War is hell, and those who play a part in it carry with them tortured memories of their experiences. What sights could they possibly have seen, and how much of it is real?


1. Abomination

When war came to Europe I, like many others, was afraid. Already I could sense the impending death and destruction that was to spread across the continent, foresee the suffering and the pain that would be unleashed. Worst of all I knew I would be amongst those unlucky multitudes sent to fight, to line the trenches, to run forth in bloody botched raids, with nothing to show for our sacrifices. Perhaps, had not my life run a different course, I would have fired a bullet into my foot so that I may return home, disgraced but no less alive. Instead my undoing was not of mortality, but of the most terrible mental collapse, brought forth by a most unearthly sight.

Any who understand the history of that Great War will know of Passchendaele. Of the terrible loss of life; of the blood and mud that mixed in a horrendous soup of despair before us, that dreaded no-man’s-land where so many had and would fall as the war waged on. I hear very few speak of Passchendaele as a good thing, with even Lloyd George naming it one of the greatest disasters, despite the victory we later achieved. Having been there, though, I understand why none speak well of that nightmarish field. The shelling and the screaming, the whistling of the bullets as we ran, the dreaded, shrill sound of the whistle.

Yet it was none of these things that broke me down; that sent me home under armed guard and saw me locked into a padded cell for the past twenty years. Doctors and officers called it madness, a complete breakdown of personality and mental faculties the likes of which they had not seen even in those worst sufferers of shellshock. Of the wild look in my eyes they spoke often, telling how they would dart about as though assailed by invisible foes, how they seemed both preternaturally aware yet also hopelessly distant. Two doctors concluded that I had lost myself in another world so as to save myself, yet my later recovery suggested their incorrectness and saw their findings discredited.

Had I spoken to them of my experience, I know, I would languish still in that cell. Indeed, it is due to incoherent ramblings, mixed in with frenzied screams and bouts of hellish hysteria, that I remained there for so long. They considered me a lost cause toward the end, their torturous treatments showing no signs of aiding me, my madness worsening by the day. Therapies became, to my relief, less frequent, yet still that sight from the field of Passchendaele consumed my mind.

To describe such a thing would be a challenge for even the most competent of authors; the sheer nature of the description required would be both exhausting and maddening, and any who had to recount such as I saw would no doubt have found themselves shut away in a cell, sharing my torment, the real world something they could never see the same way again. Of the terrible amalgamation of congealed blood, lost limbs and torn bodies they would never forget, feeling again and again the fear of its shambling, soiled form as it shuddered and groaned and wheezed on that field, begging in all the tongues of the world for release, then for sustenance, and then for the war to rage on ever ceaseless so that it may feed upon such death and destruction that was wrought. It clawed at my mind with death-glassed eyes, craving more bodies, wishing for more men to fall so that they may become one with it.

Even to think of it again now I almost wish for the security of my cell, where I felt safe and far from its influence. I remember the feeling it provoked in me, that nameless terror that forms in the deepest parts of the soul, the certainty of death and the fear of what awaits on the other side. Looking upon the abomination of the battlefield I was certain my end would serve only to strengthen it, that my body would become part of its own, that I would be forever suspended somewhere between life and whatever lies beyond.

I am in no doubt that I would be there now, had not fortune shone upon me; a shell, fired from which trenches I do not know, slammed into the horror, sundering its form, cold, pale flesh torn free and thrown about me, freeing from my sight that terrible monster and releasing its hold. Though my mind was shattered and fear caused my bones to ache I found the strength to run. I stumbled, I crawled, and I fought my way over the hellish landscape and through the fog of war, doubting whether I remained in Passchendaele or had crossed to another world of ceaseless battle. Time and time again I looked over my shoulder, expecting to see fragments of the abomination loping after me, grasping for me, clawing at my heels in a fevered attempt to drag me back, though I saw nothing but the burnt shapes of tormented trees and empty husks of what life had once thrived there. After an eternity of panic had passed me by I found myself tumbling headfirst into a pit, sprawling over the ground, my body caked in the death-soaked mud.

Part of me expected to stay there forever, consumed by the mud until the next foolish push led to my death by a shell or stray bullet, but the rest of me longed for escape and dared not remain on the same field as that monstrosity. That it yet survived, somehow, I did not doubt, and still I believed that it was coming for me, and so I found my strength again and ran, the fear growing ever louder in my head. My entire body felt ready to explode from the desperation that rose within me when I saw, just ahead, the razor wire that marked a trench; German or Allied I no longer cared, and with a cry bordering on animalistic I threw myself over it, landing on the frightened form of a boy no older than sixteen. I must have appeared a ghoulish spectre, some remnant of the dead returned to his trench. I sat upon him, a gibbering wreck, as he cried out and batted at me with panicked arms. The other soldiers pulled me off him and I clawed at them, believing that the creature had found me just as I reached salvation. I felt something strike me and all was black.

I woke chained in the back of a truck, two frightened sergeants training their Lee-Enfield rifles on me; a muddy monstrosity myself they started when instantly I attempted to recount my experience. I jabbered about walking corpses and a screaming monstrosity awaiting the troops on that field; I begged them to burn the entire field, cried out, babbling until even I could no longer understand myself, thinking more and more of that abomination. It would have rebuilt itself, I told them, and as long as men were dying it would continue to grow. One of them asked if he could shoot me, but the request was dismissed by his colleague with a nervous laugh.

Nightmares assailed me for all twenty of the years I resided in that cell, and torment me they continue to do so. Whatever I witnessed that day, whatever creature confronted me and enraptured me, burning into my mind an unforgettable, unnameable image, I know it waits. The war may be over, but I feel a familiar dread within me; a storm is growing, and when it finally hits the abomination will have all the sustenance it desires. May God preserve whoever finds it next, and give them the strength to strike it down before its pale limbs and deathly eyes reach across Europe and we are all consumed.

Even now I feel it, seeking me out, like an itching beneath my skin. Some nights I imagine I see some part of it outside my window, and I no longer count the number of times I feel its cold, lifeless touch on my skin. If I never see it again I can die happy, but I am under no illusion as to the inevitable reality that one day, be it tomorrow or when I am an old man, it shall find me and give to me a place in its terrible, horrifying form.

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