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I was finally granted time to rest and I just curled under the blanket of my bed with tears rolling down my cheeks and reached for the rugged leather book under the pillow. I tore out a piece of paper from the book and wrote a letter to my wife that I knew I would never send.
17th of May, 1917.
A lot has happened today, Sarah, so much so I don’t even know where to begin.
I lost a good friend out in the field today. He was controlling the machine gun, I was in charge of the ammo, when a sniper took him clean out. A shot straight between his eyes, right under the rim of the helmet.
I yelled at the top of my lungs when I saw him lifelessly falling, his eyes blank and staring into nothingness. It felt as if the few seconds of watching him fall were turned into not minutes, but hours, as I witnessed his body surrender to the pull of gravity and ultimately fall into the mud, slightly bouncing back up before coming to a complete still. The image of his face, covered in mud and completely expressionless, eyes wide open and a drop of blood slowly making its way from the wound to the mud below, is there every time I close my eyes, even if only for a fraction of a second when I blink.
Still crouching next to his body, for god knows how long already, the Sergeant in charge shouted to me that I need to take control of the machine gun.
Knowing full well that the sniper who took out my friend was still out there, I looked at Pablo again and with the anger that had built up in me, stood up, grabbed the handle and started firing at everything that appeared to be moving. Knowing my friend laid dead beside my feet was heartbreaking, but it filled me up with uncontrollable rage and courage; both of which I needed to expose myself to the enemy the way Pablo did and got himself killed. I yelled whatever came to mind at the top of my lungs with each pull of the trigger as if it would help my aim to shoot the enemy dead.
When I finally ran out of ammo, I collapsed on the floor, crying. I hugged the body of Pablo, my battle cries now replaced by loud uncontrollable wailing. My best friend, still laughing not 30 minutes ago, now dead in the trench amidst thousands of sand bags.
For all I know I could’ve been down in the mud next to him for hours, when suddenly loud whistling pierced the sky.
Poison gas bombs.
Not seconds later the alarm sounded from our headquarters and all the flickering red lights came to life.
With all I had seen happen in my time here, I contemplated whether to run for the gas mask or not.
Dog’s breath, we called them, because the stench of air coming through the filters was exactly like that of a dog after a hearty meal of dry dog food. I wouldn’t be surprised if they took all our old and dirty socks, stuffed them inside the cans unwashed, then called that the filter. Each time I had to put one on I questioned if it was worth it over dying. And each time so far I willingly chose to put it on.
Sarah, I don’t know if I am going to make it. I don't know if I can take this any longer.
I hope you are well.
I folded the tear-stained letter in two, placed it on the night stand, took a large sip of whiskey and cried myself to sleep.
The war was, after all, not over yet.
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