Lance Corporal Jakes sat uncomfortably in the cool mud of his trench. Worms crawled over each other in a writhing mass near a puddle and a rat the size of a tomcat scampered past a row of soldiers. One of the soldiers swatted at the miserable creature and ended up hitting the mud and spraying the rest of the soldiers.
“Goshdammit Private Shikes!” Sergeant Mendez spat on the ground, swearing like a sailor. “Do that again and I’ll personally feed you to that rat!” He wiped mud off his face even though he was already covered in an inch of muck.
“Yeah Shikes.” PFC Grey began in a sarcastic drawl, “the only rats you be swatting is the Germans. Or the man beside you snoring like a train.” He elbowed another private causing the man to burst out swearing. “How was your dreaming ‘sleeping beauty’?”
“Damn you Grey!” The private got off his side, shaking like the barrel of a live machine gun. “Can’t a man get some sleep? The Germans aint coming yet!”
“No, but when they do they’ll catch you sleeping.” Lance Corporal Jakes said with a smirk. “Come on its midday. We should be fortifying these trenches or trading fire with the Nazi bastards, not slumbering like old men.”
“Oh, bitch me a river Jakes.” The private shot back, squinting as the sun broke out from a layer of clouds. “We haven’t heard a thing from the Germans in a week.”
“Maybe their sleeping too.” PFC Grey said with a mirthless laugh.
“Damn well of them,” the private rubbed his eyes of sleep. Brown hair was sticking out in tuffs from his nearly shaven head and his eyes were swollen red. “I’d rather die then miss sleep. It’s not like I’m missing out on much.”
“But when something does happen,” Sergeant Mendez, the company’s commander added. “You sure as hell be up and ready. I aint saying them be crossing No Man’s land just yet, but be ready in case they do.”
“Words of encouragement as always.” The private muttered. He rolled onto his side and rested his head on his pack. He winked at Jakes before shutting his eyes, his lips curling in a smile.
Truth be told, the Private was Jakes only friend in the trench. They’d entered the same training camp and went through the same grueling hell as they were trained to fight. Together they had been sent to reinforce the battalion and join the stalemate in France’s countryside.
Canadians they were—tough as nails and more then ready to fight then their British counterparts were. Jakes had seen the British soldiers, great men but had seen so much war that most of them we’re too weary to fight. They were brave; Jakes respected them and sometimes wished it was them he was fighting with and not the Canadians. The Canadians hadn’t seen much war besides their own inner conflicts and battles; in his mind they were too green for this war.
Jakes was about to rest his head against the trench wall, when he heard screams. Horrifying screams and cries rose from the other side of the trench, hundreds of paces away. One of the soldiers was scratching at his face and writhing in agony while the others around him collapsed. Mustard gas likely, Jake thought with a grimace while he turned his backs on the dying men. The gas would eat away at their lungs, eyes, and skin faster then any disease or rats could.
“Poor bastards. Bloody way to die.” Grey whispered in a voice that spoke of seeing death far too often. None of them were truly saddened to see them die; the human heart could only take so much grief before it forgot how to feel.
“Yeah…” Jakes nodded, squishing a slug that had crawled too close with his bare fingers. “Poor bastards.”
The lice Jakes thought he could handle but it was the horned-beetles that he detested the most. Scraping his arm with the dull blade of his knife, he slowly rid himself of a layer of lice. The festering buggers had made a home of him during the night, greatly overstaying their welcome.
One of the horned beetles crawled down the trench wall and made a move for his shoulder. “Damn you, no!” He yelped and shook the creature off his shoulder, crushing the insect with the palm of his hand.
“Hey mate, he was just warming up to you.” The Private chuckled and took a sip from his canteen. “You hear I have front lines duty tonight? Darn shame that is.” He scowled and gulped the rest of the water from his canteen.
“Finally put you to work.” Jakes chuckled and stared down at the torn boot of his friend. Pink skin oozed from the holes of the leather and a rank odor drifted from him. “Good Lord, what happened to your feet?”
“Trench Feet. Doctor’s gonna see me next week and hopefully give me something for it. Sergeant won’t let me go back ‘til then.” He cursed and kicked at a rat that came too near.
“Well I’m heading over to see Sarge on the other side.” He was talking about the far side of the trench where the soldiers had died of gas poisoning yesterday. The Private swayed to his feet and grinned down at Jakes. “I’ll give him your be—”
A piece of the Private’s skull flew into the air as a bullet went straight through his skull. The man turned to Jakes, half his face blown off. “I’m hit.” The words came out as grated whispers before he collapsed backwards.
“No! Goshdammit, no!” Jakes stumbled to his feet, cursing like a drunkard as he ran to his friend.
However he knew his friend was dead the moment he was shot by the German sniper. No man could’ve survived such a hit.
“Medic! Someone get a medic now!” Jakes scooped up his convulsing friend’s body, fighting off nausea. Blood was squirting from his broken skull, while what must’ve been the rest of his brain oozed on the ground. “Goshdammit I need a medic ASAP!”
Private Shikes, his eyes wide and mouth agape crouched beside the Private. “Madre de dios!” He said in Spanish, something he only did when he was agitated. Coming from Columbia, the young man switched between his native language and English occasionally. “German sniper?”
Jakes didn’t have time to answer before bullets rained down on them. Harsh German voices thundered from hundreds of enemy soldiers as they poured over the lip of the trench. “Hold them back damn it!” Sergeant Mendez stumbled toward them, firing his rifle into a horde of Germans. His commands were lost in the roar of machine gun fire and the cries of dying men.
Shikes was screaming in Spanish as he grabbed his knife. Swinging it like a drunkard, he stabbed one German in the side, as two more jumped on top of him. Shikes continued to scream in defiance even when the German’s bullets ripped into his chest.
“Shikes! Son of a bitch!” Jakes, too shocked and surprised by the sudden assault, fell in the muddy trench. Rough hands clawed at the front of his uniform and he was lifted off the ground. Cold metal punctured his thigh as he fought through the mess of German soldiers. One of them stumbled backwards from a hit to the chest, another tripped on the body of his comrade. Jakes bit down on the hand of his captor until the tangy taste of blood filled his mouth.
“Get off me!” Jakes slipped away just as the shoulder of a Canadian slammed into his nose. Fiery pain erupted as he held his face, blood dripping through his fingers. The man who hit him pulled a grenade from his belt and was about to pull the pin.
“No!” The man, who was in the throes of panic, did not stop and dropped the live grenade on the trench floor. He met Jakes stare and he could see the fear and regret literally leaping from his blue eyes.
“I’m sorry.” It was all the man could say before the explosion shook the ground. Jakes was propelled backwards by the blast I’m going to die. His head snapped backwards and the front of his uniform was set afire. I’m dying. Dirt, debris and body parts joined him in the air as more explosions rippled through the trench. I’m dead. His eyes shut and the last thing he felt was his body being consumed by the flames. Then all went dark.