Dec 26
21haze_f's picture

The Rest of the Dead (Inspired by "A Soldier’s Cemetery" by John William Streets)

     If there is a hell after this life, a life which shortly is destined to end, this is what it must smell like. The stench of decaying bodies and sweat penetrates everything: it takes advantage of your lost mind, its soldiers squeeze you up against a wall and whisper harsh, inhumane threats. You can’t ignore it as the tip of a rifle presses into your spine, so you submit. The pressure releases. Some men have already lost their ability to think; there’s no consciousness left in their eyes. Instead, insanity has grounded in them. Even the rats have become hysterical.  

     I didn’t live second by second, hour by hour and day by day at Derbyshire. But it seems as if those days fade out and turn into a fantasy as time ticks and tocks by. There I didn’t have to worry about bullets with my name on them, or the fear of too short of a life. The Generals claim that the War will be over before long, but I would like to argue that our stay in Somme will last a while longer than they are convinced about. Rumors say that the Germans are more prepared: some of their trenches even have electricity and running water. We have mud and illnesses instead. Men drop to the ground faster than leaves during autumn.
    As I sink to the mud, back sliding against the wall constructed of dirt, I can’t help but to acknowledge the sound in the far distance. On the other side of nomans land, Germans yell, preparing for battle, and once in a while the scream of a gun echos in the open field.
     I don’t know which fear is greater: not understanding the foreign language, or the boredom. Looking up at the July sky, which normally calm my nerves, my mind can’t help but to visualize the appearance of war. Running men with dreams and aspirations turn into lumps of flesh: to nothingness. Open eyes gawk, mouths slightly agape as if still wanting to say their last word, that fighting isn’t worth it. “After all, we are all men,” they’d say. Skeletons pile up, fields of rotting bodies thrown into mass graves. Thousands of men turn into thousands of white crosses. On the battlefield through, its purely a technical game.
     It isn’t as simple as you and a German, it’s you and your opponent. Your life or his. The ability for compassion and sympathy disappears, and the thought of cold metal which fires twelve bullets a minute engulfs you. Twelve lives a minute. It will be later that guilt haunts you, your mind filled with silhouettes of charging dead men hunting for revenge in the dark.
     Boom! Something in the distance explodes, but I was so lost in my thought that I barely acknowledged it. I glanced up, and noticed that a man from my division now sat across from me. I had long forgotten his name, but nodded at him. I had stopped trying to remember what face matched to which title, it seemed a lost case to recall such information. I glimpsed up at him but didn’t meet his eye. He forced his attention to the mud he sat on. His clothes were ripped, his boney face covered in dirt and he reeked of blood and sweat, just like the other men. He looked no older than sixteen, features still boyish and young. Resistantly while picking at his nails, he finally met my eye. As they made contact, I couldn’t help but feel how a shiver ran through my spine. I wasn’t looking into a youths eyes.
     He opened his mouth, then closed it again. Finally the words which lingered on his chapped lips carefully made their way out, his voice raspy, “Whatcha got there?” He pointed at the red journal laying in my lap.
     “Some poems. Time to send them home soon.” He nodded while slowly letting his hand fall at his side.
      Hesitating, he pulled his fingers through his greasy hair, then asked resistantly, “Sir, if you don’t mind me asking, do you think that we will ever see the end of this?”
      I smiled to myself. This proved the youth to be foolish and hopeful. Tipping my head back, I glanced up at the blue sky and replied, “Only the dead will ever see the end of this war.”