Yellow Fields

It's 1918. World War One is coming up to four years; and seems like it will never end...

Private Colin Brood is a twenty-one year old army soldier who has somehow made it through the many brutal years alive. Yet when a horrible turn of events happens and Colin is left injured; his friend even worse, will he have the courage of a General to save his friend's life?

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1. Calm Night

 

My Mother always said to me, her voice like velvet, that the harder a decision is, the stronger the result. My Mother always used to say to me, her voice like silky satin, that I should never dwell on the past. Yet as I look back at that horrendous devastation, I know she was wrong...

 

1918. "A Farming Field."

Rattling guns, blazing bullets and antagonised canons filled my ears with a venomous racket that demanded my eardrums to submit to their exclamations. There was no sky above - no trace of the sapphire blue that I had been so accustomed to when I was at home, on the farm, but a swirling grey cloud instead, which hung like a damp cloth and constantly concealed us in a world of peril and depression - reminding us that every hour - every day - death was always watching us, ready to claim more innocent souls. Sighing, I rubbed my hands together, clothed with thin rags that exposed my fingers, and breathed hazy air onto my stone-cold fingertips on that bitingly chilly November day, wishing that once, just once, the White Flag would be raised voluntarily in the Northern Territory and command us to escape from these rat-infested, roofless prisons; go home to our families. Men, volunteers, most of them, shuffled past me on soles of leather that were supposed to be boots. Their faces held either one of two expressions: terror for the future and the horrors of the past that tormented them with each passing day or sadness, pain, bereavement. These men had not only lost friends, but family, living only with memories of a childhood that they held dear in their hearts and would think about when they took their last breaths. They'd argue that their fiancé's and wives and children were still alive - still thinking about them - but everyone knew they weren't really. They were, alike childhood, mere memories that, as the war progressed and you spent longer out here, butchering men like yourselves, began to become shrouded in a haze similar to the one above me. Because losing family is worse than death. Once you lose family, you lose yourself.

The Great War had been plodding on for almost four years now - we were at its beck and call. Through all that, I had only seen my parents twice. Twice in four years! What type of hideous beast would decide to take a parent's son away from them and shove him headfirst into an icy cold battle of life or death? The world was not what I once thought it was - or what any of us thought it was. Grandfathers, students, boys: none of us were safe from the forces of war. The inexplicable acts we had had to inflict on men with families of their own was...without words. Many of us - if not all of us - despised who we had become. We were no longer the boys our mother's thought we were; nor the heroes who had leapt at a chance to go and fight in a real war, across the seas in a whole new land. We had imagined a life of leisure. Three hot meals a day and a uniform that would make even the geekiest of lads in the village popular. What more could we have wanted? Saying cheery goodbye's waving flags and banners, we had never realised that many of us would never be returning to our homes. The harsh reality of the war quickly began to nip at us as we knew that there was no way the war would be over by Christmas. We were boys fighting boys.

