This morning was fine and dandy. The sun had popped out of the clouds after disappearing for so long. The air buzzed with heat and bugs hidden in the swaying grasses near the trench. I sat with my rifle leaning against my shoulder, sweat dripping down my neck. My captain lay next to me all quiet, as did my friend, Willis. They didn’t say much today. When I first met Willis, he taught me how to properly stab a guy with the bayonet. Good man. I enjoyed talking to him better than the other boys. The other boys now, they were up top, doing whatever it was you did when you had free time in this goddamn war. Oh the war was going splendidly! I’m sure we are going to win within the next few months. At least, that’s what they told us. I kicked my tired legs out, dirt spraying up. Just above, I was surrounded by miles of grassy plains overtaken by war. We were practically near no-man’s-land. A few cracks sounded in the distance.
I lied. I’m a lying liar who lies. This morning is not fine and dandy. In fact, it is god-awful and miserable. My rifle may rest at my shoulder, but I have no bullets. The blade at the end of it is caked in dried blood, some of which may be mine. Our captain lays in a crippled position, flies swarming. Maggots grow in the wound in his stomach. Willis, bless him, is dead. He succumbed to a head injury. Most of our men are gone, too, blown to bits by grenades thrown into the trench in the earliest hours of daylight. The cracks in the distance are artillery fire, they are close. So close.
I am deaf in one ear, but I cannot tell if it is the right or left one. I don’t remember the difference between right and left. The sunlight stings my eyes when I slide away from the captain to climb out of the trench.
“Good night,” I say to him.
“Sleep tight,” I say to Willis.
I am the only remaining man of my company. They were all gone. I’d thought that Castor may have still been alive, but now I see that the upper half of his body is stuck in burnt tree. That was a new one. I gag as I pass more men, eventually bowing to vomit in the swaying grasses that hide the little bugs. My only mission is to find ammunition. Until then, I have to make it up the hill. Pop! Pop! Pop! go the bullets in the distance.
I hike up past the half of Castor in his burnt tree to see if I can get closer to the other side without getting shot.
“Don’t let the bedbugs bite,” I say to Castor’s body.
He’s just another dead guy among thousands of dead guys. Just like me. I could be a dead guy, too. It didn’t matter, nothing did. We have to die one day or another, and I’m glad I could die doing something useful for once. To think that I walk the exact ground as the kid whose eyes are missing from his sockets. Those could be my eyes. They were probably the same shit-colored ones I have. That man slumped over against a rock over there could probably pass as my brother.
They said it would just be a few months. They were wrong, it would be a few years. Sweat slid down my back, the fatigues nearly soaked. What I wouldn’t give for a real bath and change of clothes. For the last week, our rations had been shortened and I can’t recall what food tastes like. I’m talkin’ warm bread with some butter, not stale crackers to choke down. I want to go home.
Where am I going again? Oh right, to find more bullets. Turns out, finding them was fairly easy. Always search dead bodies for ammunition. I snatch up a spare cartridge from corpse and load my rifle up.
“Thank you,” I say to the dead man.
“You’re welcome,” he does not reply.
There are more gunshots farther ahead. Too close for my liking. There’s bad men up there. They shot the captain, killed Willis, and blew up Castor. The only place to go is their trench. After all, I can’t do anything else. I’ve got no friends, no food; but what I do have it my rifle. I’d almost died more times than I can count on both hands, considering I lost a finger or two, this past week. I don’t seen how almost dying a another time could hurt. I mean, it could hurt a lot, but that’s not the point.
The earth below me is ravaged with deep holes, the swaying grasses are crispy and destroyed. I stop behind a bush, frowning as its pointy leaves dig into my exposed skin. Someone’s leg lays near me. They’ll be needing that. What am I doing up here? I’m going to be killed. This is stupid, a stupid idea, but one of the best I’ve had. Willis would be proud; not sure what the captain would think. I’ll be okay at the end, won’t I?
The sun beats down. No longer are the bugs hidden as they fly at me. They are the only ones that find my sweat appealing. There is shouting, there is yelling. I need to remember those soldiers are not on my side. They killed my boys. My boys are dead because of them. That is why I came up here. It won’t make a difference to them, but it will to me.
I move away, but on my stomach this time. I crawl along the rough dirt, feeling the shrapnel jab at me. I’m close, so close. Oh hell, this is it. Bodies litter the area around me. I can’t tell if they are my boys or not. Then I spot a withering form up ahead. When I crawl past the man, he yanks at me. I turn to face him, but he has no face.
“Morning,” I say to him.
A groan in response before he rolls away to another place to die. That was rather rude if you ask me. It’s not like anybody did, but I expected a simple greeting.
I smell their trenches before I see them. And I thought our latrines were bad.
Then again, maybe it was the stench of death that loomed in the air. I couldn’t imagine how many bodies were sprawled out around me. There were too many. Machine guns spray bullets that most likely caused the end of these men. Hand grenades soar into the sky, only to burst in the ground.
This is as close as I can get. Everything is loud and hot and sweaty. Please, I just want to go home. See, I even used my manners. The captain would have been proud. With shaking hands, I pull back my rifle and shoot blindly. Again and again I do it until they notice. I’m going to die I know. It’s time to go I know, I know. I turn to run, nearly tripping over myself. I run past the bodies, past the faceless, no longer withering, form. I pass the rock where the leg is. Nobody has claimed it yet.
Almost home–no not home. Almost back into the trenches. Back to my boys.
“I’m coming,” I say. I’ll be there soon.
But they’re after me. Metal bits whiz by my face. Gotta go, gotta run. The trenches are right there! Then there is pain in my chest, blood on my fatigues, my knees giving out. This ruins all my plans. I realize I never did get to change my clothes and I suppose I do need that bath now. Maybe I’ll choke down some crackers even though I want bread with butter.
“Fine and dandy,” I say to my corpse.
Leah is an aspiring author and this is her first published story. When she is not writing, she enjoys reviewing books, listening to music, and practicing French.