Heavy Pride

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They did dark work. Heavy work. Barbaric work, some people said – but never for long and never too loudly. ‘Who cared?’ was his reply. At the slaughter house his father did dark work, heavy work, even barbaric work as he buried his arms in blood and swung his blade to hack away at flesh. That was how they ate, that was how they lived and they did it without questions or accusations. They were happy not to see and not to know as long as food was on their table when the day ended. Only hypocrites cast scorn with full bellies and comfortably heavy eyelids. And when they did he lashed out, knocking into them, he thought, a measure of respect for the work that sustained them. Silencing the jibes and insults about the stench of death that covered his father and, by proxy, himself.

The soldiers were the same, not that they needed him to fight for them. Their work roused the hypocrites too though. Warm and safe in their rural security they whispered insults at the ‘murderers’ who descended from the army camp to buy their food and their drink. Always eager to condemn the job the soldiers were bound to do and always quick to take their money and sleep soundly in the peace the soldiers brought them. Those who judged never had a right to. It was always the ones who dodged and denied, evading the truth of the enemies who were out to kill them and theirs. Give in to their way of thinking and the village would be gone, the country would be gone. That’s what you got if you let the cowards take over, the weak who shied away from the abattoir at the first metallic scent of blood.

He would be different though. The slaughterhouse worker’s son. No cowardice. No shying away from the dark, heavy and barbaric work of keeping them all safe and secure. He too would bury his arms in blood, far deeper than even his father did, letting deeper shades of crimson taint his skin. He would stand with the soldiers. Join them when he could, steep himself in the effluence of their oppressive labour amidst the human cattle they corralled. Do the work they had to to keep the hypocrites alive, in mockery of their disdain.

And when they stared at him in the street, when they mumbled their insults in shameful corners he’d know that he had beaten them. He’d know he could feel proud.

This is from No Cure for Shell Shock, a collection of short stories and poetry. It’s available as an eBook or paperback here.

The Grey Column

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It was the third column of the day. The novelty had worn off now, the mood had changed.

On the arrival of the first one, marked by an earth trembling roar of diesel engines groaning their way through barely passable streets, virtually the whole village had turned out. Children shrieked with delight, chasing the metal behemoths of the tanks and optimistically calling for soldiers to give them a turn driving. The men, or at least the elders who had stayed far from the front, stroked their beards and pontificated on what these passing troops meant. Good news for the army, bad news, attack or retreat, victory or surrender. An academic matter, the war was a long way away, fought on imagined battlefields by immortal armies. At least that was as far as they were willing to let their thoughts stray before pushing against the unpleasant and unspoken truth.

The women just stared, or locked themselves away from the tumult of marching troops. Too many had lost too much. The sight of survivors, or those soon to die, was merely a false promise for the fate of their own sons, fathers, brothers and husbands. Or an unwelcome reminder of those whose marches had already ended. A few shooed their children away, fearful of the corruption of war that followed armies like a disease, infecting the mind before destroying the body. The children evaded them with a laugh, too lost in excitement to see anything but life and the intriguing other.

All of that passed though. By the time the third column arrived the image had grown too detailed. What had seemed an earth rattling stampede of engines had dulled to a constant reverberating roar. The children had lost interest, called home or gone to new excitement. The men and women had seen faces. As the soldiers had passed men had taken their place, grey faced and hollow. Eyes floating beyond their bodies, trapped in distant moments and places. To speculate or seek feeling there felt like a trap. Look too closely and you’d fall in yourself. Better by far to be behind closed doors, the war once again a far away fantasy. Fought on distant battlefields, with immortal soldiers.

Then the shelling started.

This is from No Cure for Shell Shock, a collection of short stories and poetry. It’s available as an eBook or paperback here.

Gone Done (No Cure for Shell Shock extract)

‘Mercy, mercy, mercy, mercy…’ It was all he could hear. The screaming from the family in front of him had stopped, the shouted insults and encouragement from the men behind him had faded into nothing. He could still see their mouths move, all of them, almost in slow motion as he stood locked in his own mind beyond the moment.

Mercy? That was his voice, his own accusing, terrified voice. Mercy for who? For them? They were dead, they were dead, they were dead. One tensed muscle away from the grave. He couldn’t stop that, the life had been sucked out of his body, it was lost in the certainty of what was about to happen. They were dead, if not through him then through the others and if not through him then him along with them. Mercy? How could there be mercy? Where was there space for it? But it didn’t matter, the same word, ‘mercy, mercy, mercy, mercy’, screamed inside his head over and over again.

A crying family. Why should they have mercy? Why? He’d been offered none, he’d seen none, even beyond this instance, beyond this moment of decision where was there sympathy or sorrow for him? Nowhere. Dead. Mercy, sympathy, sorrow, wherever he’d ever known them they’d been left dead, executed before his eyes before he’d even realised their value. The families pitiful cries and begging, now muted into silent and numb gestures, what were they supposed to do? Save their lives? Their lives were over. Dig out something in him that didn’t exist? Mercy? More than that, sacrifice, for him to kill for them rather than the men he’d arrived with. A greedy demand, an insulting one. They grovelled to him for something they did nothing to offer themselves. Why not give themselves up? They were dead, if they could just accept it then he could be saved. If they could stop grasping for some way out he could silence the goddamn screaming in his head and do what he had to do. Mercy, mercy, mercy, but none for him.

