The International Writers Magazine:Dreamscapes Fiction
Gemma Roxy Williams
Death. And this, is one of my stories
I reside here, amidst
the stormy tombstones scattered with futile tears. On this verdant
mound punctured by the stony stakes of the deceased, in the ice
coated remnants of the sunlight hours; I am joined by a gathering
of sober faces, their numb limbs layered in black. Congregated
round an eternal bed of unyielding wood, slowly lowered into the
consuming earth; their tears race to the soil that has taken him.
This is one of my
moments of triumph, an instant of glory as I reclaim him as my own;
a conquest long overdue. Yet they do not smile, nor celebrate with me;
these, my despondent guests. The fools weep as if it might alter the
predestined arrow of fate; as if their human grief could pull this hero
from the ground.
One man stands out among the dreary gaggle; monotonous black suit glinting
with a hint of metal, telling tales of glory and honour. I have been
keeping my eye on this one; hovering over his modest bed at night, suspended
among the ceiling cracks over his tattered crimson chair by day. I have
been watching his health deteriorate, reaching my skulking fingers closer
towards him with every coughing fit and fall. I thought he would be
mine when I took so many of his bold comrades on that pitiful day; yet
my days have been depleted in this fatigued box of a house.
Perched on the back of his chair; I have seen this poor excuse of a
life that he clings to; these grey, commonplace days that he cherishes.
Every Sunday I have seen the daughter, dropping a roast dinner in at
five sharp, staying for a chat; she doesnt know he often throws
the meal out, preferring a snickers bar and a bag of salted cashews.
There are grandchildren too, but I have never seen them; the sight of
children gives his weary eyes the fiery look of a man being faced with
the devil, confronted by all his sins. The main disturbance to a mundane
routine of cowboy films and parched newspapers is that damn carer; He
lets himself relax with her; he almost told her everything last week
He heard the usual tapping of the code into the keysafe, a little cough
as she got out the copper key and opened the door. She muttered her
usual "Hi Bertie!", but he didnt respond as usual; she
assumed he must be tired. Then she caught the Remembrance Day services
on his black and white TV, his moist eyes engrossed; she hadnt
even realized the months had turned from October to November. She hurried
through the normal routine, getting a frosty glass of cold water and
a handful of tablets, like solidified rainbow drops rattling in her
fleshy palm. She pulled out clean pajamas from the dryer to warm his
fish cold skin; like heated milk over cardboard. The gentle droning
of the house was eerily silent without their usual banter; she could
almost hear me there in the cracks of the silence.
She finished the normal routine, but sensed he wasnt ready for
her to go, so she sat down next to him, chatting about the Remembrance
Day events; the little she learnt about the wars at school. Something
she said triggered him off, he broke his restrained silence and he started
to talk; his voice unusually deep and daunting. As broken images of
gunfire and men marching in uniform troubled the TV; a slideshow reflection
on a dull wall, he talked of his men, of the cold. He summoned up a
camouflage image of torrents of bullets and camaraderie, glorifying
war unintentionally; we both knew better. Her bright face listened so
attentively, he couldnt help himself; he let it flood out- for
the first time he poured out the story behind the promising glimmer
of the medals; the seize of the bridge in that insignificant village,
the confusion of the gunfire, he even dared mention Hendersons
As soon as his feeble mouth shaped this name, he broke down in tears.
She wrapped her young arms around his sunken shoulders. She thought
his dripping eyes were for his comrades, for the dead enemy, for the
poor villagers caught in the way; little did she know of the ghosts
that haunted him at night, the horror that the name Henderson would
hold all his living days. I see them of course, they are shadows of
my doing; all they ask is to be set free by the truth, yet he holds
and after his tears he was silent, letting this young girl
think him a disheartened hero, because it was easier than the truth
This is my true playing field; here I roam like a child in an empty
park; amidst the dying screams and grey orders. They had been camped
here two long days; the eternal dripping from the skies dampened their
uniforms and their spirits. This meager lump of iron in the middle of
a commonplace village seemed a dismal conquest for the weeks of marching,
the men dead; more than two sections of their good men lost to them;
a wonderful gain to me. A sullen mishmash of the leftovers from each
section; they almost overcame their numbing fear of what was to come,
in yearning for action; anything but this endless waiting. The uneasy
villagers turned down their lamps, eyes peaking out behind blinds to
observe these khaki-clad occupiers turn their rough backs to the nights
Darkness began to smother the grey daylight, I hid among the shadows
of their bashers; my ill-omened laugh whispering in the blowing rain.
