Over the top Essay

A heavy black shade hung over the crimson sky, intensifying in colour by each drawn out minute that passed. Its brassy glare sucked the remaining life out of the sodden field, giving it a tinted bronze hue from the meagreness of light. This drained and depleted complexion bestowed an unmistakable melancholy feeling towards this theatre of war. Soldiers ducked their heads in fear as they manoeuvred their weary bodies through the labyrinth of muck-ridden, rat infested corridors. The loud susurration of feet squelching in the tar-like mud created a cacophony of sound around me.

Guns were clinking and chiming under the spite-filled sky as tin-pan helmets loosely rustled from left to right producing an unpleasant, monotonous din. Today was the day we would go over the top. I trudged through the trench bitterly like a man on his final walk to the executioner; it certainly felt that way. Every soldier I passed bore a grim look of fear and mourning in his eyes.

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I knew it too well; we all felt it.

As I lumbered my fatigued corpse through the squalid passageways, I stumbled upon the mangled, misshapen ground where artillery had struck. In its place lay an amorphous copper-brown puddle. I gathered the remaining warmth my body could conjure up and braced myself for the inclement conditions. Within seconds, the icy liquid had penetrated through the permeable material of my boots at an absurd speed; after that, my tattered rat-bitten socks did little to prevent the water from reaching my rough calloused feet. The icy chill struck my skin like a bolt, rising from my feet to my head. The blood in my veins began to freeze as a feeling of numbness raced down my spine. I knew that I needed to keep moving in defiance of the cold, but if the pain of putting one foot in front of the other wasn’t enough, I also had to withstand the consistent jabbing and prodding of the various items in my backpack. It was a slow and painful torture.

At last, I managed to drag myself out of the piercing-cold water and we all lined up. The air grew heavy and the humidity pressed down on us due to the oncoming storm. The morning air had an eerie chill to it today; so much so that my lungs felt cold with each sharp breath I took. Silence permeated the trench, being urged on by the gentle mourning of the wind. I pulled out my rifle from my backpack. Standing motionless, I gazed up at my murder weapon. Delicate rays of lucid light glistened gracefully against the bayonet; who knew something so devilish could look so alluring. At first, the metal felt cold in my palms, yet a few seconds later, the surface became ambient as it slowly mimicked my body temperature. It now seemed more like a part of me than a tool of death. The soft mechanical click of the safety-catch being taken off cut straight through my nerves as a sudden realisation occurred; I am now ready to kill. My breath came out in sharp shallow bursts as my heart rate spiralled uncontrollably creating a jaunty rhythm to our execution. My heart thumped frantically as if in an attempt to escape the confines of my ribcage. Besides my heart, no other muscle dared to move. I stood frozen in anticipation, in fear. I nervously glanced around. Every man seemed to be expressing the same two contradictory impulses: the heightened awareness of the hunter, and the trepidation of the prey.

For a moment, everything stopped. Even the wind held its breath in anticipation. We all glanced at the floor as our hope diminished with each and every tick of the commander’s watch. Then, He looked up at us with his sad, grieving eyes. Without warning, the melancholy silence was broken as the piercing sound of the commander’s whistle echoed throughout the muted field. A roaring uproar of shouts followed as we emerged like spectral figures from the grave. Beyond the bounds of the trenches lay the warped remains of a once verdant landscape. Lifeless, chestnut-trees jutted out of the ground like broken bones from the dead fields while colossal craters littered the terrain like the desolate face of the moon. Mortar shells began to cascade down from the heavens sending chunks of shrapnel flying through the air like fragments of broken glass. One shell landed a few metres away from me which sent me spiralling to the ground. The sound was deafening. Although physically I felt fine, the sound wreaked havoc within my head as the unceasing outcry of ringing echoed throughout the corroded confines of my mind. I could hardly hear, yet I feared I have heard enough. Blood curdling cries of agony reverberated around me from comrades wounded and dying. I tried to drown it out but it was no use, the smell gave it away. Among the inferno of smoke and flames, the harrowing stench of decomposing flesh pervaded the air. I clenched my ears in utter desperation as the sounds of war and death echoed relentlessly throughout my mind.

I knew I had to keep moving or my death would be imminent. I heaved myself onto one knee as I clutched the rifle in my mud-splattered hands. I watched eagerly as the world shrunk to no more than the line of view of my rifle’s scope. Time slowed while the shouts of men were reduced to a mere muffled whisper against the thudding sound of my own racing heartbeat. I wrapped the hardened skin of my index finger around the trigger as I glared down my rifle’s sights at the unfortunate soul I was aiming at. I pressed down on the trigger. I watched as the .303 cartridge tore through the air as it rammed into the chest of its target. The immediate guilt struck me as soon as I saw the bullet collide against his frail white skin. There was nothing I could do now; the deed was done. I picked myself up and continued running. An artillery shell landed ahead but this time, when it collided with the ground it unleashed a new, unfamiliar golden-gas to the field. I quickly reached into my bag in search of my gas-mask. Despite all the practice I had for these situations, I still fumbled frantically as I clumsily attached the straps around my face. I was now seeing the world in a new sense, one behind the safety of glass panes. I reluctantly watched through the canary-yellow mist as fellow soldiers squirmed hysterically as they reached for their masks too. Some managed to put it on in time while others flailed in vain as they slowly drowned within the sea of dandelion-yellow.

I glared motionless through the rhinestone eyes of my gas-mask upon this crumbling world that stood before me. I prayed for this all to end. I prayed for my life. I prayed for my comrades, but my cries of desperation were not enough. Before I had a chance to continue, I felt the sharp sting of metal collide against my chest. It was quick and painful. I collapsed backwards to the ground as a warm crimson liquid spewed over my clothes. I sighed a sigh of hated, of anguish, of relief. I scanned my surroundings inquisitively as I layed suffering in the thick, bitter cold mud. A whirlpool of bullets sprayed across No Man’s Land as machine-guns unmercifully shot into the distance. I gazed unwillingly as the remaining soldiers were mowed down by the relentless gunfire. Bodies lay stationary on the impure swampy surface like ghoulish mannequins; stiff and motionless. This theatre of war was encouraged on with thunderous applause by the sobbing and keening of soldiers as the sodden earth ran red in molten-brick blood. I stared up into the ash-coloured sky as my vision began to fade away. This was my Journey’s end.

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