Motley Feudal Ties

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I’ve come to love the silence.  Sheer silence follows the baying and bloodshed of the hunt, which makes a trampled cacophony of what the forest was born for.  The inescapable baying and the riotous bloodshed follow a frantic chase into oblivion and delight.  The inexhaustible chase follows closely all the paths and dimensions of mockery, I feel, although I could be wrong.

But if mockery creeps in then it creeps alongside the procession and paraphernalia of horses and hounds.  The proud trotting of the horses and the salivating of the hounds follows the donning of red, tightly buttoned-up with gleaming brass.  The fashion statement follows the unfathomable rise of etiquette.  Etiquette follows education and the glorious stay at Eton.  The little masters’ rifling alma mater is carved from mucky stone identical to the teetering stately homes, stained by tall chimneys and shown-up by chandeliers.  Their glittery crystals follow the sparkling, slimy design of sugar, sailing in from plantations.  The planter aristocracy follows after the money and money follows slavery, like hounds chase a bitch in heat.

Slaves, like emperors, are the offspring of empires – they lay kicking in the colonial womb.  The rationale for those colonies of ours follows on from the discovery that “god is an Englishman.”  And god’s Englishness blooms, mysteriously, from the sleight-of-hand announcement that our creator was made in man’s image, or vice versa.

But I digress.

This unchartered silence I’ve come to love so much… it cloaks all that dense sense of history and progress under tall, majestic canopies of leaves; these slowly begin hissing insults from the side-lines.  I applaud.  I taught them those insults.

Then silence pervades the forest again as slaughtered stags are dragged off to have their antlers mounted as trophies or hat-racks on custodial walls.  Generations of atrophied heads nod an acknowledgement of the ornament and sport.  I watch them pass down the long corridors like mammalian germs in hard arteries.  Yes, gazing in, endlessly, through ornate windows, stood sentinel by the family mausoleum, I swear by my deep roots that I will suck dry their noxious entrails before long.

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This story was written in response to the yeah write challenge #179 – The following sentence must be the FIRST line in your submission: “I’ve come to love the silence.” You must also include a reference to the media prompt.  The other stories in the link-up can be read by clicking the image below.

speakeasy179

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After the Nivelle Offensive

He waited for an hour.  His head mostly bowed, cold hands flexing on the worm-eaten table, he felt the seconds hammer by.  Executions were staged at dawn, as soon as the first leery hints of daylight made it viable to take aim, and that was the hour he waited for; it was the hour he wanted to shake off and shirk ever having to face.

Outside, in the slowly lifting gloom, the trench was as lively as ever.  Staggering, colliding soldiers ducked and loudly swore as they hurried along beneath the flashes of shells, the spattering earth and splinters from crumbling walls that got struck.  Until the latest storm of artillery blew itself out no one on duty risked a run to the latrines; they shat and pissed where they cowered and the stink of it rose up, minute by minute.  Odd dead bodies bobbed and floated in the deep soup that formed the floor of the trench, limbs blown off and faces peppered with shrapnel.

How futile was it to arrange executions in the teeth of all that explosive metal?  He gave a bitter smirk and felt a shiver of disgust go wriggling down his spine.  On the table in front of him sat his shrapnel helmet; undercover in the dugout, the discarded helmet perched like a useless ornamental dish, wobbling wildly back and forth after each fresh impact set the ground trembling.  He enjoyed watching it tilt and spin.  It was a diversion of sorts and for a few seconds, at least, he failed to register the hour getting closer.

Sleeplessness made his mind start to wander.  Vaguely, he thought about mud and power.  They were the two qualities of this world he’d learned most about since he reached the front line and started making his home there.  Mud and power had so much in common: they sucked you in, deeper and deeper, and refused to let you go; it was so hard to wash them off your reeking body and feel clean again.  He wondered if there was still time for him to feel clean again?

Muttered rumours about the revolution in Russia floated around inside his head, mixed up with stray lines of pacifist propaganda from leaflets that got distributed along the line.  It all made sense to him and it all made no sense, equally, from one second to the next.

Maybe the barrage would see today’s executions get postponed if it kept up?  Another smirk stung his lips.  How do you go about hoping for a barrage of missiles to keep on crashing about your head?   It was a bad idea and he gave it up.  True, he was used to bad ideas now, but still he gave it up.  He knew it was pointless – the seconds were more remorseless than any shells; they counted down faster and faster, while the shells fell less and less as the threat of dawn grew.

When you’re shot by a twelve-man firing squad, who is it that you blame?  That thought worried him most.  This was his first duty as part of a firing squad and his mind was buzzing more and more with that question about blame.  But duty was the answer.  Deserters and mutineers were a threat to everyone; they were a threat to him, so he tried to think of them as a threat.

