Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Galway Libraries 'Galway’s Great Read Creative Writing Competition Winner'

The first of  this year’s winners of  Galway Libraries Galway’s Great Read Creative Writing Competition is Michael Gallagher with this poignant piece entitled First light. Congratulations Michael.

I remember sleep. I am however afraid to venture forth into its duplicitous arms, for I know what awaits me there. My sleep is scarred by the faces of the dead, the screaming of the shells and the cries of dying men. Sleep has become but a stepping stone from one vision of hell to another. Of late, Private Joe Kearney skulks in the shadows of my dreams, ready to step into the limelight, to replay the savage agony of his death one more time before we go.
Joe and I grew up together. We set sail for England together. We joined up together. He died alone. His life was stolen away on a soft summer morning last week. A victim of the ugliest weapon of this war, the flame thrower; a recent addition to a hellish armoury already desperately overstocked.
Consumed by the flames, Joe Kearney fell to his knees, raised his arms to the heavens and beseeched some higher being for aid that would never come. And for several terrible moments, it was as if the crude pandemonium of the battlefield settled in volume so that I might better imprint the sickening drama of Joe’s cruel demise on my memory. Joe Kearney’s screams will remain with me until the day I die.
That day may not be as distant as I might wish. At first light I will step once more into no man’s land.
No man’s land.
An aptly named place if ever there was one, for no man should be forced to set foot on such God forsaken soil. The numbing omnipresent fear in the trench is merely a warm up for the terror that lies beyond. Once you climb the ladder and step out onto the battlefield there is only a carpet of tattered, blackened corpses, barbed wire and malevolent flying death for company. There is no mercy in no man’s land. There are no heroes in no man’s land; there are only the dead and the temporarily reprieved.
The bombardment has already begun. It is but the precursor for what will come at first light, another bloody attack. The ground shakes, my hands shake, even the rats that cower in the corners of the trench have been driven half mad by the ugly thunder of the shelling. The night is alive with the pulsating fury of a thousand tons of TNT raining down upon the enemy. I would revel in the majesty of the lightshow if I believed for one
First Light 3
moment that it would put an end to the Hun. Nothing should survive the ferocity of such a high explosive assault, but survive they do. No matter how long, how intense the bombardment, they are always there, manning the machine guns with a vindictiveness worthy of the devil himself.
This is truly the death of civilisation. It can only be the end of the world. The stench of rotting corpses, latrine buckets, cordite and sweat permeates everything. The sights, the sounds, the stink, every sense is polluted by the brutality of this infernal conflict. We have been banished like criminals to a disgusting wasteland where mayhem, savage violence and cold hard steel are king. It is indeed a long way to Tipperary.
I am not a coward but my courage has been poisoned over time by the intolerable trauma of battle. A wound would be a blessed relief. How much of myself would I be willing to sacrifice to gain a reprieve from the ongoing insanity of this wretched place? Would an arm be payment enough to buy me a ticket home?
And should death come to call, how will it choose to spirit me away? Will my demise torment the dreams of another like me or will I meet my end like Lanky O’ Rourke?
Lanky simply stumbled and fell in no man’s land like he’d tripped on an untied shoe lace. He collapsed face down into the unremitting mud and stirred no more, an unremarkable passing. Over time I’m sure he disappeared into that mud, the relentless clinging mud that holds a hundred thousand comrades, brothers, fathers and sons in its embrace.
I am surrounded now by the threadbare ranks of our original unit, our numbers shored up by raw recruits who arrive to fill the boots of our fallen comrades. We veterans ignore these inexperienced replacements. Why get to know someone who may well be filleted in obscene ruin on the field of battle within twenty four hours. I have lost enough friends already. I will lose no more.
The shelling has ceased. The familiar post barrage stillness hangs in the air. It is an ominous silence, heavy with the weight of what will come at dawn. I might wish it so but this night will not last forever.
First light is on its way.

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