Gord Giles, age fifteen — though he had told the recruitment office he was eighteen — stood knee deep in muddy water, a rifle resting against his shoulder. Ayden Tracy, fellow private and nineteen years old, stood next to him, his brow lowered underneath his helmet. They weren't sure what they were doing. Earlier that morning, Lieutenant McReynolds had dragged them out of bed and told them to stand there. In their sleep drugged minds, they hadn't questioned it. Now that the freezing cold mud was seeping into their trousers, they were having second thoughts.
In the middle of the stillness, a dark shape flew up out of the corner of Gord's vision. Instinctively, he fired at it. The fog in his brain evaporated. There we go. The dark shape exploded as the bullet hit. It had been a clod of dirt.
Slow applause echoed out from around the corner of the trench. Lieutenant McReynolds, clapping, sloshed across the boggy ground toward them. He was grinning from ear to ear. “Well done, Giles!”
Ayden relaxed his stiff posture. “Did you wake us up just to see if Gord could hit a moving target in the dark?”
The lieutenant clapped Gord on the shoulder. “Good lad! That was impressive!”
“Thank you, sir.” Gord drummed his fingers against the gun and tried to smile back. It had been impressive. He was sleep deprived, it was pitch black and he’d shot a moving target that was essentially the same color as its surroundings. He just wished he'd been allowed to stay in his bunk, itchy and damp though it was.
The sky started to turn grey. Lieutenant McReynolds looked up, as if expecting something. It wouldn't be clear. Days came and went without direct sunlight. The three men quietly listened as the rest of the trench came to life. Wherever people live, even in the middle of a war, the noises are always the same: clinks, groans, feet shuffling and plodding.
“Where's Connor?” Ayden asked.
McReynolds's head swiveled around. His eyes were sharp against his skin. They always appeared clean no matter how filthy the rest of him got. “He's still in his bunk. Had a long watch last night.”
Gord nodded. Ayden grunted and climbed out of the bog onto higher, but still wet, land. The unspoken passed between them, then became swallowed up by the traditional squelch and bustle of the trench. Dalach McReynolds stayed behind, his hands in his pockets and his head tilted towards the sky.
I hope you are doing well. Is your mother faring alright?
I am still fighting fit. The food continues to be awful, but there's not much I can do. Private Tracy and Lt McReynolds have been fantastic mates. Lt McReynolds is full of stories! I must remember to tell you one when I return.
“Writing to your girl again, Giles?” Connor asked. He peered over the younger man's shoulder, his face screwing up delight. The littlest things made Connor happy, which was a good thing these days. Connor was just brimming with joy and Gord thought that if someone got close enough, they could actually feel it, like a faint buzz.
“That's sweet,” Ayden commented. He had paused in the middle of rolling a cigarette. His thick eyebrows had tilted together in the middle. “You plan on marrying her if you get back?”
“That’s the idea,” Gord muttered.
Ayden shrugged and lit his smoke. He raised it to his lips with near grace. No one was better at looking apart than Private Ayden Tracy. Some people are born with the gift of never quite becoming one of the pack. Gord had always felt comforted by the presence of others whereas Tracy constantly looked like he could do without it. And Connor was something else altogether. He attracted people to him. Although, now...
A rap on one of the wooden supports alerted the three to the presence of Dalach McReynolds, another magnet of a man. In fact, he had a gravitational pull so strong that people said he once ended a bar fight between strangers without raising a hand. Take him to the Germans, they said, and they will lay down their weapons after they see him smile.
“Hello, lads,” he said, swaggering into the room. “What are you up to here?”
“Just writing, sir,” Gord said, holding up the pen as evidence.
“Ah, I see,” the lieutenant said with a wink. Gord flushed to his ears. There were times when he wished he hadn't brought up Angelica at all.
Of course, they'd all asked, long ago when he'd first joined up and wrote his first letter to her. Is she pretty? Handy with a needle? Kissed you goodbye? Yes, yes, no. Gord had no idea what would happen if he tried to kiss Angelica. Girls like her shuffled meekly to see you off without a lot of theatrics. Ayden had said she sounded “wet” which had led to a fistfight, which in turn led to their current friendship.
Dalach clapped his hands. “Alright then! Which of you has watch tonight?”
“I believe it's me first,” Private Tracy said. “Then it's Connor.”
Dalach's eyes flickered. “No,” he said slowly. “I think you'll find it's Giles.”
