The roaring wind pushed and pulled at the canvas of the tent where the four men lay, far from warm, in their reindeer hide sleeping bags. Two of the party were writing in the dim light that filtered through the canvas, accompanied by the soft snores of the third, but the fourth, with his back to the others, simply stared at the filthy fabric a few inches from his frozen nose. Stared, and wondered. Lawrence tried not to think about the pain, seeping through his body, creeping from toes and fingers like a poison towards his core. He tried not to imagine the blackened flesh he knew he would find beneath his stiff, stinking socks. He didn’t need to imagine the pain of a surgeon’s knife or the work of finding new ways to use his body to compensate for what was now missing. No, he did not imagine the horror on a nurse’s face as she unbandaged him in the clean, logical order of a medical room somewhere far away from here. He had no cause to imagine these things, as he did not think it would come to pass.
Lawrence was tired. So tired. A tired beyond his bones and into the atoms of the cells that used to keep him functioning. But not so tired that his mind was lost, which was a mercy, he supposed. He still had choices, this way. He had told the others to go on, leave him to die, but the bastards wouldn’t do it. They’d never liked each other, but there was a pact implicit in what they were doing, and he had to concede he would have done the same. But he knew he was dead, if not today then in another two, or three, and with each day he lingered on, the others grew weaker, with still so far to go. He thought of his mother, then, that determination, that denial of weakness. He thought of her rod straight back, and the tell in the corner of her eyes that only those who knew her best could see. How he had encouraged her, once, to take a rest on a ride out in the heat of the day, and how she had set her jaw and urged her horse into a trot. And ah, the horses he had loved. Dumb beasts, to some perhaps, but that had been where he had felt most at home, in the stable with the stable hands. Hierarchies seemed to melt away when men were faced with a mare whose foal was breach, or a pony who wouldn’t eat. Or it had seemed that way from the top of the hierarchy, anyway. A weak smile shadowed the corners of his cracked lips as he tried to remember, for one last time, the smell of a horse’s breath, the softness of its searching muzzle. One last time.
He hated these men, foolish, obstinate, vain men. But he loved them too. Bowers, with his incessant snoring, secretly reminding him he was not alone in the dark. Wilson, scribbling always, and thank God for men like that, always there to tell the story. And Scott, insufferable prick that he was. Without him, none of this….well, none of this would have happened, and perhaps that would have been better, than to die here with so much life left to live. And yet…perhaps he loved him too, for who else would he be, now the war was over, if he wasn’t here?
There was so little left in him, he knew, but he was raised to summon the dregs and display them like steel, and when he shuffled from his bag, the others were not surprised. He knew they wouldn’t try too hard to stop him, they were men of a kind, perhaps, after all.
“I’m just going outside” he said. “I may be some time”.
This was written for JBaz's Silent Thought challenge - linked below. One sitting (which fortunately only took about 25 minutes because my daughter embarked on a meltdown just as I typed the last line), and one edit, when I realised the others probably had tried to stop him just a little bit - though I did also correct two typos, giving horses a possessive apostrophe and correcting "this" to "these".
I found it hard, each time I thought about this, to get outside my OWN silent thoughts and into someone elses - every scenario just ended up with my own thoughts. So I tried something new for me and taking a real person, who was not me, in a well known scenario, and seeing where that took me. Kind of fun, but I cant help imagining others would have gone for something totally different in the same scenario!