The Bayonet

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
In Manchester 2014 Owen discovers a First World War bayonet at a car boot sale. He can't explain but he his strangely drawn to the artifact. And the strange events follow.

Submitted: April 09, 2014

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Submitted: April 09, 2014

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Owen Galloway always found Sundays depressing. From finishing work on Friday it always seemed like the weekend had endless possibility but once Sunday rolled around Monday loomed just around the corner. In an attempt to fight off the boredom and get the thoughts of Monday morning in the office out of his head he decided to have a stroll to the car boot sale on the park across the road. A bit of fresh air, and a mooch around the car boot sale would be just the ticket. And he might be able to pick up a paperback book for a couple of quid. He might even find some part of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy that he was missing.

He trudged around the field checking out some of the rubbish that people had the cheek to try and sell at these car boot sales. He smiled as he noticed one man in his sixties selling an assortment of tat that included pairs of prescription glasses. Why on earth would somebody buy a pair of glasses with someone else’s prescription? People will try and sell you anything. Mind you, he thought, maybe that’s because people will buy anything. His breath hung in the cold November air as he made his way past the stalls. One stall was selling what he assumed were fake designer handbags. Well, he decided, they were either fake or stolen. A couple of traders were flogging books and DVDs. He looked hoping to find anything by Douglas Adams but couldn’t see anything more interesting than Catherine Cookson and Maeve Binchy.

An old man wearing a long grey coat was selling a random selection of items from a battered brown suitcase. Owen could not decide how old the guy was. He just looked old. Owen turned his attention to what the man had for sale. Most of the items in the case were junk. There was a lot of outdated technology, large camcorders from the 1990s, cassette tapes of bands he had never heard of, and ancient games consoles in tatty boxes. He noticed a rusty item sticking out from behind an Atari joystick. He reached into the case and picked it up. It looked like a knife and, like the stall owner, it was very old. He felt a strange energy coming from the thing. It almost felt alive. The old man stared at him. His piercing blue eyes locked on Owen’s.

‘That’s a bayonet from the First World War. That was started a hundred years ago.’

Owen nodded. He seemed to recall seeing something on BBC2 about it being the centenary of the start of World War One. There was something about the bayonet. Before he had even processed the thought he was handing over a ten pound note. The man put the rusty item in a brown paper bag. Handed it over.

‘You’ve got a piece of history there, son.’

 

Back at home he made a cup of tea. He switched on the television set and flaked out on the sofa. He took the bayonet out of the bag. He studied the thing closely. It was hot in his hands. It tingled. The thing began to vibrate. It was like the bayonet was plugged into the mains or something. He could not take his eyes off it. It was so old, appeared so harmless, yet there was clearly something going on. He saw nothing else, was aware of nothing else.

He felt a breeze. Looked up. He gasped. He was no longer surrounded by the four walls of his living room. He was outside. Grey white skies overhead. Walls of sandbags and wooden boxes on either side. He was in what looked like a narrow trench. Trench. He whispered the word. He looked down at the bayonet. It was now silver and new. It glowed in his hand. He heard voices and footsteps stomping along the boards that lined the trench.

Soldiers in green uniform came towards him. They wore helmets and had rifles slung over their shoulders. The expressions on their faces said that they had been through a lot. Most of the men completely ignored him. They clearly had more to worry about than one more person in the trench. One man looked at him. He had piercing blue eyes and although he can’t have been much more than twenty years old he had an air about him of someone much older. Perhaps, he thought, that was what war did to you.

‘You just got here?’

Owen nodded. How could he explain that he had no idea where he was?

‘Come on then. You can come with us till you get your orders to do otherwise.’

He told himself he must be dreaming as he followed the soldiers down the narrow trenches. A thunderous boom shook everything, the whole world around him. It reverberated through the boards beneath his feet and the walls on either side. He crouched down, hands over his head. He knew this could not really be happening but it felt so very real. When he looked up the soldiers merely had their heads tucked down. The soldier who has spoken to him held out a hand.

‘My name’s Wilf Patch.’

‘Owen. I’m Owen.’

Patch nodded. They joined the rest of the squad, sitting with their backs against the trench wall. Owen leaned back on the sandbags and dirt. Patch handed him a helmet and a long green-grey coat.

‘Here, put these on. Help keep you warm and safe.’

‘Who do they belong to?’

‘You don’t ask questions like that here.’

Owen knew that the person the kit had belonged to clearly no longer needed it. He got to his feet. Shrugged into the massive coat. It felt rough on his skin. Put the helmet on.

‘Keep your head down. Don’t want to give the German snipers something to aim at.’

He ducked his head. Patch gave him a gas mask. Owen slung it over his shoulder. He noticed some of the men were scribbling away on scraps of paper. He asked Patch what they were writing.

‘Letters to home, some of them. Poems too. Some lads are writing stories. They say it helps. And there are other distractions here. No picture house in these trenches. We can’t go and see the latest Charlie Chaplin picture.’

 

A while later they were moving down the trench. Owen was not sure where they were headed or why. He thought he overheard something about meeting up with a new company that had just arrived at the front. He still couldn’t decide if this was a dream. Was it a hallucination? It felt real enough though. Patch and his comrades seemed like real people. He reached inside the great coat. The bayonet was cold to touch. He trudged along the boards behind the other troops. On either side of the boardwalk was mud. The mud looked thick and deep. No wonder the boards where there. You would not be able to trek through the mud. It would be impossible.

