Three Soldiers Tell Each Other Ghost Stories During A Quiet Moment In The Trenches
Three men stood side by side in the trenches and began to tell each other camp-fire ghost stories, a way to connect to the past, and to forget about the last few days of brutality. It was a rare moment of respite, and whilst they didn’t know each other all too well, stories was how they learnt to connect.
The soldier with holes in his cheeks began, and he whistled as he spoke, something he considered would be an excellent party trick when he returned home. If he returned home.
If only he could
A bullet to the face doesn’t hurt as much as you’d expect. Well, no, it hurts like hell, but when your in the heat of the moment, when the adrenaline is running, people are screaming, and more people are falling, it takes some time to register. I’m not even sure it was a bullet, maybe it was shrapnel from an explosion, it happens, I guess.
But I only felt the pain when I saw the blood on my uniform, it’s amazing how much you can leak. I screamed in agony, not that anyone else could hear, not that anyone else would stop, and I fell to the floor, as if the floor had suddenly turned to water and being plunged into the deep watery darkness. Everything sounded so distant, everything seemed so pointless. Was it worth dying for this? Was it worth fighting for this? It was at this point that I decided I was going to escape.
On the floor were already many soldiers, only these soldiers couldn’t hatch any escape plans, they didn’t have enough working legs, enough working minds. Sleeping like a lion with the dead till things grew quiet was the thing to do. I stared at the dead German with a bullet in his eye, then closed my two good eyes.
I awoke with a scream. An intense pain had suddenly appeared in my left leg, and as I turned to see what could possibly have triggered it, there was a skinny skin head kid wearing a baggy British uniform digging a dagger into my ankle. He stared at my new wound with great interest, and as I screamed he turned his bright eyes to me. In the darkness, his bright eyes were all I could see, lighting the way to my fate.
‘It’s unusual for the dead to be so loud,’ he droned pulling out the knife and wiping it with a cloth, ‘a funny place to sleep don’t you think?’
As the screaming subsided, a point was made with my waving hands that hospital aid was needed. There was no energy to make it into words, and no words to ask just why it was his knife in my leg. All the noise that could be mustered was the whistling through the new holes in my cheeks. There was a certain tuneful nature to it. Something new to get used to.
The scrawny skin head kid wearing a baggy British uniform nodded and started dragging me away. He whistled in tune to my cheeks as he did, and started to tell me some funny stories.
‘I can see right through you, you know? When you’ve dragged enough injured men off the battlefield, you start to notice these things. The way people work, it’s fascinating, and from a distance I can spot a runner a mile off, it’s all in the sprawl. Betrayal, it’s a funny thing, an ugly think. Rather a German gun me down than let a runner run his ground.’
He put the bloody cloth into my mouth so I couldn’t speak, and off we went, to the pit of corpses, ten feet high. It had been a particularly bloody day, every day was a particularly bloody day. The corpses just put it into perspective. All young, all dead, and in I went with them, stuffed deep within.
The scrawny skin head kid wearing a baggy British uniform sat across from me on a pile of empty body bags, staring at me with a deranged look. He’d seen too much of the war, we all had.
‘You know, I’ve seen people become less and less patriotic over the course of this war, but not me. I am a rock. I am an island. But you? The other cowards? Did they forget about the reason? The speeches? The papers? The volunteer posters? I know you have, because why else would you run? You’re surrounded by heroes, it’s all you can see. But I see a dirty spot in the middle of it all, but I don’t have a mirror on hand to show you?’
A spotty soldier walking past stopped, curious at what the scrawny skin head kid wearing a baggy British uniform was talking about, who he was talking to. I used this opportunity to push my arm through the pile, and the spotty soldier jumped out of his skin, as if he’d seen a ghost. I tried to cry out but the cloth was deep in my throat.
‘Ah, don’t worry fellow! When a body dies the muscles can still cause movements. Their nails still grow, and they even still piss and shit. It’s fascinating isn’t it. No ghosts here, not even a single zombie.’ The spotty soldier took that as a good enough answer and marched off. Once he was out of our sight, the scrawny skin head kid wearing a baggy British uniform threw up. The sick came thick and fast. ‘Ah, that was close, you know what they’d do to me if they found out! You’re the one who should be punished, not me! Besides, the stink is getting to me, isn’t it getting to you?’
He folded my arm that was sticking from the pile then pushed it back into the depth of the dead. ‘I’m not such a bad man though, believe me, I’m not sending you to death, just giving you a punishment. All you have to do is spend one night here, and I’ll collect you in the morning. Think over your actions, then I’ll get you fixed up right away.’
