I thought I’d share the prologue for the novel I currently have in first draft – the result of my NaNoWriMo participation a month or so ago. It may or may not change – though, at the moment, I like it just fine.
Running, running, keeping the body low, his chest heaving as he pulls his feet and ankles through the thick sucking mud, the thumping sound of large ammunition landing to the right, left, front and rear of him. His heart hammering in his chest. Nothing to see except the thick smoke from hundreds of shells, explosions everywhere. The noise, he’d never forget the noise. And the sounds, those terrible, terrible sounds that men made when they had their bodies blown to bits. The adrenalin pumping round his body was the only thing that had kept him going since he’d joined the other men and gone over the front of the trench. In the near distance he could see a tree, a tree without limbs, a tree long denuded of leaves, standing stark and alone, the only thing he could actually recognise as being of this earth. Hell had taken over and he was doomed to die here, in this god-forsaken piece of France. Another almighty thrump and the ground collapsed underneath him. He lands on his back, he cannot breathe, the landing having knocked all the air out of his lungs. He thinks he’s done for and finds some relief in the thought. But he owes someone an explanation, he has to live so that he can put right at least one of the wrongs he’s done. He hauls himself up, hands sticky with mud and blood, blood which had once belonged in a body, the one that’s lying next to him. He’d only just noticed it, noticed the twitching, heard the moans and whimpers coming out of the body’s head.
The man, no, boy, wasn’t going to survive, his injuries were too extensive. He’d be dead within a few minutes. He looked around him for help, there was no-one, no-one alive. Bodies were strewn all around him, blown to pieces, arms, legs, torsos, like a horrific nightmare. Other sounds were reaching him now, screams and shrieks from the poor bastards who were still alive out there. He looked down at the boy, still alive. He sat down and cradled the lad in his arms, gently, he didn’t want to cause him more pain than he was already feeling. He sat with him for he knew not how long, listening to the dying boy tell his story, wiping his face and talking to him when the boy could no longer speak. Eventually the light died in the boy’s eyes, his last breath so shallow. His death was peaceful, the guns were silent now. He reached into the boy’s breast pocket and felt for the letter he’d been told was there. He’d promised to return it to the sender, and he would keep that promise, just as soon as he was able.
He had so many things he had to make amends for, this boy’s death was one more to add to his very long list.
In the safety of the trench another man was still alive. He’d seen what had happened on the battlefield, the battlefield strewn with bodies, and the noise, oh the noise. He’d stayed behind, helping everyone over the top when the order came, ‘I’m right behind you’, he’d told each and every one of them. He’d hidden in an officer’s dugout as soon as he could, cowering underneath a shelf. No-one came back after the noise stopped, no-one scrabbled back over the top and down into the relative safety of the trench. He was safe – no-one would know he’d bottled out. He started to climb out from under the shelf and realised he’d been wrong. ‘On your feet, now’, barked his commanding officer, Colonel Manners, ‘You, you fucking lousy coward, get up’. He got up, slowly, holding onto his rifle, the bayonet still fixed in place. The officer wasn’t looking, blood seeping from a large gash over his left eyebrow straight into his eye. He took the chance and charged at the officer – the bayonet passing up through into his chest and piercing the man’s lung. He didn’t take too long to die, though it was noisy and the spluttering gargling and choking sound was sickening. He looked down at the body, stamped on the dead man’s face and left it to be found by someone else, German or British he didn’t care. They both paid him for his information. Heading out of the dugout he turned right, the trench looked slightly less treacherous in that direction. Eventually he made it safely out and walked over to the German line, his job done.