Ayden and Connor both opened their mouths to protest but the lieutenant gave them a hard look. Gord pretended to put the finishing touches on his letter. This was about the last time Connor had taken a shift. They all tried not to think about it, or even breathe about it.
“You're treating me as if I'm fine china!” Connor shouted.
“That's not it.”
“Then what is it?”
Gord tried to transport himself somewhere else. A field perhaps, on a summer afternoon. A pheasant, a gun, a father. A shout of “Good shot, lad!” Gord sighed. A good shot, a perfect shot.
Something shattered in the background. Gord couldn't ignore it anymore. A small mirror had just been thrown across the room, smashing against the wall. Connor grabbed his coat from the hook and stormed out. Dalach, crouched on the floor, lowered his hands. The shards of glass had left a few cuts, but they were minor.
Ayden dropped his cigarette, smashed it with his heel and raced after Connor, barking his name. Gord got up and gathered the remains of what had been a perfectly good shaving mirror. If he remembered correctly, it was Connor's. He would be upset when he came back to himself later. If he came back.
Dalach sighed. “He's gotten worse.”
Gord nodded. There was a time when Connor had no quarrel with anybody. There was a time when Connor was much happier and didn't cry in the middle of the night and didn't hole up inside himself whenever he heard the sound of an explosion.
Ayden reappeared at the door. “I couldn't catch him, but he'll be back.” He sat himself down on his bunk and rolled another cigarette. The scent of tobacco filled the room again. Dalach swept out. Gord returned to his chair, folded his letter and placed it in an envelope. He'd give it to the post master soon.
When they'd first met, Connor had been all smiles. He had a young bride back home who was expecting their first baby. He told good jokes, so good that he made a Sergeant Major laugh when he shouldn't have. He was a quick thinker, light on his feet and brave, so very brave. He was a Corporal.
Gord remembered when there had been drinks and cards and Gord had been so very bad at keeping a straight face, but Connor had given him a lesson so that he wouldn't embarrass himself. Connor was also the first who saw him shoot.
“You have promise,” he said. “But then again, who wants to stay in the army?”
Gord thought that statement was strange until he was actually on the front line. That had been before he knew about the wet and the rats. Still, Connor had seemed so keen, even when he knew the truth.
Hell, he'd given Ayden a reason to smile.
This was all before they went over the top the first time. Gord would never forget it. They'd lost over twenty men in the space of a few minutes. As far as he'd heard, a mine was tripped and Connor had watched as a young private was torn to bits by the blast. He wouldn't stop talking about it afterward.
“And...and...it was like paper....” he'd muttered, swigging down a whole bottle of gin. “Good Lord...I knew it was there and I told him...I told him...”
Days passed with little talk of what had happened. Dalach warned them not to speak of it. While they kept it under their hats, Connor came apart at the seams. He lost his temper more and more easily. Gord received a black eye by getting in between him and Ayden. On a watch, he disappeared inside himself and wouldn't come back, even with Dalach screaming in his face and shaking him so hard that they accidentally cracked Connor’s head against a rock.
The lieutenant mentioned in passing a straw that broke the camel's back, as if the incident with the mine had crushed the dam of sanity inside Connor. And no matter how many fingers they jammed in the cracks, the village had already been swept away.
It was only a matter of time before someone noticed. Gord had no idea what would happen to Connor. Dalach used the word “shell shocked” as if it explained something. No one knew anything about “shell shocked.” To Gord it was akin to naming a storm or a shipwreck or a disastrous battle. One needed to think of it in terms that you could control.
The army wasn't supposed to be like this, Gord thought. Where was the glory?
“Lads, get up.”
Gord lifted his head. Dalach was standing in the doorway, half silhouetted. Above him, Ayden stirred and mumbled out a bleary, “Sir?”
“Connor is...he's being held. They found him.”
The bunk creaked as Gord climbed out from underneath the blanket. He dragged on his jacket. Ayden hopped into his boots without lacing them. Gord could hear their hearts pounding, smell the nervous sweat that was beginning to form on their skin.
“Where did they find him?” Ayden asked.
“Not sure, but he wasn't where he was supposed to be.”
The unspoken word “deserter” rang in the silence. Far away, Gord thought he heard the mutterings of other soldiers, preoccupied with what had become their everyday lives. Dalach removed his hat and placed it on the hook. In the low light, he looked ten times older. The break in his nose made an odd shadow against his cheek.
