August 25th, 2011, 8:37 pm
A WW1 soldier is injured severely during stand-to one day during the battle of Passchendaele. Moved to Queen's Hospital at Sidcup, he has to come to terms with shell-shock, his mother's horror, and a mysterious letter about a baby.
But first, ladies and gentlemen, the first scroll, which I shall unroll for your readership.I do have other stories on CoS, but I must warn you not to go looking for them. They were written back in 2008 and they sucked, trust me.
How many billions of raindrops had clung to the second lieutenant's uniform?
He didn’t know.
How many buckets of dried mud clung to his skin, hair, and uniform?
No solution to this question.
How many hundreds of lice crawled over his uniform, stubbornly refusing to leave, let alone die?
He didn’t know the answer to that either.
How many hundreds of bullets had he dodged in the time he served on the Front?
He didn’t know, didn’t care to know, but guessed it was in the hundreds. Maybe thousands.
How many companions close to him had he seen die?
Two brothers too many. Four friends too many.
How often had he yearned for the comfort of home? Yearned for his brothers to be alive? To see his dead mates again?
Every second of every day he had ever been on the Front.
How many years had he been here?
Two thousand years.
Two years here felt like two millenniums.
It was a rare thing for something to happen. Even going ‘Over The Top’ rarely happened. Oh sure, there was the infamous first day of the Battle of the Somme, but most Tommies knew about that.
Jack knew about that.
His name was Jack Matheson, and he had been at the Somme.
Now he was going to Passchendaele. It was 1917.
Same trenches. Same mud. Same lice.
Same grey sky looming, unchanging, unmoving, forever pouring a deluge of rain into the trenches. The chest-high puddles of mud…
Jack was here, and to desert was to be shot at dawn.
No choice. He had to stay here.
Stay on the Western Front with thousands of other Tommies, picking out lice from his hair and the linings of his ridiculously itchy and stiff woollen uniform…
Was he a man?
Or was he still a boy?
Like spectres from the spiritual world, terrible images intertwined with his otherwise pleasant dreams.
After each dream, he woke up, terrified, forehead drenched in a cold sweat.
Then he’d ask himself: why was he so disturbed by what he saw in his dreams?
He shouldn’t have been horrified.
Why, every day the scent of rotten bodies and bloated rats would bayonet his nostrils with their highly offensive odours.
Every day, someone would be injured; he’d seen horrific injuries before, even men whose faces had been disfigured beyond recognition.
The mutilated, the maimed, and the men screaming for their mothers in No Man’s Land…he should’ve been used to it.
It had lasted for days at the Somme in 1916.
No, it lasted for weeks, for months, the entire bloody war. Everywhere. From Gallipoli to Ypres…everywhere.
Yet…when Jack had these dreadful, twisted dreams as of late, he woke up trembling, sweating.
Then…he remembered his mother was still at home. Not in the trench.
None of the soldiers’ mothers were in the trenches.
When he awoke himself sharply from these dreams, Jack yearned for his mother…she would comfort him as if he were a little boy again.
Stop it. Stop thinking like a young boy.
Think like a grown man of nineteen years of age.
He told himself he was a man now, he had to put away these terrible nightmares, stop yearning for maternal comfort…
His shellshock feasted happily, nurtured by the suppressed memories. As it feasted on the roast meal of repressed remembrances, it grew, as an infant does.
But like the infant, he failed to suppress the yearning for maternal comfort.
In a moment of peace, when there was a lull in the gunfire, Jack would swear he caught a whiff of his next door neighbour’s roses.
Was that fresh bread he smelt? Straight from the oven…not months old and hard as rock. Even soup could hardly soften it.
Only for less than a second he’d smell that delicious bread, and the budding roses in spring…then they would disappear as quickly as they had come.
Even the pleasant memories of home were almost as painful as the scenes he witnessed in the quagmire of the battlefields of France.
To remember was to yearn.
To survive, he had to forget all that, all those pleasures…and focus on the war.
Finished with the Somme and leave, Jack was on his way to Passchendaele.
July 1917…that meant he’d been at war for over a year and a half now.
Bumpy roads and muddy tracks with shelled and barren plains waited ahead for his battalion in another nation.
Goodbye, Somme, France.
Hello, Passchendaele, Belgium.
