Another Day in the Trenches

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is a short piece that I was approached to write a short while ago. I was asked to take rough concepts/moods from Leon Gellert's poem, "The Attack at Dawn", and morph them into a short story.

Submitted: February 27, 2015

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Submitted: February 27, 2015

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As dawn began to kiss the sky, the heavens were painted a crimson red, tainted by the blood that had been spilled on the marshy wasteland below. The first blood-curdling gunshot of the morning pierced through the eerie silence that lingered over the muddy banks of the trenches, and even though the men beside me had been here longer than I, it didn't stop their bones from trembling uncontrollably as a result of the fear that filled their veins.

 

We leapt from our sodden beds, wrapping our hands around the cold, steely embrace of our weapons as we spilled out into the trenches. The cold winter's air gnawed at the skin of my cheeks like a rabid dog, but I didn't mind. I guess it let me know that I was still alive. I looked down at the floor, watching the boots of the man in front of me sink into the slurry of mud, blood, and water as we navigated the labyrinth of pits and troughs. Every so often, you would step over the writhed remains of a man who had been less fortunate than you – a brutal reminder that if you place one foot wrong, the only home you would see is two feet wide and six feet deep.

 

We neared the front-line. I clutched the small black and white photograph of my wife and children in the fist of my right hand, a single tear beginning to roll down my cheek as I pondered whether I would ever see them again, for men in the trenches tend not to live long – we were but cogs in a machine, easily replaceable should we pass our expiration date. At home, they make the war, and the soldiers in it, sound glorious. Bollocks. There is nothing “Glorious” about the rotting carcasses of young boys no riper than the tender age of 15. I suppose my only form of motivation was my need to keep those at home safe.

 

“At every cost,” Came rallying battle cries, “It must be done!”

They became a little dull after you have been living in the trenches for a while, the same rumbling shouts hour-after-hour, day-after-day. We hadn't made any progress in weeks; all we had done was stand our ground, at the cost of hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent lives.

 

The smell of burning gun-powder hovered overwhelmingly in the air and drowned my nostrils as I waited at the foot of a splintered wooden ladder. I was waiting for the man at the top of it to die. Waiting for my turn to be shot at. By this time, the frosty air had turned into a cauldron of artillery fire and gun smoke, a thick grey smog covering no-man's land.

 

Every gunshot reverberated around my skull, crushing my brain with a deafening, never ending ringing. A life-less body toppled from the top of the ladder, and landed on the muddy banks with a thud. As I approached the steps nervously, I peered back at the man who had stood before me. A look of terror had been immortalised on his face – his skin was pale, and his once blue eyes were now blood-shot and stared into the oblivion.

 

“Helfen!” Came a cry from a soft German voice. “Help!” Somebody!”

I breathed heavily, pulling the magnifying scope of my rifle to my eyes. Through the smog, I could make out the silhouette of a young German soldier, probably only a year or two older than my eldest child. Like the fallen man in our own trenches, he looked mortified. Yet again, a tear began to form on my cheeks as I thought about my own children. As a parent, I wanted desperately to help this poor boy. Could I? What if I put my own men at risk in doing so?

 

As he turned his body, I could see his wound. He clutched at it with both of his hands, trying desperately to stop the bleeding. Crimson liquid oozed out of it as he dragged his limp foot along the ground behind him. His eyes searched frantically for somebody, anybody, to help him. The next few seconds passed by in slow motion as my brain whirred like clockwork. I prayed that one of his fellow soldiers would come to his aid, because there was no way that our medics would want a German taking up their treatment beds.

 

Eventually, I decided that he had suffered enough. I put him out of his misery with a single, precise shot. Instantly, remorse filled my body. I stepped down from the ladder, removing my helmet and holding it under my armpit as I wiped my cheeks dry with the back of my hand. I dragged myself back to the shelter and slumped myself onto the solid surface of my bunk, dropping my forehead into the palms of my hand as I was overcome by guilt.

 

“You did the right thing,” Said one of my men, patting me on the back with a half-smile as he walked past the shelter, but it didn't make me feel any better. No-one that young should have to see, or experience anything like the horror of the war. And they certainly shouldn't have to die in it.

 

 


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