how do i explain that it feels like silver? that when they shell us, it goes beyond sound. i can reach out and touch it. it coats my fingers with oil. i don’t know how to tell you. what would i even say. i saw our friend robbie the other day. he was coming back from a raid, three pairs of socks on his hands. you have to take the socks, you see. when you crawl back from the opposition trench, you pass all the dead bodies, and you have to take the socks. lucky time you might find a double pair. the fucking rain is constant, the mud the worse. your feet get real wet real quick and if you cant find dry socks its done for you. can’t fucking believe i am waist deep in shit and piss fighting a war that no one asked for. its the mud what does it you see. you go to bed under your plastic sheet and when you wake you have no bloody idea where you are. i mean, some of it is because this fucking place sends you mad. all this horror. how do you even begin to process it. ivo said he shared a smoke with a guy who had left his girlfriend with a sprog in her tummy. he was beaming, kept going on about getting back to her, how the baby would be born without him but he’d make up for lost time. we buried what was left of him three days ago. shot to fucking pieces on a raid. pound and some other cunt dragged his limbs back. i asked them why. why didn’t they leave him like the others. they wanted his fucking socks. cunts. absolute bastards. what was i saying? the mud! the mud! the rats! it slips around at night. it sits on your chest and it slides inside you like a dripping cock. mud inside me. mud inside me. i want my mum. its the fucking smell, you know? you put twenty stinking cunts in a hole in the ground and ask them to bury the bodies where they shit and piss, what the fuck do you think is going to happen? the lads in the sap have it worst. shit and piss up to your elbows in there, and if you try and get a look at the sky they take your fucking head off. sap is every other night now, most of our lot are dead. mustard gas. could hear the weeping for days. i bet that cunt haig has never heard a young lad scream like i have. call for his mum. that’s what it always goes back to. you want your mum. i want my mum. you want her to make the pain go away. to get it out of your eyes. please mum. make it stop. and for what. so we can gain a good inch on the hun. so haig and his bent fuckers at home can move a little wooden block on a map. saps like this. you go up and listen out for the hun. for any noise really. it was up sap that ivo says he saw the kid. said he was glowing in the dark. thought for a minute it was gas affecting his eyes but this kid just walked calm as you like through the wire and down into the trench. ivo says he wanted to shoot at him but pound had told him not to. pound is a dry fucker though, wouldn’t shoot a nazi if it was fucking his sister. listen, none of us would. we are so tired. shelling don’t stop you see. it’s like being under the ocean, ‘cept the water is screaming at you. it wants you to die in the most terrible ways. but it isn’t the germans you see. its the officers. bloody lads like us just want to die or go home. our feet are leaking. i cant sit down for fear of ripping open my shitter. its no life this. i want my mum. rained last night and all the bodies came back up, like vomit. can’t bury these fuckers deep enough. when it rains here, it rains. the water pours into this death hole and turns the whole place into porridge. you forget you buried them and then you wake from your three hour sleep and you are soaking wet, lying next to the fella you looted for smokes a couple of days before. the guy who had his hand shot off by a sniper. wanted me to tell his mum he loved her. then the rats ate his liver. the rats! the rats! like a shimmerin’ carpet of obscenity. most of them are black here. every time i wake up i have these bastards on my face or in my uniform. more fool them, i cant even imagine what it smells like. if you ever want to know what rat piss tastes like, ask someone who has fought in a trench. rat piss and stale bread. the diet of a glorious soldier. ivo has taken to pissing on a rag and wrapping it round his mouth. says pound told him something in the piss will stop him getting gassed. fucking idiots. course, pound will say that. it lightens the mood, some cunt going around sniffing his own piss while we all get shot at. here is the layout of the trench, for whomever should need it. its 800 metres long. zig zag like, all up and down so that the bosch cant just look straight up us and fuck the whole lots of us with one burst. a bastard to dig out i expect, but we got off easy and just walked straight in. easy is subjective of course. nothing easy about watching rats and flies eat your pals face. anyway, the sap is a little round pit at the end of a thin little alleyway. you have to go single file and edge sideways to get to it, so the mud coats new parts of your clothes every time. we go there to spy on the germans and keep an eye out for shells and snipers. not that any of us can do anything about either of those things if they so choose to attack us. its hard enough to live in this place. hell is cold and full of mud, let me tell you. pound is the captain here. well, i say captain. no one really knows anymore. days are just spent staggering and shitting. sky goes black and some of us try to sleep. raid last night was biblical. crawled over twenty metres of jagged wire and dead bodies until the nazi stakes loomed over us like crucifix. the sky spat with bullets and pulsed red like a bloated corpse. it took three hours to get there and back and not one fucking german did we see. par for the course nowadays. if it wasnt for the metal flying through the air, i’d say we were the only fuckers left on this scorched earth. the dugout is a little mud room