The friend I was in the mist of the half consciousness of waking; I was staring down at a plank of wood for so long that I doubt even God knew how long I lay there and waited. I wished it could last forever. I was dreading what was to happen in only a few minutes.
I decided to pray. The last time I had done so was when I was at school eight years or more before this. I had been eight at the time and only did it because I was sent to the head master for muttering all lesson to my best friend Neil Thomson. He had to see him too but we dare not speak to each other while waiting outside his office, as this was the zone where even a pin drop may be heard.
The headmaster was a renowned thrasher with his long thin cane.
I had never been thrashed before this. However, most of us knew what it involved. Three rhythmic staccato cracks that echoed around the building followed by the equally loud wails that penetrated even the most strong hearted and which made them cringe and shudder. We usually passed his study once a week. It reminded us of the screams of war films in the cinema. Except this time it was not just a film in the cinema, and the enemy much worse than the headmaster of a school, and the weapons much more lethal than a brittle bamboo cane. I feared that if I opened my mouth I would vomit although, that could have been the abominable food that I was given.
I had merely moments to brood over the matter when a crack of a gunshot louder than any I had heard ten years before, brought me down to earth. It was the wake up call.
I was one of many that just refused to move although I knew I had to. I peered at my pocket watch that was clutched so tightly in my hand I thought it was going shatter.
"What's the point of waking us up at four in the morning for?" is what I thought I was going to say except all the syllables merged into one toad like croak as a branch of a tree would in a storm.
"Get up, get up, and get up! You lazy pack of lummoxes!" The commanding officer hollered. Obviously this form of wake up call was much more effective. However, today was different. Today I could not help noticing that his voice was quavering slightly and his cheeks as white as marble I had not a clue as to why he was so frightened, he would be staying behind.
We all dressed into our uniforms and a few minutes later we were marched outside and positioned by a ladder into no-man's land.
"So, this is it then," I said softly to Neil, who had also volunteered at the recruitment office just like me.
The train whistles blew, loud long and clear, just like screaming. There was a blood red sky as the sun revealed it's first signs of existence that day. There was a mist in the air from explosives, which I could not help thinking would become a mist, thick of death.
I ascended a ladder narrowly avoiding the nails and splinters jutting out either side of it.
I then found myself standing in no-mans land; sharp rocks, dust and shrapnel littered the ground like the surface of the moon. Neil was running forward as bullet after bullet were hailed at us as rain in a storm.
We reached the barbed wire. To my horror there were corpses strewn across it at odd angles like broken dolls thrown from a pram. They were stuck there. They looked like flies stuck to a spider's web made of wire mesh made of wire mesh and spikes. We kept on trotting trying to keep to our instruction of walking at a slow pace but bullets fired and Neil and I panicked. I found a gap in the barbed wire and rushed through, Neil followed.
There was screaming all around us as people twirled and stumbled onto the ground into odd angles not at all like I had seen in films, where the heroes would fall dignified yet in slight pain. However, in this case people were dead before they touched the ground as the bullet rebounded off bones causing the shot to shoulder immense torture, which no film hero could recreate.
Suddenly, I felt a searing pain in my abdomen. I screamed. I found my eyes darting from left to right almost as fast as a strobe light in my panic as the throbbing was as constant as clockwork. I tried desperately to ignore it. I flopped to the ground and parallel to me, staring me in the face, was Neil. His face was expressionless, eyes still and open. I lapsed into unconsciousness.
All was white and I had woken. I did not know how long I lay. I just wanted it to last forever, not wanting to wake up, not wanting to face the truth. And so I just lay, but knowing I had to rise soon. All I wanted was to stay in this warm comfortable bed for eternity, as a baby, blanketed and wrapped, as if I was obscured from reality. Slowly I raised my head and glanced around. A nurse came up to me, "So you're awake then." "What's the time?" I asked, blankly.
"five to eleven," she spoke in a motherly voice, which reminded me, "Does my mother know that I'm here?" "You were shipped in yesterday, your mother should be coming in shortly, now you rest," and with that, she bustled away to another patient.
I lay back and remembered all that had happened, Neil and I, the trench life, the shooting, Neil dead.
I felt a burning sensation in my throat and eyes, I knew what was coming. Tears as bright as pearls threaded their way down my cheeks. I did not notice my mother entering the room. She pulled up a chair and waited, I knew I had to go though all this again.