The field stank with the toxic cloud of fear and doubt that crept into the minds of every soldier on either side of the trench. Their minds had been rattled, their flesh torn, bodies thrown about like tin soldiers on a child’s floor, but their eyes lay still and ever petrified in a state of constant fear. It had rained bronze moments before, as bullets poured from the other side of No Man’s Land, with streaks of black that shredded through the Allied assault from fierce machine guns. Rifles shrieked as their attackers led on, ever determined to silence them, but perseverance was in their favor. The German army lay shaken within the walls of their sector, clinging to hope and life for another day while their hands shook with the inevitable fear that the same fate would befall them tomorrow and if not, surely, the next day.
As the rain brought tears to the fallen, it soaked into their wounds and uniform, an attempt to wash away the hate and hurt that had been buried in their hearts and etched in their brains. Among the scores of dead lay Captain Maxwell Harris, hardly any older than the men he led but with a resolve to live. His body shook angrily, almost burying him deeper into the mud, with a blood trail that ran down the length of his body, emitting from a chest wound made from a sniper’s bullet. His voice cracked as he attempted to speak, lips caked with mud that almost formed a seal to lay them still.
But despite the deliberate, slow movements of his limbs, his eyes darted back and forth as if the bullets continued to scream towards him. Up and around they swirled, scanning for where the new threat had presented itself, but alas, only found the small hole with its red stream now slowed. Every breath felt like a show of force, an agonizing prayer to God for help, ‘Why have you chosen now to forsake me? Please, not here, not so close…’
The rain ceased and the sky darkened at a rapid pace before his eyes, seeming to be as quick as God himself having spun the globe around to create the darkness. The clouds began to churn together, and just as quickly parted as a lone, dark figure began its swift descent over the battlefield. Captain Harris’ eyes grew wide as he continued to cling to life, but as the figure glided towards him, seemingly effortless, he miraculously felt rejuvenated. The pain that had paralyzed him began to subside, giving him the ability to turn his head for a better look at the figure. A moment later, the hooded figure stood tall before him and looking down, slowly it pointed a skeletal finger straight at him.
“Your days of chaos and pestilence have run out…” The figure dictated, leaning down to show the face of Death, the large eye sockets consumed in a small blue flame. His teeth were fashioned into an ominous, permanent smile that stood staring into Harris’ fear struck eyes and with hands reaching behind him, he produced a large scythe with its misshapen and bent wooden handle. Death leaned closer so that he was within inches of Harris’ face, leaving the gap so that this scythe slid between the two until it rested just above the terrified Captain’s head, and with a voice as cold as the grave, he hissed, “Your time has come!”
Now having the vitality and strength from what seemed only minutes ago, Harris took to his feet and seemed to fly across the battlefield. As he did, the Earth began to shake and rumble, opening a giant chasm that formed behind him and stretching out indefinitely but he dared not look back, only running faster than what his legs could actually handle. Death only laughed on at the spectacle, idly standing as the Captain fled and slowly removed his scythe from the Earth as the rupture he created continued to spread.
The mud beneath Captain Harris finally disappeared, sending him spiraling down into the dark chasm. He screamed as he twirled and spun for moments, which turned to seconds, unable to see where the ground actually was and when he might meet his end. But just as soon as he fell, he landed onto a warm surface, still unable to see his surroundings. However, his ears picked up faint voices, familiar voices, but ultimately scared voices. He turned in every direction, attempting to reach out, walking but then running forward as he desperately attempted to find the source. As he pressed on, the voices turned from whispers to panicked pleas for help. ‘Captain! Where do we go!? We can’t stay here! The fucking wire hasn’t been breeched! You said the wire had been shredded! It’s all there!’ The voices screamed.
Captain Harris stopped dead in his tracks as the voices steadily grew in volume, becoming suffocating loud. “Stop it! FUCKING STOP IT!” He shouted back, running in the opposite direction, but continued to be bombarded by the angry and desperate voices. ‘I’m hit! I’m hit! It hurts! GOD it hurts! Captain Harris!’
His ears began to bleed from the volume, forcing him to stop. He squatted down while he covered his ears, squeezing his palms against his head as hard as he could in an attempt to stop the noise and pain. His legs wobbled and sent him crashing down into fetal position, clenching his teeth with such force he feared they would shatter. He shook on the ground back and forth, begging the angered souls of his comrades to forgive him as his mouth and ears bled. Finally, they began to die down, slowly fading like heat from dying man. Captain Harris lay there for a moment, not daring to move, at least initially. His eyes darted back and forth, still seeing only the nothingness of his surroundings. Cautiously, he let go of his ears and looked at his hands as they were painted in blood, and having gained the rest of his senses, opened his mouth to spit a tooth out into his hands, blood seeping from his mouth as well.