“Dawn tomorrow,” he said.
“There's no way out of it, Private Tracy,” Dalach said firmly. “You and Giles have a duty to your country. I expect you to fulfill it.”
“But why?” Gord said, reality hitting him square in the stomach. “What about a trial? Isn't that how things work?” When Dalach didn't answer him, Gord grabbed him by the front of his coat and shook him. “I said, what about a trial! I thought you were his closest friend! What are you doing here, telling us that we have to shoot him as if he’s a traitor when you could be saving his life?”
Ayden grabbed Gord around the middle and dragged him away. “Giles stop! There's nothing we can do. They've already decided.”
Gord sagged in Ayden's arms. Dalach reached into an inner pocket of his coat and brought out a bottle, which he set down heavily on the table. “Sit down, Giles,” he said.
Ayden relaxed his grip. Gord did not so much sit as fall. “I won't do it,” he said.
“You will do it or you'll be against the wall as well.”
There was a cup in front of him. He didn't touch it. Alcohol was not a cure-all for their troubles. His mother had the bruises to prove it. Gord looked up from behind his arms. Dalach was handsome enough to be the Devil.
“Hate me if you want. You're young, don't think I haven't noticed. You will learn, eventually, that there are just some things we can't stop.”
“What about mercy?”
“Not here.” Dalach paused, then added, “I'm sorry.” He turned and left. As soon as he was gone, Ayden picked up the cup and downed it in one go.
“Why did you join up?” he asked out of the blue.
Gord shrugged. “I didn't have a job besides helping out my father. And since I already knew how to shoot...” He shrugged again, helplessly. “What about you?”
“I joined because there was nothing left for me at home.” Ayden lit a cigarette. The match flared in the dark. “Also, I thought we would be shooting Germans, not our friends.” He laughed bitterly. “This whole goddamn war is a farce.”
“You must have had something once,” Gord mumbled. “What did you lose?” As he asked, he ran his thumbnail over the skin of his wrist. Ayden looked at him from underneath his heavy eyebrows.
“There was a girl,” he said, dream-like. “Beautiful but...” he tapped an ear, a wry smirk on his lips, “Deaf.” Smoke poured from his mouth and nose like a dragon's breath. “The other children liked to make fun of her. Called her ‘Dumb Sally’. And she'd just smile because she believed in loving sinners and never had to hear the nasty things they said. I used to look after her.”
Ayden dropped his head. The cigarette tapped against his fingers, raining ash. “I might have married her, but she died.”
“How?” Gord asked, daring to break his silence.
Ayden's gaze grew distant. “Drowned. She was out in a boat alone and she didn't know how to swim or even scream for help.” The cigarette trembled. “It was summer and hardly dark when they found her. They brought her home wrapped in blankets. Have you ever seen a drowned body, Gord?”
Gord shook his head.
“They're bloated and… and blue at the lips and she just leaked water everywhere and I smelled the lake for an hour afterward.” He put his head in his hands. Gord wanted to say something, but nothing would fit in the space without chafing.
Ayden sat up slowly. “People started talking after that. They said that a girl like that wouldn't have a place in the world, even with a husband.” His voice dripped with venom. “Of course, it was terrible that the angels called for her so soon, but it was probably a mercy, in the end. God works in mysterious ways.”
Gord traced a knot in the surface of the table. Like throwing a kitten into a weighted sack, he thought, and nearly vomited in his mouth. A memory floated to the surface of his mind, pulled free from the muck of remembrances.
There was a dog. It had belonged to a shepherd and up until that day in summer, it was as gentle as the beasts it herded. Then something went wrong. It became sick, started foaming at the mouth, started snapping at its owner. Not long after that, it came into the village. Gord remembered the people’s fear. They came to him, because he was the best shot.
“Gord,” Ayden said, interrupting the boy’s thoughts. “Out here, mercy is a bullet in the head. But murder is a crime and a crime is shooting an innocent man. They're not putting Connor out of his misery, they're kicking him in the arse through the gates of Hell.”
Gord let those words settle, then reached across the table for the bottle, only to have Ayden smack his hand away.
“Don't,” he said. “You’ll drink yourself to death. I know your game.” Gord may have imagined it, but he thought Ayden gave the scratch marks on his wrist a pointed glance.
Gord withdrew. Looking at Ayden now, he was less apart than before, but cracked and nearly broken.
