They came for me in the crisp cold morning air. The nibble of ice crunched through the air scented with ripening apples. Breath from my nose billowed in clouds thick and fogged, the grumble of the engine overlaying the rattle of thoughts shaking loose through the veil of apprehension. The chaff of the wind beckons, as my chilling fingers clasp tightly the nylon strap traced over my left shoulder, the weight of sacrifice digging into my shoulder.
I glanced toward the edge of the walk where the vehicle waited, a naked truck bed covered with tarp and planks for seating line up along the side. The crackle of canvass stretched tightly across ribs of iron seemed to speak some words of wisdom, a hint of melancholy tinged with sorrow. Tugging my hat down onto my brow, I pulled the door shut behind me and brace against the sullen gust. The plod of my boots on the gravel sounded out a dire rhythm as I walked to the transport van. Grim faces, gray in the morning air, stared hollow and trepidatious at my outstretched arm. Hands seized me and I was pulled within the sheltered bed of the truck, the wooden flooring scrapes beneath my boots. Finding my seat on the slab, I poised beneath the arch of the bowed steel framing the rear of the truck bed. The engine roared to life, and the carriage of my destiny pulled away… I watched the house fade into the light of morning mist, I saw the hand wave goodbye, a pale face hovering in the window.A tear perched to fall.
I clasped my jacket tightly to my neck.
Dirt as far as the eye could gaze, dirt embedded into skin and hair, burrowed under nails, into eyes and cloth. Hovering in every inhale. I tasted the grit in every spoonful of tea.
Cut me open and mud would flow from my veins.
Despondency tainted the air, despair and daring. With every missed bullet whizzing through the air, I inched a step closer to immortality. With every shell screaming to its suicide, I became more uncivilized. More grotesque. Taunt wire seconds stretch into horrified days, a tension that would strengthen or shatter the minds of men.
In the standing puddles of water, I dared not find my reflection. Bad luck, the foreign visage against a background of hell. I bit back a laugh. Superstitious in mannerism.
The choke of sulfur and smoke permeated the air, a fitting companion to the symphony of artillery pounding the barbed-wire trenches. The thudding pulse, a gently caressing wind followed by the devastation of the blast. A harsh tremor slammed into the ground, pulverizing the dirt and flinging shrapnel into the silence of the aftershock.
I wanted to think of home, of roses in twilight, whippoorwill singing outside my window. I wanted to breath the crush of perfume beneath her, the soft streak of lipstick on her tongue twined with mine. In this dank… I wanted-
What I couldn’t have.
The cold sunk beneath my bones, a chill so constant, I could barely feel the sun at midday. The wet stench of mold and decay stained the air, the essence of death and rot. I washed in filth and could never be clean.
Another quake shuddered through me, the ground absorbing the nearby explosion with pained forgiveness. Balance seemed laughable in the proximity, I stumbled to one knee and plastered the helmet tightly against my skull. Mud soaks into my knee, a minor discomfiture.
I felt alone, despite the rows of comrades crouched around me, similarly waiting, silently praying or cursing. Despite together, we could only face hell alone. Death cut down its select, obliterating one poor soul while leaving his neighbor untouched. Blood smeared on the lintel would not deter the sly creature who spared on a whim, and struck down the battalions of men with the careless sweep of a child at play.
Three screams, a pause then concussing boom. Earth showered down, my eyes blinked furiously. A shout yelled down the line, I clutched my fear as tightly as my rifle and rose from my crouch. Fire raged in no-mans-land, the shrines of wire and the tufts of gunfire caught my eye as the ringing in my ears drowned out the officer’s command. I spotted a cannon in the distance. Blindly I fired then slouched down, back facing the earthen wall. Bullets slammed into the opposite wall.
Snipers. More than one, judging by the cluster punched into the earthen bulwark.
A low whistle sounds. I cringed, eyes squeezed shut, and awaited the shock of impact. The whine got louder, and louder, almost deafening. I opened my eyes just as the crescendo bellowed at fortississimo, a prayer trickled from my lips as the shell hurtled right towards us, where we huddled in our petard.
There were only seconds. A gallery of snapshots raced across my pupils. Just photos of memories most precious.
Apple trees. Summer wind.
The white bleached the mud to purest snow, I raised my arm over my eyes as the searing blast billows forth-
Inspired by "Parade's End", a delicious BBC TV show starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the long suffering husband of a cheating wife during WWI. I got the urge to write, then this was created.