Day After

“Adesciâséi amîgi.” Evans opened his eyes, Zwev rolled out in front of him, letting the flickering light from Tiscornia’s candle in. Evan’s crawled out and grabbed his rifle, leaning against the trench wall. He looked through his pockets for a little dried meat to chew on. Leaning against the wall for stand to, he tried to find anything familiar in the landscape, but the artillery barrage had rendered it utterly alien. The terrain, which before at least had a neat looking trench cutting through, was now completely pock marked

The stand to, normally marked by at least some short bursts from a machine gun, was completely silent. No one spoke. After the stand to was finally over, Lieutenant Simmons called a meeting. The remains of the platoon trudged to a small open space in the communication trench.

“We had a tough day yesterday. I’m very proud of y’all. To start this meeting, I’d like to read my list of out comrades killed or wounded yesterday,” Lieutenant Simmons pulled a list out of his breast pocket, “Lance Corporal Jennifer Green, Sergeant Virginia Griffith, Corporal Ellen Davis, Lance Corporal Chelsea Stanhope, Lance Corporal Michelle Stoneman, Lance Corporal Hugh Rogers, Privates Hannah Cain, Nicole Alden, William Frankland, Lambert Renoir, Sam Cook, and Kimberly Barnes. They will be sorely missed. But their deaths were not in vein, we held the line. Most of us have fought together in many battles, but I’m sure this was one of the roughest attacks we’ve endured. So pray for those who were injured, that they may return to our ranks, and pray for the families of those who now with God.”

The Lieutenant put the list back in his pocket and paused for a moment, “Today’s work will be light. As you might have seen, we have another company taking over watch for us today and tomorrow. So we can focus on repairing the trench as best as we can. I also need a volunteer to carry the mail and act as my runner until I can get a replacement.”

It was quiet for a moment until Zwev raised her hand, “I can sir.”

“Thank you Private Zakrzewska. I also need two soldiers to go back to Regiment and get some ammunition pallets and wood for duckboards.” A few hands raised. Lieutenant Simmons looked over the group, “Head and Nazzari… Alright. That’s about it. Head and Nazzari, y’all can get down to regiment now. Zakrzewska, can you come over to me. Everyone else, report to your Team Leaders and get to work.”

The platoon split up and Evans went to Sergeant Campbell. Sighing, he unclipped the shovel from his belt, “So… We are taking the right end of the trench. We need to dig eight feet down, install the duckboards, then build up the fire step and loopholes. Three hours on one hour off. Newey, you can take the first hour off. Evans, you next. Then Morgan. Then Hardin. Then Me. Restart from there. Alright, let’s go.”

Evans grabbed his shovel and started digging. He tried to think about home, but he couldn’t really remember it anymore. He could think of names and faces, but he couldn’t really think of anything besides the superficial.

Morgan started to sing, “Oh, hey, who’s that soldier boy?”

Hardin and Campbell joined in, “That soldier boy marching down the square. Looking so fit and nice, who’s that soldier boy?”

A few Vledscan shells rushed over head. They burst about a hundred meters behind the trench. Evans had learned how to identify where a shell was going to hit. And whose shell it was. Only the fifth day in the trenches. He tried to imagine what soldiers like Tiscornia had been through. How had he not… Evans tried to shut off his thoughts. Just think of the now. Dig down at the beginning of each verse, toss with the end of the verse. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

The clay sand was tough. The shellfire had softened it a little, but not enough. He was glad he started off digging, to take his mind off the war. The fighting. The death. His shovel struck something rubbery. Maybe a buried tire. He bent over to grab it and stopped. A hand was reaching up from the dirt. Evans dry heaved. What little food he had in him then came up.

“Oi, Evans, you gotta grab on and yank it out. It’s probably not attached to anything.”

Evans vomited again and stood up. He reached down and gripped the hand as tight as he could and yanked. It stayed in place. He put one foot next to the hand and pulled as hard as he could. He could feel the moment that the arm was ripped from the body it had still been attached to. Evans went flying into the trench wall opposite him. He reached over to Sergeant Campbell and raised the hand, “Sergeant. I…”

Sergeant Campbell nodded, “Toss it over ‘ere. I’ll take care of it.”

With a quick toss, Evans passed the arm to the Sergeant. Sergeant Campbell caught it and threw it far into No-Man’s land.

Evans went back to digging until his hour was up, then ran over to get some water as a few more shells passed overhead, these burst a little closer this time, a few bits of dirt showered the trench. He grabbed a canteen off the ground and uncapped it, his had been destroyed during the attack the day before.

