The downpour felt like molten mercury drops on his face as he looked up from the trench to see another airstrike.
The soldier, all of 22, sat huddled in a depression that a comrade previously dug to escape the deluge, but the walls were caving in fast . . . like his mind. His comrade lay dead in a growing pool of muck.
It was only a few hours ago that they showed each other faded photographs of their wives that they left behind. His compatriot’s wife was pregnant.
The soldier pulled out the wrinkled photo of his wife again; she had promised him a child when he returned. Yep, he was going to be a dad, and that was all that mattered.
Another round of mortars rocked the trench, accompanied by distant machine gun fire. His thoughts drifted back to the proud day he enlisted. He felt it was his duty to stand against tyranny and protect the lives of his friends and family. If he didn’t, they would have no freedom in a world of oppression, and he couldn’t allow that to happen.
“I’ll wait for you no matter how long it takes,” she had said when he departed, wearing her best dress. “Come back to me,” she whispered in his ear.
As he sank deeper in the mud, another explosion lit up the night sky. He didn’t want to think of the death toll all around him, he only wanted to think of her . . . and the family they would create together.
But the ultimate sacrifice would mean that would never happen. He was prepared to die, but this was one time in his life he felt truly terrified. Would they lay a wreath in his memory? Would they call out his name at the town cenotaph? His mind could barely keep up with his staccato thoughts.
It was just before dawn that the rain subsided, leaving the soldier camouflaged against the trench wall like he didn’t exist. Enemy troops would have missed him during their reconnaissance, only if he kept his eyes closed. But he wasn’t so sure now as he heard an armoured vehicle approaching . . . and voices, yet he couldn’t make out what they were saying.
He frantically checked his magazine to see how many rounds he had left; surely not enough. A wayward sliver of sunlight through brooding clouds stabbed his eyes as a towering figure appeared silhouetted above him. A rifle rested against his hip.
“On your feet, soldier! This ain’t no knitting club,” his commanding officer barked, spitting a straight stream of tobacco in front of the wide-eyed recruit.
Lyonel Doherty, editor