August 27th, 2011, 9:23 pm
Looking back, considering part of this was written in the youth of 2010, I am seeing differences between these earlier chapters and much later ones, particularly in character development.
But hey, that's what second drafts are for, right? Re-writing! ;)
A night raid.
At night, on his first day, he was ordered to join a selected group of men to raid the Germans’ trenches with deadly silence.
Silence. With the silence of rustling Chinese silk.
With the silence of an owl’s feathers in flight.
To be silent, all involved had to remove the bullets.
For an owl does not screech as she glides down on unsuspecting prey.
He’d been on night raids before.
Each time, men had become almost like beasts, killing every enemy they saw without abandon.
Was Jack the same? Something beastly when the climax of the night trench raid was reached?
Did he really become like a savage beast in the heat of the moment?
Somehow he never remembered…and yet, was such forgetfulness a good thing?
Almost like an anaesthetic amnesia against the horror of stabbing and maiming the enemy face to face.
Every time the raids taunted his dreams, he always remembered the eyes.
Horror, mingled with pleading.
Because they had family at home.
Jack had family—would the same horror and begging for mercy appear in his eyes if he was killed in the night raid?
“Time to go, boys.”
The captain signalled with a hand for the men to move forward.
Jack made sure not to look into anyone’s eyes, lest he saw family and friends reflected in them.
Not their families and friends—Jack’s.
Gripping the bullet-less rifle, he advanced forward on muffled footsteps, following the man in front of him.
Only a shaft of moonlight peeked into the tunnel and then—
The blindness of night had stretched out a wing and covered their sight.
Where were the Germans’ trenches?
They had to be here somewhere—what if the captain lost his way?
For all they knew, this tunnel leading to the enemy trench lines was a roundabout, and they’d find themselves shooting at themselves—friendly fire.
Darkness stretched a sudden hand into the air; black on black.
Stay back. Stop.
A breath of activity ahead, a ribbon of light from a lantern. Jack could hear a snore or two—evidentially they were sleeping.
The Germans’ temporary rest was soon to be permanent, and all without waking—if they were lucky.
Tension as the officer peeked around.
The buzz of nerves, the tautness of muscles could almost be palpable in the allied soldiers’ postures.
Bayonets trembled, ready for blood.
Soldiers didn’t wipe sweaty palms on their uniforms, lest the slight movement alerted the Kaiser’s troops.
Only one soldier signed the cross—the captain, who was first, and most likely in danger of dying.
His pistol, a weapon of all officers, would immediately give him away: only the officers carried a gun. Everyone else had rifles.
Like a swarm of deadly hornets, the men surged forth, bayonets at the ready.
It took only one German scream and curse to wake up the sleeping enemy.
Suddenly, it was every man for himself. To each other, though face to face, they were faceless.
In this heat of anger, the fight for a few dozen more yards, no one mattered.
The captain fired—the last thing he saw was three Germans.
With deadly synchrony, they jammed their bayonets into his chest.
A gurgle, a moan…and he was gone.
One more telegram amongst thousands would be sent to his family in a matter of days.
The flash and clash of bayonets could hardly be discerned from a sword fight in some Medieval age battle.
A moment when the modern and the medieval eras mated and became intertwined. Were the bayonets medieval? Or were they modern?
Blood ran and stained uniforms, allies and Germans alike.
Red blood. The Germans’ weren’t a shade lighter or darker, nor was it black, as one little rumour had claimed.
No…exactly the same shade. Even the allies who had fought at Gallipoli had found the Turks’ blood the same shade as their own.
Humans fought humans, but at that moment, no one saw.
They had to kill the Minotaur who invaded their maze of trenches.
A cacophonic orchestra of screams, curses, and shouts jangled in the trenches, as they fought desperately for a few more yards. If the Germans lost this part of the trench, they had to back off. They weren’t about to back off.
Nor were the Tommies—as long as they could win a few more meagre yards, they weren’t about to back off either.
One of the Germans had picked up the pistol, fired it at one of the Tommies, who suddenly found himself with a grave battle wound.
Jack saw this—screaming in fury, he charged the denizen who was caught off guard, and was pinned to the ground by a bayonet before he could react.
Around them, the fighting clashed, and the corpses lay still and fresh, some only seconds old.
Some died just now as you read this sentence.
