Foreward: I wrote this as my final hand-in for my Creative Writing class. I got a B on it. Hope everyone else enjoys it.
Wake Me Up
Before the Soviet invasion of the U.S. in June of 2003, the vehicle was just another bus used to ferry children to and from school each day. Now, eight months later, it served as a military transport for the American resistance forces, one in a convoy of several. Its bright yellow paint was now a dull gray, and anything that flashed was removed. The last three rows of seats had been removed to create a large storage space for weapons, ammo, and anything else that was needed. Sitting in seat two of row B was Leslie Bush. She was in her late twenties, of mixed European descent with short brown hair and pale blue eyes. Resting on her lap was her AK-103, the standard weapon for the Soviet Armed Forces and the most commonly accessible weapon to resistance forces. Hanging on her belt were a few grenades, also of Soviet manufacture. In fact, the only thing that she had on that was not made in the U.S.S.R. was her pistol, the Colt M1911, the last remaining item of her life before the war.
A wry smile crossed her lips. Americans had been generally arrogant back then. The last time foreign troops had been on their soil was the War of 1812. How long could they honestly think it would be before it happened again? Three hundred years? Four hundred? Never? The Soviets shattered their perceptions, opening up with a bombardment that included several nuclear missile strikes in the Midwest, the cause of this incredibly bitter February day. Hell, sources from New York City said that the harbor had frozen over.
"New York City . . ." she quietly said, turning to look out her window at the passing trees. During the occupation, it had become the Soviet seat of power, where the Commander-in-Chief for the so-called "Soviet Liberation Army," General Tatarin, slept each night. That was until two weeks ago, when the local resistance, reported to have been eradicated in November, seized control of the civilian communications center and issued a nationwide call to arms. The Soviet lines collapsed soon after, their morale shattered. The U.S. Military, long encircled in America's heartland, was now making rapid gains.
A large bump rocked Leslie from her memories. She leaned out of her seat.
"Hey, Greene, want to keep your eyes on the road?"
"Sorry, lieutenant," came Greene's sheepish reply. Private Timothy Greene was a good kid, been fighting ever since the Soviets made a televised destruction of the Statue of Liberty, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and just about anything else that symbolized the American Republic.
Leslie sat back in her seat. She remembered when she had first been promoted to lieutenant. For the longest time, it meant nothing to her, just said that she had proved herself in combat enough to give out orders. Now though, it held actual weight. With the general Soviet retreat, all the various resistance groups in the Catskill Mountains, long in contact with each other, decided to try and legitimize themselves into an actual structured army. Hence, she was now part of Hudson Valley Group, Catskill Battalion, Goshen Company, 1st Platoon. Some of the resistance leaders wanted to tag on "New York Resistance Brigade" at the beginning, but that would imply the entire state was completely organized and that simply was not the case; communications with other resistance groups outside the region were sketchy, at best.
"Okay people, listen up!"
Leslie looked at toward the front of the bus. Captain Jason McCallister, her company's commanding officer, was standing there, holding onto the pole near the bus door. She had always been under his command, even before the war, when the biggest problems they had was listening to their chief bitch about his marriage and deal with the occasional traffic accident.
"I'm going over the plan one more time," Captain McCallister continued. "The Reds have pulled back to their main fortifications for each region. For us, that's West Point, hence the reason for Operation River Chain."
Leslie recalled from the officer's briefing back at the resistance headquarters that the operation name came from the Revolutionary War, when the Colonials stretched a chain across the Hudson, starting at West Point.
"However, we've received word that there's some Soviet infantry holed up at the Galleria at Crystal Run. Here, ladies and gentlemen, we have a golden opportunity. Not only would taking back the mall secure the Route 17 and Goshen Turnpike area, the Soviets turned the whole damned building into a munitions depot, so we'd capture plenty of ammo for the assault on West Point!"
An enthusiastic cheer erupted from the crowd, followed by a handful of claps.
"Supposedly, there's only a handful of Soviets guarding the place, two platoons, at most. Their morale should still be pretty low, so, hopefully, they'll surrender after a few minutes of fighting. Don't get careless, though. Ivan's fought out of tougher corners."
The bus lurched as it turned onto Galleria Drive.
"This is it, guys! Lock and load!"
Leslie wondered if that little cliché held any actual military meaning, but did not actually care. She, along with everyone else, grabbed her rifle and checked it one last time, verifying that the magazine was properly inserted, a round was chambered, and that her safety was engaged.
"Lieutenant Rehak's 2nd Platoon is entering through Sears while we're going in at Filene's. Both units will link up at the center after clearing their halves of the building. For those of you going on the bottom floor, mind the ceiling, as I'm sure they'll be plenty of Soviets looking for an easy kill."
