I put my shrapnel helmet on my head and shoved the leather strap beneath my chin. The shelling no longer woke me from sleep, nor did the smell. I stretched what little I could in the trench without letting a finger go above the ridge where bullets whizzed.
I crawled off the pile of khakis taken from the dead and wiped some of the flies from my face. Every breath smelled like feces and freshly rotted flesh. I shuddered. Being late to my post would brand me a coward.
Like every person leaving the night’s post, I shook the stiff, rigor-mortis hand of a man who’d died in the first assault on the beach. I was with the team that had tried to bury the dead, but the limbs refused to stay under the beachy grave. This hand remained eternally in handshake grasp, ready to greet us every waking.
“Top of the mornin’ to you.” I gave the good fellow a good shake.
At first I jumped when the dead man, having rotten for more than a month, pushed the sand from off his body and rose from the bloodstained beach. I let go of the hand and jumped back just a bit, but this was nowhere near the worst or most surprising thing I’d seen since arriving on the shores of Gallipoli.
The man hit the side of his head to get the sand out of his ears and some of the more degraded pieces of his body. “Wow… how long was I out?”
I shrugged. “Couple months or so.”
“And they didn’t discharge me? Even if I had to walk back to Suffolk, it’d be better than…” the dead man gulped and put his skeletal hand to his chest. “This is the beach I remember. I remember the shelling.”
“Look at your hand. You’re very, very dead.”
He flinched when he saw the blackened, bloody hand. “Gah!”
“It’s a bloody mess. Damn all the admirals and politicians to Hell,” I said.
“What should I do now?”
“Honestly, if I were in your position, I’d just lay back down and be dead. Thought about it a couple times, myself.”
He nodded and lay back down. “Top of the mornin’ to you.”
Recently, I’ve been listening to the Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast ‘Blueprint for Armageddon.’ This was inspired by the portion about the disastrous Gallipoli Campaign in WWI, then with a tiny slice of undead. Despite the undead in this story, I think the way Carlin describes WWI shows how the actual war was so, so much worse than anything I could have possibly written.
If you like military history and aren’t EXTREMELY well read about WWI, Carlin’s Hardcore History is great.