The gun shots are relentless. Men cry in pain as blood oozes from their wounds, dripping down the walls of the trench.
I peek over the side to see what horrors await me, but someone grips my shoulder and pushes my back against the dirt wall.
‘Do you want to die?’ Lieutenant Peters screams. The veins on the side of his head pop out as his grip tightens. I bite the inside of my cheeks to stop myself from crying. The gun in my hand shivers as I shake my head.
Lieutenant Peters glares, flicking his eyes down to my dog tags. His eyes trace back to mine before he walks away.
Silence washes through the trench as the gunfire and bloodshed stop. Someone peeks into the periscope and I watch him, awaiting the news. When he does pull away, his eyes are wide and his face pale. I see his lips move but he is too far away for me to hear his words.
Horrified faces travel along the line as the news is shared. I lean forward, hoping to catch what they are saying. The man to my right hears first and his face drops. He looks over at me with hollow eyes. Sweat protrudes from his forehead, eyebrows digging towards the centre of his face.
‘They’re all dead.’
I can’t look away. His words make my knees shake. They knock against each other with such force that the wall behind me is the only thing keeping me up. I watch as the man’s expression twists, and his face turns a ghastly green.
‘I don’t want to die.’
My head snaps away. My stomach churns. My chest is tight. It’s hard to breathe. I want to go home. I should have never gone against Mother’s word. I must go home to her.
I grip my gun tight, knuckles turning white. I gag as my breakfast slops at my feet.
We’re next. I’m next. I’m going to die! I can’t die. I have to get home. I have to return to Mother. I should have never left home. I should have never come here. I need to leave. I need to go home. I don’t belong here. Take me home!
Lieutenant Peters walks back along the line. He’s barking orders but my ears are ringing, blocking out his spiel. My eyes dart around the trench. The faces of men—scared, excited, empty. I need to get out of here alive. I have to go home.
As I step forward, Lieutenant Peters pushes me back in place.
‘Stay in place, Cadet Williamson.’ His eyes are sharp as his fingers press into my shoulder. I wince.
I stare straight ahead, making eye contact with one of the men buried in the wall. His face is covered with dried blood and dirt. I’m about to join him. To join all of them. I’ll just be another body in the wall.
My chest feels heavy as I listen to the silence. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch Lieutenant Peters lifting the whistle to his lips. My heart stops. My eyes flicker again, taking in the uneasiness and dread from the men around me.
A piercing shriek fills the air, sending men tumbling up and over the top. I watch as they flop to the ground the moment they step onto the field. The gun shots burst through the waves of men. Guns are dropped into the trenches, their blood feeding the soil beneath them. I feel like I’m sinking into the mud below me. I try to tug at my feet but they won’t move.
Lieutenant Peters’ voice booms over to me. My head snaps up. His face is red, and his eyes are bulging. With a swift motion, his pistol is pointing at me.
A rush of adrenaline courses through me. I scamper out from the safety of the trench and run. I stumble over limbs and lost weapons. My throat feels tight as I push forward. I need to make it to the other side. I have to return home.
Something pierces my torso. The pain burns through my body and I drop to my knees. Its warmth scares me. My uniform shouldn’t be this warm. Nor should it be this wet.
I cry out.
My breathing becomes erratic. I need to go on. I must push forward. I have to return home. Mother is waiting for me.
I force myself to my feet but the moment I take a step, my shoulder is hit, and I fall on my back.
My eyelids feel heavy, but I cannot sleep. I have to keep them open.
The sky above is grey and the clouds droop down. Maybe it will rain and wash away all the dirt and blood that stain us.
I reach for my dog tags and grip them tight.
I have to make it home. I need to get home. Someone, please, take me home. I can’t die under this foreign sky. Take me home, I beg you.
My body is too weak right now, but I’ll be fine by morning.
Just, please, take me home.