In all the confusion and rage, a couple allied soldiers fell victim to friendly fire.
Everyone was in confusion; at least one German had been killed by their own men.
Abruptly, the fighting stopped as suddenly as it had begun.
Not one German remained standing—not for now at least. Tomorrow, they’d likely have back-ups.
Jack leant against one of the trench walls, his face bathed in sweat, hot from the exertion and battle. With his fellow men, he surveyed the disturbing scene.
A scene photographed by a particularly sadistic Muse specialising in imagery: it would be imprinted in their minds for life.
Allied soldiers beyond help were given mercy killings, as were Germans.
The first lieutenant called their attention, stern blue eyes boring into his men. “We’re going back.”
Jack turned toward the exit, and he would have returned just as soon as his companions, if only his ears hadn’t hinged onto one sound.
A German near the entrance was curled in the fetal position, moaning in agony.
Jack was going to pass him, when the soldier said something.
“Funfzehn jahre alt…” He rasped. “Funfzehn jahre alt…”
The German was so young…
Jack was raising his bayonet to give a mercy killing when the boy looked straight into his eyes, shimmering with anguish.
“Fifteen years old…”
The German raised a shivering, chalk-white hand to his chest.
Jack shuddered in horror. The boy was only fifteen.
“Wo ist meine mutter?”
Suddenly, a soldier shoved aside Jack.
“Your mother’s not here!” he shouted at the German, raising his bayonet. Before Jack could say anything, the bayonet winked in triumph before it dove into the boy’s heart.
The soldier turned to Jack. “What are you, a coward? You shoulda stabbed him, not wait around like a woman for someone to do it for you!”
Jack nodded; he suddenly had no energy left.
Exhaustion and horror dampened his bones and psyche.
That night, in his dreams, only one word echoed.
Just one word, a word he would forever remember.
August 31st, 2011, 5:37 am
Twenty-four hours later.
To throw an insult is to receive one thrown right back.
No-one was surprised.
No-one was astonished when the alarm rang the following night, rousting soldiers from sleep.
Now that the enemy knew their territory was in danger, they struck back, with a vengeance.
Like an offended cat on the prowl, they hunted the men who had trespassed.
Trespassed on claimed land.
Their first warning was a starshell, deceptively innocent as it sailed over No-Man’s-Land like a luminescent aviator.
It glowed pink, green, and other wonderful colours.
Its intention not so wonderful: find and locate men hiding in No-Man’s-Land, men who would become stiff and still, not a quiver passing through their limbs and torso until the light died away.
Then they would not move again—every second could be followed by another glowing star shell, glowing brighter than any of the glowing dots splashed across the sky.
The Milky Way was the sky’s No-Man’s-Land, ensuring the horizons stayed apart and separated.
Their second warning: their own star shells and sniper looking through his scope.
Tommy was now just as alert as Fritz to each other’s presence.
Jack was sitting near another group of men, their haggard, thin faces and eyes hollowed with horror, when he first heard a warning.
“Fritz in No Man’s Land!”
The trench came alive with alert soldiers, rifles and grenades at the ready.
Jaws set, muscles and bones rigid and tense, like a taut rope.
Only the starshells flew free as men below crawled.
A fool put his head over the top of the trench. Part of his face was blown away with one shot. Facedown, his blood trickled from where his nose used to be…
Sudden life! Germans swarmed into the trench, yelling in their guttural accents and harsh words.
Their teeth bared in snarls and growls, and eyebrows overhung their enraged eyes as half a dozen German officers made their way into the trench.
For a moment, it looked as if they were winning.
A couple Germans managed to knock down a few men before the British managed to overcome them.
“There’s more coming…”
Clashing and cacophony as bayonets jutted and jangled against each other.
Most managed to swipe flesh, or clang against an opposing bayonet. The bayonets, attached to the rifles, were like the Medieval Era mated with the modern.
A bayonet came narrowly to Jack’s abdomen; without thinking, he slashed the bayonet at the German, making sure to stab him so he couldn’t get up again.
Without thinking, without a second thought, not a millisecond wasted, Jack threw himself into the onslaught, making sure as many men were slain as possible.
Even the dead were slain.
In this torrid atmosphere, Reason was gagged and bound; even the dead appeared alive.
For a millisecond, there was peace, but not enough to breathe.
