For months now, the world stank of piss and putrefying flesh. The constant drum-roll of German shell impacts drowned out the buzzing of a billion angry flies. But what really bothered Private Liam Jenkins was the omnipresent mud. The filthy stuff coated everything and you never truly got clean. At the rate things were going, he’d still be breathing this foul mud by the year 2000.
He hoped that he would escape out of this Belgian shit-hole by then. A hubbub of activity among the non-commissioned officers sure made it seem like they had heard something from the brass. He assumed that old Haig had given the order to go over the top and hoped to God that the Hun’s machine guns would make Jenkins’ inevitable death come quick.
Not like Thompson, whose death seemed to stretch on for hours. The only reason he knew it wasn’t days was because the sun never set. Jenkins ended the man’s burbling screams of agony with a bullet to his throat. He could still the body entangled in the barbed wire.
He could remember when enlisting seemed like a good idea, back when a young woman handed him a white feather. She branded him a coward for not “fighting for King and country.” What the King wanted with this rain-soaked bog of shit, mud and corpses eluded Jenkins. Still, the Kaiser obviously gave it some importance, so Jenkins and the rest of his unit tried to take it back inch by painful inch.
By the flurry of activity, Jenkins assumed the unit were about to fight for another inch. He wiped the grime off his wedding ring and kissed it. He doubted he’d see his Lizzy again. Three men either side of him knelt in prayer. It’s true, Jenkins thought, there really are no atheists in foxholes. Jenkins didn’t know what he believed about God, but he damn sure believed in Hell. He’d lived in it since the mid February.
Two minutes later, as the setting sun bathed the mud-choked battlefield in an ugly crimson hue, Jenkins finished answering nature’s call and pulled the duckboards away. As he clambered out of the trench, his foot stomped down on gristle and bone of a severed arm. A fading stripe on the sleeve suggested the arm had once belonged to a corporal. Jenkins kicked it away as he crept on to the battlefield, his rifle at the ready.
He felt the shock wave of what he fervently hoped was the last artillery shell launched at the German lines seconds before he heard the roar of impact. Maybe it would kill a few of the enemy, or better yet, flatten some of the infernal barbed wire. Jenkins slithered forward on his stomach, trying not to think about the staccato bullets of the enemy machine guns as he advanced. Then came pain and blood as his earlobe ripped away.
Unable to go on, Jenkins stood up and bolted back past his own lines as bullets zipped all around.
The inspiration for this piece of 500-word Flash Fiction was a prompt I found online (I forget the site, or I would link it) that read “shreds of doubt.” It’s a first draft, but feedback and comments are always welcomed.
“1st World War Statue” photograph from FreeImages.com/David Walsh