Short Story: Battleground (ca 1050 words)

This was born today after I’ve been indulging in a particular kind of research I’ve never actually done before, on subject I have hated all my adult life. I’ve learned more on the subject in the past days than I did the entire time I went to school. This text is just a bit of a prose, and it isn’t my usual repertoire but I’m letting it slide in here none the less. Blame this (excellent) song by Sabaton. 

***

battleground

Battleground

I never got used to the sounds of the bullets whining in the wind. I never got used to seeing the strangers I called friends, because you can’t do anything else in the situation, lying on the ground full of holes, bloody and staring at the sky. Broken. You never get used to the bombardment or the cold. Most of all though, you don’t get used to the fear. You never get used to the fear that it will soon be you, staring at the sky with eyes full of broken promises.

The mud was covered with hoarfrost. Our breaths became white clouds and in the distance we could see the silhouettes of a few leafless trees, but nothing more. The fog was thick. Shivering with our rifles, each in our own quiet panic, living through the endless nightmare that our lives had become since we had been drafted. Only a few seemed to enjoy the excitement and the maiming of other men, who, if you got the chance to look into their eyes, seemed as devastated and scared as we were.

In the throes of that fear, however, we were unable to show any mercy. We did what was expected of us, albeit not as well as those who were excited to be there. They rarely stayed in the same place for a long time, but got promoted and moved to a location were they could do more damage, were their enthusiasm was better appreciated and those of us who didn’t want to be on the battlefield at all were left as cannon fodder.

Our innards spread on the ground, our blood thawing the earth and no one to remember our names. The war raging was seemingly pointless and trite. We hardly knew what we were fighting for or why. We were told to trust in our leaders, trust the same men who sent us to die.

There was something ever so still in the night and when the morning broke I stood there, helmet on my head, rifle in hand, fear overpowering me so completely that I wanted to run and never to return.

They didn’t look kindly upon defectors, though many tried. The rumours said that the forests were haunted and that men who defected got lost while running from the apparitions and the ghosts, who came down upon them with anger only the dead are capable off. We weren’t superstitious, not really, but these forests, this life, if you will, conjures up the madness and you do whatever it takes to survive. Booze, pills and madness in a fantastic blend that sent us all spiralling into believing that indeed the forests were haunted and that each death empowered the evil that drove us even harder.

And we never seemed to get away. We never advanced, battles were fought and yet nothing seemed to happen. Men died before our eyes, terror rose in the midst of us and created chaos only bloody battles and fear for your life can conjure up. The blood spilled thawed the ground around the dead and the next morning the hoarfrost was red and not white. Those days we usually got to rest, lick our wounds and regain some energy. We lay in the trenches, covered with quilts that stank badly. Those of us who weren’t injured were sick with fever, madness or both and in the distance we heard that the enemy was charging again. This relentless enemy that never seemed to tire. Yet when you stood head to head with them, those strangers wearing different uniforms, they always seemed just as scared as we were. Fear emanating from their eyes, matching yours.

Matching mine, although what part of the fear belonged to me was sometimes hard to distinguish. When the bullets flew, the devil rode the battleground, he walked among the men and spiked them with his horns, with his tail and his pitchfork and the demons surrounding him danced the battle ballet like champions revelling in the anger, resentment and the hate.

It didn’t matter why we hated, it just mattered that we did, and hate we did with all our heart; this hell hole, the enemy and the fight. Hated the amnesia it gave us. We forgot our loved ones, forgot the reasons why we were there, forgot what was important and why.

We lost all sense of time. If we were there fighting for hours, or for days is beyond me. It never seemed to end, the waiting and the endless battles. Pushing forward, rifle first and head second.

Then suddenly the seconds I had been fearing were upon me. I got hit in the guts. The man fled past me, as if he hadn’t even noticed that his bullets had hit me, wounded me beyond avail. He just fled forward, the fear in his eyes even greater than mine.

And I was laying on the ground, cold and impossibly wounded. My guts painting the ground red, the blood mixing with the white frost making a beautiful rosy pattern. The pain overtaking the fear for an instant, until there didn’t seem to be anything left but to take the last breath, but that last breath never seemed to come and the sounds died out around me.

There was nothing there except the dead men and the awfulness of the silence that springs from the noise of a bloody battle. It is an insistent, horrible silence that seems to echo into eternity, overtake the place and you become certain that no sound will ever be able to find itself in this particular place again. The earth won’t allow it, it will drain it like it drained my blood, the noise will seep into the ground, darken the field like the blood did, and in the end you won’t be able to see any difference, but your steps on the frozen ground will be soundless, your cries of pain will never be heard. The spectres will dance on the battleground, where future flowers will grow and children will run and pick the flowers born of my blood, of my death, and my last cry can almost be heard as the wind blows away the dandelion seeds.

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