So I was rifling through my CD’s and came across an old DVD backup of my GCSE English coursework, a piece of creative writing I did which I thought would be interesting to share.
As a little bit of background from memory, though it was 10 years ago! We read a poem called The Man He Killed by Thomas Hardy which was written in 1902. The poem is about two men who had met on the battlefield and one had killed the other. The man then goes on to imagine what would’ve happened if the circumstances were different and how similar they actually might’ve been.
We had to use this poem as a foundation for a story set in World War One and mine is below. I have edited a little for grammar and typos as this looked like a draft copy, also apologies for the names which I think I just pulled out of a hat but let me know in the comments what your thoughts are.
The Man I Killed
I threw myself to the ground, a flurry of bullets came raining over us. I crawled further forward towards the ditch when the next batch of ricocheting bullets were aimed at me. Once the bullets stopped I slid into the ditch. I recalled how long this ditch had been there…
It had been two days ago when Corporal Smith and his team of night patrols surveyed the area which culminated in them being blown up to smithereens by a cannonball mercilessly fired at them.
The subsequent day we saw them-the bodies. Some had arms missing, legs missing and as for Corporal Smith’s head-well, we found it several meters away, with the flesh callously torn off. As we picked it up on that frosty Monday morning, a rat scurried out as fast as it’s clawed feet could carry it. Then, another, larger vermin tried to escape but got stuck in the eye socket, it tugged and pushed so it could get it’s fat, overfed body out of the small mouse hole it had made of itself.
‘At least it might be better in there” I thought that night, sitting waist-deep in mouldy, discoloured, dirty water trying to eat the bricks that they described as biscuits-I’d heard stories of people smashing biscuits on the rocks and finding their knuckles turning the water into a claret tint and the biscuit, perfectly intact. I suppose there is some qualities about smashing your fists against a wall until it shattered, just to have the satisfaction of putting something in your mouth to eat. I thought about the rats that haunted the front line like a supernatural presence, they had enough flesh to gorge upon. I guess war spells luxury for them.
I shuddered, and as I did the most revolting smell wafted up my nostrils. The Pong of Patriotism, they told me, those, generals. More like the Pong of countless diseases and sewage from the hole in the ground they called a privy. That’s right, they get a palace, us a hole in the ground, without privacy!
The next morning I thought about what my life was like before…before Hell came to Earth.
I was a financier working at the Bank of England in London. I had no experience of conflict and the only blood shed I knew was chewing my tongue too much pouring over a difficult sum. I have a wife called Louise and we met on a business trip to Monaco. There we laughed and danced as we fell head-over-heels in love. I always thought love at first sight was just a fantasy, something to relish in at the movies and anybody who believed in it were misguided individuals, blinded by this fake idea of how the world works but with this encounter, I was willing to compromise.
Then I got the announcement that changed everything… War was imminent.
I quickly signed up, mostly because my workmates kept calling me a “weakling” and a “coward” so I knew I had to prove them wrong.
The night before I came to war, I went to the cinema and it showed a sanitary place where roast dinners were eaten in a clean, comfortable environment-with the best facilities any solider could ask for.
Now, in hindsight, I wish I never had the desire to sign up. If I didn’t have that desire there and then I would be at home with my beautiful, caring wife and all this, just a horrid nightmare, but no, I am here, waiting for my dying day…
“Your so sentimental, you know that, Fred”.
I stirred. Everything was blurred but as it faded into vision a man was staring back at me.
“Love at first sight, eh”. He mimicked. “What a load of pish”.
“Sam, you always knew that since I met my Louise, I believe in that, and her, more than God himself” I replied.
Sam Smith, my right-hand man in the field. He had a long, narrow nose with freckles, two pointed slits of deep sea-blue eyes and hair as black as ebony wood. He had a moustache and deep-set lines under the eyes. He had teeth as yellow as gold-from the biscuits…
“Ooo-er, someone sounds like they’re in the servitude of Cupid”.
Forgot to mention-he’s from Liverpool. Sam stood up so that I could get to my feet but as I rolled over a weight fell on me, pressing me down, 11st 12lbs of it.
I looked over my shoulder.
My face went from that of a cherry smile to one of awe and anguish.
Sam was on the floor…with a bullet in his head.
“Sam?” I asked, inquisitively.
“Sam” I asked, tapping him on the head.
Again, no response.
“SAM!” I yelled. I shook his shoulders, he was dead.