Captain McCallister let go of the pole and walked over to Leslie's seat, sitting down.
"Are you sure you'll be okay, Les?" he asked, lowering his voice so that the rest of his company could not hear him.
"As long as I stick close to you, Jason, I'll be fine."
"Remember, Les, you are an officer, so don't be afraid to issue some orders of your own."
She turned her head away, not saying a thing. Captain McCallister sighed and rose from the seat, walking away.
The 2nd Platoon's buses reached the bottom parking lot for the Galleria, forming a straight line with the doors facing away from the mall. 1st Platoon's buses circled around to the other side, where Filene's was located. Stopping in the same formation as the other buses, 1st Platoon filed out and fell into their squads. Leslie was with Captain McCallister, so she took her place near him. Her breath forming dense clouds of vapor, Leslie tried pulling her clothes tighter around her body. The pale winter sun helped little to fight off the cold.
"I hate winter," she mumbled.
After checking to make sure that everyone was present, and radioing 2nd Platoon, Captain McCallister shouted for each squad to move in, three squads to the lower entrance while the others followed him on the upper. This was it, Leslie thought as she flipped the safety off on her rifle.
On the top floor of Filene's, where Women's Clothing had once been, there was now nothing but green boxes of ammo, weapons, explosives, clothing, food, everything that a modern military needed to function. The cash registers were gone. Any hooks or lettering on the walls had been torn down, leaving them naked to the world.
Captain McCallister's squad entered the mall first, their rifles tucked tightly into their shoulders. Leslie stuck close to him, keeping her eyes lined along the sights of her weapon. They walked slowly, methodically, checking each area before moving on to the next. Not once did they spot any Soviet soldiers.
"I have a bad feeling about this, lieutenant," Sergeant Enrique Castillo mumbled, his Mexican accent pronounced. He was a political exile, living in the U.S. since the Communist Party took control of his country back in '96.
"I think we all do, sergeant," Leslie quietly replied.
Suddenly, they all heard a shout in Russian. Out from the central mall, Soviet troops stormed in, their foot stomps reverberating throughout Filene's.
"Cover!" Captain McCallister shouted out, dashing behind an ammo crate. The rooms of Filene's were set ablaze with gunfire as the two forces battled. The Soviet soldiers were all dressed in their gray winter uniforms and a Kevlar helmet with the red star of the Soviet Union emblazoned on front. The Americans had on whatever they brought with them at the beginning of the war or managed to steal since then.
Leslie found herself tightly wedged near a wall and several weapon crates along with some other people from another squad. Her face was drawn tight as she wracked her brain on how to get back with Captain McCallister.
"Lieutenant, what do we do?" a private asked, his voice quaking over the sounds of bullets ricocheting off the other side of the crates.
"We try and get back to the captain any way possible."
Leslie looked at the squad.
"Does anyone here have a mirror?"
"I do," one man, a sergeant, replied, digging into his belt pouches. He quickly pulled it out and handed it over. Leslie held it over the top of the crates.
"We've got a trio of Ivan's firing short bursts with their rifles." She looked over the squad. Four privates and a sergeant. She pointed at two of the privates.
"You and you, lay down suppressing fire when I give the word."
The two men waddled up next to the crates and got their rifles ready. Leslie slid to the side and tightly gripped her Kalashnikov with both hands. A bullet flew right by her head, nearly taking off her ear. She jerked back and watched as it impacted the far concrete wall, scattering chips onto the floor, a small puff of dust rising from the impact site. Swallowing, she turned her head back towards the battle.
"Now!" she screamed, twisting her back to get a shot. At once, the three freedom fighters opened up with a long burst of fire. One of the Soviet soldiers was killed immediately, several bullets boring into his chest, sending out brief blood sprays as soon as they hit flesh. Another solider took a round to his helmet, sending him to ground, grasping his ears in pain from the high pitched echo that remained. The last one immediately ducked behind cover.
Without being told, Leslie and the squad of soldiers broke into a mad dash for Captain McCallister's position. Leslie pointed her rifle in the general direction of the Soviets and emptied the rest of her magazine. The chamber for the weapon clicked open a second before she reached safety behind a central pillar, flanked on both sides by ammo crates. She quickly depressed the magazine catch lever, letting the empty magazine fall to the ground. As soon as she was behind cover, Leslie knelt and grabbed a full magazine from her belt. Knocking it against the ground a few times to properly seat the cartridges, she slotted the magazine into her rifle and chambered a round.
