Seeing the quiet French field it was strange to think it had once been so different. The black and white photos in my little book were prove of that though. Once there was only disturbed mud and bodies, the green landscape lost forever. And of course, it hadn’t been quiet; the air had shook with deafening gunfire, shouting and the moans of the dying.
Sitting in the wheelchair which had now become my life, I clutched my book and the woollen blanket in my lap. I shut my eyes and was back there straight away, walking through the smoke. The trench was slick with running mud and rain was tumbling from a dark grey sky. I stepped over a body, a twisted mangle shape that had once been a living man. He seemed half sunk into the mud, face down. I carried on, so use to the sight it just seemed normal now.
My feet were leading the way as the rest of me was numb. I entered one of the shelters and sunk down into a damp camp bed. I didn’t know if this was my place but it didn’t matter. I think there was someone else in the bed above me, sleeping. Without taking anything off, I lay down and feel asleep.
My wish was never to wake up again but each time I did.
Opening my wet eyes, those imagines stayed with me. Bad shakes racked through my body. Someone was saying something but in that moment I had forgotten there were other people with me. None of them had been there, so they’d never understand what it was truly like.
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.