I sat there that night, hesitantly sipping my stale, tasteless tea. Hunched opposite me, his spine curling round to form a shield over his frame, was my friend, Alan March. Alan and I had been friends since school, he'd lived in the same village as me when I was growing up, so we had spent practically every minute of our lives in one another's company. He, unlike many of the men around here, had no family to return to: his mother had died in the Silvertown explosion on 19th January 1917 and his father had died shortly after in another explosion down the mines. I was his only family left - the only person he could rely on. The only comforting and familiar thing in this never-ending nightmare.
He sucked in a huge, long breath of tobacco from his smoking pipe. It calmed him. "You know, you look awful scary sat in the shadows like that," he said and then sighed out the smoke through his mouth slowly.
I grinned, my hands cupped tightly around my steel mug like a grip around someone's neck, "and you look awful feminine in that light."
We had always joked with one another, lately finding it somewhat reassuring that there was still some normality to life nowadays. It was that friendship that had kept us strong, and stronger still to this day. 
He chuckled quietly, rubbed his forehead with a dirty hand. Then he chugged in and out on his pipe.
"Vampire."
"Granny."
We laughed in unison. Then it all went quiet. It was this time of the evening when all was silent. The men we shared miles of trenches with were silent and the birds were too. Even Fritz on the other side of No Man's Land didn't exchange a whisper. Strangely, it was calming.
I turned my attention back to the stale tea in my hand and regarded solemnly. There was a time when I would have spat it out. But now, I was used to it. Was it bad that I had become accustomed to a life of war? Was it bad that I had become accustomed to a life of murdering?
Alan seemed deep in thought too: his brow crumpled above his eyes. "How long has this blasted war gone on for now?"
"Almost four years," I answered naturally.
"Four years?" he replied, exasperated.
"Almost."
"God in heaven. Has it really been that long?"
I sighed a heavy sigh and nodded my head. Where had the time gone?
"Time flies when you're having fun".
I smiled despite myself. "What, shooting Fritz?"
He shrugged, took a gulp of his pipe. "Well, they shoot us".
I rearranged my legs so I could stretch them. "We shoot them".
"But they're the enemy".
"But we're their enemy".
Alan laughed. "Since when were you on Fritz's side?"
"You know what side I'm on, you fool. But, I just can't forget that they're men. Just like us. Many of them are most likely boys barely out of school. All of them would have families and friends; people who care about them".
Alan went quiet. Listening.
"Yes, they shoot at us. But only because we shoot at them. I'd bet you a tuppence that practically all of the German army - excluding a few of the bloodthirsty - don't want to be killing anyone. Their lives would have been normal before we were thrown into this nightmare. Just like us. They've probably got sweethearts and children at home. They go over to their mother's house for tea on a weekend. And yet here we are, killing them. And why? Because we're scared of them. Just like they are of us. In many ways, fear is worse than anger. Fear is more malicious, you see. Because anger can make you do terrible things. Horrible things. But that's part of who you are: if you get angry easily, you're not strong enough to cope in society".
Alan added, "like Bob the Butcher back home. I swear he almost chopped my hand off with a meat cleaver after I picked up that piece of gammon".
I laughed softly. "Well he was a queer one anyway. It's a scared Fritz you have to be more weary of. Being scared makes you do ghastly things. Unspeakable things. A terrified Fritz with a rifle is the last thing you'll see. They're just boys - this is probably the first time they've been away from home. And for thousands it will be the last. They're only scared of the Tommy with the rifle pointing between their eyes. So they act on instinct; and instinct that an animal would be proud to master. Shoot him before he shoots you. That's the way to end the war quicker. That's the way to get home".
Alan chugged on his pipe. "Yeah. Well said, pal. Y'know, I almost killed a boy the other day. He was walking around the trenches opposite us - I had my Enfield aimed right on his forehead. I was shaking with fear and I couldn't bring myself to doing it. I thought I'd spare him. He was tall, mind you, but his face screamed fifteen years. I just couldn't bring myself to murdering an innocent lad who was doing nothing apart from fight for his country. But I didn't feel too good about it either. Every man we spare, that's one more added to our odds. One more that could bite us on the arse and kill us tomorrow".
I nodded slowly in agreement. "You're right". Suddenly, I felt an overwhelming sense of nausea, swiftly followed by a heavy feeling of light-headedness. Sleep had caught up with me.
"Alan, I'm gonna go to bed. I'm shattered. I'll see you in the morning," I  stood up, rinsed my black mug in the grimy sink.
Alan looked up from his pipe, his burgundy eyes following me around the shack we called home. "Alright, I'll see you tomorrow. God speed." And with that, I drew the curtain separating the sleeping bunk with the sorry excuse for a kitchen and a plain sitting room.

I couldn't take it anymore. The pressure. The crushing pressure.The pressure of not only trying to stay alive every second of every day but the pressure of keeping my fellow comrade's hopes high. You see, I'm the most famous infamous person in the trenches. Not the General. Not the Doctor. Me. It's my job, (or my assigned role,) to make jokes and listen to the troops' problems and worries. It's my job to somehow lift all their sorrows and doubts off their tiny shoulders and fling them out onto the battle ground; free them of any pain they may feel that isn't physical. I'm the "Mind Doctor," or so they like to call me. It seemed like a good idea at the time: not only was I doing something on the front line, I was doing something a little bit extra - a lot more respectful than killing men alike myself and schoolboys. Yet the constant concerns I received everyday from men so much like me was starting to get to me emotionally. Mother had always said very clearly in her letters that I should do my best to help the lads everyway possible. They had sweethearts and parents and families to go home to too, not just I. Countless times I thought about not listening - going into a state of ignorance and ignoring their problems. But I couldn't bring myself round to doing it. It wasn't like me to ignore someone's plead. And I couldn't just neglect my duty now; not when the war was at its vital stage.

Deciding to forget all about my hardship I rolled over on my stiff straw make-shift mattress, bringing the even thinner hessian quilt to my nose and burying my head in its smell of the battlefields. If this was the closest to home I could get, I wanted to make the most of it. I turned to my beside table: a small plastic stand holding simply a small, silver-framed picture of my parents stood holding each other in front of a fountain they'd visited in someplace in England. Suddenly a wave of emotion over-powered me. I was a man of contrasted thoughts. On the front line I was "brave" and "noble" despite my hardest attempts to let my comrades see beneath my blanket of lies. Then, when no one was accompanying me, I was just like all the others: desperate, unwilling... terrified. Yet nobody seemed to notice. Nobody seemed to understand that I'm not the big brave one they assumed I am. I'm small. I'm weak. I'm just a country boy smothered in the love and comfort of home - too scared to face reality. I don't belong on a battlefield.

 

 

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