“Come on Geiszler, shoot the damn thing! What are you, chicken?”

Kaspar Geiszler felt his blood boil as the sound of nine fully-grown men clucking in unison filled his ears. The rifle was held gingerly in his hands – far heavier than it appeared to be, Kaspar thought dully – and as he rested the butt against his shoulder once again, he was reminded that the predicament he had found himself in was all-too real. They had described the front as little more than a living nightmare – a nightmare filled with dirt, screaming and dead bodies piling up on both sides. Kaspar’s breath hitched a little in his throat. He could already feel the beads of sweat rolling into his eyebrows and drying in the cool autumn air, making his forehead uncomfortably sticky. The nauseating feeling in his stomach only grew as the men around him burst into rapturous peals of laughter, and as the dread filled him from head to toe, he could feel the eyes of his unit trained on his every move.

Kaspar had the skills to shoot a pig from point-blank range, but he didn’t have the heart to kill a human being.

The rifle slid from Kaspar’s grip a little, catching his shoulder blade. He hadn’t noticed until now, but his palms had grown sweaty. Cursing under his breath, he lifted the gun a little further up onto his shoulder and wiped his right hand on his trousers. He wasn’t entirely sure as to why he was as uneasy as he was in that moment. He had been top of every marksmanship class he had taken throughout his training, and he knew that he would be able to hit the paper target swinging in front of him with minimal effort. However, as the hollering of the men around him continued to echo in his ears and the thought of having to move from paper targets to human flesh within the week, he could feel bile beginning to rise up his throat.

“Ah, the mischling has frozen up. Somebody help him, the poor baby!” Another round of laughter started up as one of the boys, a tall, stocky kid barely out of school, elbowed Kaspar in the side. The other boys started to mimic the tone and before long, the room was filled with taunts aimed Kaspar’s way.

Gritting his teeth, Kaspar lifted the rifle up again, jamming the top of the butt roughly against the edge of his collarbone. The gun was far too high, but Kaspar didn’t care. His blood was beginning to boil and as he started to take aim, he had to bite back a number of sarcastic comments that were sitting on the very edge of his tongue. They were right in a way, Kaspar thought bitterly – if he couldn’t even shoot a paper target without wanting to throw up the watery breakfast he had been treated to that morning, then how was he expected to kill a living, breathing human being in combat?

“You’re not making breakfast for the enemy, boy. Shoot or they’ll shoot you.”

The boisterous chatter that had once filled the air drew to an instant halt as the deep, gravelly tones of Sergeant Flater filled the air. Kaspar felt his cheeks burning as he rested his finger gently on the trigger. The man was a bully, to say the least, and if he thought Kaspar was even marginally not ready, he would make his life a living hell. Kaspar was sure of that. Since the hodgepodge of schoolkids and older men had been put together into the unit, Flater had insisted on calling them die Außenseiter – the misfits – and continually told them all how useless they were to the war effort. Kaspar had no doubt that his hesitance would be rewarded with some form of punishment.

All eyes in the room were, once again, trained on Kaspar. Swallowing quickly, Kaspar pulled the trigger. The shot flew out with a bang, the sound mercilessly loud in the confines of the tiny room. The rebound sent his shoulder flying backward slightly, and he cursed as he dropped the gun. A sharp pain seared through his shoulder as he dropped down to pick the gun up, and he winced as he stood back up, staring sheepishly at his feet. Kaspar couldn’t even bring himself to meet the eyes of his comrades as he waited for all hell to break loose.

“This unit,” Flater said lazily, leaning himself against the wall, “is useless. None of you are going to last five seconds out in the real world.”

“Sir, I think you’re being harsh,” Beutel, a tall, scrawny nineteen-year-old who Kaspar suspected had supressed anger issues, had started to protest already, indignance in his voice. “You don’t even know…”

“Did I ask you to speak?” Flater asked, his voice dangerously quiet. “Speak when you’re spoken to, minnow. I’m your boss and yes, it is my opinion that none of you are cut out for this war. But frankly, you’re all this country has left to train and you will do as I say or you will die in the process. Clear?”

Kaspar looked in Beutel’s direction. He shuffled sheepishly on his feet for a few seconds, before nodding in Flater’s direction.

“Good.” Flater grinned, a dark, sardonic expression. “Geiszler, stop looking like somebody shot your mother – although they really should, shouldn’t they? – and get it together. You all leave here tomorrow morning, oh-eight-hundred. Pack light. You’re going to Leipzig to aid in the clearing of scum from the city. Any questions, ladies?”

Kaspar found himself shaking his head in line with the rest of the group, even though it felt as if his heart had dropped into his stomach. Leipzig – there had been reports of Russian troops throwing themselves headfirst through the city and eradicating anybody they could get their hands on. Sure, Kaspar was somewhat safe – he was a trained sniper, and one of only three in the unit – but even with men protecting him from harm, there was a high likelihood he wasn’t going to make it home.

“Get ready, boys,” Flater said, turning his back to them and making his way over to the door. “Tomorrow, the boys become men.”

“And what do the men become?” Beutel asked apprehensively.

“The men become heroes.”
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mischling -- derogatory term for a person not of pure German ancestry. Usually used to denote somebody of mixed Aryan / Jewish blood.