"The bloodiest war of the bloodiest century in human history - for some, it never ends."
"What becomes of all the blood spilled in this war?" Corporal Dorry Martine pressed his back against the rough-hewn planks of his barracks shelter, extending his legs in a straight jut over the edge of his bunk.
"Hmmmm?" Dorry's companion since they enlisted together the previous year, Sergeant Maxwell Butters drifted near the edge of sleep's dark abyss. He scarcely flinched at the impact of high-explosive shells against the Earth's surface overhead.
Dorry admired his stoic friend from across the narrow aisle separating their floor-level bunks. The man's face seemed carved from stone that bristled with a wiry moss. His eyelids scarcely fluttered, and Dorry wondered if his friend slept peacefully when he slept, untroubled either by dreams of sanctuary lost or by nightmares of their crimes of war. How many men had Max killed, wondered the corporal? How many men have I killed, he wondered next?
"What becomes of all the blood, do you think?"
Max grunted. "Mmm hmm. Same as the bones and guts, I s'pose."
"Do you remember Randy?"
The sergeant's peaceful breathing fell still for the duration of a horrible moment spent languishing in bloody memory. "Yeah," he returned eventually, his lungs working properly once more. "I remember him, Dorry. I remember all them fellahs, you know, same as you."
"I know you do, Max," returned Dorry, laying his head back against the splintered plank and closing his eyes against the uncertain, shifting light of the lone lantern that swayed back and forth between the rows of uncomfortable beds. "I know you remember same as me. Only, sometimes I just like to ask. It makes me feel better."
"Mmm hmm," droned the sergeant, his face impassive and stoic as his nature. "What of 'im?"
"Remember how he caught it out by the wire? You were there that day. He was sergeant then, and I was a buck private. We move up quick around here like that." Dorry smiled. "Randy always said he could rank a field marshal someday, the way we advance along this line, but he never did. Now you got his stripes, don't you? And I got a few stripes of my own, too."
Max sighed impatiently. Occasionally, he questioned the soundness of his old friend's mind. Some time back, Dorry had taken a terrible blow to the head from a hundred pound lump of sod thrown up from the kind of shell they called a 'grave-digger'. Lately, the lad seemed a bit out of step. Like now, as he had wandered off subject almost immediately, "What of Randy," he asked again?
"Randy," mused Dorry softly, watching his dead friend cavort and play across the backs of his eyelids like one of those cheap picture shows they had back in the city. He thought of holidays they spent together before the wars, he and Max and Randy and half a dozen others from the old neighborhood. All of them, he knew, were gone now save for his friend, Sergeant Butters.
At once, his mind betrayed him, and he found himself tangled in the wire once more, rounds zipping past his head, tossing bits of fabric from his tunic where they punched holes mere inches from his own sanctified flesh. Now he screamed for Maxxy, for Randy, for Jimmy, for Robert. Now he screamed for dead men and his mother to come help him, help him, help him! Tear me free of this damnable wire!
"He saved me that day, you know," Dorry added eventually. "He cut me away."
"Yeah, he did at that. He saved all of us from one time to another."
"I never did thank him."
Max grunted. "You didn't have to."
"I should have thanked him." Dorry struggled with his upper lip and his heaving breast. He swallowed bitter sorrow and the rancid return of terrors faded in time. "I didn't get a chance, you know, or I would have thanked him."
"He knew that."
Dorry swallowed stiffly, and his eyes sprang open. He refused to see the rest of that day as a film played out on the bloody backs of his lids. He hoped searing his eyes with the harsh, un-shaded light of the lamp would distract his mind and lead his thoughts astray, away from that horror show on the wire.
Nevertheless, Randy came to him, crawling on his belly over corpses and shattered remnants of human beings. He tilled the guts and the blood-washed gullies across a moonscape of craters and splintered fence posts, fractured rifle butts and blasted ammo trains. Randy called to his young friend, cautioning him to hang motionless from the entangling wires, to play dead. Dorry saw himself muster inhuman reserves of self-control, and he saw himself go limp to dangle from the torn folds of his trousers and blouse.
He hung there, suspended but alive, while Randy crawled closer and closer. Bullets cut the air with the sounds of a whip's crack. Artillery roamed the battlefield, churning the flotsam and jetsam of war's crimson tide in a relentless pursuit of death and human destruction. Through the hellish din and cacophony of combat, rifle-bearing men ran impossibly through the mayhem, shoulders hunched, heads bowed, backs bent, and their long, youthful legs loping along such that they seemed a tribe of apes bound on a primeval raid into another tribe's brooding desert kingdom.
Dorry called to Randy to come quickly, his voice a harsh whisper that could not be heard above the roar and whiz of the firefight. Dorry told his friend how a grave-digger had landed mere feet from his charging form. He told his friend about the death of another friend, Simon, whom the shell had obliterated while tossing Dorry onto the wire with but a scratch.
Across the dully glazed surface of his glistening orbs, Dorry watched Randy extend his hands to cut away tangled flesh and fabric. He saw Randy stretch for the highest knot. He felt himself fall, freed at last. He watched huge, splattered chunks of his friend's body explode in a neat series of violent wounds that dropped Randy to the mud, instantly murdered.
"I didn't get but a scratch that day, Max," Dorry breathed softly, "not more than a scratch. But Randy… he's never coming back again, is he? And all the blood… it flowed from his chest like a little spring for a time. A little spring of red, human tissue, you know, it flowed for a surprisingly long time. It filled his helmet full. It spilled over the edge. It turned the soil to clods."