No one breathed in that millisecond.
For only a millisecond, the remaining British could wait, but not breathe.
To breathe was to relax, to fool themselves that they were “safe”.
They were right not to breathe.
For in the sudden nova of several star-shells, more Germans leapt in, and more British fell.
The piles of casualties grew; it seemed to Jack that even the dead groaned in pain.
Yells, incoherent words, and moans snagged in the sandbags, in the sniper’s scope, and in the seams of the bloodied uniforms of the dead, dying, and wounded.
The wounded grabbed at ankles, begging for help.
No one could help.
Not for hours would stretcher-bearers arrive to cart the maimed to the casualty stations.
Jack caught one officer trying to escape the trench with what appeared to be a piece of important document.
One bullet and the officer fell, the document slipping out of his hands.
Three stabs before the officer died horrendously, drowning in the blood that pooled in his lungs.
Jack swept up the paper: it was nothing.
Just a blank document.
An allied lieutenant aimed a pistol at the officer and shot, even though the German was already dead.
Without a word, the major snatched the document and sharply told Jack to help the men or he would be court-martialled for dilly-dallying on his duties.
Jack immediately stabbed his rifle into the first man he saw—fortunately a German, for one allied soldier almost got too close.
“Got the last of Fritz!”
Someone clapped him on the back as the German crumpled, clutching the blood staining his uniform.
The allied soldier who almost copped friendly fire from Jack quickly finished off the German.
“He was mine, Perkins!” Jack retorted. “I had him!”
“Hey, you gotta give a fella a chance, lieutenant!” Perkins grinned.
“If you say so.”
Peace was not silent—not a silent night, and most certainly not a holy night.
There were no holy nights on the land, in the air, and at sea.
“Well, looks like we better get to bed, huh?” Perkins again.
No. Not yet.
The casualty roll had to be read aloud.
No soldier ever liked it; and no one envied the poor ******* who had the dubious honour of reading out the names of those dead.
Jack’s breath caught in his throat; he’d never forget the day when three friends’ names were read out. All in one day.
That day had been the first day of the Battle of the Somme.
Jack could breathe, but it wasn’t easy breathing.
They were constantly breathing in the stench of corpses young and old, of the smoke from artillery fire, and the stench of dysentery and rats.
They would rather have breathed in the industrial stench of London city.
At least there were no knee-high piles of corpses around that city or any other, even in the Huns’ home country.
When Jack returned to his dugout, he found blood on his hands.
Allied or German?
He could not tell, and it disturbed him.
Allied or German…Friend or Foe…Allied or German?
Somehow, the impossibility of telling allied from German blood disturbed him, and his dreams were full of disturbance.
The dream where he was told to correctly identify allied blood from German…both the identical shade of red.
Correctly identify the blood, and he’d live.
Incorrectly…and he’d be shot.
The dream taunted him with the impractical, the question posited frustratingly impossible to answer.
German blood? Or is it allied blood?
September 3rd, 2011, 12:12 pm
I don't much like this next chapter, because it ends so suddenly (BAM! Just like that, actually.) However, there are some suggestive themes in this chapter, but nothing to make the mods come after my blood (hopefully). When I'm done, I'll probably have to print out the story and see how it looks.
So, because I don't like chapter five, I'll add chapter six soon.
Question: What goes around and around in circles and goes nowhere?
Answer: Jack's war.
Advance half a yard,
This month, you've retreated half a yard,
The month after that you gained half a yard,
And on the following month after that, you're back where you began.
In the trenches a while,
Out on rest for a while,
Then back in again you go.
Jack was used to such monotony, but who knew what he'd find in the villages.
Vaudeville performances by other soldiers, or a music concert.
Or a cat hiding away under whatever remained of a humble cottage, lost and alone.
Someone in the Canadian air force adopted that cat, made it their mascot.
Jack had lain with the prostitutes in the brothels, those women oozing seduction out of their bodies.
They advertised warmth and a cosy bed mate, just so long as the sun was down.
When he lay with one of them on rest, Jack forgot the war.
But still, even though it was the “ultimate act of love” it was cold.
No love, no two hearts beating as one—just two hearts in two bodies doing their own business, ignoring each other.
When Jack awoke the next morn, the bed felt as cold as a Siberian winter.
