The rain fell heavy, deep puddles had begun to form at the bottom of the trench. I was huddled against a wall, trying my best to avoid the wind that lashed out like small whips against my face whenever I peaked over the edge. The weather had not improved for 3 days, leaving all of us in poor moods and wet boots, and there were no signs of it stopping. The only noise breaking the sound of the rain falling against the mud, was the sound of mortar that I had still not been able to get used to.
How had I ended up here?
My name is Alex Trufant, an 18 year old farm boy from northern Iowa. I’ve been in service for a few months now, leaving the comfortable life of farming in the morning and baseball in the evening. I had had a life back there, but it wasn’t enough for me, as was often the case. I needed something more, something that I could be proud of. The army had promised me that, with their propaganda and their songs of war heroes.
So far I’d seen nothing to match the glory and honor that was promised in all the propaganda back home. All there was here was death, disease, and moldy bread. O and the rats. So many rats. They seemed to multiply every day, running across your toes as you stand watch, and your chest while you sleep. They carried diseases I didn’t even know existed and their bite was almost more dangerous than a German’s bullet.
I pulled my wet blanket tighter around me and tried to catch some sleep before I was forced out into no man’s land again. As the middle ground between trenches, no man’s land served as a sort of gladiator arena between the soldiers of Germany and America. Although no one truly won in that arena. The only winner was the mortar and the machine gun, ripping apart the boys who thought they were man enough to test the great German beasts.
Neither side had made any progress for the past few weeks and supplies were beginning to run thin. A few more charges that proved unsuccessful would result in almost certain death. The officers had frequently promised us that soon we would break the enemy’s line. Once that happened they said it’d free sailing all the way to Berlin. Charges through no man’s land were often prefaced by optimistic shouts such as, “today’s the day” or “they’re gonna break sooner or later”. But they never broke and “the day” often became tomorrow, and then the next day. Eventually, everyone realized that today being “the day” became about as likely as us getting some fresh cut steak with a serving of garlic potatoes and lemon garlic butter.
I sat against the wall, covered in mud and wishing for nothing but a shower and a warm, dry bed, when my friend Roger Banks walked over to me. Although walk is a poor word to explain movement in the trenches. In order to keep out of the wandering eye of a German sniper, we were forced into more of a lizard-esque scramble along the wall, made particularly awkward for Roger with his tall, awkward body and long lanky, limbs.
Roger was a tall boy of 17, with the face of an angel. At least that’s what the French girls told him. His dark hair was cut tight to his head, the cut of a true soldier. His eyes glowed a bright blue, even more so as they contrasted his dark and mud stained face. He was in dire need of a shave, dark splotches of hair covered his face uneven and awkward, slightly throwing off his so called angelic complexion. Somehow he managed to always be wearing a smile, although that smile shown a little less bright after weeks without a means to brush his teeth. Even angels can be made ugly in the rat’s alley.
“Beautiful day huh?” roger asked squatting next to me.
I grunted a reply and looked up at the dark sky above me. Clouds rolled past, endless and terrifying, their dark grey shadows unrelenting and ominous.
“Barnes is telling us to ready up,” Roger continued, “Few more minutes and we’ll be heading out. He says he’s in the mood for some German for dinner.”
“What, he’s sick of rat already?” I replied gloomily.
Roger laughed. Somehow he always managed to keep his spirits high, a trait of his that tended to get annoying when the only company you share are rats the size of cats and men who haven’t showered or bathed in 2 months.
“He’s a healthy man,” Roger said sarcastically, “really into well rounded diets.”
I smirked a little at that. The irony being the only thing rounded about the captain in regards to his eating habits, was the large stomach that housed all the food. We often joked that the reason all we had to eat was bread and rat was because Captain Barnes kept all the rest to himself.
I stood up, careful not to peak over the edge of the trench. Many a rookie soldier had lost their head trying to sneak a peek at what lay beyond. Roger stood up with me and we both made our way to our supplies located a few yards away. On the way I couldn’t help thinking how nice it would be to get out of the trench, and was reminded of a conversation I had on my first day in with Roger.
“A day spent in the bottom of this pit and already I’ve had enough of it,” I had said, “Everything smells like shit and the only music I here now is a mortar being played by a large German brute.”
“How sweet,” Roger replied. A smirk had danced across his lips then, “and what a beautifully melody he’s decided to play today.”
Roger began to pretend he was a composer mimickingly.
I scowled at him. “All I’m saying is that I want out of the trenches, for good if possible. I want to be back at home, to wake up and have it be a blonde beauty that I had spent the night with, rather than a giant brown rat.”
“Well, we’re mounting our first offensive today,” Roger had replied, “maybe a German sniper will be willing to relieve you of this hell, and of your head as well.”
I had found his remark to be funny then, however it seemed to become a more disturbing reality as the days went on. I gathered up my gun and helmet, and remembered how easy it would be to die after we crossed the ridge of the trench. Roger and I joined the rest of the troops preparing for the assault. Captain Barnes stood sturdy as ever a few yards over, looking up at the sky with the stern look that was always present. He broke his gaze and diverted it to the troops, who stood looking sad and ugly standing in the wet and muck of the trench.
“Today’s the day boys,” he screamed, “today’s the day you bring me home some good German sausages for me to fill up with.”
Roger leaned over, “if he gets anymore full he’s bound to burst.”
“Today’s the day we break that German line for good,” Barnes continued on, “the end of this hellish war could begin today. Today is the day!”
Soldiers roared in response. Raising their guns and then charging over the wall. I followed, up over the wall of rat’s alley, falling into no man’s land. It did not take long for me to figure out today was the day. The day I was relieved of the rats, of the cold rain, of the mud, and of moldy bread. Unfortunately, I took the way out that Roger had suggested, by being relieved of my head as well.
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