Bullets pinged, bouncing off the heap of rubble before him. Roy had ducked behind there for safety; the Germans' cover fire was unrelenting. The muzzles of their machine guns flickered, flashing in the growing darkness. Twilight was fleeting. Cries for a medic came from several spots closer to where the Germans were fortified inside the remains of the bombed-out restaurant up the street. There were at least three different locations shouting for Roy's help, but he didn't dare so much as peek around the pile of brick and mortar he crouched behind to do a check of the situation. He was pinned down and he knew it. There was nothing he could do about it, and the fact that men were out there dying and he might be able to save some gnawed at his gut. Their only hope and his was if someone would do something to force the Germans to ease up, if only for a moment.
As if in answer to his prayers, someone shouted, "Grenade!"
An explosion blew away pieces of the restaurant and an unlucky German soldier into the street. Roy seized the moment. He was on his feet, running blindly, closer to the bulk of his unit's main force. Panicked shouts called for him but they all blended together into an adrenaline-deafened din. He noticed someone waving for him and threw himself onto the ground behind a car where a soldier covered in blood lay gasping for breath. Another sat over him, cradling the man's head in his lap.
"Thank God," the kneeling man exclaimed, "I was beginning to wonder if help was coming."
Roy ignored him, looking at the wounded soldier. "What happened?"
"Luke took a burst to the chest. He's bleeding a lot and it's like he can't breathe."
Roy fought the urge to say "Really?" If anyone took a three-round burst of fire to the chest, they'd have problems breathing, too. Roy ripped open the soldier's blood-drenched shirt to find three puckering holes leaking warm, red liquid as bubbles rose and fell in them in time with the man's shaky breathing.
"Can you help him?" the other soldier asked. "Why aren't you doing something?"
Roy tore his eyes away from the dying man. He pushed a syringe into the soldier's hand. "Give him this. It's morphine. It'll make him comfortable while he dies."
The soldier's anger was clear to him. He'd seen it so many times before. "Look," Roy explained, "he's beyond help. There's nothing else I can do for him out here."
The soldier grabbed Roy by the front of his uniform.
"Try something!" the man said to him in the voice of someone who had been pushed too far and past the point of what he could endure.
Roy turned back to the soldier. "What's your name?"
"Luke," the man answered.
Roy was surprised Luke's friend hadn't passed on during their brief conversation. He placed his palm over one of the holes in Luke's chest to see if he could still feel air being discharged from the wound. He reluctantly touched Luke's flesh, placing his hand fully onto the hole. A rush of pain and emotion shot through him like an electrical current. It struck him with such force he toppled sideways. He felt the current stop and the connection break as his hand left Luke's skin, but in that last instant he felt Luke die.
Strong hands caught him from collapsing in the mud.
"Doc! Are you okay?" the soldier asked.
Roy shook his head, trying to regain his focus. "He's gone," he told the soldier without even glancing in Luke's direction. Roy sat staring at the blood on his palm, thinking about how much colder it felt.
The Germans opened up full force again.
"Get down!" the soldier screamed, then a hand shoved him into the same mud he'd just saved him from. In the fire and chaos, Roy noticed Luke's unmoving chest now had only two holes where there had been three. What the ... he thought, but didn't have time to steal a second glance. It had to be a trick of the light or his tired mind. Luke may have moved on to the next world, but Roy and the man with him were far from out of the woods.
"We've got to try to find better cover!" the man urged as every few seconds a German round penetrated the car's body and whizzed between them.
"We need to wait for a lull!" Roy shouted back.
"That's suicide! This car could go up any second! We have to move now!" The soldier started crawling away from the ravaged vehicle.
"Please help us, Lord," Roy said as he followed on his hands and knees. The soldier was leading him away from the battle not toward it. Roy remembered the other pleas and shouts for help. "I can't do this! I need to go closer if we're going to move!"
The soldier turned to protest as a round ripped through his face, blowing a large exit hole in his left cheek. He rolled over, sinking into the mud as he tried to scream, slinging blood and spit into the air. Before Roy could move to help him, the soldier's already-thrashing body began to spasm and shake even more as a stream of machine gun fire finished the job the lone round had started. Patches of mud sprayed into the air ahead of Roy, working their way toward him. He turned tail, hustling it back to the cover of the car.
Another explosion rocked the street. The sound of gunfire lessened in its wake. Roy chanced a look over the car's hood. The German position was in flames. Men from his unit were dashing toward it, guns blazing as a handful of German survivors were trying to flee. He heard more cries for a medic and they snapped him into action. He sprung up from behind the car and sprinted up the street.
No one that he could possibly save was going to die again today if he could help it.