They turned a corner in the narrow trench. There was a deafening boom. Owen felt the force of the explosion hit him in the chest. He was knocked to the board walk. Soil, mud and other unidentifiable bits rained down all around. He wiped his face with his sleeve. He felt hands grab him. Patch yanked him to his feet.

‘Mind that you don’t fall off the boards. You can drown in the mud. I’ve seen it.’

Owen looked past Patch, further up the line. Where the shell had landed there was nothing but a crater in the earth, collapsed trench walls.

‘What happened?’ asked Owen.

Patch stared at the carnage for a moment before he spoke.

‘Men of the new company.’ He shook his head. ‘Gone. Maybe they were lucky.’

‘Lucky?’

‘If you are going to get it then best to do it before too long. Nothing worse than seeing one of your pals kop for it after going through all this. New fellers, well, at least they haven’t suffered for too long.’

 

Later that afternoon. The men rummaged in the pockets of their coats and tunics. Pulled out cigarettes and matches. Patch turned to Owen. Offered him a cigarette. Owen shook his head.

‘You know the most important thing for a soldier in these trenches?’

‘What’s that?’

‘Dry matches. You cannot do anything about the rain, the mud, the shells, the lack of supplies, the fact that you don’t know what will happen from one moment to the next. The only thing you have any control over is that your matches are dry. You really need dry matches when you desperately need that smoke.’

He took a long satisfying drag on the cigarette. Owen saw the tears in his eyes. He saw the faces of misery all around him. He really felt sympathy for these men. It was awful. If this was what these people went through then he had a new found admiration and respect for them.

 

Owen heard a soft, wet thud. There came panicked yells. Gas! The word quickly went around. There was the desperate grabbing for gas masks. Owen followed the way Patch tugged his mask over his head. The mask was heavy and smelled of rubber. The sickly yellow fog spread all around them. One man could not find his mask. Owen watched in horror through the eye panels of his own mask. The man clutched his throat as the gas choked him. He fell against the trench wall. He clawed at the gas, eyes wide. He thrashed and kicked in agony. His comrades could do nothing but watch the terrible spectacle. Agonising, horrific minutes later he was still. A few minutes after that the men started to remove their masks warily. The body of the dead soldier was taken away on a stretcher.

Nobody spoke. Patch struck a match. Lit another cigarette. Owen wasn’t the only one with tears in his eyes.

 

Shortly after there was the boom of shells exploding. Owen swore. No wonder men came back from the front with shell shock. Thankfully this time the shells didn’t sound quite as close.

‘That’s our boys. They’re blasting the German lines. They are going to more or less destroy their defences. Let’s hope they do. We go over the top at dawn.’

Owen looked at the top of the trench. A shiver went through him.

‘The captain says it will be like a walk in the British countryside. He reckons there won’t be anyone left to stop us. Shells will have blasted the whole lot of them. Finger’s crossed, eh?’

Patch handed him a rifle. He took the weapon. It felt heavy. He looked at Patch, confused.

‘You are coming? When we go over?’

Owen had no idea if this entire thing was a dream. It seemed real to him. And he was scared to go out of the trench towards the enemy. But there was something in Patch’s gaze that he could not turn down. He nodded.

‘But I don’t know how to shoot.’

‘Blimey, they are rushing the basic training, aren’t they? Nevermind, hopefully there won’t be anyone left to shoot. I saw you with a bayonet earlier. Put that on the end. Do that and look mean. That will do you.’

Owen pulled the bayonet out of his coat. It now gleamed even though there wasn’t much daylight down here in the trench. He slid it in place on the end of the rifle. Patch looked at him with a sad resignation in his eyes. Owen knew that none of the men wanted the dawn ever to come.

 

The next morning as the sky was turning a light blue Patch shook him awake. Owen stretched, rubbed his face. How could he have slept if this was a dream? Sergeants came down the line. They handed out a small ration of rum to each man. Owen felt the liquor burn his throat. He could have done with another shot.

The captain, a thin man with a moustache, checked his watch. He raised his pistol. Owen could not tell if the weapon was to use on the enemy or for anyone of his soldiers who refused to go. The captain blew his whistle.

This was it. Patch gave him a look.

‘Good luck!’

‘You too!’

He followed Patch up the narrow wooden ladder. All along the trench soldiers did the same. He stepped out into no man’s land. He swore. The British shells had done little damage to the enemy line. As the British troops walked forward they were torn to pieces under the heavy gunfire.

Owen walked forward with the others. The orders were to walk, not run. That seemed utter madness to him but he kept in line with the other soldiers. Shells burst all around. Great chunks were blasted out of the ground. Owen’s ears rang with gunfire, shells exploding, and the sickening cry of dying men. The British shells had clearly not inflicted the damage Patch and the others had hoped for. This was certainly no walk in the countryside. The enemy was there in great number. And firing volley after volley as he and the others advanced.

He saw the captain lying on the ground. He had taken a bullet to the throat. Owen stopped. He didn’t know what to do. Men were falling everywhere. He turned full circle. The slaughter was all around. A voice called to him to keep moving. He walked on with numb legs. Soldiers were dropping all around. He tried to locate Patch in the bloody carnage. A shell exploded just in front of him. He was thrown back by the blast. He saw smoke and sky.

He landed on something soft. He sat up. Looked around. Tears burned his eyes. He was back on his sofa in his living room. The television set was still on. On screen the Queen was laying a wreath at the cenotaph. Then he recalled the date. Remembrance Sunday.

He noticed the bayonet beside him. It shone like new.


© Copyright 2017 CTPlatt. All rights reserved.

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