down a flight of mud steps they dug to keep us from dying from the shells. stupid really. the mud, such as it be, is drier down there at least. mud walls, mud floor, mud ceiling, once the shells start up—and really when do they stop? – the lads get down there and watch the ceiling sink and sag like distended skin until its time to go out and check on the corpses. a good life this one. real fucking good. we stuck sandbags along the bottom edges of the steps. absorb the near constant bloody rain. its difficult to describe the rain. its been here so long that by rights we should set it a place at the dinner table. least it washes the piss downstream, that’s something good about it. i dont even know if i am alive anymore. maybe i got shot and this is my penance. but what did i do? i just did as i was told. three days ago he came. just walked through the guns and the wire. naked as a fucking baby and not with no sense you or i have. they say he cant see or hear. but he made it somehow and half the men are already talking about how he is some sort of savior. the answer to all our prayers ivo said. a naked boy. a fucking ghost. the answer to our dreams. fucking hell. this trench is sending us all mad. what happens when you die? i am terrified, let me tell you. i dont think i believe in god anymore. or if i do, its an angry god. would he put me in this trench, watching my friends covered in lice and scabs, getting bombed or worse, day after day? what have i done to him. what did any of us do? i wish i was dead. new boots came. three sizes to big. i slicked them with whale oil. now they are three sizes too big and they fucking stink. we all sat in the dug out last night listening to the waves crash over us. i looked hard enough at the mud that it turned a deep blue., like the ocean. shells like a skipping record above us. blood beats in our ears. it goes tick tick tick tick tick tick tick then crash like cymbals and you check if you are dead or not. most times you are not. you have to take whatever happiness you can down here. ivo spent the night crying. his foot has gone bad. the boy says we will all be healed when we die. that the only path out of suffering is death. the boy sits in the dug out, shivering. but he ain’t cold. he’s fucking alive, full of thick blood and screamin’. ivo told me this. he said the boy showed him his childhood one night in a dream. said he was born in some fishing village in kyoto, which is a part of japan. anyway, this boy was neglected he said, by everyone except his gran, who he called sobo. but she stank of fish! fucking reeked of fish guts because she was always killing or cooking fish. she used to give him her thumb to suckle on when he was young and for the rest of his life everything tasted like blood. ivo said that the boy had told him one day, when he was on his own, he sunk a pencil as far as he could into his ear and that he enjoyed it. actually enjoyed the pain. so he is covered in blood now and he does it again, in the other ear. then both eyes. pops his eyeballs right there and then with the point of the pencil. shoves it so far into the socket he might have touched his brain if sobo hadnt run in and found him. he never made a sound the whole way to the hospital. had the whole bloody village screaming, pulling the family this way and that trying to get them to the hospital. they pumped him full of blood and kept him in for six months. his family had to give up fishing and look after him full time. i dont believe any of it, sure i dont. i’ve seen the boy and he’s got eyes and ears like every other bloody man. they just dont work. shelled all last night again. and this morning. i want my mum. the boy writes things down. over smokes last night in the sap, pound told me the boy has a following now. richards and flight. sit by him day and night. listening, pound says. but the boy, he never makes a noise. just sits there. ivo told pound he was fierce, shivering with anger. but ivo is ivo you know. foreign. the boy. he’s got something not right about him. like he don’t belong here. well, of course he don’t belong here. but not even of this earth. worse than that, why ain’t any of us bothered by this? how long have we been here now? seems like months on our own but we only run ten days up in the front. germans entered the trench last night. ivo and myself ran to the sap to hide like cunts. no heroes here my friend. just alive or dead. the gerry were throwing their potato mashers along the trench to flush everyone out. some of our lot ran to the dug out where the boy was. pound swears he saw the lad walk out in front of the germans. just staring at them. then he opened his eyes and they were black as the night sky. pound said the germans heads just exploded. blood everywhere. then the boy just walked back to the dug out and drew the tarp across the door. course, i dont believe what pound says. there was a guy in here a few days ago called jones. don’t know where he went. people seem to come and go. but always pound and ivo, alongside me and now, of course, the little boy. hate this place but can’t end it. sometimes i sit in the sap and hope the fucking germans will get a bead on me. he writes things down, does the boy. things you shouldnt read. i don’t understand things anymore. all i hear is the ringing in my ears. like i’m deep down in the world. like i have dug deep down with my bare hands, past the corpses and the seams of coal. past the gases and the fire. i’ve crawled all the way down to the centre of the earth and he is there. the boy. but he has too many arms. i can’t see. mum. help me. i can’t see.
Stuart Buck is a writer, artist and thinker who lives in a basement in upstate New York. When he isn’t creating himself, he runs the fictional online news portal The Bear Creek Gazette and can be found wasting his days on Twitter @stuartmbuck