Mr. Rochester trudged down the dilapidated pavement of the vineyard he once owned. Every step descended upon the ashen earth was as heavy as the fragments of his broken heart. The devastating conflagration, which set ablaze Thornfield hall for days to come, had deprived him of everything he held dear, leaving in its wake the faint husk of a once charismatic being. Late autumn, with the chilling outskirts of winter soon to creep up the distant hills, was perhaps of little mercy for one of such fate. Blind and crippled, the pallid Rochester for now craved only peace, yet across the boundless stretch of waste came no reply. There was not a sound save the screeching of scrawny crows. The crows pointed their dull beaks down at Rochester, staring down ominously upon a scorched tree until they fled with the advent of a silhouette. Advancing steadily as it transcended out of the early mist was Jane Eyre on the horizon. Clomping soon turned into scuttles, not long before both were once more embraced in full arms. After all that desolation and misfortune there is, fate had gifted the poor man the best that life has to offer, his sincerest love…
The voice rippled through the still air as though a rock tossed in placid water and lingered on in my ears. Mice scrambled off from the shabby tents and dispersed, squeaking nervously as they vanished into the dark underbelly of the gutter. The tranquility of a calm afternoon was all but shattered. I detached my eyes from the book and lifted my head in response, slowly recalling that one confined to the depths of a muddy trench ought not indulge in the figments of his literary illusion.
“Listen up boys,”
It was the general. He addressed his men as another shout burst between his lips.
“Seize the enemy trench over that ridge and victory will be ours to the taking!”
Soldiers on the scene thrust clips of glittering brass into their rifles and jerked hard on the bolt. Some splashed their dirt-smeared faces with drinking water while other polished their bayonets with handkerchiefs gifted perhaps by their wives as they avidly departed to fight for their nation. All was prepared to strike terror into the hearts of the enemy. Amid the air there was grave intensity.
I nonetheless, remained stiff on a stool with my back hunched. For some reason I was stunned, captivated at the book’s long coveted ending, tired at toothless generals calling to battle every last men that could stand. But time was fleeting. The horizon soon burred into thin, crimson segments as the sun slowly sank to its slumber; across the mangled land dusk was looming. Subtle light filtered through the torn slits in the barracks and kissed the pages of my book. It was then did I realize that day’s receding radiance had stroked what remains of civilization.
The civilization, as I speak, used to bask in utter sunshine for untold millennia. The sun has never turned its back on man’s enduring strides: from the scorching sands of Arabia to the blistering cold of arctic, from the bustling streets of New York to the pomp and grandeur of Buckingham Palace. But now the brilliant ball of fire that had guided his path through primordial ignorance and into the light of modernity was all burnt out, exhausted from fighting incessant billows of dirt and smoke thrown against the skies by plummeting shells. The untold days of gloom arched over no-man’s land, which seemed certain to last, makes one ponder if, rather to abide the toils of reality, dwelling in his spiritual realm on paper would have been better off…
An explosion, followed immediately by surge of agonizing shrieks erupted from outside the barracks. The only window burst into smithereens. Reality at the moment was inexorably slapped in my face.
“We’re under attack!” Voices resounded.
I dashed from the barracks and into the depths of the trench where men in helmets and arms scrambled to their positions. I fetched a rifle and followed the current. Everyone squashed their torsos against the muddy walls of the trenches and stared without the slightest blink at the general who nervously imbibed his whistle. They were waiting for the assault.
It first came the terrible hush, not a voice was to be heard, and it was as though the world was entirely in slow motion. Silhouettes brushed past the trench floor and crammed themselves into their positions. Not strangely, my anxieties took over. I began to glance around. I swung my head left and right at the battalion. Most, clad in ragged uniforms and dented “tin hats,” seemed pale and weary. Years of waste and drudgery had wrested the inherent tenacity from these men. I quickly jammed by head into a dented helmet and elevated my sights over the barricades. There lay before me, the hellish view of the no man’s land. Chewed up by discarded metal and holes from bombardments, the pastures and hills seemed bleak and desolate despite the subtle breeze of spring. The mere sight of a ragged body entangled on a strip of barbwire, which was holding him in one piece, sent a chill straight up my spine.
A sudden crack from a revolver and waves of men flooded onto no-man’s land, charging en masse at the enemy’s defenses. The long hush of the waiting instantly dissipated into the roars of first combat. All the soldiers shouted wildly and fired their rifles as they advanced. It baffles one wondering why all these men horded through the battlefield. How strong an impetus had kept them running with arm attached? Three years across the continent, millions fought and fell in the name of civilization. They speak of triumph and victory, but for whom? So futile a struggle was this when none knew that they were racing for their demise.
Enemy artillery protruded from the other end of the horizon like colossal pillar reaching for the sky. I turned back at general. Shots fired from his revolver callously insisted our advance while he himself galloped to safety on horseback.
These behemoths of steel thundered, and a wall of smoke belched out. The earth tremored with all the guns firing simultaneously. Smoke cleared and breaches slid open, regurgitating the bronze shell cases. The observer on the other side caught sight in his telescope puffs of silt and smoke blossoming over the ridge.
