The land grows old under me. As we venture to the front, the pastures grow sickly yellow in sparse patches, bomb craters pocket her skin and trenches wrinkle deeper the closer we get. These wounds will heal eventually but the land will be impossible to farm to decades – Mother Earth forgives but she does not forget. The front itself is horrific, for a moment I think that I must have lost my way in a cloud and accidentally flown to another planet. An otherworldly land sat below in stagnation. Only disease thrived here amongst the mud, death, and screams. Disease of the mind also grew on the utter boredom for the soldiers down there in the dirt, who sat, and did nothing but bide time by wondering when the call for the great push would come. When would the officer raise that bugle and watch others die? That bugle may as well be Gabriel’s horn to those poor souls.
Up in the air wasn’t that much better. The sky had its own ruined tinge, the clouds were famished, too thin and transparent to hide behind. I managed to stay in formation though my hands fluttered about. There was a slight shudder through the formation, something unseen was watching us. We could see no enemy planes and then the wind changed, a bad omen. A flash of light exploded to my right and a plane went down. Our formation was in disarray, panicked lambs running about an abattoir. The smoking wreck of my ally lay on the ground below. Did he bail in time? No time to think at all, the huns were upon us. I wonder if they cared about their Kaiser anymore than I cared about the King. I wondered if it mattered all. It certainly didn’t matter what I thought of those questions, I simply fought and fought hard because it was a game and some unknown piece of my soul wanted to win.
The sky was filled with packets of hot metal that burst and flew in every direction. My luck was running low, soon I would be plucked from the sky like the mallard I killed, a winged angel would guide a whistling bullet into my skull, a gavel strike for karmic justice. I couldn’t keep this up, every time I had a hun in my sights I would hesitate and pull away. Outnumbered and overwhelmed, I had to kill. A plane pulled in front of me, the pilot unaware that I was behind. Just as his parents were unaware, and his uncles, his aunties, his cousins, his friends, that stranger he met on the streets of Berlin last winter – they sheltered in a cafe while a blizzard raged on outside, they talked by the fire for hours and she made him promise to come see her after the war. It was a promise that I would make him break. I held down the trigger and a stream of bullets sliced through the rudder, up the tail, and splattering blade out the cockpit. My bullets made of mince of the pilot, the boy, the man, the son, and now the absent lover. If you’re as cynical as me, you will be asking “How do you know this about him?” Of course, I am lying. I don’t know anything about the man other than the fact I killed him over Vauz sur Somme. But the point is he could have been all of these things and more — as safe an assumption as the strangers you walk past every day having the same number of problems and joys as you do. Safe to assume that at least one person loved him even if it was just his mother – even if he was the most detestable person on Earth, I took him from her.
All that was left of the plane and pilot went spiralling down into the mud of no man’s land, another monument to man’s ingenuity and its depraved ends. In my last glance of the plane, which I will forever hold sacred and terrible in my soul, I saw an unholy union between, strings of meat fused into the blood-splattered glass and splintered wood. Not even Da Vinci, when he sketched the first flying machines, could have pictured the violently absurd nature of modern warfare. I’m no genius and I certainly don’t live in a renaissance but I predict warfare will become faster and more brutal than it is even now. Battles will last seconds, wars will be won in minutes. Never again will your noble king beckon you once more into the breach, there will only be the furious incoherent roar of metal and engines – a cacophony of motorised screams; begging to fight, yearning to die.