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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · War · #1413507
World War I left more than just scars on the bodies of men [Done for my IB English Class]
The Morning Room

Halted, mid-breakfast, for the morning news. Papers whisper as pages are prised apart by shaking fingers, first to the obituaries where rows of names lie printed as impersonal memorials to yesterday's dead. One man begins, his baritone voice seems to have lost all the power it once would have held as it cracks over the vowels and stutters over the constenants. The whole room has hushed and they bow their heads as if in prayer. The names are listed and there are no words of honour or glory to go with these individual men whose bodies now are buried below slick mud just the remark to, archaic words which people are forced to understand ‘dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori'.

The names go on, letters slurring into one another until it is a string of the nonsensical. Vaguely familiar names make men lift their heads, looking up as if they can recall the face that belongs with the word but... it is only one face that they see. Dirt stained, blood congealed over one eye and streaking a dusty cheek, hair the colour of mud which may not be natural but that is all that is visible under the round-headed helmet, young or not much older, it is not possible to tell, it is gaunt and lined with hours of concentration and fear. It is the face that everyone remembers, the face of each soldier, bent-double like old beggars under sacks to try and avoid the wailing shells, it is not hard to see these men becoming rag-dolls, thrown up into the air with one mighty sigh from hell, their limbs twisting, necks snapping back and flesh melting in the burning breath. Nor that these men along with those long dead will be churned up again and again as if the ground is too full of death to take any more... Oh yes we remember them...

A young fellow, with eyes that have grown old, sits in the shadow of the corner, his eyes fogging over with the perpetual brown haze of France, as if a curtain has been pulled over them and he is no longer in this place where men sit and wait and shiver in their ghastly suits of grey or green... He is there, now halted by a different man with a baritone voice which rings out the call with no hesitancy, in the shade of a last hill... His lips slacken and those orbs have glazed over as he stares into the middle distance... He is feeling the warmth of a summer breeze on his face, the leafy fingers tickling his trouser leg. He is stood at the edge of the world, looking out on the bitter end. He is sat, in the coffin of the trenches and his body aches and his brains pulsate with livened blood; these moments of memory meshed into one long day. He is encompassed by silence and surrounded by faces he recalls but all seem the same. The ghostly pallor and the smiles which mutter unspoken goodbyes, they are not halted anymore. But are to march. And march they do. They are not stooped yet, nor do they cough as old hags might, they stand tall and their legs do not quake, every bit a man as they expose themselves to the rifles and the flurry of flying fire-brazed iron that spits from its mouth. The mud is sticking to their boots, they are being slowed by the rivers of sludge and churned up clay. The world does not wish their progress. The gaping gates of some underworld then open: flames burst from below, men are tossed upwards as bundles of bones and others are drowned, pulled down and then flattened by the weigh of mud. The heavens curse and the sky burns with fury against them. The sun turns its single eye upon then blinks out of view, done with loving these men, as dust and dirt and grime and the brown haze swells.


There is a euphoric passion which stirs in this youth, who remembers also the glamour of rugby scars and cricket wins. His helmet is on and he is alive. He is now one of the many who have survived and not broken rank though there is no longer much rank at all. Running, he aims his gun but cannot aim so instead flings himself across the body of a fiend and uses hands to break a neck becoming at once a demonic king, filled with powers beyond that of anything else alive... No-mans land again is quiet...

Now he sits in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark... or some kind of miracle... Screaming as his mind is once more crazed, he vomits. A devil he is, though sick of sin... The nurses roll him away from the eyes which might look at him in shame. Some do not seem to be recovering. They are as dead to England as those whose blood stains France. Forgetting them, the country mourns those lost with the paleness of girls cheeks and bells of churches which cannot be heard across the sea across the screaming shells and hasty orisons from dying men.

We sit in silence for a single second more before life returns a steady pace and food is shovelled into mouths with clean faced men behind them. Cheered home as they had been, they refused to recognise the old lie the papers pronounced so decisively. For like Red Riding Hood we have seen inside the dark belly of the wolf and boys we no longer are.
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