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Three Kisses...xxx

I can’t see the leather of my boots anymore. They are made of mud. Not one scrap of leather can be seen, just mud; the mud that has become the boot. In fact it’s not just my boots: my whole outfit favours this murky, brown colour instead of that crisp khaki-brown I arrived here in. I suppose (however tasteless) it camouflages me against this hell pit. Well, after all this hell pit is constructed out of the same thing.   Our dugout – well, I suppose it is exactly how you expect a dugout to look, like a coffin. We have added a few homely touches though: a couple of candles, a few chairs, a worn out rug, but how could we ever make this place homely? Instead of burning brightly, all the candles manage is a little flicker – as if they are shy. Instead of being soft to the feet, the rug is like sandpaper – as if war has made it tough. Instead of being something to relax on after a hard day, the chairs simply collapse under your weight – it’s all too much for them.   My eyes are resting on the sodden mud floor, and the ends of my fingers are tapping on the empty mug that my hands are clasping. I always sit like this, in exactly the same position, wherever I am: knees drawn up to my chest, bottom on the floor (no chairs, see) and an empty mug in my hand. I don’t know why I do it, hold an empty mug. It’s sort of reassuring. I suppose I need reassurance.   Opposite me is the new Blondie: Jim. As usual he is prancing around telling us we should be braver, be happier. What does he know? It’s his first day today and he hasn’t even dreamt of the horrors to which we have seen. I catch a few words here and there of his latest rant. “Ya see…ya all miserable…brave…I’m brave…I am….sergeant…I bet…” I can’t be arsed to listen to the rest of his useless words. I just amuse myself by watching his eccentric hand movement… But immediately my attention is lost. Billy is sitting over there, in the corner of our dugout. His black mop of hair sits on his head like a wig, resting rather than connecting. It covers his eyes so his face is always in shadow, really spooky. I don’t think he’s quite right in the head, you know, cause he doesn’t speak much. Well, who can blame him? I think none of us feel like speaking (apart from Blondie of course.) But at the moment he is speaking. I catch the last few words. “Jim,” he says in a hoarse voice. “Jim!” He leans forward on one elbow, menacing now, “Shut the f**k up.” The words come out like a whisper but they are as commanding as a shout.   A huge cheer erupts from the man next to him and (of course) me, myself. Blondie’s face goes white and he immediately sinks onto the floor.   Our cheers erupt into the cold, black night. As little as a couple of hundred yards away are the Bosh, they are probably doing the same as us: a few ciggies, a few laughs, and waiting. Waiting for the whistle, the whistle.   Twenty minutes to go now.   The cheer has turned into talk again. It was a short burst of happiness to take our minds off this long wait, until the whistle blows. It’s a hard job to be happy when you are waiting. But we have to somehow pass the minutes, the hours, the days, the months, the years – without regretting them. I don’t even know exactly how long I’ve been here. Time doesn’t exist, it doesn’t really matter. Hours merge into months, seconds merge into hours. It’s all like one big blur of waiting.   At the moment my three friends are crouched in front of me – Blondie, Billy and Ace. They are playing cards, and Ace is winning. I came up with it, Ace. He’s Ace at cards because he always gets the Aces! It made me smile anyway, and then the name, it sort of stuck. I met him on the boat on the way here … oh, the fun we had. He got so sea sick he threw all over our lieutenant. How I laughed! Though it wasn’t so funny for him: he had to do extra guard duty. On his right is Blondie. It’s weird that however much he talks I don’t know nothing about him. I should ask him one day about his family. And then there’s Billy, though it’s not like he ever speaks; he’s sure got character. Right now, he’s peering over Blondie’s shoulder and mouthing all the cards to Ace. No wonder Ace is winning! Billy’s doing it for fags I expect. I would have said he smokes too much, but now does it matter?   Our trenches are in ‘Jerry Meadows’. It’s called that cause this was land that the Jerries had not that long ago, but we won it back. There is a little village a couple of miles away from here where me, Billy, Ace and Fag stayed when we first arrived. We met some people there, they told us about ‘Jerry meadows’, they told us of their grandchildren playing there and about the farmers farming there. I remember Fag got really upset. He had visited the fields before the war and I suppose he missed their old ways; he smoked even more fags then than usual. Gone now…poor Fag. Stubbed out.   Only now do I know why Fag got upset. We live where the village used to play and the farmers used to farm. We have ruined on all those memories, crushed them under our feet and killed them with our fierce guns. Yes, now I know why Fag was upset.   I should have worked it out way before; after all, my sister was just like Fag. Thinking outside the box, seeing things nobody else could see. Yeah, my sister would have worked that out… I haven’t seen her for God knows how long…years. I remember that crisp, winter day as fresh as ever…   It was a lovely day; the waves were playful, lapping up against the dock. It was windy and very chilly, but the atmosphere couldn’t have been happier. Fifty boys were walking up a ramp onto a steam ship. All innocent and happy but all nervous, none knew what to expect. Crowds were piled onto the dock, all wearing red, white and blue. It looked like the Union Jack, all jumbled up, with little heads poking out here and there. All the boys were waving and standing on the edge of the deck. I was one of them and I too was leaning against the railing, blowing kisses into the air.   