The men not on watch began to drift into uneasy sleep; then they awoke,
hearts bleeding with fear; to the ominous thud of gunfire. The Germans
were trying to take back the bridge; the villagers screams resonated
deeper than the dull howl of gunfire as they ran out to us for help.
Under the mystification of nights cloak the six men who remained
readied their weapons, jumping to their feet; the chaos of deep shots
and hollow wounds began. The Platoon Commander shouted insistent orders
to persist, despite their being outnumbered by ten to one. Nicely cocooned
behind all their equipment; hidden from approaching enemy and the dazed
villagers around him, Captain Henderson was only happy to risk the mens
lives; these leftover nine were certainly expendable. In this deceit
and horror I ran riot; I screamed like a dog gone mad, I chased each
bullet and marveled in every weave of confusion.
Harry fell to the floor, a small river of warm blood flowing down over
his left eye; good old Joker Jeff was limping, a blunt hole clean through
the jagged tendons of his knee. The others stumbled on, in a frenzy
of bloodshed; flares shedding erratic light on the tortured faces. Index
fingers and battered shoulders were numb, rifle switch set to R allowing
incessant, impartial fire. I lingered in the murky skies, looking down
on a bridge sprayed with dead German bodies illuminated in the surreal
light of the flare; like a childs game of dominos when the child
is loosing, and everything gets thrust to the floor.
Henderson didnt stop though, despite this envelope of dead men;
he kept screaming. Blood red eyes screaming at the men to continue.
Staring into the pleading eyes of a frantic Mother caught in the way;
"Thats an order boys", so they shot. Bertie Davis paused,
to question; a frail head of wispy hair gazed up at him. "Thats
a fucking order Davis, you hear me. Or I swear Ill kill you myself"
so, no longer suspended in the midst of pandemonium; he shot the young
girl in his path, and he pretended not to see her teddy, dripping in
her futile blood, fall to the filthy floor.
Then silence reigned as blood pounded through their ears, and the four
remaining men looked at each others blood stained faces, ripped
combats, their distraught eyes. At their booted feet lay not only men
in German uniform, but the innocent men of the village, and their fractured
wives and torn children; their officer watching them with fresh fear
in his face. I had enjoyed a most successful reaping of my crop; though
these worn soldiers did not celebrate with me.
In the bitter light of the growing sun, support arrived and the men
were relieved; the new recruits found a blood bath. The four remaining
soldiers informed them uneasily about the German slaughter of the rest
of their section, of their disgusting massacre of the men, women and
children of the village. Bertie, Arnold, Sam and Pete returned home
heroes; esteemed for their amazing defeat of these most vicious Germans
and their commendable attempt to impede the sordid German breach of
the Geneva Convention. Captain Henderson was awarded the Victoria Cross
posthumously; it was assumed he was bravely killed in action- no one
but me and those four men heard that lone shot ring out long after I
thought all my fun was over
They all go home, these sheep dressed in black, mourning an empty body.
The clarity of the day starts to dim; with the falling cloak of night
enveloping the memory of the friend asleep in dirt, they allow tear-weary
eyes to close quietly in the warmth of their beds. But He doesnt
slumber serenely, nor drift from this scene of misery, hastily as the
others do. He lingers behind the disappearing throng of black; worn
features moistened by a distinct absconding tear. In the hoary light
of this deep-winter afternoon, he falls on his knees before his friends
grave; a feeble shadow of the soldier he was. Now the droplets of grief
rain upon the unforgiving stone; I tremble over him. It is not yet his
turn for the peace of the final sigh of death; not yet for this lone
figure upon a hill of solitude. The last decorated hero among crowds
of grey men, the last soldier to hold the truth within his fading grasp.
© Gemma Roxy Williams March 2006
of Orison by Iain Sinclair
Gemma Roxy Williams review
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