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Ghost of the Trenches

ghost of the trenches
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Estimated reading time — 13 minutes

November 11, 1918

9:00 am

The war was coming to an end and Heinrich knew it. The Yankees had gotten involved and the once great German Empire was surrounded on all sides; prime for invasion. The Russians had been defeated, but German forces couldn’t continue without food or supplies that could assist them in fighting back. Heinrich had heard about a treaty being signed, but he hadn’t been told anything else. It was a rumor that he wished could become reality.

War was hell. That was all Heinrich could think. Sitting in the disgusting trench with mud covering his once great uniform. He could feel his feet falling apart; trench foot beginning to take shape. He shivered as nothing provided him warmth. He could feel his fingers freezing; his nose too. Heinrich joined the war in hopes of escaping from poverty that he had been subjected to during the war. His parents had been taken from him. His father sent into battle, being killed in the opening moments of the war and his mother suffering from an illness a year later.

Heinrich was only 17 years old at that time and his 18th birthday had just passed him by. He wanted to cry; oh how desperately he wanted to cry. He couldn’t however. He couldn’t show any weakness to his fellow soldiers or his commanding officer, who he hated with every fiber of his being. He was relentless; throwing people into “No Man’s Land” without a care for what happened to them. He watched time and time again as people were thrust into the dead zone; cut down by machine gun fire.

BANG!

It was starting again. The artillery barrage that had revolutionized warfare was now barring down on him once more. He couldn’t take it. He couldn’t take his eardrums ringing every time it happened. He couldn’t take seeing his fellow soldiers be cut down by said artillery. Their bodies contorted into something unlike he had ever seen. Blood sprayed onto the side of the trench and innards flew. The men were exploding in front of him and there was nothing he could do to stop it.

He squeezed his eyes shut and held his head, dropping his rifle and hoped for death to come swiftly. His shivering continued and grew worse as the barrage continued. By the third minute of the barrage, he was completely shaking and couldn’t stop. He rocked back and forth, desperately praying for it to end. He couldn’t take it anymore. He could feel the vibrations rock through the ground; crumbs of dirt falling from the wall of the trench and onto him. His head pounded with each shell that hit the ground; the pressure making his head feel as if it would explode and join the other soldiers that had fallen.

He held his ears so tightly and escaped into his subconscious that he had become unaware of when they had stopped. The barrage had ended and Heinrich couldn’t help but breathe. He took so many small breaths that he felt as if he were hyperventilating. The dirt had stopped falling and the screams of the soldiers stopped all so suddenly.

Was the war over? Was the Treaty signed?

These questions ate away at Heinrich, but he refused to open his eyes. He sat in silence for a few minutes before finally deciding to open his eyes. He was scared, nothing could hide it. Not even from his commanding officer. He was ready to deal with the consequences of cowardice; a fate that many of his friends in the military suffered from. Cowardice was something that only little boys had, not men. He wasn’t a little boy and he wouldn’t let anyone talk to him as such. His small quick breaths soon evolved into large, deep breaths. His mind was feeling more at ease, but he still couldn’t help but feel scared.

Grabbing his rifle, he slowly rose to his feet, but made sure to keep his head ducked down. Heinrich looked to his right; the trench extended for miles, but there were no bodies. He turned to his left to be faced with a similar prospect. Even the soldiers that had been destroyed in front of him were missing. He then took notice of how eerily quiet it was. No commanding officers barking at their soldiers, giving them orders. No gunshots. Not even a bird tweeting.

Despite being slightly more level headed, his fear came back. What he had desired even scared him, so much to the point where he cowered back down. He didn’t want to move until someone told him he could. Even the waste of human life that was his commanding officer.

10:00 am

He sat in complete silence as the day dragged on. The freezing temperature taking a toll on his already limited mental health, as well as his physical being. He shoved his hands into his pants pockets, but they did nothing to prevent them from freezing.

He was going to freeze to death if he sat there and he knew it. He had to find help and he needed something to warm him up. With this knowledge, he stood once more, however, his hunched stance seemed to no longer be natural to him. He didn’t notice that his head was sticking above the trench; in the line of fire. He stepped forward; his feet bringing him some pain, but they were also too frozen to feel the pain to its fullest extent. He swallowed down the pain and he eventually began to walk normally, albeit with a small limp.

