Posted: December 11, 2013 by writingsprint in The Line of Duty
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

trench warfareCorporal Bill Criston looked down at the mud and realized that he was somewhere that made him miss boot camp. He’d hadn’t bothered to try cleaning out the dirt under his fingernails for over a week, and his dirty-blond hair really was dirty with mud, sweat, gunpowder, smoke, and a near miss with mustard gas. Hygiene? What was hygiene? Boot camp had been fun in its own demented way, and at least you showered once in a while.

They were near St. Mihiel, which was somewhere the hell in France. The rest of the Expeditionary Force was spread out around him for a few miles, and the Brits were just past where he could see when he stood up. He sat on the muddy firestep of the trench, and didn’t care that the mud soaked through his pants anymore.

Three months to Christmas, he thought. A week until he was rotated back to the rear, but that wasn’t going to happen now. Artillery whooshed overhead. The bass, multiple pops joined the echoes of the last volley. They’d been barraging the Germans all day. That was going to end once the offensive started. Criston spat into the muck.

“Don’t you think you’ll need that?” Jack Watson sat next to him. Criston turned his eyes and shrugged. Jack was almost over his dysentery. He got it when he was thirsty and didn’t wait until the water he’d collected was done boiling. If there was anyone who knew anything about conserving pure water, even spit, it was Jack. They’d met when they’d first signed up for the army, a year before the war. Jack needed a shave, but then he’d looked that way since the day they’d met.

“I can practically drink out of the air,” Criston said. He heard a deep buzzing overhead and looked up, along with the rest of the line nearby. The couldn’t see more than fifty yards, into a gray airy wall. The Huns could’ve been coming through the wire and they wouldn’t see them. The planes sounded like they were Allied. The fog started last night and it hadn’t let up since. It was good because it kept the snipers from getting busy.

Criston’s heart pounded. He swallowed and wished he knew where he wished he was. Home was a good start, but that was where everybody wanted to be. He wasn’t a coward–he was for damn sure he wasn’t a coward. Figure he’d spent the last couple months going up and back to the line and shooting and being shot at without seeing one damned German. That had been duty. He wanted to do something besides shoot at something he could barely see. But he’d also heard what happened at the Somme, and it bugged him. Thank God for the fog. Criston let his head rest against the wall of the trench and pictured running through it and what it’d be like to make it across no-man’s-land. He squeezed the rifle hard between his hands. God. He closed his eyes and prayed that he didn’t lose his cool once they started running.

The popping of artillery shells on the closest lines started shift down a notch. The fog also kept the Germans from seeing where they’d cut the wire for the attack. “All right, boys, get ready!” the sergeant cried. “Fix bayonets!”

Criston latched the eighteen-inch blade to the end of his rifle. They used to have a crack that you could probably skewer two Germans at once if they were close enough to each other. He turned around and faced the earth wall. Jack winked at him and said, “See ya in the new line.”

“You can dig it for me,” Criston said. He grinned a little, then looked away as his heart sank again and the grin disappeared from his face. Damn it, let’s go….

“Set!” the sergeant cried. Everyone touched their bayonets to the top of the trench, to keep from stabbing anyone else on the way up. The sergeant put a whistle to his lips.

The artillery hit the Germans one last, long, hard volley, then shifted off. The sergeant blew the whistle.

Everyone screamed as loud as they could. Criston heaved himself off the firestep, over the trench line, and sprinted for the holes in the wire. Charging towards an entrenched enemy isn’t something you do with your head together–that was half of why they all yelled. There were at least two German machineguns near their area. They had a couple seconds to move before they opened up.

  1. Very poignant. War stories always leave me torn up a little bit. And yours was really brilliant. In a few paragraphs, you had me really wishing Criston would make it out okay.


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