Challenge number 2 for the month of April from Haley Whitehall. In her post “Challenge to write in a different genre” Haley (who is a Historical Fiction writer) challenged people to write a Historical Flash Fiction piece. This time round she didn’t set a word limit (for those interested, I used just over 900). History is a favorite subject of mine, so of course I had to write a story. I chose the Great War as my setting (sorry Haley, no Civil War this time). I hope you enjoy it.
He tried to remember who had talked him into this. He tried to sort through the faces in his mind. Which one of his mates had convinced him that it would be great fun. That they just couldn’t afford to wait, and that it would all be over by Christmas if they did. It would be an adventure, something to tell the kids one day. But the faces, like the names were gone, lost somewhere inside his head. He was too busy trying to stay alive at that moment.
Another shell came screaming in. Oh Christ! when would this stop? The reserve trench had been receiving fire for over a day now, non-stop.
Willie couldn’t remember the last food he had eaten, perhaps it was that biscuit that he found in the bottom of his greatcoat pocket. Two more shells slammed home, raining mud and water down on him as he pressed himself as far back as he could into his funk hole. He didn’t want to think about what else might be mixed in with it. His Lee-Enfield jabbed him in the back, so he shifted around to bring it in front of him. He cradled it in his arms like a lover, his hands moving over the dark brown wood. It felt right in his hands, something familiar and reassuring, gained from long hours holding it. With this hell storm going on though, it wasn’t likely that he would use it anytime soon. The earth shook again as a new salvo landed. Those poor bastards up on the line must be having one hell of a time. A bad break for them; Willie’s company had been moving up to relive them, when the German barrage had started. Not being able to safely get to the forward positions, the relief soldiers piled into whatever cover they could find to wait it out.
A big shell fell somewhere between the front and reserve line, filling the air with a deadly buzzing of shrapnel. Hot metal shards fell into the trench.
After a few hours of taking fire, some “staffie” had appeared with the incredible news that “the Hun was up to something boys!” The man had been a bloody genius! Had been. The pompous ass obviously had never been near the front before, walking around like that. All eager to be at the sharp end of the stick. If you lived more than a few weeks in the Wipers salient, it was because you bloody well learnt, to bloody well keep down! When he had climbed up onto the fire step to have a look about, a shell landed just in front of the him, leaving a mass of tangled guts and bloody wool on the duck boards. Stupid sod.
Whistling filled the air. Good God this one was going to be close.
The earth heaved and bucked as the shock wave from it shook Willie’s hiding place. When he opened his eyes, Willie wasn’t sure how long he had been stunned. He checked himself out, and found no vital bits missing. Damn! How wonderful it would have been to have gotten a blighty. He would have accepted some pain for the chance to get out of this hell-forsaken place. Clean sheets, pretty nurses, and all the folks telling him he was blooming hero. Hero! now there was a joke if he ever heard one. There were no heroes here, just survivors. He had seen many brave acts over the past two years, but never because some bloke had wanted a gong. It was usually because his mate was in trouble. Here amidst the wreckage of war, it was the only thing the “Tommies” had. Each other.
Crump, crump, crump. The shells seemed to be drifting further to the rear now, searching out the British artillery positions and supply cross roads.
Soon he heard the officer whistles sounding throughout the trench system. Hell, that only meant one thing. They were coming. Willie stood up and pulled his Enfield from the funk hole, and cleaned the mud best he could. It looked like he would have some work for it today after all, a chance to give the bastards back a little suffering.That brought a smile to his face. As he lit a smoke up, he looked around at the gathering men. There where so many new faces, he didn’t remember all their names. Some of them would be gone in a few hours too, so it didn’t really pay to find that information out.
A whistling came from the front, as a distress rocket arched high into the sky. A sure sign they would be in it soon.
The sound made him think about football games back at school. In the flash of a memory he was back on the field with his childhood friends, clapping each other on the back to celebrate a goal. A hand grabbed his shoulder, and he turned to see his best mate Albert. It was Albert! He was the one that had convinced him to walk into that recruiting office. With a sigh Willie returned to the real world, a world where like so many other young men, Albert was no more. A Lewis gun barked out as it opened fire on an unseen target, the Germans had to be close.
Remembering was a luxury he had no time for just then. Maybe later perhaps, but now he had work to do!