Heinrich soon noticed his fatal mistake as a gunshot immediately rang out. He ducked down beneath the safety of his trench and he took the large deep breaths that kept him calm. The war wasn’t over, not yet at least. Another gunshot sounded, but it didn’t seem directed towards him. He couldn’t tell however. A gunshot was a gunshot. A man firing at another man, regardless. He heard the yells of a soldier, possibly the one who was being shot at. He couldn’t tell, but he didn’t want to know. The screams seemed to come from the opposing trench, but he was alright knowing that. At least it wasn’t on his side. The familiar silence returned and Heinrich waited a few minutes before rising again. He made sure to stand hunched this time, however.

10:15 am

Heinrich had been walking down the linear path of the trench for the better part of fifteen minutes, only to come across no one. No soldiers, no bodies, nothing. He grew worried at the possibility of having been left behind in the trench while the other soldiers went home, happy that the war was over. Why would they forget about him? Was he really that expendable? He knew he fought bravely, but the other soldiers loved to ridicule his posture, his height being his greatest downfall. His helmet showcased this; he had come close to death, but his helmet provided the necessary protection to allow the rounds to simply bounce off. However, this wasn’t enough. He was the youngest recruit in his regiment and he was humiliated for that.

He could recall one such moment where his “fellow” soldiers surrounded him, taunting him about his age and he wouldn’t live to see happiness. He would never be happy. He would never have a family. He would never have the same opportunities that they had. He tried turning the other cheek, tried to ignore them, but they would never leave alone. He was almost gleeful to see them be mowed down by the gunfire when they ran across the dead zone. He still didn’t understand why he didn’t join them in the charge. Somehow, he remained exempt and he didn’t know whether or not that was a blessing or a curse. He always considered it a mix of both.

Heinrich paused. He didn’t understand what was happening. If the war was over, wouldn’t there be at least one other person in the trenches? Wouldn’t there be someone to relieve him and send him home? He thought about the opposing trench as well and played with the idea in his head. The opposing trench had been quiet and if the war was truly over, maybe they would somewhat kind and not fire. He had heard the stories about the Christmas Truce that had happened a few years prior and wondered if the same thing could happen now. Soldiers of the time refused to fight one another; the spirit of Christmas keeping man from fighting itself. As cliché as it seemed to Heinrich, he wished it could have happened during his service. Any moment of peace, he would have accepted greatly. He was still scared and his shaking reduced to slight shivering from the cold weather, but he had to be a man. He had to be brave and not be the little boy that he was coerced into believing that he was.

His hunched form transitioned into a full stance and he stood still. A few long moments dragged on, but no soldier from the opposing trench had taken the opportunity to fire upon him. He slowly reached the small distance to the top of the trench. He grasped the ground tight, but he didn’t move. His body wouldn’t allow him to climb the trench. He took a few small deep breaths and, despite his body’s unwillingness to cooperate, quickly pulled himself up and stood tall in “No Man’s Land”. A dastardly move that would be the equivalent of suicide. His deep breaths quickly became faster and faster as he waited for gunfire.

It never came.

It was working. He was recreating peace that had happened before and now he could rejoice in the possibility. He slowly inched his way closer and closer to the trench; his arms raised above his head to signal his surrender. His legs shaking every time he took a step. He didn’t even feel the pain in his feet as he approached the enemy trench. As he walked to the other side, he took in the moment to observe his surroundings. The bodies that had littered “No Man’s Land” were also gone. He stood still as looked all around him. The barbed wire and other little contraptions that would be scattered throughout were also missing. He couldn’t help but wonder how long he had kept his eyes closed. Maybe he had fallen unconscious. He didn’t understand how this could be possible. Someone would have been there to tell him to leave. At that point, it didn’t matter. He needed to find someone. A still living soul within the trenches. He stood above the enemy trench and looked down, lowering his arms slowly and his mouth falling agape.

The enemy was gone as well. No soldiers were in the trench. No cocking of rifles. No one yelling at him in a language he didn’t understand.

There was simply nothing within the trench.

