It’s extremely tough being in the heat of battle. It’s kill or be killed, and I have to live by my wits; understanding the enemy and having my own truly clear strategy is paramount to my survival and crucial for the success of each mission. But, so far, it’s working and here I am in this disused industrial building in the middle of a war zone, shielding myself from missiles and bullets behind a bombed-out concrete wall. I can hear the zip of tracer shells whipping just inches above my helmet and feel the vibration of rounds hitting the wire and concrete that stands ragged, worn, and damaged all around me. I’m taking a few minutes to consider my fate as I feel out-numbered this time, it’s not unusual, to be honest, and I’ve been in this situation many times. I reckon I’m one of the more experienced fighters in this battle; I must be. I’m 31 and have over 10 years’ worth of this type of guerrilla work under my belt. I’ve seen many campaigns and fought many battles, I know my stuff and I have loads of contacts, colleagues who will help me out when I get in trouble just as I’ve helped them over the years.
I’m working with two other guys this time, Jay who is older than me at 38, and Budgie who is just 23. Both are good blokes and they each have plenty of hours of active service, we’ve been together on a few missions before, we make a good team, and we are making good progress so far today. We got our mission orders and met up earlier this morning, just on the outskirts of the city. We need to get across the half-mile battle zone to the river that is 45 degrees west from this building I am stuck in right now. Fifty yards further west than that is a suspension bridge that presents itself as our target. Our ultimate mission is to blow it up and stop the supplies of ammunition and food for the enemy fighters that stand in our way. I don’t know how many enemy fighters there are, but I’d estimate given the noise from guns and mortars they must be a small platoon of about thirty. They seem to be a mixture of individual hidden snipers and small subgroups of 4 or 5 hunters who are firing off random rounds of gunshots and shells trying to sniff us out.
It’s taken us an hour to get into our present location in the city centre without much direct engagement. There have been some lucky random shots coming our way and a couple of prospective mortar shells but nothing for us to worry about. We’ve taken out a small unit that was guarding the entry route into the main part of the area, they were a bit lazy, to be honest, and didn’t know we were there until it was too late. We hit them hard and fast from a position of stealth and it was over within a few minutes. We’re moving quietly and swiftly but came under fire from a sniper which is why we ended up in this big old, broken building. I say ‘building’, it’s really just a shell of concrete that’s been hit many times and is just about standing, in parts, it’s enough to give us a high-level view of the surrounding streets and just enough protection to hide us from the sniper. We need to be quick getting out though as he will already have alerted his team on the ground and they’ll already be on the move to come and greet us. We just need to adapt and assess this situation and find a way out. Jay has just identified the sniper’s position up on the roof of the building opposite, he’ll go up a few floors to get a clearer shot and take him out. Me and Budgie need to get out of this room, and I’ve radioed my partner to say I’ll provide covering fire while he gets a move into the corridor and to the stairwell which is well protected. I crawl over the rubble-strewn floor and position myself under the hole in the wall that used to be a window. Pointing my sub-machine gun towards the sniper position I shout Budgie to go and open up a relentless volley of rounds that splatter around the roofline opposite. I can see the plumes of smoke rising as I manage to ping the exposed concrete blocks, keeping the sniper away from the edge. Budgie moves quickly and gets to his vantage point within a few seconds. I stop and retreat back under the ledge and immediately feel the wrath of my enemy as a string of bullets hit the wall in front of me and fly in through the opening, smashing into the floor and far wall making a strangely neat pattern of holes in the debris. I’m stuck, shit!
Then it’s quiet again. A jubilant Kay shouts over the intercom that he’s plugged the sniper and my way is now clear. I move without a second thought and rendezvous with Budgie on the stairwell. He is making his move down the stairs as I appear, there is no time to stop and high five here, not just now anyway. I follow him closely, watching ahead and listening out for the next wave of fire that can only be minutes away. Jay has spotted a Land Rover approaching fast with a driver and four heavily armed fighters on board. He fires at them from his lofty position to try and hold them off and they stop to take cover as we exit the building from the way we entered, at the back. Running hard we both trace along a wall on our right and follow it down the main road to a small brick-built structure of about 8 feet by 10 feet with a wooden door hanging on its hinges. We come to a stop and take a position on either side of the door, I nod to Budgie and he kicks the door hard and I point my gun inside, holding the trigger and firing off rounds as I leap inside. I am greeted by the sight of a single soldier who is dead by the time I see him, falling heavily to the stone floor, dropping a sighted rifle onto the bloodied floor as he went down. I radio that we’ve taken out another sniper and Jay responds with a howl that would scare a wolf. We have a very quick discussion and agree that we are aiming to meet on the edge of a clearing about 40 yards in front of this brick outhouse.
