Korey Owen, Grade 6, Oatley Public School -
A whisper passed through the men like reeds in a breeze. “Shhh.”
“They’ll hear you.”
“Not like it will matter.”
“I despise pessimism.”
The soldiers shied away, shrinking into their uniforms. Sergeant Garatt nodded, content with their shame.
“Now straighten up, and be proud of fighting for your country. GOD SAVE THE QUEEN!”
“God Save the Queen!” The fighters chorused, but their hearts were lead, hardened with all that war had ungraciously thrown at them.
In fact, there were only two among their unit that wanted to fight. Two that had volunteered when every other man was called up.
Arnold had faked his age to be a part of the war effort. He wasn’t reluctant. Especially not, after receiving a white feather. The other man was Samuel B. He had to lose a family, countless friends and conclude life wasn’t worth living, before signing his life away. For he no longer wanted one.
And together they stood, like pigs raised for slaughter.
The Sergeant mechanically marched around, unceremoniously flinging murderous rifles into the quivering hands of the innocent. He cleared his throat importantly and stated, “I won’t pretend this’ll be easy.” His moustache quivered. “If they surrender, all the better. If they don’t, we will continue fighting in the name of Her Majesty. Any deaths will not be in vain. Ready?”
The young and the old, the crippled and the healthy pressed forward onto the parapet, preparing to delve into the firing line, like predators hunting prey.
Almost like the calm before the storm, silence ensued, before it was ripped apart by the monotone of clicks and ear deafening clashes of explosions and yells, ringing through the battlefield.
Arnold nodded at Samuel B, and they charged. God Save the Queen! Their rifles reverberated and the aftershocks ricocheted off their chests. God Save the Queen! Men fell around them, almost gracefully, into a deep sleep they would never get up from. God Save the Queen!
Blood coated the dry sand, like a morbid piece of art, and in the midst of it all, Samuel B stood, neither shooting nor moving, bullets nonchalantly grazing past him.
And then it was over, the Germans sunk to their knees, their crowns falling off their heads and crumbling to ash, like that of a warm, embracing fire. Samuel B knelt down and Arnold came over, helping him up.
As Samuel B looked around, the creases in his forehead narrowed. The ground was littered with bodies, such a waste. Somewhere, a sweetheart would be crying, somewhere, a mother would be holding a rosary and whispering to themselves, somewhere, a crippled man would be counting his blessings, as these men lay dead. That could have been him.
For the first time since he’d lost everything dear to him, Samuel B felt his life was worth something. He wanted his life. He wanted his life back again. With Arnold. And so, together, they walked back, into the dying sun, dreaming of a better life.