Running Through Fire
Author's note: Shell shock is serious and people need to understand the serious after-affects of war.
WILLIAM“We’re under fire,” he says.
I stare at him in wonder.
This is the moment we have all been waiting for: since we loaded on the busses to be shipped out into the battlefields, as we waited, motionless, in the mud, and as we stared into the fields, ready to fire at the first sign of life. Instead of the excitement and the feeling of patriotism that the posters back home promised, my entire being is filled to the brim with fear. Nothing like the fear of getting my test scores back after an exam. Not at all. This is something I have never felt before. It makes me nauseous. I am sick to my stomach.
“Willy?” Annie whispers with a look of concern.
I had forgotten my audience and become lost in my thoughts. As I look at the expectant faces staring up at me, their blank expressions remind me of. . .
“Um…,” I stammer as I bring myself back to reality. “Haha, sorry everyone. I seem to have lost my train of thought.” I smile sheepishly.
The people sitting in a circle around me laugh, but Annie cannot hide her concerned look. I smile reassuringly at her, and in the corner of the room, I see my mother frown.
“I think that is enough story telling for tonight William,” she says.
“But mother, I just got started with”-
But she cuts me off with the look on her face. It is a mix of worry and disappointment and horrified wonder and a million other things that I can’t quite place. In short, I know I have done something to upset her. I know not what, but I’ve done it.
“How about I make some coffee for everyone?” she says cheerily, and then, without looking at me, she softly says in a cold voice, “William, come help me.”
It is not difficult to make coffee and she certainly does not need my help. She usually forbids me to enter the kitchen because of my habitual clumsiness. However, she has not been herself since my return, so this strange behavior only slightly surprises me. I obey without question this time for fear of receiving an icy look to match her tone.
As I walk into the kitchen, my mother starts going about her usual work with an unusual stiffness. I wait until a murmur starts in the living room before I begin to speak.
“Mom, you aren’t yourself. What’s the matter?” I croon, trying not to upset her.
She ignores me and continues to go about her work.
“Mom? You aren’t yourself. Maybe I should do this,” I say while trying to coax the coffee pot from her hand.
“Me?!” She violently yanks the pot away from me, spilling water on the floor. “Not myself?! How could you say such a thing when we don’t hardly know you anymore?” She collapses on the floor, overcome by sobs.
The coffee pot shatters as she falls. I watch its movements in slow motion. I see it shatter into a hundred pieces as it makes contact with the floor. I can rewind it and replay it a million times in my head. Again and again. Over and over. Her angry words echo in my ears like a broken record.
I am back on the battlefield. I am crawling towards the commander. He is lying on the ground, motionless except for the movement of his chest up and down. Up and down. I know why he is on the ground; how he has gotten there. A bullet has gone straight through his chest. I have seen it penetrate his body in the middle of his chest and I have seen it leave through the middle of his back. I can rewind it and replay it a million times in my head. Again and again. Over and over. His unidentifiable moans echo in my ears like a broken record.
“WILLIAM!,” my mother shrieks.
I have done it again. I have become lost in my recollections.
“Mother, there’s no need to make a scene. I’ll clean up the pot and get you a new one. No need to cry over broken glass,” I try to say as calmly as possible as I contemplate the words that had just come out of her mouth.
She doesn’t know me anymore? Well, I’m the same person that walked through the front door not a month ago that they had seemed so happy to see. How could her feelings about me have changed so suddenly?
Before I know it, the kitchen is filled with unwanted bodies. How long have they been there? How long have I been standing here with my mother in a bundle on the floor?
“Will, it isn’t about the glass,” says a tear filled voice from behind me.
“It wasn’t about the car that you wrecked either,” says another, stronger voice. It’s about”-
“Car? What car?” I say before the strong voice can finish.
“Don’t you remember Willy? It was only last week,” says a small voice near the door. It must be Annie, my kid sister.
Why can’t I remember? I search and search through my memory for the wreck with no success. How can I have forgotten something like that? Then I realize that I have no recollection of last week, or of the previous week. I can only remember bits and pieces. I remember coming home and Annie giving me a big hug when she came home from school, but I can’t remember the wreck. Why can’t I…
“Will,” says a yet stronger voice from behind me. I try to see who it is, but I can’t turn around. My feet are made of lead.
“What happened out there?”
“Why wouldn’t you tell us the truth at first?”
“What’s wrong with you?”
“Why are you acting like this?”
Voices. Voices. They are everywhere. They are closing in on me. Visions of carnage run through my head. I am back on the battlefield. I am alone with the bodies of my comrades strewn about me. Someone is screaming my name. Then everything is black as I fall into a sea of darkness.