The Damn War.

December 24, 2008
By Fred Kurtsen, Pointe Claire, ZZ

With the machine guns keeping a steady pulsing beat above his head, George mechanically brushed his bloody hands on his pants, only to discover that they left inky black stains. Before a shrill scream, he remembered that he was still safely in the trench, and that the inky black stains were ink, dripping from the substandard pen that he had been issued at the start of the war. He checked his paper to see if the dripping had caused any problems, and discovered that the entire page had smudged.
“Bloody war.” He cursed a boldly as he knew how, “It’s like those Germans don’t even want me to write my novel.” He crumpled the sheet and made sure that the rest of his unfinished draft had escaped ruination. Satisfied, he brought the crumpled sheet outside his office and threw it high above the trench, waiting for the German sharpshooters on the other side to dispose of it, when the paper safely hit the ground, he clucked his tongue, amused but disappointed, luckily, one of the enlisted men was there to see the trick,
“Now Benson, did you see that?”
“Yeah George, I guess nobody’s perfect eh?”
“But they hit Charlie just last week. Didn’t we always say his head was like a crumpled up bit of paper?”
“I guess they had some of the perfect people up there last week then.” Benson waited to see if George wanted anything else before walking on over the trench, where he probably died. George walked back into his office, the futility of war convincing him to take another go at his novel. He’d been in these trenches for a little less than three years, and he was astounded at how creative it had made him. When he was back home, working at his father’s arts and crafts store, he always dreamt of some romantic adventure which could inspire him to write. When he was informing people on the right kind of string or glue or paper to buy, he would secretly let his mind wander to far away exotic locales, with new smells and languages which could instill in him the ancient muse of literature. Out in the trenches, where the only languages were death and comradery and the only smells were desperation and peppermint, George had found the ultimate writing nook. His office was bare and dirty, with a single filthy light bulb hanging from a ceiling that was only seven feet above the ground. His chair was made of dirt and driftwood, and his desk was held up by only three legs. But George was happy. He was halfway through a second draft, and he’d only had to have gone over the top once so far. He attributed his survival to the immense importance of the work he was composing, and had let it inherit a singular importance in his mind. He whistled a little to himself as he wrote, and the rest of the men had learnt to resent it.
“Sir. We were wondering if you could , well, stop whistling for a little bit sir?”
“Whatever for? Am I really that out of tune?”
“We just think it’s detrimental to our moral sir.”
“And just how would that be, Benson?” Benson had a large red splotch seeping through his shirt at the stomach. Half his teeth were missing, and his eye looked like hell. George was overjoyed that he had survived, but restrained himself out of a sense of patriotic duty.
“Well, some of don’t find it too fair that you’re enjoying this war so much more than we do.”
“That’s rather selfish of you don’t you think so Benson?” George chuckled quietly at himself, remembering another instance in which he’d reprimanded Benson with those same words exactly,
“No sir. We all think it’s perfectly reasonable to ask you to try and be bit less cheerful. It’s really just making us feel worse in comparison.” Timmy, Sammy, Alphie, these men had never complained as much as Benson did. George made a mental note to include a memorial for them at the end of his book.
“But I can’t help this, Benson. You’d be happy too if you were writing a book.”
“That’s another thing sir. We were wondering if you might care to put the book aside for a little bit, it can’t be goo-“ Benson began coughing violently, the red splotch darkened and Benson fell to his knees with the pain, because war is hell and is a very bad thing.
“You’re ill Benson, I suggest you see the medic immediately.” Benson began hobbling out of George’s office, “And try to keep a chin up, Benson. We’re going to win this you know!” He once more became absorbed in his writing. The book was a masterpiece, George often assured himself that it would come to define the next fifty years of literature, which he defined as the “Post-war” era, as he also prided himself on his foresight and keen comprehension of the times. He was really a great writer, honestly.