Never any for him.

Never any for his family.

Never any for his home or friends or hopes or life – all of which had been taken without even a shred of sorrow.

He wanted to be sick. He needed to be sick. Those lifeless muscles gripped the gun in his hands. They were a million miles away from his thoughts, they were certain of what would happen. Only the desperate, near retching need to vomit still connected him to his body, the two bound by a thin thread of revulsion. Was that it? Revulsion? Mercy, mercy, mercy. No, there was no mercy and they were all dead already. So was there revulsion? Why? At what? He was doing what he had to do, he was doing what they all did, exactly the same as everyone had done since this war had started. That family who wished him dead with their pleading, the men behind him who laughed and cackled at every body. This was it, this was all of it so what was the revulsion for?

He couldn’t think. He couldn’t even see his own thoughts clearly. He was sure there was nothing there, no part of him which still felt anything for these corpses in denial. But mercy, mercy, mercy still screaming through his skull.

A father, a mother, a son and a daughter. Civilians. Innocent. Asking him to die. But he was innocent too. He was as innocent as any of them. He had never picked up a gun, had never sought them out, he’d never sought anyone out. All of this had been forced onto him, a rifle in his hands, these people in front of him and those men, those vicious, violent, broken men who’d dragged him into this. Never with a moment of sympathy, or sorrow, or mercy.

mercy, mercy, mercy, mercy

The little girl was the only one not joining in the pitiful play. No cries, no pawing for salvation, she just silently sat there, eyes locked on his feet, seeing nothing. She understood. No more than eight or nine and she understood, they were dead or he was dead. More than that, they were dead and he was dead, sooner or later. Just like those he’d arrived with. Those mad and violent men, dead already and driven insane by it. His finger tightened on the trigger without him willing it to. He would join them. He would do this thing, he would vomit, he would cry and he would forget the word ‘mercy’. It was no choice, no decision, it was already done, already set in stone and his limbs knew that.

He pointed the gun at her. Barrel levelled at her face. She didn’t move an inch. She should be the first. He could gift her that, she knew it was coming so better to not see it done, not to the rest at least. Was that mercy?

mercy, mercy, mercy, mercy

No, mercy was a felt thing, not just a word and he felt nothing. His muscles acted, his stomach churned, the voice in his head screamed. All separate, all alone, all decided.

The noise came back with the crack of a bullet being fired. Screams from the family, laughter from behind him.

No mercy.

The voice had fallen silent, cowed into retreat by the explosive of gunshot. Held there by another and another and another. He vomited. Crumpling to his knees he squeezed his eyes closed, trying and failing to collapse in on himself as hands slapped his back. More gunshots. Dead men making sure the corpses didn’t rise. No matter, he had killed them, he had done what he had known he would.

Hands were dragging him to his feet even as strands of sick still hung from his chin, ponderously dripping onto his shirt. More back slapping. Someone shook his hand. From the silence the world had become too loud, they were all talking, perhaps to him but he couldn’t tell. Words fell flatly around him ‘animals’; ‘dogs’, ‘filth’, ‘scum’, the words those dead men used to replace ‘mercy’. He would have to learn them now, they were his words, the language of his madness. The tears in his eyes drained away the old sounds, the old words, purging him ready for his afterlife. No more mercy, just scum and filth.

A hand clamped on his jaw. Rough, powerful, swivelling his head to face the bodies of the family. A heap of nothingness, no more begging, no more grovelling, nothing. Filth now, garbage, nothing human and nothing left to ask anything of him.

… filth, filth, filth, filth…

The word grew louder in his head. They’d been dead from the moment he’d arrived, they’d been filth from the moment he’d arrived. A final image of his own family passed across his eyes, bodies crumpled just the same as these, living, real people made garbage, just like these. Filth.

He forgot them all. The memories of a new man flooded in, madness drowning those of the child who’d passed with a gunshot.

… filth, filth, filth, filth…

No Cure for Shell Shock is a collection of short stories and poetry. It’s available as an eBook or paperback here.

Reviews and support are always appreciated.

Prisoner of War (No Cure for Shell Shock extract)

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He refused to look at me. I stared, I hated, but he refused to see. I lived through my eyes, for those long minutes. I tried to leave the rest, to let him have it so that whatever he took wouldn’t be me. I failed. For all that I placed in that stare some part of me remained for him to steal. Still he refused to look at me. He left, having seen nothing. None of my rage, none of the hatred he’d earned as he pinned me down and forced himself onto me.

He left that for me, a new self, built on that hate and anger. A replacement for the rest, for that part he’d taken as a prisoner of war.

No Cure for Shell Shock, my collection of short stories, is available for free on Amazon Kindle until the 24th of March – grab your copy here. Reviews and shares much appreciated!

No Cure for Shell Shock Giveaway

Yes you read right, everything must go! And by ‘everything’ I mean as many copies as possible from an endless, intangible pool of eBooks. Until the 24th of March you can download No Cure for Shell Shock for free via Amazon. As with all these promotions the small price I’ll ask you to pay is to review it (on Amazon or Goodreads) and, if you can, share it via your social media outlet of choice. I say it enough for it to be my mantra now but just for good measure – every share, every review, every recommendation and every mention helps immeasurably and is very appreciated.

Anyway, grab your copy now and hope you enjoy.