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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

The queue


My name is Tobias Martin and I live in the Devonshire village of Kings Compton close to the coastal town of Dawlish; I was born on the 13th September 1899 and this strange tale is a faithful account of the events leading up to my seventeenth birthday when I enlisted in the 1st Battalion  the Devonshire Regiment. A lot of the folk in my village had rallied to the call that year, myself and six other men were the last to take the Kings shilling in that September of 1916. I remember there was talk of patriotism and the need to teach the Germans a lesson; there was great excitement at the thought of joining the British army to fight for King and country in France. I was only seventeen of course and persuading the recruiting sergeant that I was old enough to join up had been difficult. Despite being a strapping six feet it had taken the confirmation of my six comrades to convince the authorities that I was eighteen.  My father had only agreed to me enlisting after I’d promised to help with the harvest. I’ve never been out of the village in my life and the thought of going to France had fired my imagination. But I’m getting ahead of myself!

These strange events really began sometime before my birthday; I’d been working in the fields with my father and three other men cutting wheat and staking it ready for transport to the mill. We’d stopped for our mid day break; George Onions the joker in our group started to tease me about my birthday; he started to tell the others that as I was nearly seventeen and had decided to enlist; I’d achieved manhood. What you need is a good woman he said and he began to make crude suggestions about one or two of the village girls. Having made everyone laugh at my expense he then said; and you need to learn how to drink. He passed me the flagon of rough cider that stood on the hay bale which served as our table. I took a few gulps and it tasted quite sweet; I took another larger swig and my father put out his hand and said; “not too much now”. More laughter as I got up to start work again; I staggered as the alcohol went to my head in the pale autumn sunshine. Later my father told me that George’s banter had set him thinking and he suggested I go with him to the Bell & Dragon on the Saturday night prior to my birthday, to celebrate. It was the first time my father had asked me to go with him to the pub. I began to feel that I really was becoming a man.

I remember the evening well; my father said he was proud of me, and the seven of us who had enlisted were introduced to the assembled company. The landlord bought the first round of drinks and after that everyone wanted to help us celebrate. It was my first time in a pub and I didn’t really understand what was going on; my father explained that the village was proud of us all and wanted to give us a good send off. I’m not sure how many glasses of cider I drank but I soon felt dizzy and more than a little sick; they all laughed at me and told me I was drunk. My father told me I should go home and lay down and I left the “Bell” soon after. As I started the walk home, voices and noise from the pub echoed in my head and I laughed at the thought of becoming a man.  It wasn’t cold, but the night air seemed to make me stagger and as I passed the church I almost fell over. I held on to the lichgate to help me balance; I suddenly had an overwhelming desire to sit down. I entered the grave yard and sat down on the first square head stone I came to. I’d played in the grave yard as a child and the dark silence of the tombstones seemed to offer a remedy for my cider induced stupor. I sat there head in hands with the world spinning about me! From nowhere I heard the sound of sobbing; I looked up but could see nothing. The sobbing continued and it seemed to be coming from a grave ten yards to my right. I stood up unsteadily and walked to the source of the sound. Sitting, with her back against the headstone was a young girl of perhaps ten or eleven years of age. As I looked she seemed to glow; the white smock she was wearing shimmered and her face gave off a golden radiant light but her eyes were sad. What’s wrong I asked; “I don’t know how to get in” she said; get in where I thought; then I noticed, that although she radiated light there was no shadow; I could see the pattern on the headstone through her transparent body. I began to think that too much cider had affected my eyesight. “Who are you” I asked. “My name is Lucy Flinders” she replied “and I was brought here to the graveyard six months ago”. “I think I must have died in February”. My addled brain recoiled, but I didn’t feel frightened. The small radiant child went on to explain that she expected heaven to be waiting for her. Her mother and the priest who attended her sick bed had promised that paradise was the reward of all good children. Lucy suddenly said “would you hold my hand please; I haven’t touched anyone for such a long time and I feel cold”. She reached out and I tried to take her hand but there was nothing there; she sobbed. I listened to her story through a drunken haze; Lucy had arrived at the gates of heaven but there were so many people there she couldn’t get in. A long line of maimed and wounded soldiers had prevented her entry; when she got close more young men arrived and pushed her aside. I was suddenly overcome by her sadness and began to cry.  The next thing I remember was being shaken by my father who’d come to look for me; I don’t remember the walk home but I awoke the following morning in my own bed. At breakfast, I tried to tell my family that last night I’d seen and talked to a ghost; I wanted to tell them her sad story; but they all laughed at me and said I must have been drunk. Perhaps they were right.

Ten weeks later found me in France with my Regiment; the thunder and noise of war enveloped my whole nature; I enjoyed the company of my comrades but nothing had prepared me for conditions in the trenches. The winter of 1916 was cold and wet; it took all my fortitude to cope with the routine of war. The spring of 1917 saw the Devonshire Regiment on the Western Front near the town of Arras; the battle started on the 9th of April. I have a clear recollection of going over the top; led by Captain Frances; my company was on the left flank. I remember shouting and whistles blowing; then suddenly a blinding flash of white light and complete silence.  I was walking in a beautiful sun lit field; the meadow beneath my feet was strewn with blue corn-flowers and I was striding towards a bright light. As I got closer I saw that the light was over a small white gate; but the gate was surrounded by hundreds perhaps thousands of soldiers I recognised some of my companions. It struck me that it would take a long time for everyone to pass though the gate so I joined the queue. As I stood there in silence I noticed a small girl sitting on the grass picking cornflowers and plaiting them into a chain. I walked towards her and to my amazement recognised Lucy Flinders. She smiled at me and held out her hand; this time her small hand pressed into mine and I picked her up in my arms. Instinctively I carried her towards the gate and the soldiers who saw me coming parted and allowed me through with the small child. I was within twenty yards of the gate when Lucy wriggled out of my arms and dashed forward; as she crossed the threshold I heard the echo of an excited voice say; I can see a shining mountain.

Almost immediately my body began to shake and I heard voices; I opened my eyes and a smiling nurse was standing over me; encouraging me to wake up. I learned later that I was in a field hospital behind the lines just south of Arras; I’d been unconscious for six days and the doctors were beginning to think I may never wake up. They tell me my wounds will take time to heal; and that I’ll be going home soon. 


1528 words 


Submitted: August 21, 2017

© Copyright 2023 Peter Piper. All rights reserved.

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