Then I heard it…a whooshing sound of wind. It certainly sounded like wind but was too low…too…artificial…
No…It couldn’t be…
Quickly I scrambled out of the trench, and tugged at the box containing my gas mask, the vapors were intelligently rising towards me-any second now and I’ll be like one of the others, choking so badly that my insides would spew onto the muddy ground and I’d be annihilated in the most painful way. I pulled again. The lid on the box was stuck!
‘Come on! Come On! COME ON!’ I thought pulling at the box. The gas was nearly over me, I knew if I didn’t get it out now, that was it, I could picture my epitaph already.
I closed my eyes and pulled….
Got It! I shoved it on and breathed a sigh of relief, I was safe, now all I had to do was wait for the gas to fade away. Then I remembered, I was in No Man’s Land, I wasn’t any safer here than I was in those yellow-green toxic fumes. Then I heard the clicking sound. I’d fallen out of the pan into the fire, quite literally, as the cannon fire and gunfire was let loose.
Frantically, I looked around and saw the ditch form two nights ago…I’d be safe in there? Wouldn’t I?
* * *
I stirred. The next wave of bullets came slamming against the ditch. I was about to jump up out of fright when I felt something, against my head.
“Don’t move one inch, or I’ll blast your head into the next life”. It was a German. What could I do? One part of my head, the lion said go for it and if you die, at least you tried-the other, the mouse, said obey him. ‘The mouse always outsmarted the lion’ I thought so I decided to obey the latter.
“Throw your gun to the ground”, He yelled. Slowly I pulled the gun out of my pocket and tossed it to the ground.
“Now the knife” the German shouted. I bent over and slid it out of the leg holster. I spun it so the blade was at my wrist, to give me some comfort.
“Throw It” He demanded, I clung on to it for dear life. “I’m growing impatient, throw it…NOW!” I threw the knife so it sat by the gun but as I did I kicked off the muddy wall so I fell backwards, onto the German. With him winded temporarily, I quickly scrambled towards my salvation: a battered, brown .44 rifle. I grabbed it and turned towards the man who was already standing up and had drawn his gun.
A bullet rang out through the eerie silence.
We looked at each other, frozen in time…
One of use would breathe there last today and become the rats latest feast…
The German fell to the ground, his face covered in mud. He screamed and kicked…then stopped moving. I crept over to the body and rolled him over so I could see my attacker. He had deep-blue eyes, with a beard as furry as a bear, freckles, broad shoulders with the build of an Olympic athlete. He had blonde hair flattened down by a dark black helmet with a cross on the top. He was wearing a black jacket and heavy-duty boots to match. I removed his helmet and dotingly put his arms crossed over his shoulders.
By the time I had accomplished this, the bullets had stopped. I stooped low and ran over the ditch before propelling myself to the ground. I looked behind me and saw the rats come scurrying down to the German (they had already started to bury through his clothes and were working on the flesh) I grimaced and slid the last 20 feet to my trench so as not to be shot myself, I slid into my trench. I had lived, lived to die another day.
I felt tired, just tired. Tired of bloodshed, tired of death, tired of innocent men so full of promise slaughtering each other for one man’s pride when we could all be friends if given the chance. This was murder, not patriotism. It was extermination, not duty.
The gas had faded away so it was now safe to breathe, I took my mask off and after saying hello to the survivors I walked fully standing to my sleeping spot.
I fell to the ground and an overwhelming pain consumed me…
I found myself falling…falling into eternity…
I was in a room made of stone. It had no windows and had no furniture except for a barred door. I observed the walls-no cracks, no creases, nothing. It looked like a jail and I certainly felt like I deserved it, to be slung in this desolate place to starve to death-that if I wasn’t dead already and had gone to Hell.
Suddenly, the door swung open. I realised it was my only way out so I took a deep breath and walked through. It slammed behind me. This room was just like the previous one except for a turret in the middle with a never-ending winding staircase spiraling down. Was this how hell worked, by playing with you head – it wasn’t half disorientating. I decided my mission was to get out of here even if I would die doing it. I took in all the details and decided the only way out was the steps in the middle so I walked towards them. They were deep cut into the stone and were uneven.
As I got nearer to the bottom, the stairs got steeper until I had to climb down them by hanging off the previous one. Finally (with a lot of effort) I reached the bottom. I found myself in a long corridor with a hexagonal structure but the stone was replaced by metal and wood. I gingerly walked along the gantry. If this was Hell more than likely it would fall and I’ll burn forever. As I walked there were doors every few feet with names scrawled on them. I thought this must be a hospital for bad people or the institute of Hell and these were his prisoners.
I kept walking then suddenly I froze…
A door started merging itself right in front of my eyes. First a door frame than the wood on the door itself. Finally a name was scrawled on the door:-Van Stima. Out of interest I seized the handle and walked through.