Kay is out of the building and has gone wider to the left than us, skirting the adjacent lane, which seems a risky strategy to me as it’s overlooked on both sides and littered with debris. He seems to know what he’s doing though and he’s amazingly fast. I can hear gunshots going off and know it’s directed at Kay, so I radio in to find out if he’s ok. I don’t get anything back and start to worry as me and Budgie get to the clearing without incident. We both take a position behind a green privet hedge, we are about 10 yards from each other, scanning the grounds ahead and behind. As we do, the sound of an engine overhead makes my blood run cold, it’s a reconnaissance plane, probably looking for us. It passes by but circles low and seems to take ages to pass us again. If it has heat-seeking cameras we’re done for, I’m hoping that it’s an old-fashioned two-seater with a guy with binoculars; the incoming shells tell me that isn’t right though and we’re on the move again but back into the wooded area to give us some form of cover from the troops on the ground. We’re heading East, the wrong way but there is no other possibility, we’ll just have to circle back when we can. Budgie comes to an abrupt stop and rolls to the floor so I follow, looking up to see what might have caused his reaction. He points and I see a shadow in the bushes about 20 feet in front of us. The form is facing away but backing his way closer to us. Budgie raises his gun and aims at the man’s head, waiting for a clear and closer shot. I hold my hand in the air ready to give him the instruction to fire, ‘’hold it, hold it, hold…….no, don’t’’ I whisper into the intercom, Budgie looks over to me, angry that I’ve stopped him from getting the kill but as he does so Kay turns around and waves, we hear his voice, relieved at having found us he squats next to us and we open the map to plot our next route. Budgie is a bit sheepish, but we don’t have time to discuss what just happened, and anyway, it’s just a product of the intense circumstances we find ourselves in. The plane is banking in the distance and doing a return journey, we’re going to be up against it shortly so need a plan. It’s not possible for us to run across the clearing as we’ll be sitting ducks for the teams approaching us, so we decide to split. I’ll take the right-hand route, heading further East until I get to the row of burnt-out buildings at the edge of this clearing. In front of that should be the river so I’ll turn back and head West up the edge of the road and make it down to the bank. Kay will run left and head straight for the bridge which is just visible in the distance and Budgie will take a different route skirting the Western edge of the clearing and then over the road to find the riverbank. We should be able to make it to the bridge inside an hour. Three, two, one, go! And off we scramble just as the plane comes overhead. It circles and I watch it as I run, it’s seen Kay for sure and it swoops even lower over his path as he dives into the undergrowth. The gunfire starts and selfishly, I can only hope that it isn’t directed at me. It sounds like it’s to my left and I can’t feel anything hitting the shrubbery that is supplying my cover. I run, stooped low, and staying alert to anything that might be ahead until I reach my destination. I drop to my knee and radio in my position as I survey the next phase of my task. I look at an opening to the corner building that stands diagonally to the left of my position. It’s roughly 15 yards but open and exposed but if I get there, I will be in a good vantage point that will help me decide if I run for the river’s edge or stay on the road. Budgie radios back to let me know he’s not yet got to the edge of the clearing as he’s under fire from behind and Kay radios to say he is being pinged at by a couple of guys in a troop carrier. I hear a massive explosion as Kay lets us know he’s fired his bazooka and blown the vehicle to smithereens with the two guys in it, but that has attracted some attention from another unit who are now hunting for him. He’s managed to get himself holed up in a tower block with a good all-round view but he’s going to struggle to get out on his own. I’m running for my life across the open road and dive headfirst into the corner building, luckily I seem to be on my own and I think I’ve got a few minutes to catch my breath and plan my next move.
