked up as surprised as Eli and began to raise their weapons. Without thinking Eli lifted the cold metal weapon hanging at his waist. Clinching his eyes shut tight he squeezed the trigger. The weapon jerked to life in his hands and he struggled to hold tight as fire leapt from the barrel. Within a few seconds the rattle of gunfire was replaced with a soft click. The smell of gunpowder burned Eli’s nostrils.
“Next time,” came a familiar voice from behind him, “you might want to keep your eyes open.”
Eli unclenched his eyes. The three German soldiers lay in a ragged, bloody mess in the trench ahead of him. The dirt and walls were sprayed with red and pockmarked with Eli’s wild spray of bullets. Eli shuddered. It was one thing to shoot at a monster, another thing to kill a man.
“We need to find another 88 before those things come back,” Sgt. Lewis said peering into his box of cigarettes. He tossed it aside with a sigh when he found it empty.
“We don’t have time,” Eli replied, prying the bloody satchel from the dead engineer’s hand. “Cover me.”
“What are you doing now?”
“Just cover me,” Eli called back, scrambling up the edge of the trench. What remained of the squadron of pteranodons was turning around over the beach and beginning to return. Eli flinched as a shot came uncomfortably close to his ear and heard Sgt. Lewis return fire with the rifle. He ignored it and ran forward to a low concrete bunker. Eli tossed the satchel up onto the concrete roof ahead of him and grabbed on to the rough edge. With a heave he pulled himself up on top of it and crawled to his feet. He started to raise the German weapon at the oncoming pteranodons, but realized he had only taken one magazine and let it drop. Instead, he picked the satchel up off the ground and began jumping up and down waving his arms.
“I’m over here!” Eli yelled at the top of his lungs. “Come get me!”
Sgt. Lewis glanced at him over his shoulder. “I hope you know what you’re doing,” he shouted as Eli continued to flail around.
His display hadn’t gone unnoticed by the riders. The squad leader guided the squadron down towards Eli on the way back to the tower, drawing a pistol as he approached. Wait for it, Eli thought, wait for it… The rider’s pistol shots tore chunks of concrete out around Eli’s feet. Now! Eli opened the satchel and sparked the flash fuse inside. Holding the bag by the straps with both hands he twirled and flung it sideways like a hammer at the pteranodons. The satchel spiraled toward the lead pteranodon, the shoulder loop catching on the tip of the long crest that rose from the back of its head as they soared over Eli toward the damaged tower.
Eli turned to watch them return. The bag spiraled down around the pteranodon’s crest and tangled in the straps. The beasts rider struggled to free it as they approached the roost at the top of the tower. Understanding flashed in his eyes as he realized what was tangled around his mount. Frantically, he pulled a knife from his boot as his pteranodon glided to a landing in the tower but it was too late.
The satchel charge detonated. A cloud of smoke and fire billowed from the top of the tower. The pressure detonated the store of bombs readied for the harnesses and a series of smaller explosions echoed over the cliffs like firecrackers. Finally, the top of the tower supported by the arches crumbled and fell. The pteranodons were no more.
Continue to part three of the 50,000 word challenge.
Photo Credit: Dunechaser