Thunder Along the Copperhead

Thunder Along the Copperhead will be published either October 26 or November 2. Until then enjoy this excerpt.

Chapter Two

Hours earlier, a mile to the east on Copperhead Creek Road a man also dreamed…a dream that was always the same.  Lucas knew he was dreaming but could do nothing about it.  Realizing it was a dream didn’t make it any less terrifying…or any less heartbreaking.  It began…

…with the broken rolls of barbed wire tearing at his battledress. Ghostly, broken trees were backlit from fires started by the late evening’s artillery barrage and from star shells bursting overhead.  Patches of yellow-green mustard gas were carried by the breeze, rendered by the concussions caused by exploding shells.  Machine gun fire, sporadic due to the hundreds of high explosive rounds that earlier rained down on the German positions, kicked up mud clods around him.  Mortar rounds burst ahead of him…the cries of the wounded swelled in his head.

A thousand Marines had stepped off at seventeen hundred hours to plug a gap torn in the French lines by an unexpected German assault.  It was now midnight the following day.  For nearly thirty hours they had fought almost nonstop.  The battalion had been raked by machine gun and mortar fire, become entangled in barbed wire but had blunted a German counterattack. 

His squad had engaged in hand-to-hand combat as they forced the Germans out of their positions or held on to their own.  Many of the men had been reduced to fighting with bayonets or rocks as ammunition ran low.  Food and water were nonexistent. The Marine’s advance had ground to a halt and despite their best efforts, the fight had become another stalemate.

The Third Battalion; Sixth Marines had been shattered but the remnants were still fighting.  As darkness had captured the second day, Lucas had no way of knowing but four hundred of his fellow Marines had been killed or wounded.  Still, the Americans had a foothold…maybe just a toe hold in one of the most decisive battles of the Great War.  Just six months past his eighteenth birthday and already a two-year veteran, Corporal Lucas Perry was the highest-ranking Marine remaining at the foot of a low, unnamed hill in Belleau Wood. 

“When in doubt, advance,” rang in his head and was what he was doing.  Rallying the dozen or so Marines near him, they advanced from shell hole to shell hole, shattered tree trunk to shattered tree trunk to take the low-lying hill still bristling with machine guns, mortars, and who knew what else. 

His vision is limited by the gas mask he is wearing, and he could hear his own breathing above the sounds of explosions and screams of men.  He wills himself to breathe.  The air in the mask is humid and has a chemical smell. 

For the thousandth time, he checked the Winchester Model 1897 trench gun.  He is down to the five rounds chambered in the shotgun but still has his M1911 along with a Springfield, picked up on the hillside, strapped to his back.  Private Jackson is to his left and slightly ahead.  Lance Corporal Patrick is behind and to his right.

Lucas knows what happens next and tries to scream himself awake but can find no voice.  He knows he is holding his breath, almost smothering himself.  

As a star shell explodes, a silhouette in a strange helmet suddenly appears and is just as quickly shredded by the buckshot from Lucas’s shotgun.  As he turns toward Jackson the mortar round lands at the doomed Marine’s feet turning the young private into a pink mist.  Milliseconds later the concussion filled with blood, bone, and shrapnel knocks him down.  The last thing he sees is Patrick holding his throat where a piece of shrapnel has ripped it open.

Facedown in the mud, Lucas feels no pain and seems to be encased in silence.  His head is too heavy to move, and his eyes won’t quite focus.  It is as if he is looking through a broken window.

Something new…Lucas can hear Nate calling his name.  “Why is Nate in my dream?”  Suddenly he is awake staring into Nate’s face.

“Man, you with the living?  You groanin’ likes you about to die.”

Lucas could see Nate’s concern in the low light provided by the gas burner and kerosene lamp.  The book he had been reading is lying open on his lap.

“What time is it?”  Lucas’s head ached and there was a foul taste in his mouth.

“Twelve thirty.  You wuz groanin’ in your sleep.  Good thing you ‘vested in this gas burner or we’d be having to make this run again.  Head temperature sittin’ right on one seventy-five.  I cut it down just a bit.  The tails should bes fine.  You know with this set up there’s no reason for us to keep cookin’ at night.  Ain’t no smoke for the gubmint man to see.  We invest in a submarine still en it would cut our time down even mo and increase the output.  This ole turnip seen its better days anyways.”

If you want more, you will have to wait. Thunder Along the Copperhead is coming soon. Available in paperback or to download.

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