Contributor: Gil C. Schmidt

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A lifetime… in nineteen seconds…

Harry London slammed chest-first into the rubble, his helmet flipping up and banging against a chunk of concrete as ragged as a scream. Heavy machine-gun bullets chewed the air and dirt around him as he struggled to merge his flesh with the cover he so desperately had run to.

Across the charred and mangled street, strewn with several bodies in uniform and gray tweeds, Gunther Meis swung his heavy Vickers machine-gun in a deadly spray, trying to catch up to the British soldier racing desperately across the clearing to leap for cover. The Vickers was unwieldy, the narrow tripod legs slipping on the dusty floor inside the crumbled building that once housed a druggist and his medicines. Gunther cursed as the soldier skidded behind a concrete slab, the bullets spanging to fly off in unknown directions. He stopped firing to scan the street again, and the empty windows of the few remaining houses across the way. He checked the belt and grunted, satisfied he had ammo to fire a full minute’s burst if he cared to. He shifted his weight, peered quickly over the parapet and ducked as a bullet whinged off to his left.

Harry curled up, holding his helmet steady. The strap was broken. He breathed a sigh of relief as the bullets stopped. Rolling slightly left, he peeked at the machine-gun’s nest and saw the German soldier adjusting the gun’s position. Harry quickly sighted his rifle above the parapet and stopped breathing, heart pounding like a drum in his chest. Suddenly, the German raised his head and Harry pulled the trigger. The bullet went high and Harry cursed, rolling fast to his right to avoid the onslaught of bullets he knew was coming. He twitched a grenade from his vest, pulled the pin and held the explosive in his hand, silently counting One… Two…

Gunther turned his head away to avoid the dust coming off the wall and lunged back to pull the Vickers’ trigger. Bullets tore at the edge of the concrete slab, reducing it by chunks and cracks from vertical ledge to air. Gunther roared as the Vickers fired, slamming the gun to the left to rip at the top of the slab, then down, hoping to bounce the heavy bullets into the enemy. He saw a green-gray object fly up from behind the slab, arcing its way across the dead street towards him, and without thought, yanked the gun up and to the left to intercept the grenade--the grenade!--his roar becoming a mad shriek of rage.

Three… Four… Bullets shredded concrete to dust behind him, then walked like heavy rain across the slab to tear it above his head. The bullets then dropped to smash brutally into the slab’s lower edge and pieces of cement peppered Harry’s backs and legs. The slab was no cover there! Five… He threw the grenade in a stiff-armed toss, just like he was taught in Bingham, the thick-bodied metal apple curving up and away. Harry imagined it was flying straight and true, aimed with deadly precision at the machine gunner. He heard the bullets rise, then rise again as the hammering they caused became buzzing until suddenly a shriek of rage became--

An explosion. The grenade blew up as Gunther’s aim crossed its path. The shriek of rage rose to become…
Harry acted without thought, rolling to his feet as the explosion shredded the air everywhere, tucking his rifle and leaping to his feet, his mouth erupting into a shriek of rage that joined the German’s shriek…

Gunther saw the British soldier rise like a spectre, like a demon, from the blast’s cloud, rifle at the ready, shrieking just as he was…

Harry saw the German, heard him shrieking and pulled the trigger…

The shriek ended as the bullets tore through Gunther’s head and neck.

Nineteen seconds… A lifetime. In nineteen seconds.

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Gil C. Schmidt has been a regular submitter to Yesteryear Fiction since the early days when it was a daily magazine. His story "Initial Quantum State" is also featured in his book "Thirty More Stories." Get "Thirty Stories" and "Thirty More Stories" for free: or
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