Muck and Glory
Mud, mud, mud.
It sticks to my boots, my trousers and every sodding thing it touches. The walls, the ground - even the foxhole ceilings - all made of mud. As my Company's Major approaches I snap off a salute.
"Evening, carry on Private."
I Slip back into my reverie as he passes me. The rain continuing to pour down as if someone had riddled the cloud with bullets.
"I hate patrols," I sigh to the darkness.
It all seems so bloody pointless, as if any of the enemy are dumb enough to be out here in the pigging rain. Anyway, the bombardment has them cowering in their trenches; exactly the same as every other night over the past two weeks.
Sooner or later, the guns will die away and it will be time to go "over the top."
"Can't wait," I mumble.
Anything is better than this utter boredom. When I joined the army I didn't lie about my age for this; I want the glory, I want to protect my country and family.
Instead, I get to march up and down a trench with gloop sucking my boots down. Instead, I get extreme boredom punctured by moments of gut-melting terror.
"Daydreaming again, Private?" I freeze as I hear the unmistakable click of the gun safety switch.
Another click - indicating the safety is back on.
"One day, your daydreaming will get you killed. You need to pay attention!"
I nod and salute crisply as the Major walks away shaking his head.
The rest of my patrol passes slowly, until around 3am I finally stumble to my bunk, falling asleep quickly.
I begin to wake up around mid-morning, not wanting to leave the warmth of the bed as I rub the haze of sleep from my eyes.
As I nod off again, that flaming bell - the signal to stand-to - begins to clang. Yawning, it takes a major effort of will to throw myself out of bed. Within moments I am dressed, armed-to-the-teeth and on my way to the main trench.
As I walk towards my assigned position I hear whispering ahead which gradually forms into words...
"Listen, here he comes. The guy nev'r swears and nev'r gets angry - he's not bloody human. Watch what he does when I throw some gloop at him..."
I smile as I hear this, wondering at the same time how the two blokes from my unit still hadn't figured out that sound travels unnaturally far in the trenches.
As I get within a few yards of them I duck in response to the flicker of movement to my left and watch the muck sail over my shoulder; hitting the trench wall.
I stand and grin into the perplexed look on both their faces, continuing on past them to take my place opposite one of the ladders.
The bombardment seems to have thinned since my patrol.
Soon, it will be time to die! This grim thought makes me grin sardonically at the two idiots who still look confused standing some ten yards to my right hand side.
Slowly, it registers with me that the rain has stopped, although this left the trench ankle-deep in gunk.
Soon, I think, the whistles will blow, thousands of soldiers will mount the ladders and charge. Alot will die but the lucky ones who make it will be heroes.
Picturing it with my mind's eye, I can see the surge of men up the ladders - me amongst them.
We'll be running for our lives as bullets whizz by - the screams of the wounded - the rattle of the enemy machine guns. Adrenalin exploding into my veins as I duck-dive-and-dodge the deadly metal hail. Cutting or hurdling the barbed wire, swerving to avoid puddles and marshy ground and avoiding the rotten bodies from previous attacks.
I know I'll be one of the ones to survive; to reach the other side.
Pictures of me clearing the enemy trenches continue to flow through my mind, even as the Company Sergeant speaks to me.
I nod to show understanding. Actually, I haven't heard a word. I don't need to. It's just the usual advice:
"Keep moving, zigzag if you can and don't get effing killed."
Really, is it always necessary to swear? There's no need for it. I shake my head at that thought and - looking up - I notice the sky is clearing.
"It might be a nice day after all," I say aloud to no-one in particular.
My ears perk up, noticing that something is missing. The bombardment has stopped. A shiver runs down my spine in anticipation of the whistles which will trigger the invasion of the enemy trenches.
After what seems like hours, the whistles blast out. I shoot straight for the ladder in front, leaping on it as dozens of hands try to pull me off, I shrug them off and power my way to the top. Rising to my full height, I run, for my family, for my country, for my life. Hitting full sprint I begin the zigzag manoeuvre.
Looking around - I laugh - as I realise I'm going to be first to the trenches. No-one is even close to me.
Pictures of the Sergeant flow unannounced in to my mind, his words somehow filtering in to the memory:
"... Do not attack, we are not attacking."
I stop running.
The Major climbs down the ladder, sighing deeply as he hands his periscope back to the Sergeant.
"I told him his daydreamin' would get him killed."