One Hundred Years On

War is hell for all involved. From the raw recruit to the seasoned soldier. It starts at the training camp and continues through to the battlefield, to the trenches themselves. It also effects those left at home to worry and to grieve.

As time went by, it seemed there was no escape other than becoming an invalid, or through death. Some kept a diary, some wrote poems, memorialising the horrors of war. It was their way of trying to stay sane in an insane world.

The grim escape from the battlefield, via the field hospital and the rehabilitation centre, and finally to the street. They were the lucky ones. Few of those they left behind at the front received funerals, only death and oblivion.

Now, one hundred years on, there are no veterans left. No poets or nurses to tell of the suffering, no distraught wives, become widows. None left to tell of the suffering. Yet still we remember those who fought.

More than nine million soldiers lost their lives in this conflagration that introduced the world to war on an industrial scale. Many of the dead were never recovered, their bodies rent asunder and trampled in the mire.

This week’s newspapers are full of the armistice and the end of the Great War, their pages eulogizing a lost generation, a tragic lost generation. Yet conflict continues to pervade our world. Some lessons are never learned.

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Written in response to the Microcosms 300 word competition number 148, on the anniversary  of the signing of the armistice between the Allies and Germany for the cessation of hostilities of World War I. with reference to the prompt: Soldier; Battlefield; Eulogy.

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This piece won the competition as the Judge’s Pick.

Out of the many heart-wrenching war stories this week, this beautifully-written history lesson was the one that touched me the most.

The Children’s Hour

josh and beckie

It was a scene of utter devastation, yet it didn’t bother the children a bit. Playtime was playtime. Together the two children walked off into the wasteland surrounding our camp. They were in search of adventure and adventure they would have. In their eyes, the desolate scrubland that was their playground was transformed into whatever they wanted it to be. Today the prairie of the old west, tomorrow perhaps some jungle paradise, the day after… who knows?

It was tough on all of us but especially tough for the children. There was just the two of them in our camp, Josh and Beckie, fortunately they were of similar ages and got on well together. They spent their mornings doing chores, helping with the day to day running of the camp. After lunch they would have lessons with whichever of the adults who were available. Their lessons were simple, things such as reading, writing, and arithmetic. Sometimes there would be a smattering of science, not that it currently mattered anymore. Then, when lessons were over, from mid-afternoon until the evening meal it was playtime.

Playtime involved one of the adults being on watch. Today the task had fallen to me. I watched them rush off into the scrubland. They had strict instructions never to go out of sight of the camp but, being children, rarely remembered the admonishment. It was my task, at least for today, to watch over them and make sure they didn’t come to any harm. The dangers were slight but very real. There was many a scavenger, both man and beast, wandering in these parts and though not dangerous to the camp as a whole they represented a risk to the children. In our post-apocalyptic world children were a rare commodity, something to be cherished and protected. Many had not survived the early days of the fall of civilisation, those that had were considered precious beyond belief.

We were still hopeful. We were slowly heading towards a settlement we’d heard about. One where it was rumoured that still had the luxuries of electricity and running water. A place that offered a new beginning to those willing to work towards a new future. Somewhere that the children could get a proper education and be safe from predators.

As I watched Josh and Beckie play, I was hopeful for the future, for their future. Perhaps they could be part of a civilisation that would respect its place in the natural world and not ruin everything through its greed and shortsightedness as our generation and the one before us had. They were having fun running and chasing through the ruined landscape with not a care in the world. They accepted everything as it was without question. Everything, that was, except the need to come in from playtime when dinner was announced.

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Written in response to the Creative Writing Ink January 10th writing prompt competition.

On a Mission for M

For once his wife had trusted him enough to send him to the shopping mall on his own. He left home in the knowledge that he was working solo; he was on a mission for M.

Driving to the mall the secret agent watched his mirrors, looking for any sign of a tail. He swerved his way through the busy rush hour traffic, changing lanes at random to lose any followers. On parking his car at the mall he carefully weaved his way between the parked vehicles, in an effort to avoid the hidden assassins out to get him. On safely entering the mall he made his way towards his objective. It was his mission to retrieve a priceless artefact and get it back to base in one piece.

Ducking and diving, dodging from door to door, he passed through the mall unseen. At times he doubled back to keep his enemies confused; he knew they’d be watching for him so he ascended two levels before dropping back to the level below. As he neared his objective, he rehearsed the passphrase under his breath. His destination was in sight, a large store, shelves heaving with books. Fearlessly, he pressed on.

He entered a store teeming with customers, any of whom could have been working for the opposition. Straightening his tie he walked up to the designated rendezvous, it was disguised with a sign reading ‘Customer Services’. Just in case, he reached into his jacket ready to pull out his weapon of choice, an old-fashioned cheque book.