He waved goodbye and off he went. I was left with many, but there was nobody to help me. Not unless someone could twitch me out of there with his muscle reflexes.
Some time passed, it was hard to tell how much, but the corpses had decided to start talking to me. Maybe they were bored.
‘You know, I haven’t had the chance to kill on German yet! I’ve been on the battlefield but I just can’t seem to pick up the rifle. Oh how easy it is to imagine in the mind, but physically? Today will be the day!, ‘ said the corpse with the missing jaw.
I was running out of breathe.
‘You know, there’s this jerk who owes me a whole bunch of rations, but he won’t give them up. It;s probably not right to gamble something so precious, but what else can we do? I need something to forget about last week!’, said the corpse with the hole in his head.
Morning was approaching, I was waiting with baited breath for the scrawny skin head soldier with a baggy British uniform, literally.
Before suffocation came, two solders appeared carrying another body. I couldn’t quite make them out, but they threw the body right on top of my seeing hole. I hoped the scrawny skin head soldier with a baggy British uniform soldier would see me.
And he did.
For he was the new corpse, and the last thing I heard was the soldiers talking about how he was trying to flee, and a landmine said that it was not to be.
I looked at his face. And then we were free.
The whistling stopped as he finished his tale, and the two other men joked that he must have got out in the end, for here he was. One even poked a finger through the soldiers holy cheek, and wiggled it like a worm. There was laughter, and then the second story.
The soldier with letters stuffed in his pockets was to tell the second story. He had been on the receiving end of mass mail from his desperately worried wife, and he told the two men that this is how he came up with this story.
The letters had
I awoke in a dark room, I couldn’t even see the ceiling. I was tied to the bed, I’m not sure if it was mine, though it smelt like a months worth of my sweat, so it must have been. It seemed to be rope that was keeping me tied to the bed, and a figure stood at my bedside, though I couldn’t see their face, but they could certainly see mine.
‘Awake, I see,’ the voice was muffled, slightly distorted.
I tried to speak up, but I could only groan. This surprised me, as I was never one to be lost for words.
‘Feeling a little… yellow are we?’ He was making a joke about my condition, something many women I knew had. As our husbands took to the Somme, we remained to build dynamite at the munitions factory. It was doing our bit, it was our way of staying connected. But too much dynamite construction had led to yellow skin. We were labelled as canary girls, a creature I despised. They would be used in mines to detect poison. That was all they were good for. My husband often brought them home, ready to take deep down with him on his next shift. Sometimes I’d throw water at them to shut their beaks.
He ran his fingers across my yellow arms, and muttered something inaudible, it was like a chirp. I’d tried to wash it off many a time, but it just seemed to get worse. It spread across my arms to my neck, down to my chest, then my legs, and back up to my cheeks then to my forehead. I looked like a bowl of beaten egg yolk rather than a canary, but that was beside the point. This yellow skin was the price I had to pay, but it felt like too much. I often stayed up at night, fretting over what my husband would think when he returned. Would he find me pretty? Would he hold my hand? Would he take me outside? And would he kiss my legs?
The only way to remove this worry was to think of him out there using my dynamite, and only mine. He would destroy enemy bases, blow up German held bridges, and explode anything else that would get in his way. He was the dynamite man, my dynamite man, and as he used them he would turn yellow himself, and all would be right with the world.
‘Hmm, you’ve progressed faster than the others. This is good?’
Perhaps a faster spread meant a faster cure? But as he leaned in closer, I saw this figures ruffled feathers, his chipped beak, and black emotionless eyes, as if a void had been placed in each socket instead. He was a human sized canary, brushing his fingers across my body, studying me like a dissected frog.
‘It won’t be long now.’
I tried to scream, but instead I chirped, and at this point my mouth began to sting. A hard material began to split my lips, and a beak slowly protruded from the tears. As it grew I chirped then squawked, a wriggled, and flapped. Yellow feathers were rising from my goosebumps, each one feeling like a hair being carelessly tweezed.
As I transformed, the human sized canary walked away, and jumped on a large wooden bench attached to string. He swung as I spun, and he flapped as I choked on the teeth that had fallen from my gums. He whistled a miners tune, it was the one my husband used to sing. And now he was away, now they were all away, the canaries had come to get their revenge.
I’m not sure how much time had passed, but when I awoke once more, everything seemed different, more distant, though I could see the ceiling once more. A soldier was sitting by my side, weeping with trembling hands.