When he finished drinking, he capped it and looked at it. It wasn’t the usual metal one he was used to, it was a leather water sack, with a Vledscan writing branded on it. No matter, it still held water. He took another drink. He looked up at the sky as rested.

Another shell, this one hit pretty close behind. He ducked his head down as the clods of earth and bits of wood showered over him. It seems like this one hit a trench.

Lieutenant Simmons pointed at Evans, “Private, go run back to Fox HQ and see if all our communication trenches are alright.”

Evans clipped the canteen to his leg, shouldered his rifle, and jogged down towards the communication trench. It was still intact, some clods of dirt had fallen in, but nothing to bad. Then he emerged into Company Headquarters. Everything seemed to be in disarray. He saw a table shudder.

Evans pulled out his shovel out of instinct. Something began to emerge from underneath. Blood red, a female figure began to stumble out. It’s clothes in tatters and her hair scattered, it looked like a wraith. It stumbled towards him. Evans was terrified, he drew back his shovel to strike when he realized.

The shovel clattered to the ground, “My God.” Evans reached out and embraced the wraith, “What happened?”

Zwev opened her mouth to talk, but no words came out. Evans walked her over to the table where he sat her down. Unclipping the canteen from his built he poured some water in his hand and splashed some on her face to begin washing the blood off.

She stared off into the distance while Evans washed her. Evans kept trying to ask her questions, but she couldn’t answer. Finally, when Evans had finished cleaning her face, she opened her mouth and coughed out a few pieces of meat, “Captain’s dead.”

Moving onto her hair, Evans prodded her a little more, “What happened.”

She half gestured to the bits of meat, “Vaporized. Shell hit. Boom. I don’t know why I didn’t die. He was right there. Then boom. Gone.”

Evans pulled back and stared into her eyes. She seemed to stare right through him, when she closed her eyes, “Evans… Jim. James. Let’s get married.”

“What?” Evans took a step back from her and cocked his eyebrow.

Zwev started nervously scratching the table, “I don’t want to fight in this war. I can’t take it. If we get married, and I get pregnant, I won’t have to fight. I won’t be in the Army.”

“Um… I… We’ve only known each other for about two weeks. And maybe it gets better?”

Zwev got up and stumbled towards him. She fell to her knees and grabbed his legs, “Please. Fuck, you were flirting with me. The topic was going to come up at some point.”

Kneeling down next to her, Evans patted her on the head, “How about we wait a few days until we’ve been out of the trenches, then we can talk about it again. In the meantime, hows about we go talk to Lieutenant Simmons. And, where’s the Captain’s runner?”

“I’m not going to change my mind. And I don’t know where they went, they were gone when I was here.”

Evans helped Zwev up and they hobbled back to the front line trench. He tried to pay attention to what was going on around him, but he couldn’t. Marriage? They were nineteen, not unheard of, but… He liked her, but this was war. He distracted himself by thinking about Lucy. Where was she? He should probably go look for her when he finishes bringing Zwev back.

At long last, they got to Lieutenant Simmons, who was smoking a cigarette and looking at the Vledscan trench through a periscope, “Sir! Private Zakrzewska has news to report about the Captain!”

As the Lieutenant turned around, Zwev slowly let go of Evans arm and saluted. When Lieutenant Simmons returned the salute, she took a breath in to calm herself, “Sir. I was receiving an order from the Captain, when…” She paused a moment to choke back tears, “Shell hit out of nowhere, He’s dead.”

“Shit.” The Lieutenant wiped his brow and paused for a moment. He drummed his thigh, “Alright, Private Zakrzewska, strip down to your underclothes. That uniform is almost gone. Evans here will go get you a new uniform from Battalion. And Evans, report in the loss to see what we can do about it.”

Evans turned to run as he saw Lieutenant Simmons kneel down next to Zwev and offer her a drink from a flask. The communication trenches seemed to blur by as he ran through. It didn’t seem to take him that long to reach the new Battalion headquarters. He saluted the first officer he saw, the Lieutenant from the day before, “Sir! Permission to speak to the Interim Battalion Commander.”

The Lieutenant returned the salute, “That’s me for the moment. Let me guess, it’s about those shells that hit up in Fox?”

“Yes Sir. Captain Jackson was killed by a shell Sir.”

The Lieutenant nodded, obviously over his head, “Well shit. Um… I guess I’ll tell a runner to go see the Colonel.”