A man approached him, uttering the secret passphrase, ‘Can I help you?’ With that our hero, inscrutable to the last, replied with the answering passphrase, ‘I’m here to pick up a book on behalf of my wife. My name is Mitty, Walter Mitty.’

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Written in response to the Microcosms 300 word competition number 147, on the anniversary of the death of James Thurber with reference to the prompt: Daydreamer; Shopping Trip; Comedy.

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This piece won an Honourable Mention.

This story captivated me from the start. The clarity of thought and the wonderful way in which it describes the characters daydreams made this a really enjoyable read.

Decisions

girl at the dressing-table

Decisions, decisions, decisions. Diane sat at her dressing table getting ready for the big night out. She was meant to be fixing her hair but kept stopping to glance over at the row of outfits she’d chosen earlier. She knew it had been a mistake to choose so many, she should have narrowed it down to two at the most earlier. Diane tried to concentrate on her hair but her gaze kept being drawn back to the waiting dresses. Abandoning her hair she got up and walked over to the waiting clothes. She was determined to reduce the choice down to two outfits and then perhaps, she could get back to finishing her hair and doing her make-up.

Time passed slowly as she weighed the merits of the clothes she had laid out earlier. Finally she made a decision. Out went the little black-dress, too many others would favour that, she wanted to be different. On further reflection Diane realised that although she wanted to be different, she didn’t want to be that different. She didn’t want to stand out and have everyone staring at her. There was a fine line between looking original and becoming the centre of attention. This caused another dress to be discarded, this time it was a slightly risqué item, one that perhaps she couldn’t really get away with, given her figure. Catching sight of the time she turned her attention back to her hair.

In the mirror she could see her final choice of two dresses, hanging there, taunting her still. Resorting to a hand-mirror she finished drying her still damp hair. Cautiously she peeked at her image in the dressing-table mirror and was pleased to find she had got her hair just right. For a moment, clothes forgotten, she was happy and looking forward to the evening ahead. Then she started on her make-up. This brought new agonies of indecision as she wondered if she needed to tone her colouring to match the colour of the outfit she was to wear. She decided to keep things simple. Just a touch-up around the eyes and a bit of lip gloss should suffice.

Time again for the clothes. Time to make that final decision. Mum had warned her not to make things too complicated, she wished she had listened. It wasn’t a first date, nor was it a second, but it was the first time she was to meet his family and friends. So, demure but not too demure. Something with a little style. Something that would bring out her best features, her slim frame and her long ringlets. Diane took turns holding the two dresses up in front of her. First one, then the other. She kept swapping them back and forth until finally she made her decision. It had to be this one. It accentuated her slimness without making her look gawky and her hair really set it off. After all the time it had taken her she dressed impatiently, careful not to smear her make-up. She was ready and certain that it would be a wonderful night.

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Written in response to the Creative Writing Ink January 3rd writing prompt competition.

The Music Goes Round

Rummaging through the contents of the spare room in an effort to clear out some of the superfluous bric-à-brac accumulated over the years I found an unmarked box. On opening it turned out to be a box of LPs, long unplayed. The discovery released a wave of nostalgia for a time long gone. I didn’t have to play any of the records to bring back memories, just a glance at their covers was enough. The majority of them were bought during a period stretching from my mid-teens to my mid-twenties.

As a teenager, I was never one of those who walked around with an album tucked under their arm, I never really saw the point. What was it for? To show off your, undoubtedly cool, taste in music; the fact that you could afford to buy the latest release; or perhaps to demonstrate your tribal affiliation? I mainly kept my music at home. What was the point of taking any of my records over to a friend’s house when they were sure to share my tastes and own the same ones that I had?

There was another box, behind the first one, containing the balance of my collection, I opened it too. I flicked through perhaps twenty years of purchases. Most I remembered as old friends although there were a few that I had no memory of at all.

Looking at the two boxes I was astounded by the number. Records, rows and rows of records. Most people of a certain age have a box or two of records stashed away somewhere. Few play them anymore, few even have a record player. Records can tell you a lot about a person, about their taste, their background, and their age.

That first record bought, it’s a rite of passage. It maintains a special place in one’s heart, regardless of quality or merit. Later purchases may show a greater discernment but that first one is the special one.

A record is not just a record, it’s a measure of one’s life. A diary in musical form. From the earliest purchase when still too young to know what you were buying; through the purchases made when first dating, the ones you’d hope would impress the opposite sex; to the purchases of young adulthood, when sure of the elegance of your taste; all tell the story of your life lived so far. At some point these purchases become a rare occurrence, perhaps with the advent of family, and eventually for most, fizzle out.

