This story is one of the November Writing Challenge entries chosen to be a featured story.
Out in the long grass of the field, she can almost hear his name catching on the wind. She wants to scream it, call out for him through the cold, the death, the destruction. Over the deafening sound of artillery fire and pained moans of dying men. Across country and Channel to the Western Front. She wants to call him back to her. There is nothing on this Earth she wouldn’t give to have him back in her arms again. But she daren’t utter his name.
“No,” she thinks. “How stupid that would be. What if death hears me? And decides his spirit is the one to be taken today.”
He holds her letters in his hands like they’ll turn to dust if he touches them too harshly. In his defence, everything feels as fragile as dust in this hellscape. Stumbling through trench after trench, firing blindly into mist, gruesome images taken from a nightmare. Death clings to them like disease. The weather claws at their skin like it is trying to get a grasp on their souls, and yet, here: a piece of home that acts like a bridge to heaven. Words so light-hearted yet meaningful that make him wonder what it all must look like from her side of the world.
Heart aching, he hopes it is as lovable and serene as he remembers it to be. It is the thoughts of home that remind him what he is fighting for. The memories are like vibrant oil paintings in his mind, so vivid and real he can almost imagine he is in them instead of staring tiredly at the muddy, crumbling walls of the trench.
Idly he wanders through the cobblestoned streets of the town. He relishes in the feeling of her arm slipped through his, her fingers loosely holding the fabric of his shirt. A lazy smile lies across his face as he turns to look at her – the love of his life. The tight brown curls of her hair bounce as she walks, and a general feeling of pride encases them – encases everyone in England. The promise of war is yet to be titled a threat.
They sit in the field together, her head resting on his shoulder. The two had been going to their perfect field on the hill since they were children. It gave them an amazing view of the whole town – weaving streets and quaint houses – and was their favourite place to sit and watch the sun go down. He promised to marry her there.
“When I come back. Our whole lives can begin then. Together.”
“I’ll hold you to that promise, you know.”
An explosion occurs not too far from where he sits, making his ears ring and the bones shake in his body. The soldier is ripped from his daydream and thrown into action before a second can pass. He feels it again. That sickening feeling that death is calling from within the mist. Awaiting your arrival.
They have no time to answer. Spring to action and do as instinct tells you. She may be waiting for you but so is death, and it is only a matter of time before you find out whose arms you will be wrapped in.
A certain joy she hasn’t felt in four years makes every nerve in her body tingle. Standing at the window, she stares out into the street, one foot nervously tapping against a creaky floorboard while her hands continually wrap a cloth between her fingers. She manages to keep her breathing level right up until the point he turns the corner of their street and comes into sight — at which point she can’t contain herself anymore. Her legs had taken her out the front door and along the road until her arms wrapped tightly around his neck and her cheek was placed firmly against his.
There were no words. There was no movement. The two stayed clinging to each other for minutes that seemed to pass like seconds. The only sound was rugged breathing and a sense of relief that screamed louder than any voice.