by Matthew Bissonnette
Europe during the time of the great war where European nations fought one another. In a God forsaken land, a trench had been dug through the muddy dirty ground and now it was this trench the British forces lived, slept and waited for the next charge through no man's land. No man's land was the almost mile between their trench and the German positions which was heavily defended with machine gun fire and the German's superior numbers; no man's land between the trenches of both sides was a blasted land of barbed wire, bombed out craters from artillery and the decomposing bodies of the men caught in the barbed wire who did not escape. But during a chilly afternoon in Autumn, a cold bleak rain from from the sky upon this battlefield, and there was the sound of rumbling thunder in the distance. Though both sides where mortal enemies, both shared the unpleasant reality of the trench; the constant cold, muddy water sometimes up to your knees and the wait for the order to attack which all the men who led those charges across no man's land died in mass numbers. A stalemate had been unresolved and it seemed that most charges only ended in blood shed of unimaginable amounts. And cowardice was not an option since it could be used as a cause to legally hang a soldier. If Hell had ever existed, it could be no worse then a soldier's life in the trench.
In the British trench, two soldiers sat side by side on the muddy bottom of their trench which was now their home, tepid water in the bottom of the trench made them cold and wet.
One, a modest looking soldier wearing his blue uniform and helmet, look to the other man beside him. Some of his blonde hair peeked out from the under his helmet and his eyes seem weary. Laying on his legs what his simple issued army rifle. He seemed uncomfortable and somewhat upset. He, Private Granger, look at his friend and said, “I admit, I just pissed my pants Private Lucas. But it is the most warmth I've felt in months, in this hellish cold we must endure.”
Private Lucas was a large man, in the blue uniform with his helmet hanging from the top of his rifle which leaned to the wall beside him. His brown hair was short and had a square jaw and steely eyes. He said, “seems a crude way of warming yourself. My dear wife would scold me if I ever did that action, thinking I came home with a low class mentality.”
Granger then look up into the sky as cold rain fell on him. “Smart man, joining the army when you got a new wife back home as well as a kid on the way. Oh, that's right, you got drafted just like me. We can't leave here and go home in the night because we could be shot by our own side as deserters. So we fight a war for a leader who has never been in these charges and never meets the countless young men who end up dead. Hides in a decadent office and we are treated like animals.”
Lucas replied, “Granger,we are good friends because we have lived side by side in this hellish morass for almost a year; but you always told me in Liverpool you where a scoundrel who made his money through under handed, illegal ventures. Could you have not fled and layed low and avoided the army?”
“Well, I guess I wanted to serve my country.”
“Really Granger? You never struck me as a man who was overly patriotic.”
“In truth, the army is a good place for an unscrupulous man; how do you think I've been getting us extra food rations and packs of cigarettes. But a shady, poor excuses of a soldier knows that my good friend should be at home with his wife and family.”
Then a superior officer, a slim man with glasses and in an uniform, walked towards them and seemed nervous. Granger and Lucas both looked at him and limply saluted.
Granger asked, “so what are our orders today Hensworth? Sit around and do nothing?”
The man, Hensworth, looked at them, gulped, and said, “the entire division is going to attack the German lines tomorrow.”
Lucas and Granger exchanged glances then looked at their superior and Lucas said, “the German lines are heavily defended with machine guns as well as the fact we are outnumbered.”
Granger nodded. “Almost every guy in our division is going to be killed.”
Hensworth frowned and replied, “the general was insistent that we attack tomorrow, says this stalemate makes him look bad to his superiors. I got to tell everyone.” Then the officer walked away.
Granger and Lucas looked at each other.
Lucas said, “guess my wife is soon to be a widow after tomorrow.”
Granger laughed briefly then replied, “guess this is our last night on Earth, better enjoy it.”
In the trenches was the mess hall, really just a large room dug into the muddy ground. Amongst the dirt walls where several lanterns hanging from the wooden beams along the side of the room. There where several long wooden tables, all where empty accept one. Lucas and Granger, in uniform but without their helmets, sat at the end of one table and both where drinking deeply from two metal cups which each held; a bottle of Brandy on the table between them.
Lucas lowered his cup and looked at Granger and said, “why are they letting us drink tonight? Usually they want us sober.”
Granger finished his cup then threw it away and it landed on the ground with a metallic ding. “Same reason they had grog on sailing ships. What we are going to do tomorrow would seem down right stupid to a sober man.”
Lucas finished his drink then threw his cup away as well. “Does it bother you that we are both probably going to die tomorrow?”
Granger grinned. “No, even if I make it back home to Liverpool, what do I got waiting for me. Scamming people for a few pounds, forging checks, always looking over my shoulder for the police. Dying is easy, living can be a hell of a lot harder.”
Lucas frowned. “Won't be easy for the misses, she is going to most probably raise our child alone. I won't be there so I can be his father.”
Granger then briefly looked at the other man and said, “they should pass a damn law so that the generals have to lead the charge when they decided to get us all killed to impress his superiors. Might be more reluctant to engage in such stupidity if you where down here in the dirt, mud and guts.”
Lucas seemed worried. He said, “what is the point?”
