I lent out of the hotel window, taking a breathe of bread scented air. The Eiffel Tower glowed with lights and I could hear french words. Tomorrow, we would be leaving the capital and beginning a tour of First World War battlefields.
I had been looking forward to this trip for years, but now there was a heaviness in my heart. We would be following in dead soldiers footsteps, experiencing some of what they did and remembering their sacrifices.
I had to do this though, I had to know what happened to my granddad.
Alfie paused and rested his head against the wooden pole. The pencil was shaking in his hand and the scrap of paper he had found to write on had dried blood splatter across it. Glancing at his scrawling handwriting and wondering what to open with, he had the sudden urge to pour his thoughts across the page and tell the horrendous tales of the last month. He pushed his other hand through his badly cut and dirty hair, before letting his eyes drop to the candle next to him.
Around him a handful of men were curled into crude wooden bunk beds. Many were shivering under woollen blankets and damp clothes. A couple were moaning softly and the words they sometimes whispered reflected those on everyone’s mind. In the distance outside, Alfie could hear gun fire. It was the sound he lived his life by now and he was also sure that it would follow him to his grave. He turned back to the letter and putting the pencil down again, wrote the next lines with careful words.
Sorry it has been awhile since I last wrote. Supplies are coming harder to find. I am well and hoping you are too. How is everyone else holding up? I hope they are well too. The weather has gotten colder and it’s become difficult to keep things dry. It feels like winter might come early this year, but perhaps it’ll bring me home.
Alfie stopped and re-read that. The pencil twitched over the last word and he thought about crossing it out. A loud squeaking came from a beam above his head. Looking up, he saw a rat’s tail dangling down. The idea of catching it and eating it flashed in his mind, but he was too tried to move. He knew right now he should be trying to sleep like the other men were, however slumber now eluded him. It had been a long time since he had been able to sleep peacefully. Every time he closed his eyes the nightmares came.
In an odd way the bad dreams had become his companions. He had gotten use to the strange and too realistic battlefields that back dropped the scenes. The sky was always black or red or burning and the ground matched it. Sometimes there was sound – the gun fire, the bombs, flares, screaming-and other times silence, which wasn’t actually a blessing and also added to his fear. The bodies were the worse part though. Alfie shook his head, trying hard to clear his thoughts and get back to the letter. Continuing, he wrote,
I miss and love you all. I hope to see you soon. Pray for the war to end and my safe return. I must go now, it is almost dawn and I’m due to go over the top later. I shall write again as soon as I am able. I look forward to receiving your reply. The letters have been a great comfort.