The sky darkened, as though all the gunpowder expelled so far had decided to all come back together and hang over the trench. George knew that there was a metaphor in all this, but at the moment, he was stumped. The rest of the men were in some other section of the trench; they had decided it would be fun to give Benson some kind of proper burial, seeing as how he was not only the kindest man to ever know them, but also one of the only corpses that could be retrieved safely. George hadn’t really seen the appeal of Benson, but he had grudgingly spoken some words at the funeral before storming off with a new sheaf of papers, eager to mine the grief for at least ten pages of the novel. He had so far written eleven in the past two hours, and he noted down the pleasant surprise in his journal, which he also hoped to publish, if only to help future scholars decipher his other genius work. Unfortunately, just as he put the journal away, the other men trudged back into his section of the trench, instilled with the hope that they too would be able to die of natural causes some day. They carried with them a few dirty sheets of paper, the last of which was being written on by one of the newer recruits, a Mr, Fred Kurtsen. George’s interest was obviously piqued,
“You a write too eh? It’s jolly good to see someone else with any kind of creative spirit in these parts.” Another private glared at George with acidic eyes,
“He’s writing a letter to Benson’s girl back home you daft twit!”
“Well let me see it nonetheless. You know I have the right.” Fred, who’d been writing the whole while, finished the last sentence and sheepishly handed the papers to George.
“Well well, I do like this start. It’s simply proper, you don’t see enough of that these days…Hm… No. I don’t think this will do at all.” He handed the papers back to Fred without looking past the first page.
“What’s the bloody problem?! The man’s heart and soul is on those pages!” Screamed the other private.
“I just don’t think it’s true to form. Too grim and morbid and whatnot. We want to make the widow Benson comfortable in her grief. You sucked her into reality way too quickly.” The men said nothing, but Fred privately admitted that George was right. He already knew better than to defend him in front of the troops. “If you’d like, I’d be glad to give this letter the editing it deserves. It’s not like I’m going to get any serious writing done anyways with you people around.” The men grumbled and dispersed, until only Fred and George were left. The air had cleaned up a bit, and the sun’s glare tickled their eyes. George had always detested the sun; it was too vapid for any serious applications in writing.
“May I ask a question sir?”
“Definitely my boy.”
“Will you seriously help me with the letter?” Fred extended the sheets.
“I’d assume it were my duty. Go along and come back to me around nine tonight. I will present you with a letter fit to inform the queen herself that the king has died.”
“Thank you sir, this is an honour!” Fred ran off to act nonchalant around the other men. “Nice guy.” George thought to himself, “I hope he doesn’t get violently shot to death by machine guns too soon.”

George sat alone in his office, tapping the desk with his pen and trying to see if he can tap fast enough to match the sound of the machine guns overhead, he checked the time just as Fred walked in.
“You’re five minutes early, Kurtsen.”
“I’m sorry sir. The clock outside must have been running fast.” George chuckled,
“No worries man. All’s fair in love and war you know.”
“I’m afraid I don’t sir.”
“Really? I’m sure I’ve read that somewhere before.” Just in case, George noted the phrase down on the paper he’d set aside to mark down any remarkable phrases he’d coined over the course of the war. Needless to say, this was the fifth such paper. “You’ve come about the letter I presume?”
“Is it ready?” Fred’s eyes shone with hope.
“Ready as it will ever be I’m afraid. This was a difficult subject for me to-“
“The men have told me about the history you two shared. I bet he was a lovely man.”
“I’m going to miss him. I don’t think we’ll ever see a man of his caliber again.” George silently congratulated himself on his use of the word ‘caliber’ as it was undoubtedly the most fitting pun for the situation. Nevertheless, Fred missed the joke, and assumed George to still be in mourning.
“Are you all right sir?”
“Perfectly, Kurtsen. But please, take the letter.” He handed Fred eight sheets of paper, “You may use my office to read this at your leisure. I shall be writing at the desk if you have any questions.” Awestruck, Fred dumbly shambled over to a soft spot on the floor and began to read.

About twenty minutes later, George interrupted Fred,
“Say, you wouldn’t happen to have any one waiting for you back home, would you?”
“Yes sir.”
“Mind if I know her name?”
“Susie Sir. Susie Simmons sir.”
“Good, good. Although I do abhor the alliteration.”
“Well, her middle name is Limms, sir.”
“Mind if I ask what this is for sir?”
“I just required a lady’s name for the novel. Susie is perfect.”
“Why don’t you use your lady’s name, sir?” George sighed.
“I’d rather not get her wrapped in this just yet, Fred… How are you getting along with the letter?” Fred grinned,
“It’s a bloody masterpiece sir. I never knew I could feel this way about the drudgery of war. You are truly a genius of the highest rank.” For some odd reason, this shining seal of approval that poured from Fred made George feel a bit happier than usual. It took him a while to pinpoint why; Fred’s lavish praise came without the slightest hint of sarcasm.
“You know, Fred. That’s the first bit of a positive review I’ve ever received in my entire career.”
“I can’t possibly imagine that it will be the last, sir.” Fred returned to reading, George to writing.

The war raged on throughout Europe, but it dozed a bit around George’s trench. The soldiers took the opportunity to mail some letters, Benson’s included. George was sad to see it go without any chance of his copying it for later publishing. But his sadness soon faded. His final draft was finished, and Fred was absolutely knocked out by its brilliance. Under highest priority, he had sent the draft back home to his brother, with instructions to get the thing published at any cost. Ever since he had mailed the package, George had looked pale, as though he hadn’t eaten a single bit of food since assuming his position in the trench. He could barely keep up his head, and the men were relieved to hear that he’d lost his zeal for whistling at his work. Rumours flitted about that he was dangerously ill, or that he’d finally received some more orders to go over the trench, or that he’d suddenly realized the utterly sub par quality of wartime life. Of course, Fred denied all these rumours. He had only experienced a bit of an emotional drain; that was all.
“Now we play a waiting game, Fred.” He whispered reverently as he secured a copy of the manuscript that Fred had painstakingly produced for him.
“How long do you figure it will take, sir?”
“Months perhaps. Who even knows how long it will take for that letter to get there?”
“What do you suggest we do in the meantime?”
“Oh we’ve got plenty to do, I mean, there is a damn war going on!”

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