Mitchell had not meant to desert. It was a June morning and he was taking a message to B Company. He was highly regarded by his officers, an intelligent and trustworthy man, steady under fire. He trudged along the pitted earth then stopped in surprise. In a gash in the earth a butterfly was sipping from a tiny flower.
At that moment he started to run.
He saw a line of trees on the horizon. He swerved and headed for them. He was panting by the time he reached them and tumbled into the long, protective grass. He lay there for a moment, dazed by what he had done. The sunlight glittered through the branches. I must go back, he thought. If I go back now no-one will realise I’ve been missing. Then his eyes closed.
When he awoke there was the faint smudge of dawn above the German lines. He had slept for twenty hours. His stomach rippled with fear. The officers would think he had deserted.
He staggered up. The night was fading and, as he watched, the fragile lines of the trenches came into view. What had made him run? He should go back. If he went back now he could say he had got lost. If he delayed he would be shot as a deserter. He went fifty yards towards the lines and stopped. He would not fool Captain Bell. He darted back to the cover of the trees.
He had to think this out.
The sun had risen far above the horizon and the day was light and clear. He was not thinking at all but was listening to the sounds of birds chirping in a nest above his head. He had not heard sounds like this for years. Even when on leave the men were driven to fill the unfamiliar silence with their own clamour. The birds sounded sweet, and they paid no regard to the war and the killing and the waste.
He stood up and turned his back on the trenches. He plunged into the trees, walking fast to keep himself from thinking. He walked for hours and only gradually noticed that there was a sound following him. He reached a clearing and halted, feeling naked and vulnerable. Somebody was near. A snigger sounded close behind him.
He spun round but no-one was there. It must be a madman hiding in the trees. Again, the laugh came loud and clear and he spun around once again to find nothing. Then his hand reached up and touched his mouth.
It was working furiously, jabbering a mad, crazed cackle in a voice he could not recognise as his own. He shuddered and willed himself to stop.
He failed. For an hour he stood rooted in the clearing, his mouth giving out great gusts and whoops of laughter, his eyes raining tears of anguish and fear.
Escape is the second story in my collection ‘For King and Country’. It is available from all e-book outlets for e-readers and apps. Click on the picture on the right to buy it from Amazon.
- Adrift #SampleSunday #Kindle #histfic #WW1 #Author #shortstories (martinlakewriting.wordpress.com)
- First World War (detectingblackpool.wordpress.com)