Budgie has taken a hit, he’s down but not yet out. One of the chasing group fired off a lucky round into the trees and it hit him in the leg. We talk over the intercom, but I know that he isn’t going to be of much more use to us in this mission. I tell him to get deep into the undergrowth and wait, quietly. We’ll pick him back up on the way out by which time I’m hoping we’ll have transport of some sort. The enemy must have a Landy or troop carrier that I can steal, maybe…
As he acknowledges the plan, I am stunned to hear the bullet smash into his face; he didn’t make a sound which I was thankful for. At least when the time came it was quick and unexpected so he wouldn’t have felt it, but we’re now a duo. Kay momentarily gets a bit emotional but recovers quickly and sounds now even more determined to see this one through. ‘Let’s do this for Budgie now’ he growls over the intercom and off he goes to complete his leg of this operation.
From my position I can see the river is about 25 yards in front of me and as I look Westwards, I can see the bridge spanning the wide expanse of water, suspended on its supports by heavy strands of rope-like iron and steel. The riverbank will give me protection from any city-side marauders and allow me a clear view of the fields on the opposite bank which luckily, have recently been cut by the farmers so it’s flat for as far as I can see. I get to my feet and prepare to sprint the relatively short distance to the bank, securing my ammunition, rucksack, and rifle to my back. I take a deep breath and off I go, running at full pelt, as low as I can stand, it takes me what seems like an eternity to get into the ditch by the side of the riverbank. In practice, it was just a few seconds, but I’ve never felt so exposed and scared in all my time fighting for the cause. Hitting the soft earth, I roll and come to a stop on my stomach, with the water lapping behind me and a good bank of earth in front of me. It’s about three feet high on average but undulates quite markedly. I can see it is quite exposed in places but only for a few feet at a time. I feel confident for the first time today as I start to move down the river’s edge towards the bridge. If I am undisturbed, I can be there in 15 minutes. I tell Kay and he acknowledges but says I’m on my own as he is surrounded. Fortunately, the enemy can’t establish which building he is in and he has been able to pick off three of them so far from his hideaway. I can hear the firing over to my left and I don’t know how he will manage to escape, there will be more troops joining that area soon, attracted by the fire and reports that one of us is trapped somewhere in the vicinity. I carry on, getting closer to my target with each step and starting to feel excited at the prospect of planting my incendiary devices underneath the structure and watching as it blows, firing masonry, steel and water high into the air. I’ll worry about getting out of here and helping Kay after that, but for now, I can smell success. I start to think about how fortunate I’ve been and how relatively unscathed I am, I must be an exceptionally good fighter to get this far without much of a challenge not to mention a great strategist, and in spite of losing Budgie, a superb leader. I can’t wait to get through this one and move onto a new challenge, a new mission, in another part of the world next time, somewhere warmer. I’m grinning as I move steadily, over the wet soil, ducking low behind the ridge, occasionally stepping into the winding river water. The grenade took me completely by surprise as it whizzed over my head and hit the water, exploding loudly, and sending the water and mud in all directions. Another one followed quickly after and landed closer but still in the water. I push myself into the bank and pull myself as low as I can, keeping out of sight and trying to think quickly. I know I can’t stay here as another grenade is bound to pop over the ridge very soon so I crawl on my belly as fast as I can just as that expected grenade lands about a foot away from where I was just led. I need to find out where the guy is, he can’t be far away to be throwing grenades with that degree of accuracy. I come to a low point in the banking and get to survey the road. At the edge of my vision, I see him, crouched down behind a small wall across the road. I shudder as I recall my first plan of running that side of the road realising that I would probably be dead if I had, as he would surely have seen me coming. I can just about get in position and I steady my gun sight so that his head is firmly in the center of my viewfinder. I set myself still, and gently squeeze on my trigger sending off several rounds into his skull. He fell like a sack and probably didn’t even realise what was happening until he felt the thud crack his head open. I waited still, quiet, breathing lightly just to make sure no one else was with him. Sure enough, his mate came running out of the building just as I squeezed my fingers tight again, sending him flying off his feet and crashing lifelessly to the ground. I led there for a few more minutes and watched the road; I could hear some sort of vehicle driving along the streets quite close by, probably looking for me. It was getting closer, so I stay where I am as I have a good view of the road and am well hidden from sight. I have the advantage if anyone or anything was to appear. As I wait, I decide to check-in with Kay who sadly is in a bad way but in his words, holding his own. He is under heavy fire from at least six heavily armed militia who now know which building he is in. He is fighting