He stared at the gruesome sight, hands shaking like they had been when he lead the assault on the Hun trench. He furiously wiped his on his legs, anxious to clean the blood from his hands and as he looked up, something finally spawned from the nothing, the profile of a man sprawled on the floor. Taking the knife from his boot, he proceeded forward at a staggering pace; happy to finally see something but unsure if it would prove to be a hostile. As the patch on his uniform showed true, he sheathed his knife and rushed over, finding it to be the charred remains of Private Moses Wells. Moses’ eyes shifted once Harris laid a hand on him, turning as much as they could to see him. With a sharp crack and crunch of bones and burnt cloth, he turned to face Harris, asking with a voice as shriveled as he was, “Why…?”
Harris only stared at him, stunned by the miraculous breath of life that seemed to flow through the dead body. “Why!?” He now shouted, coughing and wheezing blood and bits of burnt lung. “You said God was with us! That He would protect us!” He bellowed, now raising a shredded hand to Harris, grabbing the Captain’s rank insignia and shaking him. “You said we were fighting for God and Country!” He screeched and immediately turned to ash.
Harris stooped frozen as the ashes began to burn into his hands, giving the sensation that he was being smeared with a burning coal. Captain Harris leaped into the air and ran from the site, desperately trying to wipe off the burning ash. As he ran, his environment crept from the shadows and revealed itself, revealing a great cliffs of burning rock, hundreds of feet high above him while ashes and embers floated beneath him, climbing upwards. The land in front of him was gone, leaving him stranded on a thin stretch of red rock, and as he peered over to see what lay beneath, as far as the eye could see were flames and lava, a true inferno but within it, pitiable souls that scream for release. “God, please…”
“God?” A voice from behind asked. Captain Harris turned to see Death looming over him, seeing the souls of the damned twist in torment. “Do you believe that God was hearing your prayers as you tore through Europe?” He asked, staring deep into his eyes, able to see the lie that soured Harris’ soul. “Tell me Captain, do you honestly believe it to be divine judgment that spearheaded your bloody trek?” He asked, grabbing ahold of the petrified captain and began to sore through the sky, breaking through the rock surface only to reveal the blood battlefield. Death held Captain Harris up above the ensuing battle, just high enough to properly see both sides.
“Look on, what do you see?” Death asked as they watched wave after wave of British forces being gunned down on the Somme battlefield. Shades of brown are dyed red as the bodies pile up. Death swiftly brought Harris to the trenches, showing the hardened and fear-struck faces of his men awaiting their turn. Harris watched in awe as he saw his former self triumphantly stand below the parapet to address his men. “All right lads, this is will prove to be the greatest day of your lives! We are going to cross that threshold and show the Hun that he vastly underestimated the King’s army! With British strength and pride for God and us all, we will prove victorious!”
“I don’t see a hero. I only see vanity and lies.” Death grimly answered, seeing the pride well up in Captain Harris as they marched into the fray. “But look upon where your strength truly came from…” Death cackled as he brought them towards the slaughter. “Were you so full of pride that you honestly believed it was artillery shells that removed your obstacles?” He asked, grabbing the Captain’s head to make him look at the unfolding carnage. “Look closer…”
Captain Harris squinted his eyes as he flinched from the pain of Death’s harsh grip on him. His eyes widened as Death cackled, seeing two seemingly normal soldiers stop and violently shake followed by the entire battalion that remained alive. As they fell to the ground, they began to shred their uniforms, producing fierce, curled claws and turning a shade of red until it seemed they were turned inside out. Horns began to form on their heads as their bodies in turn shifted into something ghastly, no longer resembling a human but monster. “This is where your strength spawned from…” He hissed, chilling the bones in Captain Harris as the demons under his command devoured the wire and overwhelmed the German position, seeing limbs flying and blood staining the walls of the trench and the mud above. “It was only too foolish and arrogant to believe man made artillery were the cause of such chaos and that you lived to tell the tale so close to the barrage…”
“But…I don’t understand….we did it all for King and Country.” Captain Harris said defeated. “We only did what we were commanded to do! We had a glorious task with God guiding us!”
“Foolish mortal! Have you learned nothing!” Death screamed, grabbing Captain Harris by the collar. “There was nothing glorious about the chaos you helped bring about! Your holy mission proved to be nothing short of pagan barbarism! And for your crimes…you must perish!” Death commanded, bringing the Captain to the edge of the cliff, dangling him above the fire.
“Please, have mercy! My intentions were true…” Captain Harris said, looking down and noticing several bodies forming below him, all of them burnt souls that he had lead in life and all climbing with a burning desire to reach him.
“And look at where they lead…” He said dropping him into the arms of his damned comrades as they finally reached him. “For King and Country!” The tower of souls chanted and immediately collapsed. Into the fires of Hell they dragged him into, Captain Harris grabbing at anything he could until they sank into the flowing lava, reunited as a unit. His hand lay outstretched for God’s, pulling with all his might until the last fingertip was scorched to the bone, and as they did, Death smiled, only leaving when he heard the faint blowing of a trench whistle high above.