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by Aldo Palaoro about a year ago in fiction
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A fantasy short story of a man fighting in France during the First World War.

Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash

Light gently permeated this foreign place from incandescent pinheads in the far off distance, entire galaxies unknown to man spaced far yet not so few between. Clouds of gaseous blue and purple detonations mottled across this great beyond, surpassing the grasp of one’s ability to imagine it’s scope, let alone handle an understanding of such phenomena. My head, both light and lagging, revolved across this vast spacescape in awe, temporarily unaware of the absurdness of my situation as I sheepishly peered into the glory of both past and present. As my gaze descended my eyes caught my pale feet, wide and naked, firmly planted on an imperceptible plain. A torrent of ice began to stretch from behind my eyes up and backward, a measured waltz from neuron to the next which promptly dissipated as it’s travel found the nape of my neck. My lips curled as my mouth cracked in horror letting out a scream, a scream that came up silent as if I were an actor in one of those silent film reels I’d seen as a child.

As my eyes remained fixed on my toes I began to realize the only sound in this place was that from within, I could feel and hear my heart thundering below my heaving chest, the blood it aroused pumping through my veins, the steady “ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum” echoing of life as it traversed my being, crying its presence on the inner workings of my eardrums. How did I get to this place? I wondered this to myself as I saw, several inches behind my heels, the smoothed, somewhat sturdy legs of a rosewood chair, it’s angular arms grasped by hands as each knuckle grew white with tension, perspiration escaping my palms like the exodus of rats on a sinking ship. This chair was at first glance familiar, and as my eyes scrutinized the scuffed lacquer of the rosewood arms my mind fled back to the neighboring years of my childhood.

I saw my Grandfather sitting slacked, his legs relaxed and open, the words “Olathe Boot Co.” impressed across the soles of his boots, their points raised to the heavens above. I was maybe six years old, sitting at the old man’s feet as these same arms gave ballast to his graying elbows as he tussled with a narrow fragment of yellowing paper, the chestnut-colored tobacco becoming enveloped as his thumbs rolled forwards and back, a noticeable shake cursing his tired hands like that of an antiquated printing press telling the tales of times long past. It was the day I learned of Death, of it’s the ability to place lead in one’s still-beating heart, weighing that which gives righteousness unto the world down with agony, turning passion into outward animosity. That was the day I learned that some men value monetary possessions over that of the lives of strangers, that each man is capable of taking that which he fears to lose most away from others to gain temporary prosperity.

It was the same day I lost my beloved parents to wolves who adorned themselves in the pink skin of man, as well as the exact frame in time I decided to not let the fear of Death’s eventual obligation to claim that which is truly his obstruct the choices I make in this life. These choices eventually led me to France, a 1903 Springfield rifle across my back alongside my brothers in the 6th Marine Regiment, and ultimately to the ruined Belleau woods, a confusing scene of twisted tree trunks and gore stretched across a horrid hellscape. Before the place I find myself in, my last memory was in those woods, a whistle shrieking through the decrepit air as I clawed at the old soil, soil that had been salted with the blood of my friends, as I scrambled my way from the Earth into pure chaos.

As I departed the quasi shelter of the trench I was immediately met with an abundant ration of iron detonating aimlessly, violently ripping the exhausted soil into columns of short-lived anger. My legs carried my body in defiance of the thought of a long life through the uproar of the Boche’s frantic machine gun fire, introducing itself to individuals in the cruelest of manners as it carved it’s path through flesh and bone, leaving those unfortunate enough to initially survive to wail for their mothers as their ruined bodies did their best to stave off their inevitable expiration. Still, we each performed our mad sprint, only breaking speed to leap across the carcasses of trees and man alike, our bayonets remaining in the direction of foreign men in the opposing trench system.

As we closed within 75 yards of the foreign trench we began to hear shouting in the alien tongues of our German counterparts in what one would assume was officers preparing their men to produce gore by means of sharpened blades as it became clear that a number of my comrades would soon be upon them. My eyes strained amid soil and the salty sting of sweat as I began to make out details of those panicking to swing their ghastly brilliant MG08’s in order to rid themselves of as many of the horrible nuisance that is the United States Marine Core. It was too late.