I'm cracked all over, Gord realized with horror. Who knows how long I have until I break?
The dawn came, grey and cold just like its predecessors. Even in his coat, Gord shivered. Ayden was on his fourth cigarette. He'd woken up very early and wouldn't stop pacing. Gord hadn't been able to sleep after that so he tried to write to Angelica again. He'd been unable to put the pen to paper.
“One of us will have a blank,” Ayden explained, breath and smoke mingling in one puff.
“Why?” Gord asked. His mind had been floating away down the village road to the dog.
“So that we can each pretend we haven't killed him.”
There were two other young men with them. They didn't speak, merely huddled with their collars turned up. Cold pressed down on the courtyard. Gord wiped at his nose and mouth. He was going to be sick. Perhaps he could be excused.
From the building behind them, an officer emerged with Connor. The last Ayden and Gord seen of him had been his back. Now, they could see the dark hollows in his cheeks, the blond hair stuck to his forehead. They couldn't see his eyes. He was already blindfolded.
He walked with guides — almost proudly — to the wall. He didn't speak. Gord's hands trembled on the gun. What was he doing? This was Connor. The one who said he had promise, the one who had a daughter he'd only seen in a picture, the one who somehow smiled even when being drowned by his fears.
Ayden lifted the gun. Gord wondered if his mind was elsewhere too, perhaps by the lake, watching as a boat turned over on the quiet waters. Gord had traveled back to the road. Dust was rising. Instead of the dog, however, Connor stood there, wearing a smile that reached his eyes. The vision blurred.
Wasn't this the whole point of the army? For once, the butt of a rifle felt out of place against Gord's shoulder. The cold was gone, replaced by blistering heat. He thought he smelled lake water. Connor didn't tremble. He remained standing calmly, as if it were any other day. Ayden's face was like stone. Gord's fingers curled around the trigger.
There will be other bullets, not just yours. Who's to say you don't have the blank cartridge?
Because Ayden wouldn't get out of bed, Gord wandered outside the barracks and straight into Dalach, who was sat in the mud and smoking. The lieutenant looked up at him and a smile appeared, attempting to be bright, yet weighed down.
“Er, no thanks, sir,” Gord said. The mud didn't look appealing. “I prefer to stand.”
“Good, wouldn't expect you to.” Dalach took a drag and blew out, his throat relaxing. Gord wondered if it was really proper to see a commanding officer in this state. His thumbnail bit into his wrist, a tiny bit of pain as penance.
“I expect the worst is still to come, sir?” Gord said, watching as a line of red rose up on his flesh. He noticed Dalach staring up at him, brow furrowed. Gord jammed his hands in his pockets. Dalach snapped out of it.
“I'm afraid to say you're right. It's bad timing, but we're going over the top.”
“Not scared are you?”
An answer flew into Gord's mouth: Well sir, I'm much more afraid of being stood up against the wall and getting shot by my best mates for “cowardice” so no, I'm not afraid of some Germans with guns and mustard gas. He choked it down and went with a much shorter, “No, sir.”
Dalach laughed. “You might as well accept the fact that we're all scared. Bravery comes from charging in even when you're frightened.” It was amazing: upbeat, even when he was lying in a heap in the mud. “Do you want to hear the story of how I broke my nose?”
“I've heard it before.”
“Not the real one.”
“What's the real one?”
Dalach opened his mouth to speak when a much louder, more commanding voice shouted, “McReynolds! Lieutenant McReynolds!”
Quick as a flash, Dalach was on his feet, dropping the cigarette in a puddle, where it hissed and threw up a stream of smoke. “Just a moment sir!” Quieter, he added, “Giles, listen to me carefully now because I can only say it once: Connor would hold no grudge against you. I told you to do it, it falls on me.” He clapped Gord on the shoulder and turned to go.
“But what about you?” Gord asked.
Dalach shrugged. “I'm the biggest sinner of them all, Giles. What's one more black mark to me?”
As he turned the corner, Gord pressed down harder on his wrist. He had to write to Angelica. This might be his last chance. Instead, he stared at the blank paper, listening to Ayden trying not to sob.
“Going over the top” was really all Gord needed to know. There were “plans” but he didn't concern himself with them. All that mattered was staying alive. Ayden was once again apart and untouchable, gazing at the world half lidded. Dalach was full of energy.
“Prepare for glory, lads!” he said. “Do your duty and God shall smile upon you!”