One of the privates she had taken shelter with shouted. Leslie whipped around just in time to see him fall to the floor. Her eyes widened. She tried to scream for a medic, but her voice had frozen, only letting out small moans. This could not be happening. This could not be happening. They had entrusted her with their lives, counted on her to see them through, and --
The private rolled behind the safety of the pillar as well, not a single bullet hole on his body.
"Wha . . . What . . ." Leslie tried to form a complete sentence, but her brain had gone wherever her vocal cords had earlier.
"Damn shell casings," the private mumbled before taking up position near the pillar center.
Leslie felt strong hands grab her shoulders and turn her body toward their owner. Her linen white face met with Captain McCallister's, his hazel eyes reflecting deep concern.
"Lieutenant Bush, are you all right?" When she did not respond immediately, he shook her.
"Les, you still with me?" Leslie closed her mouth and slowly nodded. Captain McCallister sighed heavily before turning his attention back towards the fight. He caught sight of one man trying to crawl his way toward the corpse that Leslie and the squad had made.
"Kraulik! Get the Hell back behind cover!"
Private Gabe Kraulik cast a pleading look back.
"Come on, cap! That Ivan looks around my size!"
Kraulik had been part of the resistance since the invasion, though had always been to small, clerical duties, due to the fact that he wore size fifteen boots, a rarity, no matter what military force he could join. They always tried to find him a pair, but always came up empty. Right now, he was wearing the same specially made sneakers that he had when he joined.
"If you want to go for them, fine, but I hope the Reds blow your damn feet off first!"
With a grumble, Kraulik slid back behind safety.
"What do we do, Captain?" Leslie asked, her voice firm and even. Captain McCallister looked around, verifying the position of each of his men. Most were safely behind cover, letting out the occasional shot to the Soviets. He also counted three dead, and he did not know what the situation was like downstairs where the rest of his company was engaged.
"Why don't we just toss over a few grenades?" Sergeant Castillo asked.
"That'd set off all the ammo in the boxes, genius. Now, unless you feel like celebrating the Fourth, that's not an option."
"Cap, there're several Ivans running towards us!" Kraulik shouted. Captain McCallister whipped his head where Kraulik was pointing. A squad of Soviets, the squad leader armed with a shotgun, were advancing on them. No orders needed to be given. Everyone hiding behind the pillar opened up on the Soviets, cutting the squad leader in bloody tatters. The rest of the soldiers quickly scrambled behind several crates.
Leslie made a mental check of how much ammo she had left in her magazine. She should still have about two thirds left, so she did not reload.
"What I wouldn't give for a flashbang," Captain McCallister mumbled. He looked around again. He needed a better view of what lay on the other side of the boxes. The line to his left was more extended than the others, and he had ample protection by several rows of crates, each one two crates thick and stacked four high. He whistled at the soldiers already hiding behind there.
"Cover me while I come over!"
They nodded, replaced their partially emptied magazines with full ones, and let loose on the entire Soviet line. Captain McCallister made a mad dash.
Leslie looked just in time to see him run over. Damn it, why was he leaving her here? He was the one with tactical ability, not her. She had the same experience as a sergeant when it came to --
A burst of rifle fire was heard from the Soviet lines. The first few bullets hit nothing but air, but the last ones carved holes into Captain McCallister's head, blowing blood, shattered bone, and brain matter out the other side. He collapsed to the right, rolling onto his back.
Leslie could remember the first time she had seen a dead man. It was during the start of the invasion, when her uniform was blue and the only armor she had was a small bronze shield above her left breast. The man had died from a shotgun blast to the mid torso. She would always remember the way the blood splattered onto the blacktop, how the man's organs looked like, a twisted mass of pink and red, glistening in the midday sun. He had survived the initial blast, taking several short gasps of air with blood drooling from his mouth before he finally died. She could still hear the echo of the gun as it clattered to the ground at her feet, her hands trembling. The overwhelming stench of the Soviet soldier's internal organs washed over, churning her stomach. She had managed to fight off the urge to vomit and run with Jason's help, back then just Sergeant McCallister of the Goshen Police. The killing had gotten easier afterwards. Her eyes blazed with hatred each time she fired at a Soviet convoy, set off a road bomb, or layed down covering fire for her fellow freedom fighters.
Leslie stared at Jason's face. It was odd. He still wore the same look of determination as he always did, as if he were still trying to get up and make it over.
Suddenly, Leslie was the center of attention.
"What do we do now, Lieutenant?" Private Greene asked.
"I . . . I don't . . ."
"L-T! Ivan's making another advance!"