Evans then nodded, “One more thing sir, One of my comrades had most of her uniform destroyed in the blast, and she needs a replacement Sir.”

“Alright Private, Um… I think Regiment has some female uniforms in storage, What size?”

At that moment, Evans noticed Lucy wandering back from Regiment, “That soldier is about the same size as Private Zakrzewska sir.”

Lucy noticed Evans and walked over. She saluted the Lieutenant, “You need me sir?”

“Yes, what unit are you with?”

“I’m the runner for Captain Jackson sir. In fact I’m running a message down to him now,” She tapped one of her pockets, where a letter was poking out.

The Lieutenant put his hands on his hips, “Bad news, Captain Jackson is dead. I need you to run down to Regiment to tell Colonel Darling. I also need you to get a female uniform that is your size from Regiment and deliver it to Second Platoon of Fox Company. Take this Private with you, he’s from Second Platoon. Dismissed.”

The Lieutenant turned around and walked away. Lucy turned to Evans, and let out a little laugh, “So Goldfish, here we are again?”

Evans shrugged and paused for a moment, “You aren’t surprised or sad about the Captain?”

“It’s war, if I cry over everyone I’ve lost, I’ll just be a waste of a person eh?”

“I guess that’s a thought,” Evans looked down the communication trench to Regimental headquarters, “Let’s go.”

Lucy smiled, “Alright Goldfish,” Lucy and Evans headed down the trench. Lucy cocked her head at Evans, “I’m wondering something… Are you the sidekick or am I the sidekick?”

Evans looked at her with an incredulous look as he squeezed through past two soldiers with an ammunition pallet.

“Well, we keep seeing each other and having wacky little adventures with each other, and I’ve seen enough shows to tell that one of us has to be the sidekick.”

Evans laughed a little, “We keep going on wacky adventures? This is the second thing we’ve gone on together. And isn’t this our job anyways?”

Lucy made a face at Evans, “What about the night we first met, Doesn’t that count?”

Evans stopped and stared at her, “The night we first met, you did three things. One, you threatened me with your rifle. Two, you went to the bathroom. And Three, you very crassly asked me if I wanted to have sex with you. I would hardly be bragging about that ‘wacky adventure’”

Lucy laughed and walked towards the nearest officer, “You’re definitely the sidekick.” She then saluted the officer, “Sir, I have a message to give to the Colonel and submit a requisition form.”

The officer returned the salute, “The Colonel’s busy, and I’m just the arty officer. Sergeant Major is in that dugout though.” The officer pointed to a dingy looking dugout entrance.

Lucy and Evans walked towards the dugout and entered. They walked down further until they reached an opening. The Sergeant Major was seated at one of the tables, peeling an apple. He looked up and drove his knife into the table, “What can I help you with?”

Evans spoke up, “Captain Jackson from Fox Company has been killed Sergeant Major.”

“Is that all?” The Sergeant Major took a bite out of the apple and chewed a bit. He looked at Lucy and said, “So what the fuck are you here for? Doesn’t take two to deliver a message.”

Evans nodded and gestured to Lucy, “We need a replacement uniform. Private Chambers is about the same size as the Private who needs the uniform.”

“Why didn’t that Private just come down here herself instead of sending you two?”

“Well, she needs to wash off Captain Jackson Sergeant Major,” Evans fiddled with his bayonet sheath.

“Ah, one of those. I hate blood showers,” The Sergeant Major looked at Lucy and gestured to a crate behind him, “Rummage through that crate, we should have some in there.”

Lucy walked over to the crate and started looking for a uniform that would fit. The Sergeant Major turned to Evans, “So Private, was yesterday your first full show?”

“Yes Sergeant Major, I just joined the regiment about two weeks ago. Graduated Basic the week before that.”

“You picked the wrong fucking time to join the regiment then,” The Sergeant Major laughed, “Haven’t seen shit like this since Tsiv River,” the Sergeant Major leaned back in his chair, “Ah well, the war will probably be over soon, after the Dry Forest Offensive.”

Lucy popped up from behind the Sergeant Major with a slightly large jacket and pants that didn’t quite make it down to her ankles, “Does this fit?”

The Sergeant Major, still looking at Evans replied, “Yep. Now get your uniform back on and skedaddle.”

Lucy shrugged any pulled off the jacket, shirt, and pants. She haphazardly folded them and placed it on the table in front of Evans. She threw her clothes back on and led Evans out of the dugout.

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