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From the Trenches (flash fiction for tornado relief)

May 5, 2011

As soon as I heard about Dan O’Shea’s flash fiction challenge, I wanted to join in. Write a story of 1,000 words or less with rain as an important element, and for each story received before May 7th, he will donate $5 to Red Cross.
– So I asked my muse for a story, and here it is.

From the Trenches

When it started to rain that night, we were grateful. That’s not how it used to be.

We first jumped off the trucks in our clean uniforms and polished boots and landed in muddy tracks made by others like us. We didn’t say anything because we weren’t given a choice and besides it was too early for complaints. We were young and eager to serve our king and country. What did a little dirt matter?
Weeks later, we sat huddled together in the trench. Next to me, William was shivering and his teeth clattering, and I put my arm around him for comfort, but there was nothing I could do to warm him.
Pellets of water, though the better alternative, bombarded our heads the moment we went above ground. Sentry duty was always worse when it rained. Lips turned blue, hands were shaking so badly that they wouldn’t have been any use on the rifle if the enemy had showed itself. But on those nights, it never did. Somewhere on the other side, the German boys were as cold and miserable as we were. That warmed some of us a little.
We would gather wood to try to start a fire, but the wood was damp, and the matches were clammy, and although Peter had somehow gotten hold of some cigarettes, we couldn’t light them. We joked that whoever survived until we got out of there could have them, but the joke died on our lips because our faith in the fairy tales and the propaganda had swum back home across the sea. It rarely took more than one good look at an officer face down in the mud, limbs strewn across the field, or crows and rats picking at unidentifiable soldiers littering the ground to forget how glorious the war had once sounded.
When it rained, everything reeked even more. Decomposing bodies, human waste and rotting food are better left dry. Sometimes I swear I could smell the blood seep through the ground when we tried to get a few hours of sleep before moving on. Mud got in our eyes and though it should have been a blessing not to see, it made everything worse because our ears were muffled by the sound of exploding shells and inhuman cries and we scrambled about with our arms stretched out like madmen or sleep walkers.
Dampness rubbed dirt into wounds that shouldn’t have been bandaged with strips of shirts from the dead. Our field dressings had long since been used up by then. Through the rain, the stench of infection and dragging sounds of swollen feet in wet leather warned us of coming fevers and yet another burden to carry or leave behind. Trench foot, trench mouth, shell shock. All those new terms coined in our honour.

But that night, we welcomed the rain. There were only three of us left of the entire section. The previous night, the only officer left had been blown apart. It hadn’t rained for days then, and when the attack was over, we had run or limped to safety with dust in our eyes and our mouths. I had lost my trusty Lee-Enfield, saluted our fallen corporal and taken his. Eyes had stared blankly at me, and the neck had been broken so violently that I could believe it had been quick, at least. We had no choice but to continue our march towards the rendezvous point.
We had barely made it out into the open before the rain began to fall. I tore off my helmet and lifted my head. Beside me, Tommy stuck out his tongue to catch some droplets. We hadn’t had any clean water for a while. I stopped for a moment. The rain washed away the blood on my face and my hands, my own and that of the boy I had tried to haul to his feet just to realise that it was too late, and of what felt like thousands of faceless strangers by now. Wet tracks ran down my cheeks, and I closed my eyes. It couldn’t wash away the pain, but it could rinse our wounds and clean away the tell-tale tracks behind us.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. May 6, 2011 12:40 am

    Great interpretation- unexpected. I have a hard time reading war stories, even the fiction ones, but I plowed through and am glad I did. 🙂 I like how the indiscriminate rain becomes a team player in a complex human activity- warfare. Well done!

    Like

    • May 6, 2011 4:18 pm

      Thank you so much! I really appreciate you reading it (and commenting). I don’t think it’s very easy to write about, either, but sometimes I have to.

      Like

  2. May 7, 2011 8:08 pm

    A gripping bit of all-to-real fiction. Nice vignette.

    Like

    • May 7, 2011 10:17 pm

      Thank you very much! I was going for that sensation.
      Thank you for visiting and commenting!

      Like

  3. May 8, 2011 4:09 pm

    Hell of a story. Extremely good.

    Like

  4. May 9, 2011 6:05 am

    This was really quite a moving piece. It really paints a clear picture of the fear and horror that war brings to those on the front lines. Superb.

    Like

    • May 9, 2011 8:14 am

      That was the picture I was hoping to paint. Thank you very much for reading and commenting!

      Like

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  1. The Tornado Relief Flash Fiction Challenge touches down « Going Ballistic

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