But still you keep those boxes of old records, treasuring them although rarely, if ever, playing them. There are those few who do still play their records. For many it turns into a ritualistic experience. First, clean the stylus in preparation for the actual playing; second, lovingly remove the record from its sleeve; third, clean the surface of the record before placing it on the turntable; finally, start the record turning and gently lower the stylus onto the groove. Listening to the music itself can be secondary to the ritual of preparation but still has rules of its own.

All that’s behind me now, I no longer have the means to play them and I’m not sure that I would want to, anyway. The nostalgia is enough for me. Carefully, I resealed both boxes, and restored them to their resting places among the junk that will never be jettisoned from my life. Perhaps, in a few more years, I will revisit them but until then I’ll let them rest in peace.

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Written in response to the Creative Writing Ink December 6th writing prompt competition.

The Perversity of the Inanimate

Never underestimate the innate hostility of inanimate objects. An observation not to be toyed with by those in search of an easy, and painless, life. All I can say is thank goodness that animate objects are so much more better behaved.

Walking through a furnished room can be akin to crossing a minefield or negotiating an obstacle course. Chair legs will leap upon your ankles with joyous glee. Tables have four corners, each of which is always on the lookout for that unwary passing hip.

Plumbing can be particularly vicious. Stepping into the shower and turning it on results in an unwanted drenching in freezing water before it behaves itself and settles at a comfortable temperature. Conversely, one turns on the hot tap only to find it running cold then, by the time you’ve picked up the soap, it decides to scald your hand.

Clothing can be troublesome. That first glove one attempts to put on is inevitably the wrong one whilst pullovers have the uncanny ability to rotate themselves through one-hundred and eighty degrees as you put them on, resulting in you putting them on the wrong way round.

The kitchen can be a challenging place at times. Enamel mugs will burn you out of spite. At breakfast, a dropped slice of toast will always land butter-side down. Seemingly at odds with the way that dropped objects usually end up a surprising distance from where they are first dropped or in the place most inaccessible for retrieval. That recalcitrant cutlery drawer that stubbornly sticks, only to let go suddenly, leading to knives and forks being scattered all over.

And what is it with lost or misplaced inanimate objects? How come you only ever find them in the last place that you think of looking?

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Written in response to the Microcosms 300 word competition number 143 with reference to the prompt line: Enamel mugs will burn you out of spite.

The Walker

The Walker

As I made my way out of the forest, the undergrowth grew sparse. Without warning, I found myself on a rise looking over a village. Rows and rows of buildings were laid out in front of me. At first glance the village appeared to be deserted. Then I saw her. A woman walked into view from the right of the buildings. She was dressed in what I took to be traditional clothing. She was wearing a conical hat and a long, slit-sided oriental gown over loose trousers. The contrast of the bright red gown and golden trousers against the drab buildings was startling.

There was nobody else in sight. I stood, transfixed, as she wove her way amongst the buildings. It was as if I was watching a ritual; I felt as though I was intruding but couldn’t drag my eyes away from the spectacle. She entered the village from the right, turned right and walked the length of the path between the buildings before turning left at the end. Moments later she came back into sight walking towards me, parallel to the way she’d gone. She turned again and went back along the far side of the building she’d just passed before reappearing, coming back towards me. I realised she was walking a figure of eight pattern around the village. I was mesmerised.

She seemed to walk for hours, weaving back and forth between the buildings. Striding along the paths she moved with an effortless elegance that caught the eye. There was a rhythm to her movement as she endlessly appeared only to disappear moments later. Up one path, round the end of the building, back down another. Again and again, turn and turn about she measured out the paths with her endless pacing.

And then she stopped. She stopped dead and turned around so she was facing in the opposite direction. She stood, head bowed and unmoving for about five minutes before setting off again. Now she was walking the paths in reverse order. Weaving her course she made her way around the village. I continued to watch her endless pacing. She seemed so serene in her movements, from what I could see of her face she was expressionless. As the light waned, she formed a patch of bright colour standing out against the dull background. I wish I’d checked my watch earlier and timed her movements. I suspected she had dedicated the same period to walking her route in both directions.

Although I had been standing watching the woman’s perambulations for the best part of an afternoon, it came as a shock when she stopped. She stood facing me for a moment, the first time she’d acknowledged my presence, before walking off out of view to my right, back the way she had come. The spell broken, I walked down into the village. I wondered how often she performed her ritual and what it meant. Even though night was falling I decided to press on. I felt uneasy at the prospect of spending the night alone in the deserted village, especially after what I’d just witnessed.

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Written in response to the Creative Writing Ink November 29th writing prompt competition.