Townsend Vignette

Harold Townsend was throwing flipping his pencil. His shift was over in about an hour. Then he’d get to go home and sleep. But fuck night shifts. He’d get home. Then kiss his wife goodbye as she went to work. Because she, for some reason had wanted a house on the outskirts of town. An hours walk from the station. He guessed he could play with the kids and walk them to school. Harold looked at his watch, five minutes before the inbound munitions train. Thirty minutes until the passenger train from the Medway. Who wants to ride a train overnight anyways? What’s wrong with these people.

“Harry? The munitions train has it’s own loaders right? I always get scared loading the explosives.” Myrtle had walked in without Harold noticing.

She was a beautiful woman. Nineteen years old and had been working here for six months after it came out in her Army training that she had Asthma. And for five months now he’d been having an affair with her. It’s not that he hated his wife, it’s just they never had time for intimacy. Between their schedules and the kids, they were never really alone. At least that’s what he told himself. He did sometimes fantasize about running away with Myrtle sometimes.

“Harry?”

Harold shook his head, “Yeah Myrtle. They’ve got about forty people…” Harold looked Myrtle up and down, “I’m feeling a bit… You know… How about we have a tumble at your apartment after work? I can tell my wife I needed to stay late.”

Myrtle blushed, “I was thinking we could do it in one of-” She was interrupted by an impact.

“What the hell was that?” Harold got up and looked outside. There was a flaming train impacted in the rear wall of the station, with some of it’s cars laying across the tracks. Harold’s eyes widened as he noticed the numbers on the train. It was the munitions train. It’s brakes must have failed. And it was loaded with explosives. And as soon as those explosives went off, They’d catch the shells on the platform, then blow the munitions warehouse a block over. He turned around, “Myrtle. Get everyone you can onto the two trains on the outbound tracks and get out of here.”

“What’s happening?”

“This whole stations gonna blow. You and everyone else here will die unless you get the trains out of here.”

“But what about you Harry?”

“I need to send a warning to the fire department. I’ll get on the train when it’s leaving…” Harold paused, ran to the telegraph, and started tapping a message, “GET OUT OF HERE! Leave me. I’m sorry.”

Myrtle nodded and ran out, screaming for everyone to get on the trains. Harold finished tapping out his message and ran to the set the alarm. After no message was received, he repeated his message. He started whispering the Lord’s Prayer. By the time the message was acknowledged, Harold was shouting his prayer. He looked up at the station. The two trains Myrtle filled were gone. The platform was clear of people. Harold Townsend smiled a last smile.

The sixty seven people at the station were evacuated. The train carrying four hundred people was stopped in time. Saved by Harold Townsend’s telegraph message “SF STATION EXPLOSION IMMINENT HALT TRAINS SENDING EVAC ON TRACKS ONE AND TWO.” The blast at the station leveled the industrial district of Strongfield. About four thousand were killed in the blast, with thousands more injured. Harold Townsend and Myrtle Stark would get a monument at the rebuilt train station. His wife would receive a full government pension. Myrtle Stark would be given placement at the University of Strongfield and became a silent movie star after the war, but suffered from nightmares about the event for the rest of her life.

Strongfield

At about Six in the morning, the camp trembled. Evans was giving a briefing, but stopped what he was doing to run to Captain Gates’ tent.

After a few minutes, he came back and reported, “We’re moving out again,” Evans looked around the room, “Be ready in half an hour. Combat gear only. Rest of your gear we’ll drop at a storage facility by the tracks.”

“What’s happening Sergeant? Is it related to that rumble?”

“No one knows. Captain Gates just said that we’re headed to Strongfield.”

“No!” Shepard shouted, “Why are we bringing weapons to Strongfield?”

“Yeah, Sergeant, What’s happening?” Howe looked scared.

“I don’t know,” Evans shook his head, “I’m worried too. My hometown is outside of Strongfield. But we can’t know anything now, so everyone get ready to move.”

The Squad gathered their gear in relative silence, then moved to the railroad tracks. The train ride itself was mostly silent, until, about twenty miles outside of Strongfield. The sky turned a dirty brown. As they got closer, they could see orange light dancing across the brown sky. A few soldiers started crying. One screamed in horror. There was some murmuring, but most sat in stunned silence.

Tiscornia whispered to Evans, “What the Hell happened here?

The train came to a halt at a makeshift rail station about two miles from where Evans remembered the station being. As the regiment started unloading the train, Evans heard scattered bits of conversation. Explosion. Destroyed. Death. Inferno. Hell.

It was unreal. There was a firestorm off to the North. Screams everywhere. He noticed a few people stumbling through the station. They looked like civilians, dressed in tattered nightclothes. Their eyes were staring past everyone. Evans was so transfixed he almost missed a shouted order from Captain Gates, “Fox Company! Collect a rifle, a bandolier, and move down the rail line until you hit the station!”

Once First Squad filed through the makeshift armory, they started walking down the tracks. No one talked before Howe looked around, “Sergeant. Where’s Shepard?”

“Shit,” Evans looked around, “When did someone last see Shep?”

“She definitely was here at the rifle pickups.”

“I think I saw her on the North side of the tracks.”

It hit Evans like a brick. He took off his pack and rooted through it before pulling out a small bag.

Gibson asked, “What’s that Sergeant?”

