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

36 Hours – Part 10

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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

36 Hours – Part 9

We are back on the front line. I sit on the firing step with my back to the reinforced support of a dug out. I’ve smoked the cigarette of my life and enjoy the feeling of calm it settles on me. My lungs are burning but after the pain of my wounds, I hardly notice it.

Kat is whittling a small figure out of some wood that’s blown into the trench. The lines are crude but shaped with such delicate care that I imagine he’s thinking of his sister. She wanted to be a racing champion, even though she wasn’t old enough to ride. When Kat and I used to play cards of any sort in his room, she would come in and announce she was going to be champion of them as well. Continue reading

36 Hours – Part 8

It is mid-day by the time I’m allowed to sit up. Len doesn’t say it but Kat does. Even this is too soon, but they need every man who can hold a rifle. A big offensive is coming soon.

“It’s less than a day,” Kat says as I hobble through the medical station with Shiod. Shiod is proposing a game of cards and we’re in search of Len again, full of purpose that we’ll steal him away from the center long enough for a game. Ever since Shiod spilled the news about Vanmere, Len hasn’t been around. Continue reading

36 Hours – Part 6

When I was a child, I often stood in my mother’s garden, where she grew red poppies behind the house. My mother would pretend not to see me there and call out to me, over and over. Standing there, I felt invisible. In that garden of red and green nothing could hurt me. Nothing could take me away. Even my mother was not immune to it.

I stare now at the dull red petals of a poppy plant. Even in the darkness I make out the color when star shells explode. They are the color of blood and cover this wasteland from which there is no return. I lay in the land of the dead where the living should not go. We were not men when we crossed into it. We were beasts, driven mad by fear and blood rage. Now humanity returns and we are no longer welcome here. Continue reading