GRUFF • by Edward Caputo

“Sir!” shouted the captain, hurrying toward and saluting the general climbing out of the staff car newly parked sideways near the foot of the enormous stone bridge. “We can’t get across; we’ve been trying for almost two hours!”

A concussive explosion rocked the arching, half-mile long structure, causing both officers to stumble. From the scrub growth to their left, a large gray-and-brown goat scurried past them and around the general’s olive-drab vehicle.

Dusting himself off, the general straightened and said, “Captain, when you reported reaching this bridge, I expected you to be on the other side in twenty minutes. When I heard you were still here I couldn’t believe it, so I came down to see for myself. What’s the situation, Captain? You’re holding up my entire advance!”

“The far end is barricaded, Sir; we’ve been unable to break through,” the captain began, referring to a massive breastwork of rubble and wreckage blocking egress from the far end of the bridge. Pointing to the left, he continued, “First, there’s enemy infantry hiding in that row of buildings you can just make out through the haze beyond the bridgehead. Their machine guns completely cover its left flank.

“See the rubble on the right, Sir? That flank’s been impassible since that old tower came down forty minutes ago,” he said, indicating ancient stone fortifications overlooking the river on that side. Gesturing toward the middle of the makeshift battlements, the captain concluded, “and while the center seems clear–we opened that gap you see during the initial assault–something’s back there blocking our advance.”

As they looked on, six men started running back up the long slope from the far side of the bridge. The general asked, “What do you mean, ‘something’s back there’, Captain?”

“Every vehicle, every man, every scrap of metal we’ve sent through that gap has come right back at us, Sir–looking a lot worse than when it went in. We’ve got nothing that can get past that… that… Thing.”

“What Thing?” asked the general, gruffly.

“That Thing!” replied the captain, pointing forcefully toward the gap.

In the gap, there now stood a giant. Twelve feet tall and four wide; even at a distance it was hideously ugly. Its knotty face was framed by two curved horns. A thick, hairy, hide coat hung to its knees. Its red stringy hair was caked with mud and hung down almost as far.

Ripping the main gun off a smoking tank, the monster swung it in a circle and let fly. The deadly projectile skittered and spun along the bridge toward the six retreating soldiers. Three were simply crushed as the near ton of steel slammed through them. Two more caught a glancing blow that knocked them over the rail and into the river. The last managed to cheat death by sprawling flat, the barrel bouncing over him and into a bridge support. The entire structure shuddered again.

The frightful creature roared with laughter, “Bring it on! I break anything you got!” Its voice: rough, guttural–but unmistakably human-like–echoed across the river. More rubble from the old tower slid into the water as the monster shoved the wrecked tank through the remains of the bridge’s retaining wall and into the river below. Then it turned and disappeared back through the gap.

“Sir, we have to fall back! I’ve lost a platoon already and at least three of my armored vehicles are nothing more than scrap. We’ve thrown everything we have at that… that… Ogre and we’re getting nowhere!”

The general stood silently a moment, thoughtfully gazing through the haze toward the now smoke-obscured barricade. The crash of enemy machine gun fire fell silent now that the last of the stricken company had fallen back past the halfway point.

Then he turned. “The goat, Captain,” he said calmly, in the relative quiet of the lull. “Where did that goat get to?”

“Goat, Sir? What goat?” replied the captain, looking confused and sounding on the verge of panic.

“Ahh yes, here he is,” said the general, returning from the far side of the command vehicle leading the broad-shouldered, horned goat still contentedly chewing a now half-eaten pennant that once adorned the vehicle’s front bumper.

“Captain,” began the general, “assign one of your men to lead this goat across the bridge to that gap and let him go. Order the rest of your men to lay suppressive fire on that row of buildings.”  Seeing the look of disbelief on the captain’s face he barked, “Let’s go, Captain! I haven’t got all day.”

“Sir, I don’t–”

“Now! Captain,” he bellowed, losing his temper for the first time, “I’m tired of being on this side of the river. Get this company moving!!”

Fearing the general had gone mad–but fearing the consequences of delay more–the captain ordered one of his sergeants to lead the goat over the bridge. As they passed the company’s forward line near the apex of the bridge, the captain signaled and hell rained down on the far buildings as his entire host opened up to cover their new vanguard.

Bent low, the sergeant rushed forward leading the goat. Arriving at the gap, he released the animal and dove for the nearest cover. The captain, sure the poor creature would simply bolt, was astonished to see the goat rear up, take two quick hops then charge onward through the gap; head low, horns forward.

A moment later, above the deafening barrage, there came an even louder roar of agony and rage. Suddenly, the monster burst through the right-side retaining wall and flew headlong into the river. With a resounding clatter, the ruined old tower and much of the surrounding rubble collapsed through the broken wall, and followed the monster to the bottom.

“Not “˜Ogre’, Captain, Troll,” said the general, climbing back into his car. “Now get this company moving, Soldier! We’ve got a lot of ground to make up today!”

Edward Caputo lives in the Chicago area. He enjoys (thinking about) writing in his almost non-existent spare time, and occasionally gets material from his head to his keyboard and has recently committed himself to writing more and editing less.

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