The Heartbeat of War

My A level coursework. Been rereading it, hoping to inspire some new writing.

Never before had I sat so still and watched the world collapse into a chaotic mess. Men from around the world joined together to fall. We were crawling over No Man’s Land, struggling against the swamp like mud. Drums of war had been replaced with a beating cough which echoed in our empty chests; an incessant noise blending in with the cacophony of war as we forced our way slowly forward. Troops, already in danger, set off flares, haunting the night’s sky; angels of death. Our drenched feet carried us unwillingly, dragging the empty minds of soldiers, taking us to the end. Mindless drones wandering the land aimlessly as pathetic dreams of life escaped in cold clouds of breath. Every man, almost asleep, sprung into life as the gas-shells land.

 

 

Mary was staring doe-eyed at me again. I kept my eyes to the floor. She was worrying about me, always worrying, always watching, as if I was about to breathe strangely.

“These dreams you keep having, they won’t go away. You can tell me anything. What happened out there, Alby?” She reasoned with me, her voice as soft as silk, her eyes bright and innocent. I knew about the dreams, I knew I woke up screaming, but I didn’t know they were dreams, not until I woke up. I looked at her, smiled with the side of my mouth. I tried to open up, talking about it made me relive the war. I couldn’t lie to Mary anymore.

“I keep having the same the dream, of the same day, of the same moment.” I winced as the words fell unprotected from my mouth. Mary took my hand in hers, gave me an encouraging smile. I remember the day, like I was living it again. One month, before ceasefire, I watched him again, flail in pain before my very eyes, he was not much younger than my boy now. I took a deep breath and spoke.

“I saw a friend die helplessly.” I rose from my seat and went into the other room, to see my son’s photograph, to pray for his safety in this new war. My war came flooding back. I heard Mary say something, but I had already gone.

 

 

“Gas! Gas! Quick Lads!” The captain cried, we rushed, fumbled our masks out, sticking them on our faces, hoping we got them on in time. We all looked to each other, nodding to one another, giving the sign of ok. That was when we saw him. One solitary man fell. If we were on sea, someone might have called out ‘Man overboard’. Not here, when someone falls to their knees after breathing in a wave of green gas, there was no salvation. He wriggled and squirmed, like a worm in the beak of a bird, staring death in its gnarly face.

A young boy, no more than fourteen, had lied his way in to the army, had lied to be noble because he believed in a lie. He had left on a train like so many others. Tommy, he dreamed he was Sir Lancelot. He couldn’t wait to get home to his dear mother, as he was excited for the respect and pride that awaited him for suffering a man’s duty.

We all watched him, unable to help, we watched a friend die in the most distressing way. He tossed and turned in the mud, howling for help. It was too late. These moments I hated, these moments were done to luck, no skill of battle. Dodge one bullet only to get blown to shards the next.

 

 

Mary stood beside me, trying to link her arm in mine, giving me comfort and pulling me out from my head.

“He’ll be alright Albert. They say it’s better out there now.” Mary naively said to me.

“He’s not safe Mary. I fought out there for a better life. I didn’t go and fight for my son to go through the same terror!” I knew I shouldn’t speak to her like this, but she shouldn’t speak like she does. “How do you know he’s alright? He hasn’t written for weeks. We were told Dulce et Decorum est last time Mary! Are you that naïve?” I stormed out into the street, stood in the cool dark air. I leaned back against the cold brickwork, calming myself.

“Edward, God help you if it’s as bad as it was for me.” I whispered into the night. I closed my eyes and returned to Flanders’ fields.

 

 

We were told we were brave Sir knights fighting proudly with the swords of freedom. But look at us now, spluttering in the honour of our king, clinging to the fraying edge of life. Tommy twitched now. There was no sound coming from his mouth, and then, his body froze solid. I looked down upon him. He had left the war the only way I knew how. He was finally free of the atrocities of the twentieth century. Tommy’s naivety had cost him his life. The men walked past him, ignoring him. They treated him in the same way the government has. There will be plenty of men back home eager to replace him, thinking they can survive it here. We walked away from his limp shape and the mud soon wrapped itself around him sealing him in all of our looming fates. Boots soon trudged over his coffin made of mud.

German guns exploded, ignored in the distance; linked to our heartbeats pulsing as one across the land. The bullets flew through the air past the birds and straight in to the men’s hearts, killing them before they hit the ground. We, who ducked in time, extended our miserable existences just by a moment. We crawled back the way we came, crawled back in to the trenches searching for shelter. What we found was what we left, a soggy, disheartening home. We had got no further but had come right back and lost good soldiers on the way.

 

 

The air raid sounded pulling me from my past, I didn’t move. Mary screamed at me to get in the shelter. I ignored her. I just thought of my little boy, whom I had sworn to protect eighteen years ago.

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