The cigarette winked semaphore across the ruins of Beaumont-Hamel. At last, something to occupy him for a few minutes.
He brought the stock to his shoulder, inhaled, exhaled, and held it. Through the scope, the ember wobbled with lip-twitches and turns of the neck. Sometimes it disappeared and reemerged like a sunrise. The American was fiddling with it. Passing the time.
He understood; the boredom was the very worst of it.
When it was on, when the shrapnel clattered and the shells gnawed on dirt and rocks, no one had time to think much or do anything, really, but fear and react. But in these interminable silences, he just sat and licked at the mud on his teeth and watched the mute trees, no leaves to flutter, no branches to tick and moan, bone white compound fractures in the moonlight. Enough time spent like that and he wished someone would shoot at him, huddled in his nest on the hillside. But in the dark, even without camouflage, he was a ghost. He would have to settle for a diversion more fleeting.
His finger tightened, just a little. Next to him, Kinski whispered something. The red light flared brighter — his mouth tingled with the taste of the smoke — and bobbed slowly, so slowly, and the barrel bobbed with it. He reached out and cradled them in his hands, snuggled them together, the smoldering tobacco and the cold metal, and together they moved, left now, down now, semi-circle up and to the right.
His finger tightened, just a little more. The light winked, crushed by shadows from both sides, and glowed hotter after the shadows passed; two men, then, at least. Was it his accomplice in the path, or someone else, someone doomed by poor company? Difficult to tell at 350 meters. But what difference did it make? One man was the same as another.
His finger tightened.
His finger loosened and he slid down the few feet to where his blanket lay frozen to the ground. There, he inhaled and laid the back of his head against the ice.
Kinski yawned and tapped a crumpled packet of tobacco against his chest. “Zigarette?” he said, and giggled.
Kurt Hunt is, in no particular order, a father, a lawyer, a husband, a human, and a daydreamer. Sometimes he writes things, but usually he doesn’t.