Leslie sat there as her men, her men, desperately fought back. The sounds of battle faded out, left only by a dense fog that no sound could penetrate. Her commanding officer, more importantly, her longtime friend, was dead. She had never issued an order in her life, yet was now supposed to lead a whole company of soldiers. There had to be a way out, someone else to turn to. 2nd Platoon! Yes, she could call them and talk to Lieutenant Rehak, ask him what to do.
He was not here, though. He was in Sears, which may as well be on the other side of the Earth. He did not know the layout of the soldiers and terrain. He could not tell exactly what order to relay, which area to shoot at. It was all on her shoulders. If she stumbled, they would all die. Simple as that.
Leslie looked at Sergeant Castillo.
"How many grenades do you have, sergeant?" He gave her a surprised look.
Leslie grabbed one of the grenades from her belt and pulled the pin, but making sure to keep the priming lever down.
"Use 'em, and that goes for the rest of you!"
Without giving it a second thought, everyone behind the pillar area grabbed a grenade and tossed them over. For a moment, there was no sound other than the rifle fire. Then, several Soviet soldiers screamed out. The freedom fighters got down as low as they could and held their ears tight.
The grenades exploded in series, each one rocking Leslie's body with a shockwave. Her back and shoulders were pelted with bits of debris, each chip bouncing off and collecting on the floor. The dust crept up her nostrils, threatening to make her sneeze. The explosions were dull and muffled, but still felt.
When the last grenade went off, Leslie opened her eyes and looked around. Her men seemed to be all right. She took stock of herself. Other than a few minor cuts and bruises, the only thing she needed was a shower.
"What the Hell?" Greene shouted, pointing up. Leslie looked to see hundreds of clothes gently falling. Clothing of all varieties slowly made their way down, a sky blue bra landing on Leslie's lap. Oddly enough, it was the same exact brand and type she bought last time she was here.
Shaking her head, she brushed the bra off her lap and climbed to her feet.
"Get a move on it, people!" Leslie shouted. Snapping out the strange spell they all had fallen under, her men surged forward, pointing their rifles at any Soviet soldier that still moved. They kicked their weapons out of reach, yelling at them not to move. The soldiers did not resist; still in a daze, they raised their hands and muttered out phrases in Russian. They all had heard them enough to know that the Soviets were begging not to be shot, that they surrendered. Several of Leslie's company rounded up their prisoners of war and stayed behind to guard them while the rest went on with the mission.
Outside of the Galleria, both platoons were gathered in the parking lot, celebrating their victory with chocolate bars they stole from the Soviets. Before them on the flag pole, the Stars and Stripes flew once more, the Soviet Sickle and Hammer now nothing but a pile of ashes.
Their intelligence had been way off. Tallying up the Soviet dead and captured, the building was home for a whole company of soldiers, not two platoons. However, the Americans all had been extremely lucky. The Soviets had been in the middle of chow when they showed up. They also completely barred up every storefront that was not in use, so the two platoons did not have to clear each one. Casualties for the Americans had been low, seventeen percent out of both platoons.
Leslie sat alone by the plastic sheets that covered the dead. Pinned to each one was a tag that read the dead's name and grade. The temperature had warmed up a bit, though Leslie still kept her arms folded.
"I finally did it, Jason," she whispered. "I took command and ended up saving the day."
A cold silence was her reply.
"I hope that you're happy, wherever it is you are. I wish that you could've lived a while longer, to see America's liberation, but God called you home. Don't worry about Goshen Company. I'll take good care of 'em."
Leslie clicked her heels together and gave Jason a salute. After a moment, she walked back towards her company. Private Greene spotted her coming and waved.
"Hey, lieutenant! Want a cup of coffee?"
"That sounds great. Go get me some."
Greene stalled for a moment, then jogged inside the mall.
"So, sergeant," Leslie said, looking at Sergeant Castillo. "What are you going to do after we kick the Reds out?"
"I don't know about you Americans, but I'm going to try and liberate my county." Leslie nodded. She was certain that the U.S. would turn towards its Communist neighbors, especially Cuba, since they were the ones who launched the nuclear missles. Castillo would not be going alone.
"Hey, L-T!" Private Kraulik shouted, running from the mall. "Great news! Those boots fit like a dream!"
Everyone present laughed heartily. Leslie leaned onto a nearby floodlight pole and watched as Kraulik showed off his footwear. They only had a little time to relax before 1st Platoon went back to Goshen. Second was staying to keep an eye on the place, and distribute the supplies when the convoys arrived. The wat against the Soviet Union may not be over, but the battle for America almost was.
And Lieutenant Leslie Bush, commanding officer for Hudson Valley Group, Catskill Battalion, Goshen Company would be there until the end.