He grabbed my throat without saying a word, all I could do was twirp. He couldn’t see through these darkened eyes, or this yellowed skin to see who I really was, and there and then, he snapped my little yellow neck.
The soldier with letters stuffed in his pockets hoped that his wife wouldn’t turn into a canary, it was something he often had nightmares about, blaming the letters for talking constantly about this yellowing of the skin. He hadn’t even used any dynamite, but was planning to tell her he’d done so once he returned home.
The two storytellers turned to the soldier with bites on his arms, some rodent, some his own. He shivered and told us about how he hadn’t eaten for a few days due to his supply of food going missing, but didn’t want to get in trouble over it all.
And blaming someone else would just make him a
The ration rat had already ripped through his arm with its dagger sized teeth before he noticed, the exhausted soldier could only sleepily watch as his left arm fell to the floor. At least he could go home is what he thought.
It had been three days since the ration rat had been discovered. Food had been going missing for days, but everyone was blaming everyone rather than thinking it could be a rodent, for how could a rodent carry so much stuff? The infighting had put the army back several steps in war based advancements, it was a disaster of the highest level.
Three days before, a drunk soldier who had managed to slip in some wine, caught sight of the ration rat whilst taking a leak. There it stood smoking a cigar and wearing a backpack full to the brim with all those missing meals. It blew smoke rings casually, unaware that it had been spotted, and thought how stupid these gigantic rodents were. Oh how they built trenches in its home, killing many of its family. Oh how they shot other gigantic rodents of the same species for god knows what. The ration rat decided to use them for their food rather than go all out on them, they were already doing a good enough job at killing each other, and it had become an easy source for edible goods.
But the ration rat couldn’t creep around any longer, for the drunk soldier screamed and pulled out his rifle. He quickly fired, and the bullet cut through the ration rats right ear. It squealed and wriggled on the ground like a fish on land, before scurrying away, leaving behind some of its hearing.
It had become too docile as they had seemed so blind to its raids, but now it knew they’d come. So the ration rat burrowed to its temporary new home and assigned its rat army to take down these gigantic rodents. It didn’t realise the drunk soldier would be punished for drinking, and it didn’t realise how people view drunk people’s witness accounts on giant backpack wearing rats. For after all, how could it understand such animals?
It was the next morning when the rat army surfaced. Troops were moving to their assigned posts, but a great many didn’t make it so far. The ration rat had brought along black rats, fat rats, brat rats, mad rats, bad rats and sad rats, all looking to claim back their home. They were full on rations whilst the soldiers were empty on everything. It was going to be easy.
And for a handful of hours it was. The surprise attack saw many soldiers lose chunks of their skin, but only the ration rat had the capabilities to kill, as the ration rat had teeth so sharp it could cut through steel with a simple chomp. The soldiers grew as smart as they grew aware however, and started setting down traps to counter the ration rats assault. Most of the rats succumbed to these simple traps, which included gas, pits and wooden traps, all laden with whatever food the soldiers could muster from their diminishing supply. The ration rat looked on in despair, it was a brutal slaughter, bodies of it’s comrades everywhere. All because it couldn’t formulate a proper plan, proven tactics. These rats might be seasoned against other rats, but against these human soldiers? They didn’t stand a chance, they only had teeth, these gigantic rodents had so much more.
So all the trench runners got together and put up a plan to catch the last rat. Traps were set off and rifles were pointed at every hole. Atop of the trenches the rat looked down on the soldiers like trash, for it was the king of rats, it was the ration rat. But now it ruled alone.
The ration rat crawled back to it’s temporary new home, tail between its legs and wept at how empty its home had become. The dead would never return, and it ate all the rations in despair. A shame the ration rat couldn’t read, for it had stolen rat poison along with the meals. And so, the ration rat was no more.
And the gigantic rodents went on to win their war.
Ration Rat End
The story finally came to an end, something the soldier with bites on his arm, some rodent, some his own, had struggled to tell due to a feverish amount of itching he’d done whilst trying to convey just how terrifying he thought rats were.
And with that the calls were made, and it was time to get back to war. The three men went their separate ways, one with a whistle, one with the shuffle of letters, and one with a scratch. They all thought the same thing; how great it would be to tell horror stories till they could go home, for there was no greater horror than this, to pick up a rifle and march out and fight. Today would be another bloody day, just like every other day at the Battle of Somme. That’s just how it is.