Granger chuckled. “Has any war ever had a point? If you stop and think about it we have a lot more in common with those Krauts that will kill us tomorrow; both of us killing and getting killed just so our leaders can talk tough and our generals get more medals. There isn't a point, just madness and death. If war had a point it probably would be that fighting in one is idiotic.”
Lucas shook his head. “Granger, I can't do this tomorrow. I don't mind getting killed, but leaving Jill without a husband is something I can't do.”
Granger sighed and tried to sound consoling. “Lucas, I don't question your bravery; I wouldn't be your friend if I did. But if you don't take part in our last charge tomorrow; they'll hang you. Would you prefer Jill having a husband who die heroically fighting the Queen's enemy; or you prefer she be the widow who's husband was hung as a coward.”
“I prefer my wife have her husband still with her.”
Granger sighed. “Why I like being your friend Lucas. That has to be the most sentimental thing I've ever heard. You are one of those respectable types, so you can still afford to be sentimental. At least you will be missed, a few people are probably going to be happy when they hear I died.”
Lucas then briefly looked at Granger then away. Lucas said, “there must be someone out their who will grieve your loss.”
Granger grinned. “Though you have not spoken to me of your childhood, my instinct tells me that you came from a happy, loving household Lucas. I barely knew my parents, ran away while I was still pretty young and learned how to survive on the streets, running a con here and a scam there. Lucas, you are probably surrounded by people who care deeply for you, but I was pretty much cast into this world alone and having to quickly learn how to fend for myself.”
Lucas seemed troubled but oddly let out a brief laugh. “You should try to find a woman, someone who actually gives a damn about you. ”
Granger then started laughing deeply then said, “perhaps we are friends Lucas, but I am not a particularly commendable fellow. Sometimes I ponder why you became friends with a disreputable chap like myself, and upstanding man like yourself. Maybe because we wade waist deep through the blood and guts during this war so we can be friends, but I think anywhere else we would not have been friends; I think a respectable man like yourself would have crossed the street to avoid a man such as myself.”
Lucas got up then said, “Granger, I want to run for it; get out of here and back home.”
Granger looked very seriously at him. “And then they will find you and have you hung. The men running this army seem to be equally capable of killing those that serve under them as well as the enemy.”
Lucas then picked up the bottle of liquor off the table and threw it which then hit the dirt wall of the room and shattered. He then said, “my wife will lose a husband and my child will not have a father so someone can maybe get a promotion.”
Granger nodded. “That is how it is. I'm not sure how true this is, but apparently Napoleon led the charges himself, our generals live in opulence and comfort while they send guys like you and me to our deaths. We are just tools to them, and easily thrown away once having outlived their usefulness.”
Lucas then walked towards the door, outside awaited the darkened trench. He look back and said, “I won't run, but I hope the bastard who ordered this charge tomorrow will get to see the mountain of bodies that it will result in.” Then he walked out.
Granger just continued to look at the door his friend had left through then seemed to think. He then said to himself, “wish there was something I could do. But what could a underhanded scoundrel like myself do.”
Granger was silent for a moment then grinned widely.
“Lucas, you are really going to owe me on this one, to bad I will not be around to collect.”
Then next morning. A dense fog had fallen over the trench and no man's land. Within the trench, Lucas, Granger and countless other men waited in a row; tepid water halfway up their boots. They had on their uniforms, helmets and held their bolt action rifles. Their superior officer stood on the ground above the trench over them with a whistle. Then he blew the whistle and the soldiers started to climbed up out of the trench and charge across no mans land.
Granger looked at Lucas beside him then said, “when they ask you what happened, tell them that I was a unstable, dangerous man and that we had an argument.”
Lucas looked at him and asked, “what are you talking about Granger?”
Granger then aimed his rifle at Lucas then shot him in the leg, Lucas grunted in pain and fell onto his back; partially submerged in the rancid water in the trench. The remaining soldiers who had not yet climbed out from the trench looked at Granger as he yelled while standing over the injured Lucas.
“That will teach you for stealing from me! You stupid ingrate.”
Then Granger climbed up out of the trench as Lucas watched. He was followed by the remaining soldiers. Lucas lay upon the damp, chilly bottom of the trench as the wound to his leg bled. Then in the distance he could hear the sound of machine gun fire and explosions. Then came a chorus of men yelling in agony.
Lucas frowned and muttered, “thanks Granger, guess I'm in your debt.”
Then the superior officer stood above him, a weaselly looking man in a uniform and with a thin mustache. He looked down at Lucas and said, “why did your fellow soldier shoot you for Lucas?”
Lucas replied, “a disagreement, but I always knew the man was dangerous. He always seemed a man born a criminal.”
The officer shook his head. “If he makes it back, he will be hung. But it seems you have a serious injury, I guess you will soon go home for now you can be of little help to the war effort.”
Lucas then lowly said, “that is a shame.”
“I'll go fetch a medic.”
Lucas watched him leave then looked up into the fog obscured sky and smiled, knowing that soon he would be home with his wife. Though he would never know why Granger had done what he did, for the rest of his life he knew that everyday he enjoyed was only because of a shady, underhanded friend who had saved his life by being shady and underhanded.
© Copyright 2016 Matthew Bissonnette. All rights reserved.