Gord sighed. Nothing could possibly reach through the murk above. In any case, he watched Dalach walk up and down the line with aplomb. How could he be so happy?
Then it was time. Gord's stomach churned. It was harder to propel himself forward this time, harder to climb and face No Man's Land. Someone pushed him, none too gently, toward the top. His fingers dug into the dirt. He hauled himself out and began to run. Chaos exploded around them.
Gord's ears rang. He recalled climbing into the bell tower of the village church and being scared to death by the noise. This was so much worse. Would he ever hear again? With great effort, he crawled through the fog, rubbing dirt and dust from his eyes with the edge of his equally filthy sleeve. Mud squelched beneath his palms and knees.
The sharp sound of machine gunfire split the ringing in two. Something — a gunshot? A mine? — exploded in the dirt to his left like a fountain. Gord was thrown back over a line of barbed wire into a puddle. He bit his tongue. The iron taste of blood flooded his mouth.
Who was that? Gord lifted his head from the foul tasting water and spit it out. The voice continued shouting for him, pushing against the pillows in his ears. For a brief moment, he saw his hands clearly: dirt caked under the fingernails, cracks in the knuckles, bleeding red.
Someone grabbed his shoulders and hauled him back. The puddle erupted with bullets. He and his savior rolled away down a slope. Someone was yelling for a retreat. Like a horse without its blinders, Gord thrashed, unable to free himself from the weight that held him to the ground.
“Stay down! They're firing!” A face appeared in the chaos. Ayden shook him. “I'm trying to keep you alive, you bastard! Stay down!”
Gord fell back, his chest heaving. Ayden's head whipped back and forth. The gunfire hadn't ceased, but Ayden was sensing something that was slipping past Gord. He took Gord's shoulders once more and picked him up. “Run! Back to the trench!” he commanded.
They raced over the uneven ground. The earth was torn to pieces; the air was ripped to shreds with bullets. Ayden pushed against Gord's back with shouts of, “Move, you berk!” Soldiers poured like ants past them and into the trench. Then Dalach was running beside them, his legs and arms pumping.
“Boys!” he shouted over the relentless noise. “Hurry!” He grasped the backs of their shirts and tossed them, as a bartender tosses out drunks, towards the trench. Ayden slid down the side, landing with a loud splash in the bog. He reached up, making to pull Gord after him.
But Gord paused. He didn't know what made him turn his head at that instant. Perhaps a lifetime of being followed by friends, waiting for them to run into the embrace of a kitchen door, had prompted him to look over his shoulder. Just to know that they were there.
Dalach fell. He simply dropped. The world fell away. There were two islands: one, the trench and Ayden; the other, Dalach and No Man's Land. Gord turned. He stepped. He took another. He swam through the scent of death. Behind him, he heard Ayden swearing.
Gord knelt. He moved his gun on his shoulder. You're smaller, he thought, but you can still lift him. He pushed his arms beneath Dalach, hefting him onto his back, one limp arm over, a live one under. Gord's heels sank into the mud. He choked. It was only a yard. One yard. Dalach slipped from his back into the dirt. It was miles away.
“You damn fool,” Ayden rasped, pulling Gord up by his shirtfront. Ayden had come back for him. He dragged Gord, shaking him, and threw him to the bottom of the trench. The cold sank into Gord's skin. He gasped like a dying fish. “He's dead. There's nothing we can do for him.”
Gord lay in the bog, unmoving. Ayden stood above him, breathing hard and noisily. Then he dropped down beside Gord with his knees up and head back. A shaft of sunlight broke through the brown and grey sky. Ayden fumbled at the strap for his helmet, yanked it off his head and threw it at the wall of the trench. He let out the loudest curse that Gord had ever heard. It roared into the rest of the noise, and yet somehow rang in the broken quiet.
When he’d finished, Ayden put a hand on Gord's arm and shook him. “Get up,” he said, his voice shaking. “Get up, now. Please don't stay down there.” Gord wanted to move, but he felt welded to the ground. Ayden's mouth opened and closed, then snapped shut. Without a word, he lifted Gord out of the water and threw him over his shoulder. He trudged down the line, Gord on his back. Neither spoke.
The nurse who tended to them was young, probably just out of finishing school. She was the kind of starched and pressed young lady who wouldn’t take nonsense from anyone. She didn’t flinch, even when she discovered a horrid slice through Gord's arm that had been made by the barbed wire.