As I closed within a dozen feet from their trench system an enemy soldier, clad in sordid grey the color of the clouds above and several belts of ammunition clinking around his neck, turned and faced up, his eyes widening as they met mine. He began to scream, “nein! Ich ben läufe-” but was cut short as I let loose a shot from the hip, ripping the right side of his throat into a brilliant bloom of red spray that promptly inseminated the mud at his boots. I finally broke stride as I tucked my knees, my feet leaving no man’s land to thrust myself amidst the foreign men’s trench. The moment my shoulder slammed into the muck strewn wood of the trench I cycled the bolt of my springfield and began to lumber through the sanguine sludge as my breath caught up with me. That’s when the heartbeat pounding inside my ears quieted and I could hear the young soldier I’d just ruined gurgling madly, like water running over the rocks of a small creek. The blood was leaving his body in mostly rhythmic spurts from his neck and mouth, aimed at the Earth around us.

Our eyes met once more for a moment, his wet with fear of the unknown, full of a sadness that weighs on the heart. There was nothing I could do for him other than usher him along swiftly, my bayonet piercing his chest cavity and silencing his suffering. Unsheathing my bayonet from the young man’s chest cavity, I carried on through the enemy’s trench system, if unable to discover any comrades who had made it then to kill as many Boche as I could. That is why we were here, was it not? I leveled my Springfield and once more, began to navigate the trench amid horrid sounds and sights. Men screaming in both English and German, explosions that rattled one’s teeth, body parts half sunken into gory mud to name a few.

I came across what must have been an enemy officer just outside of a wooden bunker built into the side of the trench, his ridiculous mustache disheveled, a silver stahlhelm atop his fathead, a decorative sabre on his round side and a luger pistol in his grip. His beady eyes widened in their sunken sockets as I broke into a sprint directly towards him, only 15 yards away and closing in fast. “Sterban teufelsschwein!” He shouted as his luger hastily lifted in my direction. I raised my Springfield, bayonet aimed at his chest as he let loose a shot, the scorching hot 9mm round tearing a wound in the meat of my upper shoulder. There was no room between us left to lose momentum from this fresh wound as I jabbed the bayonet into his fat chest, immediately sending him backwards onto his back as I followed through, bending forward.

Before he could understand death was at his door nor lift his luger to dismantle my face I ripped the bayonet from his chest, only to thrust it back into him, once, twice, three times painting his grey uniform a mix of blackened mud and scarlet. His warm blood bespattered my face as I looked up from his corpse to see another, younger soldier standing frozen in fear, machine gun belts draped across his shoulders. A long moment passed, both of us staring at one another until I promptly bounded forward at him, both of us slipping in the gore and mud as he turned to alert his allies, it took mere seconds for me to tackle him while his feet fought to gain traction.

I raised the springfield, it’s butt aimed at his head as I began to bludgeon his face with it, bringing it down over and over, first his teeth leaving his mouth until the skull beneath began to give way as I hammered the rifle down in a quickened rhythm. I raised it one last time, stopping as the animal in me began to dissipate, the pain in my shoulder beginning to finally register. I remained frozen in that position, my knees sinking into the floor of the trench, rifle held high and poised to slam down as my mind calculated how to proceed in vain. In the next instant the insides of my lower chest burst outward at the behest of a rifle firing from behind me, coating the corpse below me in my own sanguine innards.

My dying body rejected any and all commands as my rifle left my grasp, my failing being falling onto its side, and my unresponsive eyes staring into the sloppy brain cavity of the man I’d just bludgeoned. “This is it, this is death,” I thought in the calm I’d hoped for as I grew endlessly sleepy. So very, very sleepy. My corpse began to sink, further and further, into the sanguine mud of the trench, slowly enveloping my entire being in darkness as the sounds of war faded away into nothing but the steady rhythm of “ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum”, pinpricks of far off light beginning to pierce this obsidian void giving birth unto nothing and at the same time, everything.


About the author

Aldo Palaoro

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