Wilfred's War

This is short story about Wilfred -- a fifteen-year-old Australian kid -- and has been cropped and edited to enter into a contest in a few days time.

So constructive criticism would be very, very, very, much appreciated! Thank you, Guys!

Chapter 2

France

by: Skyling
France: May 18, 1916


“Wilfy!”

Wilfred peeled back an eyelid. It was dark. Not that cosy, night-time darkness that everyone feels the need to be surrounded in before drifting off to sleep, but a thick, smothering gloom that sucked the very emotions out of his soul.

“Wilfred! Get up!”

A deep, thunderous boom echoed somewhere in the distance, vibrating the mudded earth beneath Wilfred’s body. Three stronger shudders followed in rapid succession and a convoy of alarmed rats of various shapes and sizes scuttled past his boots.

The boots themselves were so well-worn that at least three of the boy’s toes were poking through the end of the left one, and the right’s sole had been missing for almost four weeks. But there was never any time to get new ones; even if there had been some available.

The boy got to his knees, before stopping to rub an aching neck; he had slept in an awkward position and his whole upper body was screaming out discomfort. Smears of half-dried mud were plastered across one side of Wilfred’s face and his clothes and hair were covered in the same. The heavy trembles continued and – now that his senses were fully alert – he could faintly hear the bombs that caused them, erupting somewhere behind the wall of sandbags.

“Hurry, boy! Stand to!”
Scrambling out of the shallow dug-out, Wilfred’s bared toes scrabbling in the constant mud. Being careful to keep his head down, he picked up his dull rifle and climbed onto the firing step. To his left, Private Neal Rolans was fumbling with a crooked belt, attempting to tuck in a ragged shirt and make himself vaguely presentable for the inspection after breakfast.

“Morning, mate,” Wilfred greeted, strapping on his regulation helmet.

“You’re finally up!” Neal puffed back. “I’ve been callin’ you for the past ten minutes, thought you were gonna miss the Mornin’ Hate.”

“’Course not,” Wilfred began fixing his bayonet to the end of the rifle and smiled wryly, “Not for every piece of steak in the country.”

Dawn was still an hour away, and the sun had not yet pricked the cloudless horizon.

Even though they hadn’t experienced rain for almost a week now, stagnant puddles of reeking water were ever-present in the front-line trench. Men were constantly being assigned to drain them out – In any way possible – but their efforts had yet been to no avail. Because of this, infections and gangrene were common in the trenches; almost as common as the repulsively large rodents that were rumoured to feed on the flesh of the dying.

As Wilfred shuddered involuntarily, he had a sudden thought. Clawing open his breast pocket, the boy drew out the fob-watch that had been resting inside. A coating of hardened dirt fell away from the once-silver casing, to reveal the intricate patterns adorning its face.

Despite his relentless efforts, Wilfred had so far not been able to locate his Father – or even find any information on his whereabouts. But the boy would not stop trying; that was the sole reason he had come here, after all.

“Bust it!” Neal cried, interrupting Wilfred’s thoughts. The red-head’s shirt was now fully tucked in, but appeared to be missing one of its middle buttons. Neal pointed to it despairingly and slumped back against the mudded wall of sandbags, “Another one gone! I’m bound to get an extra hour cleanin’ privies for this.”

“Don’t sweat it, Bluey,” Wilfred replied casually, levelling his gun over the lip of the trench. “I hear they’ve put Cowden on Inspection today.”

“Cut-throat Cowdo?” the other boy hissed, sliding even further down into the mud. “Forget the privies; I’ll be shot!”

“If you get your rifle nice and shiny, maybe he won’t even notice the missing button?” Wilfred suspected that his friend was about to reply with something cutting, when a burst of machinegun fire sputtered alarmingly close overhead. The two boys ducked quickly; their hearts pounding almost as fast as the bullets.

After a few minutes the firing slowed, and was directed somewhere further down the trench. Neal stood first, sending a few exasperated pot shots over the top of the sandbags.

“Blast those Germans,” he said bitterly, “Don’t they know we’ve not even eaten breakfast?”

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