36 Hours – Part 17

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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

36 Hours – Part 16

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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

36 Hours – Part 15

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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

36 Hours – Part 14

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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

36 Hours – Part 13

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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

36 Hours – Part 12

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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

36 Hours – Part 11

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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.

“Does it matter?” Continue reading