“Letters. I hadn’t turned them in to the censor yet,” Evans rifled through the bag before finding one addressed to a ‘Shepard.’ He memorized the address before putting it back in his bag, “Johnson, you have command of the squad. I’ll meet everyone at the Train Station.”

Evans took off running towards the firestorm of the North. Trying to remember the streets of Strongfield. Except when he was there before, he never saw railroad cars crashed onto buildings. There hadn’t been a raging inferno. He knew her house must be somewhere in the industrial district. After twenty minutes of searching he came to… Hell. The district had been reduced to rubble. Worse than Urbs. There were a few walls still standing. Bodies were strewn everywhere. Men… Women… Children… torn asunder by the blast. Evans choked back tears while he searched the rubble. A few blocks away, he spotted a soldier attempting to move rubble from a pile. He ran over, “Shepard!”

She looked up and stared blankly, “What the fuck am I fighting for?” She took off her helmet and tossed it into the rubble then looked down, “This is where my family lived. Two blocks down my Fiance. He was home on leave. My brothers, my sisters, my mom, my dad, Morgan. They’re all gone.”

“Let’s get back to the rail station.”

“Shouldn’t you shoot me?” Shepard stared blankly at him with dead eyes, “I deserted. There’s no reason for me to live.”

Evans started to walk closer to Shepard, “Live for them.”

“That’s horse shit,” Shepard stared through him, “Do you want me to fight back? I went into a frenzy after seeing my family gone. You killed me in self defense.”

“Either you walk back to the rail station with me or I drag you back. Enough people have died.”

Shepard dropped to the ground bawling. Evans helped her up, put her arm over his shoulders and helped her walk back to the rail station.

No Post for Armistice Day

98 years ago, the First World War finally came to a close after years of fighting. The war was the most destructive the world had ever seen (Though tragically, 21 years, total war would ravage the world once again, on a greater scale). So no post this week as a sign of respect and that we can think of those lost in war, and, someday that the idea of war is some arcane fiction. That novels about war such as this one be outdated curiosities of history. Remnants from when humanity was barbarous, and it was not seen as abhorrent to kill in the name of a flag. So, to close, a poem by Siegfried Sassoon, an Infantry Officer during the First World War.

Squire nagged and bullied till I went to fight,

(Under Lord Derby’s scheme). I died in hell –

(They called it Passchendaele). My wound was slight,

And I was hobbling back; and then a shell

Burst slick upon the duckboards: so I fell

Into the bottomless mud, and lost the light

At sermon-time, while Squire is in his pew,

He gives my gilded name a thoughtful stare;

For, though low down upon the list, I’m there;

“In proud and glorious memory” … that’s my due.

Two bleeding years I fought in France, for Squire:

I suffered anguish that he’s never guessed.

Once I came home on leave: and then went west…

What greater glory could a man desire?

Off the Line

It had been a few days since the 202nd had been pulled back off the line. Captain Gates pulled some strings to get the survivors of Lieutenant Welch’s platoon as the 127th was disbanded after the great retreat. He had also managed to reassign Second Platoon’s still absent leader and put Lieutenant Ethel Welch in charge. Because of this maneuvering, the platoon only got a few fresh replacements. Evans’ First Squad had been given Private Gibson as a replacement for Nivelle. Shepard was apparently making a good recovery and had been returned to the squad with doctors orders for only light duty.

Evans looked at his watch and then looked up at Tiscornia, “Shep and Gibson should be arriving in the next train.You wanna go out to the station at 10:20 to pick them up?”

“Isn’t Gibson the one who kept asking about you?”

“Yep,” Evans nodded, “I’m pretty sure Captain Gates did that on purpose.”

“Well won’t that be exciting? Your biggest fan under your command?

“Yeah. Definitely,” Evans snorted, sat silent for a moment, then held up an envelope from his desk, “You know who delivered this?”

“No. Is it just a blank envelope?”

“Yeah. I don’t want to open it in case it’s some classified bullshit that’s been sent to me by mistake.”

“Huh,” Tiscornia grabbed it out of Evans hands and looked at it, then pointed to the wax seal, “You’re too tired Evans. Look at the seal. It’s from the Duchess Medway”

Evans eyes widened before he yanked the envelope out of Tiscornia’s hands and ripped it open. He quickly read it and then smiled at Tiscornia, “She’s alright. Well. She can’t walk on her own, and has to stay in bed most of the day, but she’s alright. Government wants to keep it under wraps because she’s supposed to be an image of Ethslin’s Strength and they’re afraid everyone will panic and run away.” Evans paused, “How did this even get here? It’s not addressed to me even. So it would have to have been hand delivered by someone.”

“She’s rich and powerful. She probably had some servant do it.”

“Well I feel special.”

“You were already the closest friend of her and your wife works for her.”

“Yeah, but. Whatever. Go pick up Shep and Gibson.”

“Should I regale her with stories of your wonder?”

“Shut the hell up and go.”

Tiscornia laughed, “Sergeant James Evans of Halton. Manly Mans Man of Manliness. Personally has slain entire regiments of the Boxer foes. Came back from the dead dozens of times… Good at Farming?”

“I’ll have you know Dom, I am amazing at farming.”

“OK, I’m leaving now,” Tiscornia turned around and left.

Evans frowned. God when would this war be over?