Shell punched its way into the earth to my left; sending mud, rock, along with several scorched bodies soaring into the air. Despite narrowly escaping its searing grip, the massive shockwave from the blast threw me against the ground. Burred before me was everything. I could barely see or hear… Perhaps all was the result of my hallucinations; perhaps again I was unconsciously living in the settings of some vivid rhetoric or fiction. But it appealed to me all the more real: Guns hurled shells incessantly at the advancing troops, crushing hundreds under their iron fists of death; helmets and rifles flew in every direction; branches scattered and set ablaze. Horses screeched in anguish amidst a cacophony of rifles, stirring up devils of dust as they yanked the cavalrymen off their saddles. I could hear the faint rattle of a machine gun before which men plummeted down one after another. Civilization in the flesh was in every way staggering----the unrelenting waste and slaughter----to me, who has dwelt amidst a lie that life may conclude in eternal harmony such as that in certain literature. Like any epic or ballad of that age, civilization had deceived itself, for it was like any heedless reader, fallen under the illusion that some sensation or conflict would push fro the plot and ultimately set up happy endings as it would be. Pain and fatigue was taking their toll. Knowing what indignity awaits, I promptly shut my eyes, disenchanted with all that life has to offer. Red seeped into the mud beneath my abdomen…
I woke up late at night and rose from my aching posture. The milk light of moon was nowhere to be seen, for a shroud like mist had swallowed the scene. I peered through thick air: there was nothing, nothing but dead bodies. They piled over each other in a massive pit like old ham. The overwhelming scent of decay was absolutely revolting with the entire place infesting with mice and flies. I yanked the icy palm of a man, attempting to raise him from his dead-like slumber. For a moment I stopped at the heavy clomping of boots. Crawling out of their barracks were silhouettes of enemy soldiers; none of them had faces, for it shudders one to picture what fiendish countenances lay behind those hideous gas masks. They came obviously to smite anything left alive inside. The commanding officer took a hasty glance down the pit and made an indistinct sound muffed by his mask, not long before one of the men pushed forward, wielding a flamethrower. Gas hissed sinisterly from the nozzle.
Suddenly, a metallic chill licked my elbow. I wiggled around. It was a pistol, locked in the grip of a deceased soldier, glittering in the dim luminescence of the flamethrower… A crack tore throughout the dead of the night and the man jerked with a sudden spasm, falling down on his knees and into the abyss. Rolling down the heap of bodies scraped off his mask. Before me, lying lifelessly, was a mere boy who could not have been older than 18, a newly drafted, for his innocent eyes have not the ruthless luster polished by years in war… The remaining soldiers leaped into the pit, stomped through the bodies, and ruthlessly dragged me out toward a rundown churchyard where the prison camps were located. Up close, these men wore the same uniform as I do, had the same helmets, and bore the same arms, very much to my hapless consternation. A soldier yanked up the dropped flamethrower and in seconds engulfed the pit in a vicious inferno. Fire, once enlightened civilization’s path down the dark depth of first ages, was being wielded to obliterate civilization itself. I watched in the distance as the fire voraciously ate its way through the dead hill…
On top of an ancient gothic chapel, where once a crucifix stood, my regiment’s banner fluttered in the frigid gale. Scavenging vultures made a terrifying squeak, circling around, waiting to maul their prize. Civilization, a gift or curse? Man’s transient existence gave rise to his enduring greatness; but however industrious and prudent man, sinned, has brought upon himself a curse upon his fall. From then on he was to engineer his own demise: should civilization, the edifice his many toils erected, collapse, it was doomed to fall upon him. And amidst the ruins man will tear and scramble, as though the beasts in the jungle, amongst himself; the same I did to my fellow men. Dawn broke from across the East hills, shedding one final stroke of light on a wooden pole towards which I trudged in rattling chains. Bleached as pale as bone, the man-sized pole erected there alone amongst patches of withered grass.
A firing squad lifted their rifles, awaiting the officer to give his signal.
A brief letter, which had not the offensive on the 16th would have been mailed to a friend living on the outskirts of Alsace-Lorraine, was discovered along side a book salvaged from the anonymous remains of a Frenchmen, who was gunned down in a military execution for murdering a friendly unit on patrol outside a mass grave. The English translation of the letter was made available yesterday in the London Times on the 20th. All his other possessions, apart from a box of pistol cartridges and one metal spoon, were pawned for funding prisoner camps. The following are the contents:
Date: April 15th, 1917
Dear Monsieur Gustavo Clime
My sincerest gratitude for the book you sent me for Easter the prior year. So endearing was the story that I decided to bring the book with me to the front. It was said that there were plenty of vacations behind barracks, thus finishing the book would not have taken long. The sensation stirred up in me could hardly flag upon my reaching chapter VII when Rochester was about to marry Eyre. Alas, grave apologies that I could never know the end. This letter is my last. I have been accused for the death of a fellow soldier; I meant not to kill him, as war makes men turn on each other. Civilization and all we hold dear lie in shambles because of us. But before I perish, please take this book----the last refuge on such broken earth----and cherish it, for it is only in the literary realm, reflective of the cheerful illusions of a bygone age, where life resumes after untold vicissitudes in eternal mirth and prosperity. Knowing that you are fine is perhaps to my greatest relief. Easter is near and I hope that the Germans treat you well. Worry not for me, my friend. Since it is God’s will to separate us on earth, I assume we will reunite in heaven.
Yours sincerely Clau…
The rusty metal door squeaked open as the execution officer grabbed his pen and tossed it through the iron bars before he could finish his signature. A guard address to him that it was his turn. The Frenchman ascended from the floor and egressed his damp prison cell, stepping into the light of day where a bleached wooden pole riddled with holes the size of bullets erected in a ruined churchyard…