Heinrich shook his head. He had heard the yelling from before. He knew it came from this trench, but he couldn’t find any person that could have made said noise. He hopped down into that trench; his rifle raised instinctively. He didn’t know what to do anymore. He didn’t know who to go to, since no one seemed to be present, outside of someone who was shooting. Heinrich turned both ways in the trench and, despite the situation, was quick to discover how inefficiently the trench was designed compared to the one that he was in. The trench spanned for miles and there was nothing to stop the trench itself from collapsing if it received too much damage in an artillery strike. He turned to his left and eyed the length of the trench.

Click!

Heinrich stood absolutely still as he heard the familiar sound. The voice that held the weapon spoke to him, seemingly trying to order him, but the language was unfamiliar to him. It was a Yankee. A damn Yankee, and now, Heinrich was in his trench. Raising his arms, he slowly turned to face the enemy soldier. He was significantly older than Heinrich, at least twenty years older and with far more experience. His face was covered with dirt and dried blood. He was also injured; a large injury spanned across his chest. It was almost like something swiped at him; a large animal of some kind. The Yankee held his chest as he kept his pistol trained on Heinrich.

Both men stared at each other, knowing they couldn’t understand each other. Heinrich remembered the Christmas Truce and how peace could still be possible and now was his chance. He slowly lowered his rifle until it touched the soft mushy ground of the trench. The Yankee didn’t seem as peace loving like Heinrich was. He eyed Heinrich carefully and followed suit with placing his pistol in his holster. Heinrich pointed at the Yankee’s injury, to which the he only responded with a gurgle of pain. He pointed past Heinrich and his face contorted from stoic militarism to a fearful cowardice. Heinrich turned back to see what he was pointing at and responded in a very similar manner.

He couldn’t describe what he was seeing. Surely this was the thing that had attacked the Yankee, but…what was it? The Yankee tugged on Heinrich’s collar and pulled him towards a small opening that Heinrich had glossed over when he had hopped down into the trench. He tossed Heinrich inside the opening and turned back to face the beast. He waved his arms and yelled something in English. He quickly ran in the opposite direction, continuing to yell. Heinrich watched as something flew past the opening and towards the Yankee. He wanted to help, but knew the man was doomed by the thing, whatever it was. He heard the familiar screaming that he had heard prior and held his ears once more; the screams of the Yankee still made it through his clasped ears.

This was unlike anything he had ever seen before. This wasn’t a simple soldier to fight against. This was a beast; an animal with a desire to kill. He tried to understand what he had seen before he was thrust into the opening of the trench. The beast itself gave off the appearance of a wolf, but it was too tall and too big to be a traditional wolf. The color was also something that was very confusing to him; it was something that he was unfamiliar with. The closest color he could think of was a possible black and white, but the colors contrasted each other in such a way that it didn’t appear black and white. The few details that Heinrich could make out were its razor sharp claws and its piercing black eyes with red pupils.

10:45

Heinrich waited in silence until he was certain that the beast was no longer near him. During this time, he planned a way to try and escape this thing, but he still needed to find someone. Someone to tell him that the war was over; that he could go home. His rifle was still on the ground outside of the opening. He planned to get it back and try and make a run for it. But, outside of this, he didn’t know where to go. There was only one way to go and that was where the beast had come from. However, one thought ate away at Heinrich, very much like the trench foot eating away his feet.

Why did the Yankee save him? What reason did he have to lure the beast away? Heinrich could only theorize possibilities, but nothing that made sense to him. Maybe it was his visible age; maybe he couldn’t take seeing someone as young as him die. But he would have certainly killed people this young, if he was involved in the war for as long as Heinrich believed. It could also have just been instinctual; maybe the Yankee was good at heart. Heinrich shook his head, choosing to accept what the Yankee had done and to make his sacrifice not in vain; unlike the many that had perished during the war.

A heavy fog had set during Heinrich’s wait and he had a hard time seeing the opposing wall of the trench from his position. He was ready and he had to take action before the beast would return and do what it had done to the Yankee. He peered out from the opening and tried to look both ways, but the fog was too heavy to see anything further than a few feet. He took a single step outside of the opening, looking around for his rifle. His frozen fingers felt the cold metal of the rifle and he quickly snatched it up. He looked in the direction that the Yankee had run and walked the opposite, hoping to find a way out of, whatever situation that he had found himself in.

