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by dharker 

Posted: 15 April 2011
Word Count: 661
Related Works: 17 Words • Hero? • Payment • 

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The sickly smell of death and decay mingled with cordite in the chill, night air. Soaking wet and slowly freezing in the darkness, Corporal William Harman MM lay broken and bleeding in the sodden shell hole. Scattered all around him lay his friends and colleagues, scythed like corn by German machine gun fire. He looked down at the torn flesh of his abdomen. A long drawn out moan drew his attention for a moment, followed by a deathly rattling sigh that signalled the end to yet another mother’s son. He closed his eyes…

Edith had been pegging out the washing when she heard the gate latch being opened. She was just brushing her hair back with her hand in readiness for going to greet whoever the visitor was, when Bill had walked, smiling, around the corner of the house.

He looked so dashing, dressed as he was in his Light Infantry uniform, proudly displaying the corporal’s stripes he had been given following an action at Ypres, where he had saved the life of his Captain. During the heroic capture of an enemy machine gun post, he had selflessly dived into the path of a pistol bullet drilling its way towards the senior officer. He was lucky that the bullet had merely struck his helmet a glancing blow, but was nevertheless heavily concussed by the impact. He had been transported back to Blighty for treatment, and when adjudged fully recovered, he had been granted a short leave before being shipped back to Belgium and the war. Hoping to surprise his wife, he’d walked from the railway station to their house by the lake.

“Hello!” was all he could say, before she launched herself into his arms and they locked in an embrace that all but dismissed the many months they had been apart. She luxuriated in him; his powerful embrace, the smell of his hair and the touch of his lips as he kissed her. After what seemed an eternity, she stepped back and looked up at her husband. She saw the weariness, stress and fatigue that the war had etched into him. His beautiful smiling eyes were now sunken and horror-worn; his once lean but well-muscled body now pallid and wiry. She had to fight hard to suppress the tears that threatened.

Edith took him by the hand and led him into the house where she sat him down at the kitchen table. Smiling, she cut and buttered some bread she had baked that morning, and watched as he devoured it. He looked up at her, a sheepish grin on his face.

“I’m so sorry Edie… I haven’t tasted food this good in such a long time”

She walked behind his chair, wrapped her arms around him, and kissed the top of his head.

“There’s no need to apologise my love, I can’t imagine how bad it must be out there”.

With that she took his hand and led him upstairs.

Hours later Bill remembered waking with a start. For a moment he couldn’t remember where he was, then the smell of flowers wafting through the window and the soft clean feel of the bed linen against his naked body reminded him that he was home. He turned and gazed at Edith as she slept. For the first time in too many months he felt relaxed and content. He reached across and gently traced a finger down her cheek, her neck and across her breast to the nipple, watching it contract and rise at his soft touch. She was so warm and soft; the heady perfume of their lovemaking still scented the air. She stirred and stretched lazily, then opened her sapphire blue eyes, their edges spread and wrinkled in a satisfied smile.

“Mmm, hello stranger! Who do you think you’re looking at?” she teased as she wrapped a leg around his hip and pulled him towards her eager body.

“An angel…” he replied as he took his last rattling breath...

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Comments by other Members

Cornelia at 11:44 on 15 April 2011  Report this post
A very good story, well told and keeping the attention from the surprise appearance at home to the final revelation.

I think you might want to look at a slight overuse of adjectives in the first paragraph

I particularly liked:

She saw the weariness, stress and fatigue that the war had etched into him. His beautiful smiling eyes were now sunken and horror-worn; his once lean but well-muscled body now pallid and wiry. She had to fight hard to suppress the tears that threatened.


Kali at 11:48 on 15 April 2011  Report this post
Dave, I am typing from a mobile phone so will sorry if I am more curt than I should be: great story. The last line is a jolt, packs a whallop: you and Sheila have both made me teary today with your writing. Good stuff - Steph

tusker at 15:56 on 15 April 2011  Report this post
Lovely Dave.

Beautiful language. Really enjoyed.


Desormais at 16:06 on 15 April 2011  Report this post
Excellent Dave. Such a contrast between the two scenarios, one bitter, one sweet. I too am on an internet download allowance so have to be brief. You 'do' war very well!

dharker at 16:59 on 15 April 2011  Report this post
Many thanks Sheila, Steph, Sandra and Jennifer - so glad you enjoyed my little tale. Its another building block in my 17 words short story. I hoped the sweet romance would balance out the bitter horrors of war.


fiona_j at 22:40 on 20 April 2011  Report this post

This is a very sad tale. I'm guessing at the end he's the angel? It's kind of nice that he had chance to see her again.

Excellent read.


dharker at 04:20 on 21 April 2011  Report this post
Thanks Fi!
In my mind Bill is having a flashback to his visit with Edith. As his life ebbs away he's recalling the whole sensual experience; sights, sounds, taste, smell and touch. The angel actually refers to a Lalique figure that is central to a short story that will come out of this (see 17 words) but also fits well with his passing away thinking of Edith as the most beautiful of beings...


Neezes at 10:39 on 24 April 2011  Report this post
Oh, I was just going to say, I was expecting him to wake up in the trench and think 'shit'! Much better the way you ended it. I liked the description of his arrival home particularly.

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