That scarcely worked.  Their battalion was like his, their life was like his.  They were fellow sufferers of a sickness he’d been stricken with for so long that his grasp of the symptoms and cure grew hazy.  The sickness came by many names: shells, shrapnel, snipers, gangrene, fear, exhaustion, cowardice.  But mostly he called the sickness “Orders.”

Orders came and went, orders got followed.  “Following orders is right.  And following orders is immoral – because I lose any chance I have of making honest moral choices of my own.  True or false?  True or false?  What does it say about me if I can’t answer that question?  Is that the exact same question those poor bastards learned how to answer before they mutinied?”

Picking up his helmet and rifle, he went to join his comrades on the march to the execution site.  He tried thinking about heaven.  But when he pictured that place in all its shining glory all that came to mind was a cosy little office tucked away hundreds of miles behind the front line, where a polished pen scraped orders onto paper.

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This story was written in response to the yeah write challenge #177 – The following sentence must be the FIRST line in your submission: “He waited for an hour.   You must also include a reference to the media prompt.

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The other stories in the link-up can be read by clicking on the image below.

speakeasy177

You Wore Blue

It’s funny about wars –

(No, you’re right. Nothing’s ever funny about wars. But you remember what my sense of humour’s like, remember how it got me into trouble even at the best of times?)

But all I mean to say is it’s funny how wars get so familiar, like family. You don’t notice it at first but, after you get up close to a few, real close, you can’t help but see how much they all resemble each other. You see the same heartache etched on every face, and betrayal. That family likeness is unnerving. Most families share blood but this one shares bloodshed. It’s rising up all around you, day-by-day. It’s like a biblical flood with no Noah in sight who’s sailing to rescue his chosen few. Well, maybe Noah does still turn up to rescue the chosen few. What would I know about that? None of my crowd was ever lucky enough, or smart enough, or just low-down cunning enough, to get counted among the chosen few.

Anyway, I guess I never had much time for the chosen few any time I met them. And they had even less time for me.

(Good judges of character, those chosen few. Am I right?)

Let’s raise another glass to the chosen few! No, I can’t remember who the other glasses were raised to, either. I gave up keeping count a long, long time ago. I guess when you own half-a-dozen bars for half your life then alcohol’s the easiest way to go. At least you know you’re getting trade rates on the disease that’ll carry you off. That’s some consolation.

(I used to wonder if I would’ve made a decent consolation prize for you. I don’t bother with that anymore. You had the war and no-one could compete with all that history and glory you went chasing after. Where did it get you in the end? No, don’t tell me. I don’t want to hear.)

Pause. Rick drinks, rubs his eyes.

When I get to looking back what I mostly see is you. I won’t lie. Then I see regrets. I get tired of all the regrets. They sit around like they own the place, putting their feet up on the furniture. No-one ever puts their feet on the furniture in my establishments, it’s not allowed; not in the States, not in Europe, Casablanca, Singapore. But those regrets of mine are impolite. They talk too loud and they point and stare like they’re a goddam bunch of VIPs invited along to see some circus act they’re sure is beneath them. So they spend half the time looking down their noses and half the time staring up where the tightrope walker goes wobbling along his bit of string. They’re waiting to see him fall, getting impatient and checking the time because there’s someplace else they’ve got to be, someplace more stylish.

I’ve been a tightrope walker all my life, but you already knew that. It’s not a career I’d wish on anyone. All that endless balancing tires you out. As for me, well, in my time I’ve balanced every competing demand you’d care to mention: smugglers, cops, pimps and heroes; liberty, equality and Nazis. Then, once you get too tired to keep on balancing anymore, you crash.

(I was crashing when I first met you. You wore blue, remember?)

The impact makes dents in you. It dents the better parts of you, leaves them faulty and hanging loose, exposed. They start to get callous then: your spirit, generosity, your hopes and trust. You can’t help it, no-one can. You get beaten out of shape as time goes by.

As Time Goes By…

He played it for you and sometimes, after you left, he still played it for me. And he always played it note-perfect. Tender. The patrons sighed, held hands across the tables. You’d have smiled to see them. I smiled at how little they understood. I smiled at how little you understood, too. It was an ugly smile; it got stuck in my teeth. Because no-one ever wins a war, Ilsa, not really; not even you and your heroes.

I never told anyone this but I used to picture that blue dress you wore, all red with bullet holes. And each time I pictured you like that I told him to play that goddam song. He never refused and he never once mentioned that anything was wrong, never let on that he knew. But Sam was never the same again.

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This story was written in response to the speakeasy writing prompt #167 – You must include the following sentence as the LAST line in your submission: “But Sam was never the same again.”