fiercely and has taken another one out, but the shells are getting closer and I don’t think he’s going to see the fight out. We talk over the intercom, his voice is rasping, tired, and frightened, his words positive but the manner in which he delivers them seems to me to feel resigned to the fact that the end is near. He tells me that he is looking forward to seeing me after the bridge is blown and I’m on my way back to base, I still don’t know how that is going to happen! I tell him that he’s doing a great job and to hang in there and then silence. The radio goes as dead as Kay probably is and I reflect on the adventure we’ve had and previous successes we had, all three of us. We made a great team and always thought that we were invincible until now that is. The realisation that I’m the last one left hit me hard. I’m shaken awake and startled as the open-top jeep drives past my position, it has a driver who is scanning the roads as he takes it slowly along the bomb scarred tarmac and another person in the back on a heavy artillery gun bolted into the base. I say ‘person’ as it’s a girl, she’s in fatigues with a beret and long dark hair streaming from under it. The light shines in her face and reflects the deep dark red lipstick that adorns her grimacing mouth. She also scans the area and the buildings, looking into the window holes and up into the roof. Neither look in my direction and I think about taking them out. Shifting slowly so I can get my gun in the right direction, they stop in front of the two dead bodies that lay in pools of blood on the side of the road. The driver jumps out to get a closer look and my view of him is obscured by his vehicle. The girl, however, is now in my sights and I hesitate a few seconds to see if they are going to drive off. They don’t and the driver walks around to the middle of the road and looks up and down it as if waiting for a bus. I open fire and he gets hit by half a dozen rounds before either of them can react and by then it’s all over as I realign my aim to the girl as she grips her gun in panic and surprise. Two shots to her head finish it off and once again, I’m alone and still and waiting. I now have a dilemma; do I carry on shuffling around the river’s edge to the bridge or do I go and get the jeep and drive there? If I grab the jeep, I will have a way of getting out of this place once the deed is done but I run the risk of attracting unwanted attention. Then again, it’ll still be there after I’ve blown the bridge. I decide to carry on with my more covert choice, crawling on my knees shielded by the mud bank and almost within reach of my destination. I’m shaken a bit from the events of the last 15 minutes but now even more determined to get to the end zone and deploy my surprise. I round the final bend and at long last I’m knelt under the first support beam on this huge metal structure, undoing my rucksack and taking out my explosive unit ready to fix it to the underside of the iron roadway. I start to slowly wade out into the river and head to a central point, moving only a few yards as the water is getting quite deep and I can sense the strong current flowing around my legs. I reach my target area when that damn plane appears in the distance, heading towards me. I don’t have long left. As I start to strap the device to the surface, I feel my mobile phone vibrating in my pocket, damn who is this? I try and get the phone out of my pocket but can’t manage it, I need both hands to complete the task with this bomb. The phone stops but then buzzes as whoever it is leaves a message, I’ll check it out when I’ve finished here.
The plane is low and flying along the outline of the river and as it goes overhead and spots me, a grenade is dropped by one of the occupants. It falls quite a way from me but it’s clear I’ve been spotted; I need to get a move on and find a safe place from which to detonate the device which is now secured to its target. Running now, I’m back on the bank, my feet slipping because of the water I’ve collected on my boots and trousers, but I manage to remain upright…
The bedroom door flies open banging hard against the plaster wall and startling me so much that the headset falls off my ears and hangs limply around my neck. I look up and receive a volley of verbal abuse delivered at amazingly high decibels from my wife who is stood in the doorway with her coat on and her phone in her hand. She waves it at me aggressively, swearing loudly still, and her face a harsh red and contorted in a rage I haven’t seen before. I retrieve my own phone from my pocket to see 11 missed calls and 4 text messages all from Suzie, my wife! The text messages inform me that her car broke down at the supermarket and she needed help. Then, the breakdown recovery firm had been and taken her car to a garage, so she needed a lift home, with the shopping. The third one was to say she couldn’t pick Dillan up from nursery and could I go, that was 30 mins ago and the final one was a list of swear words and threats that I really shouldn’t repeat.
I’m in some bother here! I send a quick apology to the lads who are waiting to start a new mission and switch the Xbox off ready to enter another battle zone, but this one could result in me getting hurt. Why doesn’t she just understand…?
C H Elton is the pen name of Steve Chelton who lives with his wife in Newton Le Willows. They have 5 children between them and at present, 3 grandchildren. Steve has been a self-employed consultant working in the UK Insurance industry for several years but is currently not working because of the impact COVID-19 has had across the industry.