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Jasc
October 30th, 2003, 11:55 PM
Heya folks. I've been a long time lurker here and finally decided to contribute something. Currently, I am an English major, hoping to become a professional fiction writer (don't we all!).

Here is a short story (one of my none fantasy ones) I concocted up a few months ago. Any comments on style, language, flow, and such, would be greatly appreciated. The space between paragraphs is actually ment to be an indentation, not a full line break, but for some reason that seems to be impossible to do on these boards.

The Glory of it All

Mud spattered in far reaching arcs as another mortar slammed several meters from the trench wall, leaving a mushroom of black smoke in its wake. Through the smoky haze, two blue eyes tipped over the side of the trench, squinting in the dim light, trying to make out any sign of German movement across the pitted stretch of bare land. “No Man’s Land”, as the bare stretch was called, was scourged with holes, and the dirt a disheveled mix of brown and powder-burned black, intermingled with human bodies.

The face was gaunt and a veneer of mud covered it like a second skin. Once the color of cream, it was now dirty brown, tanned by years of war. The face had a real name once, but the war had taken it, along with the deaths of his childhood friends. He was known only as “Patch” by his comrades, after the crescent shaped burn that blotted the right side of his face like an ink stain.

Ears ringing from the explosion, Patch wiped the dirty muck from his face with the side of his arm. It didn’t help much, his uniform was caked with mud, but it made him feel better. And in this God forsaken place, anything that lessened the ubiquitous despair was worth it.

Patch cast his eyes about the trench checking for wounded. So far there were none… yet. Various men crouched awkwardly, legs sinking to knees in the miry bottom of the mud-filled trench. The entire ditch was mud hole, mixed occasionally with small pieces of flesh. That was the worst part about the mud. You never knew when crouching, if you were touching pieces of your friend.

He rubbed a callused, dirty finger across his unruly beard, feeling the dampness of his filthy uniform grate against his rash-infested skin. The perpetual wetness gave everyone a rash, and the lack of showers only exacerbated the problem. He had stopped counting the days since he last had a shower. His feet were the worst. Trenchfoot it was called by most. Patch tried very hard to ignore the burning sensation near his toes, but it was hard to do so when every time you shifted, your feet burned like someone snubbing a cigarette to your flesh.

Patch wrinkled his nose, trying to ignore the rotting flesh smell emanating from the trench. He thought after all these months his nose would desensitize. Not so. He had long since given up all hope on that account. The best he could do was ignore it. Yet sometime he still puked when the smell was at its worst, which was always a few days after a battle—and with the Colonel J.D. Daniel around, that averaged about once a week.

The Colonel was a habitual man. He ate three square meals a day, insisted on having hot baths, and sent hundreds of men one a week--mostly new recruits—rushing across the bare stretch of land separating the British and German lines. It was madness of course; at every rush the British solders were shot to pieces by the Jerrys, and any solders retreating from the onward rush were shot down by the British. Kind of made life difficult for the poor mates in the middle--casualty rates were near one hundred percent. The grunts rightly referred to it as the “Death Charge.” The fool Colonel actually believed that a continuous rush by the British would enervate German moral.

Patch wanted to personally throw the bloody Colonel to the Germans himself. Every week he posted a rooster of names up in the West Barracks--the chosen men who would run through No Man's Land the following day. And by the morrow's sunset, every man on that list was dead..

It was every solder’s nightmare to find his name there. Each week you checked it, and either shouted with euphoria, or wrote the final letter to your loved ones, hoping it would find its way back home after your death.

Some solders cracked under the pressure and lost their minds. Most of the time, it happened when the men saw their name scrawled out on the Colonel’s death list--like a tombstone engraving. Usually, the “crazies”, as they were called, got shot down in a halo of German gunfire when they jumped out of the trenches screaming hysterically. Sometimes, the commanders just did the deed themselves, taking the crazies out behind the trenches and putting a bullet into their heads—like killing a mad dog. No one much talked about it; talking about it was akin to stepping on your own gravestone. You never knew if and when you would crack.

It had been a quiet night so far, unusually quiet. With the exception of the occasional rattle of gunfire, all you could hear was patter of rain on the mud, and the drizzling ding of it on thousands of helmets. Patch knew it would change. It always did. Soon as the sun crested below the hills, hell would open its gates and invade.

The sun had all but vanished behind the smoky horizon, and in the distance, deep azure hues clashed with fiery orange and red tinges near the edge of the sky. Even in hell, a bit of heaven could be seen.

In the far distance the rumble of thunder could be heard. Or maybe it was German artillery to the far North, hamming at the British trenches, forcing the war-worn men into tiny fox holes to wait the duration of the night, praying for the privilege to see the sun the next day, to live yet one more day on this earth.

Fifty paces into No Mans Land, the sudden screaming of a man shattered the silence like an unexpected thunderclap. It was a chilling wail, filled with hopelessness…with the certain and undeniable knowledge of inevitable death.

“Help me, help me! Somebody help me! For the love of God, please!” the voice echoed over and over, rolling in undulating waves.

A few solders shouted encouragement to the wounded man, but their words lack conviction. There would be no rescue, and the man knew it too; he shrieked louder, as if to banish the angel of death by the intensity of his shrieks.

Several hours earlier, thirty men launched a midnight raid near the south portion of the German trenches. It was a desperate gamble; Intelligence reported a large German food supply was stationed somewhere in that area. The Colonel handpicked thirty men, had them equipped with decrepit rifles, and calmly informed the misfit company that if by morning the German food supply was still standing, it would go easier on them if they surrendered to the Germans.

The “brass”, as the trenchmen called the officers, placed a whole whack of confidence on those damn intelligence reports.