His feet were beginning to hurt badly. Trench foot beginning to take a serious toll on his feet. He stumbled as the pain surged, almost causing him to fall. Placing the butt of the rifle on the ground, he began using it as a walking stick. Trying hard to stay up, with the pain urging him to fall. His boots squished on the wet ground; his feet feeling brittle with the amount of water they had consumed. He could feel his flesh within his boots slowly beginning to fall off; the peeling and the small tearing grew larger and larger as he continued his walk. At many points, he had to kneel, just to lessen the pain as much as he could. He knew that even if he survived this encounter; his feet wouldn’t have the same luck.

A small booming noise made Heinrich grow nervous. It sounded far away and he remained hopeful that it wouldn’t come for him. The moment it sounded again, this time, much closer, he grew more and more nervous. The fear was coming back to him and he did the only thing that he knew to keep it at bay. He took large deep breaths as he tried to move faster; his feet not cooperating due to a combination of the freezing temperature, that had seemingly gotten much colder. The booming noise grew into a consistent noise that Heinrich would hear every few seconds. He cursed the fog many times in his native language. It had no reason to set now, especially in such a short time.

10:55 am

Heinrich picked up the pace as soon as the booming noise was heard directly behind him. His practicing stoicism fleeted and he was only left with fear. He knew the creature was close and he was quickly running out of options. His stumbling eventually became his biggest detriment as he fell; tumbling to the ground. His feet burning; he cursed in German once more. As he turned onto his back, he could see the silhouette of the creature, slightly illuminated through the thick fog. The creature towered over Heinrich as it stomped closer and closer.

Heinrich quickly raised his rifle at the creature and fired. It yelled in agony, but continued moving towards him.

10:57 am

It looked down upon Heinrich with rage. Despite its injury, it roared as it approached the young soldier. It’s prey being nothing more than a minuscule piece of meat to consume. It picked poorly, but now it was fully committed to its choice. The Yankee wasn’t enough for the creature; it was starving.

Heinrich crawled backwards, trying to make as much distance as he could from the creature. He aimed his rifle at the it once more, cocked it, and fired. This time, the creature seemed slightly affected as it stumbled upon being hit. However, it was still coming for him.

10:59 am

The creature reached out to Heinrich and picked up the man by his neck. It squeezed and squeezed, causing Heinrich to start choking, unable to breathe. It revealed its sharp teeth to Heinrich and began to draw him closer and closer to its mouth. The claws dug into the man’s neck as he approached the creature. He frantically began to search his utility belt; attempting to find something, anything that could cause the creature to lose its grip. He quickly discovered his bayonet that he hadn’t yet attached to his rifle. He quickly ripped it from its pouch and stabbed the creature’s hand, causing it to let go. He fell on his feet; the immense pain causing him to forget about the pain around his neck. It had had enough of Heinrich’s resilience. It refused to allow this small piece of nothing to defeat it. It stomped on Heinrich’s feet, breaking them. Bone fragments scattered the trench, but it had finally given Heinrich’s feet the relief that he had desperately wanted. He felt no pain at first, but it soon grew into excruciating pain. It stood over Heinrich and raised its clawed arm. Heinrich looked up at the creature, half-delirious.

As the creature swung, Heinrich squeezed his eyes tightly and awaited death. His last thought being that of his parents and how he would join them soon. They would finally be happy together again; something that he had never experienced. Their sweet embrace brought him one single moment of solace, before darkness overtook him.

11:00 am

The war was over. On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, a ceasefire had been called and was now taking effect in all nations that had been involved in the war. Many people had lost their lives to this conflict and many had gone missing. Among those missing, Heinrich, the Yankee, and whoever else that had been subjected to the creature’s sick demented hunt.

The creature, however, was not satiated. It had never been fulfilled with its hunts and its hunger bellowed. It had no choice but to wait until the next world conflict that humanity would inevitably start. It was willing to wait however long it needed. Patience was a virtue that it excelled in; something that it knew humans lacked over a long period of time. They were needy and eventually, something else would cause chaos. It was inevitable.

For now, it simply watched and observed humanity’s next move. Awaiting its next meal.

Credit : AlecGman

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