“Making love”...but without the love.
He collected postcards with images of women he would not want his mother to see.
Naturally, because they knew the army would send them back with their belongings if they were killed in action, every soldier who owned such postcards ditched them on the way back to the ditches wrinkling Belgium's face.
The battles slogged onwards, the mud clawed at their bodies hungrily, and the rain beat down relentlessly, turning the trenches into cocoa-coloured puddles.
But without the cocoa.
Jack couldn't forget the memories, the horrors he had seen, the constant nightmares tearing at his eyes when he closed them.
The pain as he remembered home, the consolation of warm food baked by his mother, and the pungent smell in the room as his father puffed on his pipe.
Even that sharp scent was pleasant compared to the numbing stench in the war.
His father's pipe was the smell of home, not of war.
War was the stench of decomposition, sweat, blood, disease, and death.
At least one could see the bullets, the artillery arching over their companions' dead bodies and barbed wire in No Man's Land.
The Royal Flying Corps as they dived, swooped, spun, and crashed over the dead devastation of No-Man's-Land—they could see them.
For Passchendaele was about to be introduced to a deadly new gas.
A gas no one could see until it was too late.
With no smell, until it was too late.
A gas that ate its way through tunics and flesh alike.
It was mustard gas.
But Jack was extremely lucky, for he escaped the mustard gas, as it did not arrive in his sector.
September 5th, 2011, 10:58 pm
Okay, this is the last chapter I'm putting up as a 'preview' type, so if you are interested in reading more, just PM me. :) And yes, I did leave you on a cliffhanger because I'm ev--I mean nice like that!: :angel: And again, another warning, there's some mild graphic detail of injury in this chapter.
Today was 4th August 1917.
A day that would cause great pain and suffering he would never forget.
As if he hadn't had enough pain and suffering already.
For how can one speak with only half a jaw?
The morning rose in another shower of drizzle, just like it had for the past fortnight.
Once more, the sun was held hostage behind a wall of grey, grim clouds.
And in the trenches, soldiers were starting to awake.
Jack had long gotten used to stretching out on his back on a crudely built bench jutting out from the trench wall.
He was almost always too weary to care how hard or soft it was under him.
Already, he had long finished longing after the soft mattress of a clean, freshly laundered bed at home.
He was even starting to not mind the hardness of dried mud under his back as he rested or dozed off to sleep.
Dragging down his legs, stiffened from being in the same position all night, he planted his feet on the trench floor.
Allowed himself a stretch, mindful his hands didn't pop up above the trench's parapet.
As he stretched, he allowed himself a big yawn before he finished the small morning ritual of waking up.
“Mr. Matheson, time to go to your post.” ordered a captain who towered over him.
At once, Jack stood up, snapping himself to attention, saluting the officer.
“Yes, sir.” Jack said. “I shall see to it right now.”
Gathering his rifle and kitbag, the soldier headed to his post, where he would watch for any signs of German presence or movement.
He was to be relieved at lunchtime, seven hours away.
How the minutes would stretch inexorably slowly as he stood there, waiting for something to happen.
Usually nothing happened, but they still waited. Waited for the movement and presence of nothing.
Creeping through the winding communication trenches, Jack found his post, standing, waiting, rifle at the ready.
Usually he didn't allow himself to drift off into a daydream.
Today, he did.
He daydreamed he was back home, where he had clean hair, laundered and fresh clothing, and plenty of cooking to look forward to.
The vision of roasted pork and garlic bread swam before his mind, taunting him with an indistinct smell.
It was as if the smell had travelled to Passchendaele from home.
He closed his eyes, letting a little smile drift over his lips.
The last smile he'd be able to do for a long time.
If he'd closed his eyes ten seconds later, he might've spotted the German who took a pot-shot at him.
In a split second, the soldier found himself flat on the ground, face down in his own blood.
The blood that trickled from his face.
Strangely, he felt no pain, as if his body had anaesthetised him to the torture it would've been otherwise.
Nevertheless, he raised a hand to his face to assess the damage.
He groped at his lower face, almost not wanting to believe what had happened.
Denied it—denied he had a horrific wound.
How could he ever speak again?
For now part of his lower jaw had been blown away, leaving half intact.
Half, but not enough to speak.
Half, but enough to scream before he passed out.