Ayden was the one dithering. He nearly broke his leg flying down into the trench like that, but he still paced about and snapped at anyone who told him to sit down. After she finished with Gord, the nurse allowed them to leave. They had to make room for the truly wounded.
Once in the barracks, Gord was forced to lie down. Something had cracked in that moment between them. Ayden couldn't place a wall between them like before. Instead, he made sure that Gord drank and wiped at his forehead and snapped at him whenever he made to scrape at his wrist.
Gord wanted to tease him for acting like a nursemaid, but his voice was gone. He drifted into sleep, only to be woken up again by the noise in his head. Ayden sat at the table, smoking again. Gord lifted his head. “I think he wanted to die.”
Ayden half turned in his seat. “What do you mean?”
“I think that Dalach wanted to die. Before he...he told me that it was all on him.” There was no comment. Gord kept talking, his voice hoarse. “I think...he was upset. He was so excited when he heard we were going over.”
“That much was clear,” Ayden said. He rubbed his eyes. “Have you ever wondered what a man like him would do after this war?”
“You say it like you're certain there's an end.”
At that, Ayden frowned. “There's always an end, Gord. Happy or not.”
Gord lay back, then immediately sat up again. “I want a pen and paper.”
I am so tired. I am tired of sitting at this desk and writing you pretty lies. No matter how comforting they might seem, I know that you cannot honestly believe them to be the truth.
Today, a good friend died. His name was Dalach McReynolds and he was shot in the head. Honestly, I had thought that would be the end of anyone but him. Fate is cruel and strange.
A minister once spoke to us of Hell, Angelica. I want you to know that this is Hell. Hell is not fire and brimstone and the Devil is not some unholy monster. Satan is rats. Hell is wet and full of mustard gas. The Devil lives under the skin of all men. And here, all the men are dead. The only difference between us and Dalach's corpse is that he is a little deader than the rest of us.
I have never told you, for it would have upset you, but one of the first things I saw here was a young man, not much older than me, burned and blistered by mustard gas. Sometimes, when it is very quiet, I imagine his screams of agony. He survived, but that pain lives on in his disfigured face. It would have been easier if he had been shot.
They said that war would make us men, but all I see are ghosts. We walk, we talk, we wade through mud and yet all of us are prisoners inside our bodies. It's to the point that there is a service revolver at my left hand and I have half a mind to use it.
However, I won't. I made a promise to marry you and I have no intention of breaking it. To throw something like that away so flippantly would be a crime.
I am still frightened. I am frightened every waking minute. Dalach was a lucky one. He bore the shrapnel in his skull without a cry so that I and Private Tracy might reach safety. He died, as they say, a hero, not as a coward with a rope around his neck. I can't help but imagine that he wanted to die by the sword. Perhaps the Kaiser's himself.
If I die, I would like it to be fast, like his was, so that I never know. That is what constitutes mercy here. Shooting myself in the head will not do. I'm too scared to pull the trigger.
I am, however, cruel enough to shoot a man who was my friend. I am cruel enough to obey orders and stand beside my fellows as they placed a blindfold on Connor. I am cruel enough to imagine that it was like shooting a dog. I am foolish enough to think they gave me the blank cartridge. I think we have grown so accustomed to war that we forget we are professional murderers. Our duty is to kill. To think that we had to shoot a friend to realize how callous, and yet how fragile we are.
There is blood on our hands. We tried to protect him and we drove a knife through his back. And what did he do? Accept it.
Connor was brave. He was not a coward. He knew from childhood that he would be in the army. His wife back home is going to receive a missive soon, informing her that he has perished in France, a half-truth as they will exclude the fact that he was executed. She will be comforted by the thought that he died fighting. I cannot blame her fancy, but it does nothing to relieve my bitterness.
I fear that when I return to you, Angelica, I'll make a poor husband. I have woken from nightmares that threaten to paralyze me. Private Tracy treats me as if I'm at Death's door.
If I return at all, I won't be the same. I don't know if I will become the next body up against the wall, or if I shall die in battle, or if I will be like that boy, burned beyond recognition. Our minds all slip down that slope, into “cowardice.” The only thing that keeps us from giving in is the knowledge that we'll be executed.
We've driven each other into the pit. I feel a hundred years old.
You will never read this, Angelica. They will not allow it. So, into the fire it goes.
There are just some things that cannot be shared from the front.
Affectionately, perhaps for the last time,
Private Gord Giles