A little red and white head was bobbing in the crowd. My sister, as always, was wearing her bobble hat. Her long brown hair was rippling in the wind, doing a little dance; her blue dress was joining in the ballet. She looked so beautiful, but vulnerable. “Bye! Bye! My, big brother, love ya, loads ‘n’ loads.”Hershrill little voice was fought back by the bellowing wind, but still strong. I remember reaching across the bars of the boat and grabbing her hand and smothering it with wet kisses. “Right, Beth. Don’t smile too much when I’m gone cause I don’t want ya havin’ too much fun!” She grinned her toothy grin. “Look after mum, and I will miss ya loads!” Her little brown head, at that moment, got lost in a sea of red and white. My feet rumbled and the boat backed away from the dock.   All I can remember after that is England fading into the distance. I had never been to a foreign country before – I didn’t know what to expect. I suppose I joined up for that. I was bored. All I had ever done in my life was sit on my arse in England, and I was desperate for an adventure.    I wander what she has gotten up to. God, she could be married now, with little kids. I would be their uncle. It’s weird that life is still going on beyond this war. I forgot about life at home, the simple complexity of it. People at home would still be going to work, still going to the grocers, still having kids. Or would they? Do they live in as much terror as us, in as cramped, awful conditions as us? Is the whole world in a coffin?   I tore my mind away from that thought. My sister should be fine; she’ll have Mum for company, and I’m sure she’ll support Mum too. Mum was the one who didn’t want me to fight; she was the only one in the world who didn’t. I’m not sure even she (who worries an unnecessary amount) could have predicted this.   10 minutes until the whistle.   I’m lucky I haven’t had any friends die. I’m one of the only ones. Yes, I have seen people die, of course. It’s like an every day thing now. But still it is hell. I always feel the same pain. Tomorrow it could be me. Today it could be me. In minutes it could be me.   Figures, they don’t mean anything. Yet, that is what it is all based on: the amount of deaths. If we have less die than the Boshe, then we won that round; if they have less die, then we’ve lost. There they are, the important chaps, smoking at a pipe, hundreds of thousands of miles away, in a different world to ours. It’s like a little game to them. It is a game…to them. We are the toys. I think back to my childhood. Toy soldiers, I played with toy soldiers. It’s wasn’t like this though; they were all smart and comfortable. The general was nice to them; it was always sunny, always warm. I think about now, the present: the respected people back at home. Why can’t they fight? We’re their childhood toys in real life. The thought sickens me. All this death! They haven’t a clue. All they know is figures. ‘300 died today’, ‘not too bad’. They don’t understand, if one person dies it’s a tragedy to me. It’s a tragedy because it’s war. War is two sides fighting for pointless things. War is where the innocent die; war is where people hate each other. War isn’t fun. And they call it work; it’s the toys that are doing work! All we have is each other, and we don’t even have that. It could be in 10 minutes until I lose my mates, until I lose myself.     I watch wearily as a rat rushes in front of me, as if it wants to remind us it’s there. I can’t be arsed to even grimace. I wink at Blondie (who’s the best at catching rats – I suppose the only one who can be arsed) and he heaves himself up off the floor, with a look of exhaustion in his eyes. He slumps over to Rat Killer, the broom handle, and runs a hand through his blonde hair as he tries to locate the rat. I’ve never looked at him properly before: he looks older than I thought he did. The first time I saw him I was shocked to see how young he was, but now he looks older. You can see it at the very back of his eyes, like a shadow. Maybe I didn’t look him over properly when I first saw him; or maybe it’s him that’s changed.   I pull out a set of letters from my pocket; they are crumpled; they look ancient – they aren’t though. The writing on them is slightly slanted to the right, in black ink, beautifully written. It looks like all of someone’s heart is poured into every letter, every curl, every swirl. It probably is. There are three kisses on the end and the address is neatly tucked away in one corner. Every detail is just how my mother writes, but they’re not from my mum. My mum is too ill to write. They are from my sister. I feel tears sting the corners of my eyes.   It’s there again - the ticking in the back of my head. It’s as if my brain is counting down. I can’t help but think about it. 10 minutes until we go over.   10 minutes…more like 5 now.   