I found myself in a homely pub. The music was loud and a glamorous bar maid with dark skin, wavy black hair, hazel eyes and perfect white teeth.
“Take a seat, chick” she said. I walked to a bar stool. It was made of velvet and was extremely comfortable. I relaxed my aching muscles after the strenuous climb down. Maybe I was in heaven and that was just the final test?
I was about to speak when he man on my right butted in “a pint please, Leanne.” The glitzy barmaid pulled a pint and gave it to the man, the barmaid, Leanne, then turned to me
“What would you like?” Leanne asked.
“Erm, A pint, please” I replied.
“Coming right up” She answered. Quickly, she got a crystal-clear glass out and poured a beer, ‘a lot more hygienic in here than in those trenches’ I thought. The beer was brown and cloudy. I sipped the drink, “if this is hell then it would be poison while in heaven it will be perfect,” I supposed. I guess this decided for me that I was in heaven-it was fizzy, frothy everything a good pint should be. The taste lingered in my mouth, refreshing my taste buds which had had literally no good taste for nearly a year.
I looked at the man who had ordered the pint. He smiled, turned and waved. I observed all his features:- he had deep-blue eyes, with a beard as furry as a bear, freckles, broad shoulders with the build of an Olympic athlete. He was wearing a black jacket and trousers. I continued to stare, with my inner mind working as hard as it could because-somehow, I didn’t know how but he looked familiar, I leaned closer. ‘Who was he?’ I thought, I looked again, glaring with all my might.
Suddenly, my animal instincts sharpened, the Mr. Hyde of my Jekyll as a distinct loathing built up in me as I recalled events. The man-I knew who he was-he was the man I killed, the man I slaughtered, the man I destroyed.
He was the German.
“You!” I shouted, pointing my finger.
“Hello” He answered, with his fingers waggling. “It took you a while to guess” He claimed. He walked over to a bar table “Come here, take a seat”. He gestured to the seat. ‘That’s strange’, I thought, an invitation from a victim to his attacker but I decided to accept the offer.
“Your name is…?” I questioned.
“I think you already know that” he replied, smiling. At first I didn’t know what he meant when I remembered the most absurd thing that happened that night:-the door.
“Yes” was his reply, winking “and what’s your name?”
“Erm… Fred, Townsend”
“So, Fred, what did you do before this?”
I answered with a surprising amount of detail, even for me. I thought how come I’m spilling out my life to this person who really should have been my enemy. I described Louise, my job, everything. When I finished I asked what he did and he said he was a mechanic and was married with a girl called Vera, he said they were madly in love and they would die for each other so there love could last forever. He also said that they had a 3-year old daughter called Jennifer.
We then went on to talk about what every man loves to talk about; sport. He told me about his favourite football team and likewise, I told him mine. He also told me he was 27-years old. The exact same age as myself.
We then talked about our different reasons for joining the army and that we both agreed we shouldn’t be fighting.
“All this death, just for some fat cats pride” Van commented.
“I know we could all just be friends, like we are now-aren’t we?” I asked, noticing he looked away at the word friends, he hesitated before answering…
“Yes, we could.”
I felt a relief come over me as if I was being wrapped in a warm blanket, we had gotten so close in those few minutes and as we continued to talk the conversation got more lively and cheerful. We talked about pretty much everything until; the moon set behind the horizon and the sun rose and illuminated the windows. The German saw the sun and rose from his seat.
“Let’s go somewhere quieter” Van ordered. As I slowly rose out of my seat I saw a glint run over his face, the glint of a wild animal-he didn’t have a hidden agenda, did he? I asked myself as he led me thought the pub back to that long, metal corridor. We went through and Van walked further down to unlock a door with God-knows which name was on it. We went through…
I found myself in a dingy alleyway with bins scattered all over the place and rubbish on the floor and packet of bully meat. I walked down the alley with him in tow. I saw a newspaper clippings on the floor and as I bent over to read the headline I fell to the ground.
Van, the German, with the purest hatred in his eyes had given me a sharp kick in the leg. The kick was strong enough to make sure I wasn’t going anyway. He rolled me onto my back. The I knew, the only way I was coming out of this was in a body bag.
The German pounced on top of me.
“I will cut your throat” He shouted.
“Please don’t” I begged, hoping he’ll see sense.
“You shouldn’t have killed me” He barked like an Alsatian. He drew the knife back
“Please” I implored, one last chance for him to listen.
I fell to the ground with the knife protruding out of my stomach. He pulled it out, I fell to the ground-that dingy, dirty, unwelcoming alley…
Or was I?