This time, Intelligence was wrong.

None of the men returned. The sole survivor--at least the only known survivor—was the screaming man—sprawled out in No Man’s Land.

Patch grimaced as the man began to scream again, this time louder. Those screams could to easily have been his own. In the trenches you tried not to think about your own death.
The inspiring words of the recruiter were now shallow, devoid of anything meaningful. “Fight for glory and honor! Protect the world from tyranny!” the recruiter had said, puffing his chest like an overblown peacock.

Glory…

Patch spat into one of many rain pools flooding the bottom of the trench as he thought of the word with disgust. In the trenches, the word meant nothing anymore.

If he had known the so called “glory” was to sit in filthy, stinking, rain-soaked trenches for months on end, watching your mates get mowed down by the score, never knowing when your own turn came, he would have taken the consignment paper and shoved it down the lying bastard’s throat.

A visiting parson once told him that Armageddon was coming soon, that only true faith in God would save his soul from damnation; Patch knew otherwise, Armageddon had already come, right here in this hellhole.

A gloved hand tapped his shoulder. He turned; it was Tyson. The man was missing his right ear and two front teeth.

“Whatcha want?” Patch asked.

Tyson was silent for a moment, then pointed into the distance—towards the Jerry trenches. “Ever think about what it’s like in the German trenches? I figure it must be for them as it is for us, you know, trench foot, lice and all.”

Mod note: Post too long

Jasc
October 31st, 2003, 12:01 AM
Patch shook his head wearily. “Tyson, we’ve our own problems now, don’t waste what bloody time you do have left on this earth thinking about what it’s like for the bloody Jerrys. Think about how were going to survive this bloody war.” Patch grimaced as he thought about the deathlist the Colonel posted every week. “Between the Germans and the bloody Colonel, we don’t have much chance of surviving.”

Tyson didn’t reply. There was no need to.

The thump of a mortar launch sounded across No Man’s Land and instinctively, both men hunched deeper into the trench, pressing their faces into the filthy mud. A whistle sounded overhead as the projectile arced towards the British lines, then a sudden explosion south towards the Colonel’s tent.

I hope it kills the bastard, thought Patch.

Several men started screaming, and the calls for medics rang through the air.

Tyson leapt to his feet and sprayed bullets at the German trench. A halo of fire burst from Germans; Patch was suddenly anointed with blood.

Tyson screamed then crumpled; his rifle smacked Patch’s right cheek as his body struck the mud.

Ignoring the burning pain on the side of his face, Patch bent down and touched his friend's face. Two cornflower-blue eyes stared at the sky, and a third red-eye as well, smack in the center of his forehead.

He reached down to close his friend’s eyes, but the thunder of British artillery startled him and he clamped his hands to his ears. A sudden calm settled over the trenches, as the rattle of machine guns died out.

Except for the shrieking soldier, trapped in No Man’s Land.

juzzza
October 31st, 2003, 04:35 AM
Welcome Jasc,

I merged your posts for you, usually we ask members not to exceed 1000 words if posting shorts straight onto the forum, you can submit stories by going HERE (http://www.sffworld.com/submit)

However, as you are new (even though you lurked!!!) everyone gets a chance ~ And I am renowned for my good natured attitude :cool:

So, come on members, rip... Um, I mean critique away...

Juzzza

Fist
October 31st, 2003, 10:45 AM
I really liked this story. I immediately found empathy with Patch and now I want to read more of the story. The deathlist was a good idea. It makes for an ever looming danger hanging over Patch. I was half expecting him to be told his name was on todays list. If this was chapter one of a full novel I would be eager to read on. Great job.
As for the technical aspects of your writing, I'm not experienced enough to say much on that subject yet. I could see very little wrong except the possibility of tightening up the words here and there(not much though!). Also, I think Jerrys might be spelled Gerrys(Germans) but I'm not sure on that.
Also this sentence to my mind that's not a good way to start a sentence. It's too conversational.
Kind of made life difficult for the poor mates in the middle

Overall I loved it and want to read more.

Expendable
November 11th, 2003, 12:56 PM
Hi.

There's a lot of telling, but where you show you do show well. Its a good story.

Jasc
November 12th, 2003, 01:03 AM
Thanks for the feedback. Glad you liked it.

Yes, I did lump chunks of exposition into the story, intentionally. I wanted to paint the hellish scenario that Patch faced, without actually pushing the character directly into the action. But if that technique worked as intended, well that's debatable :)

Cheers!

Rocket Sheep
November 12th, 2003, 07:31 PM
I liked your style. There are some great descriptions in here.

The main thing you need to correct is the POV. Short stories need to limit them and starting with the overhead camera and zooming in on Patch before you climb into his head is a very old-fashioned technique. I think you can do it better. Then there are a few things you say/describe thru the story that make me wonder how Patch knew... it was almost as if you had slipped out of Patch's POV to give a few facts and then slipped back in. I think this is an area you need to research a bit more as it affects the bones of a story. Until you use POV masterfully you can't make a decent skeleton to hang any of your brilliant fleshy bits on and it is sad to see those fleshy bits drip off weak bones... if you know what I mean...

As far as the plot goes, not a lot happens and it isn't spec fic. :D It has to be speculative of course because this is SFFworld. It doesn't mean you don't write well. You do write well and I wish you luck with it.

You know those crazies in the middle don't have to be crazies... they could be zombies... can't kill zombies... zombies are speculative...

Jasc
November 13th, 2003, 12:26 AM
"The main thing you need to correct is the POV."

Indeed, I agree. The POV is somewhat scattered. When I concocted the story, I was more focused on the descriptive aspects than the congruence of the POV. If I do I rewrite, I intend to rectify that.