I peer nervously over my mug to see if Billy has noticed the time yet. Maybe, if I’m very lucky he will forget and we’ll never have to go over! But sure enough, just as I expected, he glances at his watch on the stroke of 5 minutes to 11. He would be perfect. We can tell from the look in his eyes that it’s time to get ready; he doesn’t need to tell us, but he beckons anyway. There were 50 men on our ship, they could have all have died. They could have easily all have died. The whole world could have died for all I knew. We are as easy to knock over as dominos. Just like one huge trail of dominos running all over the world and Germany has knocked the first one over. All it took was a casual flick, a casual flick to kill thousands. Maybe millions. Just like a trigger. I have a bitter taste in my mouth of baked beans and fags. I can’t get it out so I swish around my spit constantly, partly in an attempt to dilute the taste, partly just for something to do. I can hear bombs. Bombs, funnily enough, are reassuring. It’s constant. It’s better than silence - silence…who knows what the silence could mean? The Germans could be attacking - anything; anyway I prefer the sound of bombs. You know what? It’s like a lullaby, constant, reassuring. My adult lullaby. When I was younger my mum used to sit me on her warm lap and murmur ‘baa baa black sheep’ into my ears. It was the echo of my child hood. The representation of what was my childhood was. And that’s why bombs are my adult lullaby, they are my adult life.   2 minutes. . Blondie has killed the rat now, he’s got it’s tail in his fore finger and his thumb and is swinging it just like a pendulum. Swinging the seconds away.   God, time goes quick.   I can’t help but start to feel nervous, I can’t help it. My hands beg, scream to fidget. My legs scream to run away. I scream to stay put. I have to see this through. I position my hand on the dirt floor and push myself up. It’s like everything is in slow motion. My hands progress slowly through the air and my feet shift gradually beneath me. I move at snail’s pace to get my helmet. Leisurely I pull it over my head and stand pointlessly in the middle of the room. I’m going to take all the time I want to die. “Come on, Fire…” I forgot to say…Fire…that’s me. My real name is Sam. My fighting name is Fire. I got it after I set fire to a shed accidentally when we were doing our training. We were all stuck inside it; rescue men had to get us out. We would have all died if it wasn’t in training, but it was a joke to us. “We need to hurry up” Ace looked scared. Ace is never scared “Blondie follow me and Billy, you go with Fire.” I smiled weakly at Billy, one thought running through my mind: this was it. “ Has everyone got everything?” No answer. No answer means yes. “Gas masks?” No answer. “Helmet?” No answer. “Don’t go until the whistle.” No answer. Like we would! And this was it, us four going into battle, just like we dreamt when we were kids. It’s sad that sometimes dreams come true. I feel stupid in all this protection stuff. There’s no point. What the hell can a helmet do? When a German is standing over you and going to kill, what the hell can a helmet do? “1 minute men.” What life is this? What life? A miserable life that’s what it is, a heart wrenching life. So terrifying I’m too terrified to scream. So awful…I’m too…I don’t know. I can’t thing of a word. Petrified. Horrified. Terrified. There’s not a word on earth to describe the feeling inside of me. The hopelessness of it all. People dying: you don’t appreciate the monstrosity of it until you see it. Until you suffer. That’s why these things never stop, because the people behind it haven’t suffered.   1 minute.   They don’t know what it’s like to see a man’s last look, to hear a man’s last scream, to watch a man’s last breath…before they die. The same man that only a couple of hours earlier you’d said good luck to. They don’t know what it’s like. My nerves are yelping now. I have never been more scared.   We are standing in a line with our partner. No words are being spoken anymore: there is no ranting from Jimmy and there are no jokes from Ace. There ain’t no tapping and there ain’t even a whiff of smoke form Billy. There is no sound at all. We all just stand in a dead silence. Waiting for the-   And then the scream of terror we are all feeling blows into the night.   The whistle.   And we run, we hurl over the barbed wire, cutting ourselves and not even noticing. All of us run. We’re blinded by the guns, the smoke, the death, the chaos. I’m surprised to see my legs are still running. I fire, aiming for the sky. I carry on running. Into the pitch blackness - into no-mans land. I hear shrieks ricocheting off each other, bullets, explosions and silence. Hundreds of men are with me, all their faces reflect mine: sheer horror. My heart pumps. My breath is quick. My throat is too restricted to scream. My eyes are burning. I am going to burst into flames. Bullets fly over my head, missing it by half an inch. People are dying everywhere. I stumble. A flash of a man with blonde hair falling to my right. A flash of a man with black hair falling to my left. A flash of a man with brown hair falling in front of me. I’m not going to think about who they are. We are all dying. The faces of the enemy are the same as ours. They fear us just as much as we fear them. Not much of an enemy. We’re all the same, all fighting for nothing. Every one of us doesn’t want to do this yet we are the ones that suffer. It is utter chaos, men screaming for their mothers, men screaming for themselves, men screaming their last scream. I’m in a tangle of bodies, my head is getting punched from all directions by arms, legs, heads. A huge sea of men merging into one, we surge forward as one and pull back as one. Just like the sea, just like waves, we are a body of water fighting to live, but we are drowning. Everyone at home is screaming in my mind, but they shouldn’t worry I’m not going to forget them. Suddenly I feel my feet slip below me and know it is the end. I stare up at the sky that is blotted with men and wait for my killer. It will just take someone to notice that my eyes are open or that breathe is leaving my body to go in for the kill. I carry on staring above me, and then one man’s head turns downwards and spots my open eyes. He has rough cut beard and dark hair. He looks like death.  This is my killer. The whistle has blown. I’m going to die. His brown eyes meet my blue and only when he has turned away does he pull the trigger. Three kisses to Mum and Beth. I’m dead. XXX
When you accidentally leak your own secret
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