Part 18 marks the end that revision of 36 Hours. I hope everybody enjoyed it! It’s definitely a moody piece, something I actively worked to achieve. I loved Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, a book I tried to give homage to with 36 Hours. It wasn’t a story of huge heroics, of running in like Rambo and gunning down all the bad guys, it was a story about regular men trying to survive a horrible situation. It was a story of loss, both of life and hope. World War One shattered an entire generation around the world, and I’d hoped to capture just a small sense of that with my rendition of the United State’s own spirit-rending crisis.
I think this story requires one more revision and in that revision I feel I need to change Kat’s name. Kat is the name of Paul Baumer’s comrade in All Quiet and someone who served the same role for Paul as my Kat did for Tommy. It’s hard to change though, because Stephen Katzin is forever Kat in my mind. Maybe I’ll get away with it remaining the same, I don’t know. Continue reading →
Kat pitches forward. Blood splatters my face. I think I scream his name, cry out in horror and in panic. Shells explode all around me, their fragments tearing up the ground behind me, before me and to either side, yet nothing touches me here, in this haven of stone and mortar. Only Kat.
I rush to him, scrambling on hands and knees. There is so much blood and so it was a shell and not a sniper. Shrapnel has torn into Kat’s neck just below the hairline and above his shoulder blades. I ease him onto his side while I apply a bandage. He groans.
“Kat,” I say, desperate to believe him well, that this is nothing but a scratch that looks so much worse than it is. I want him to sit up and laugh and tell me it’s fine, not to worry. He does none of this. Continue reading →
There are no grenades to be had and so we pack our belts with as many rounds as we can. Kat hands me some food he’s scrounged and I nibble on a strip of dried meat as we collect these things, sometimes pulling them off the men who in this dugout with us. They do not protest and some do not even look up. The shell shock has gotten to them.
“This should be Shiod’s job,” Kat mutters as we leave the dugout. I do not trust myself to speak in response. That wound is still too fresh, the ghost of my friend still lingering in every dark corner. I grunt and Kat understands. If Kat grieves, I do not see it. He is a year older and perhaps a year wiser and tougher. Perhaps it is even simpler still. He is too long at the front. Continue reading →
We lay low in the shell holes for there are no proper trenches any longer. The continuous bombardments reduced their depth in some areas to less than three feet. It is enough to lie down and close one’s eyes and wait for the next shell to claim him.
Kat and I never stay in one place too long. We move from hole to hole, crawling beneath wire and leaping over pools of dirty water and blood. We survive by our swiftness and luck alone. Continue reading →
The earth heaves under the barrage and throws up gouts of rock and dirt in every possible direction. We run, hunched over like animals. In places we are reduced to rodents, scurrying on hands and knees as the trench is destroyed above us. I hear nothing but the booms and cracks of artillery fire. I see nothing but flashes of intense daylight when the star shells explode overhead. In those moments the world is reduced to what is before me. The trench is my home and Shiod and Kat my brothers.
A shell lands behind us. I hear its whistle a moment before impact and fall flat, covering my head. I feel the explosion before I hear it, a deep, angry rumble that turns into a terrible vibration. It tears at me, rips the trench apart on all sides. Mud and dirt and human viscera fall upon me. Continue reading →
Shiod is alive. I stand, bewildered, overwhelmed and angry at the same time. He is alive and not once did he tell us! He didn’t come and let neither Kat nor I know about it. He let us linger on in a world without him. I went over the top without him, carried out a mission in the dark without him. Would I have done it if I’d known he was alive? For a mad moment, I imagine the lieutenant keeping this information from me so I would volunteer.
It is sheer madness and like my anger, evaporates beneath the grinning face before me. We say nothing but simply embrace. His strength is lacking, I can feel it in his arms. There is the smell of earth and sickness about him, but he is alive. It is only when Kat takes his turn that I find my voice. Continue reading →
The wind blows cold from the east, carrying with it the scent of freshly turned earth and blood. It unsettles my hair but its caress is soft enough to make me close my eyes. I can not reconcile the things I see with reality and I shut them out. Darkness is much easier to understand than this.
I stand here for an eternity. The whole of the world moves on without me. The war ends, life begins again, the Union and Confederacy collapses. These images are more real to me than the present and I surrender to it. Continue reading →
A gunnery sergeant arrives and asks for me. I stand and go with him to the firing line where he directs me to my little sniper hole. “Southwest, to the left of the wire,” he says. I look where he indicates and frown. “Mortars,” I say, sighting down my scope.
“Are they trained on our position?”
I flip down a few lenses and adjust the sighting but find no way of knowing for sure. I shrug. “I don’t know sergeant.”
“Pick off any crews that come to man it, I’m alerting the Captain.”
“What’s up?” Kat asks a moment after the sergeant has gone.
“Mortars setting up along the line by the forest,” I say, nodding toward the area we’d been gassed the night before. “He wants me to pick off any crews I find.”
Kat hisses through his teeth and tosses his cigarette into the muck. “Damn them. Half a day to go.” Continue reading →
After, when we leave Shiod behind and make our way back toward the line, I resist the urge to think of home. Kat is looking at me and I wonder if he can see the resignation I feel. Still, he says nothing and we walk on through the lines of men on medical pallets, blood pooling and dripping. Some of them are already dead, others still clinging to a half-life of delirium and hope.
Our batteries open up, creating a cacophony so loud it shakes the ground we walk on and the walls that pen us in. Kat and I have to stop in a dugout to keep from falling over.
“What’s going on?” Kat asks a sergeant, the only man in the dugout. He’s older, a lined and bearded face half hidden behind a helmet and mask. He shrugs his shoulders.
The letter to Vanmere’s family goes poorly. I crouch in the mud outside a medical tent with Kat while we wait for word on Shiod. I put the nub of my pencil to paper but the words that come are stiff and meaningless. They form no sentences, create no explanations for the woman who made me promise to look after her son out here.
At first I wanted to tell her the truth, that I’d failed to do what she asked. I would write that we’d gotten separated and I hadn’t looked for him. I left him to die in No Man’s Land without a second thought. Me, I killed him as sure as the sniper’s bullet. Continue reading →