By Jasmin Griffiths
I have come to the realisation that I am dead. Maybe not ‘dead’ as we know it but I’m not air-breathing-water-drinking alive anymore. It’s been sixty-six days since I sort-of died. My name is Zachary Williams and, when I signed my youth away to war, I never considered that I wouldn’t reach my twenty-second birthday. Britain, united with supposedly the strongest sense of patriotism ever seen, saw hundreds of thousands of brave, young men ready to fight for their country and leave their homes for the front lines. But the world does not work the way you have been led to believe it does. We are fed lies constantly, made to believe the things we do are our own choices. Like signing up to the army, for example. We are psychologically manipulated to abide by the will of the men in charge of our countries, to put our lives on the line due to their supposed ‘wars’. The things I have experienced are not of this world. The things you choose to experience as the truth, are not The Truth. There’s a reason they’re censoring our letters home. There’s a reason soldiers don’t come home the same men as they left.
They blindly lead us through the trenches in the dark. The haunting quiet all around us was broken only by the squelch of boots in deep mud and laboured breaths of soldiers not yet fit enough to keep up. The stories of darkness and death that wormed their way into our ears through hushed whispers in the bunks were becoming more realistic with each heavy footstep. We were all young, eager and ready to fight for our country, but similarly had never been in a situation that inspired such fear and anxiety. No words were spoken between us; not even muttered under the breath of an apprehensive young private. We were so close to danger, and we could feel it.
We were so close to danger, and we could feel it.
The air felt different the further along the trenches we went, and I became increasingly distressed to the distance we were travelling. Although we had been made aware the trenches were long and complicated, this seemed excessive. We had been walking for more than two hours when the first man died. All at once, the mud felt thicker, the temperature rose uncomfortably quickly and a smell as foul and pungent as you can imagine hit my nostrils at full force. A wave of groans could be heard from the soldiers around me, but we became suddenly more aware of everything. My fingers found their way around my rifle and gripped until my knuckles turned white. The smell was sweet and sickly, and instantly I knew it to be the smell of death. I had never smelled death before, but there was no mistaking it. It came about before we could process what was happening, and with a speed we didn’t think possible; something leapt over the side of the trench, savagely ambushing a soldier a few heads in front of me. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end, like poison needles bristling against my skin, for worse was about to come. We were not being attacked by men. They vaguely resemble men, but when it turned its face towards us, the life and existence behind its eyes was unequivocally no longer human. Even in the pitch black of the trenches, the other-worldly glow of its form was a sight so haunting, it’s still all I see when I close my eyes.
Quickly, we realised we were no longer on our British soil. The trenches had taken us from our homeland down an eternal maze, leading us into the depths of our inescapable and unmistakable demise. We were in hell, surrounded by purgatory and danger and we were stuck.
They’re eating our souls. Sucking them from our still-breathing bodies
The war is not the war you think it is. The moment our signatures collided with the signup sheet is the exact moment we signed our death certificates. We were never meant to survive. And by ‘we’ I’m not exclusively referring to the ‘allies’. The death toll on either side is counted by the real executives of this war. It is bigger than us, it is bigger than anything. This is not war. This is a collection. A feeding frenzy. Every death is one death closer to the end of this all, but they are not nearly done. They’re eating our souls. Sucking them from our still-breathing bodies to feed the higher beings behind all this hatred and despair, then using our bodies, our strength, to attack our friends, our allies, and our enemies. We lay in wait, dormant in the trenches you haven’t discovered yet, and then we begin our assault. When this war is over, we will start a new one. And another one after that. We are eternal. We are ageless. We are hungry.
* * *
The following is the psychiatric evaluation of Private Zachary Williams by Doctor Edgar Smythe, dated July nineteenth 1916:
The patient is Zachary Williams, an ex-private of the British Army. He was admitted into our care a little under two months ago. The officer who brought him in reported that he was a danger to himself and others, unloading his rifle on anyone he saw as a threat. Pt. Williams was found covered in the blood of himself, and his fellow soldiers after being lost in the trenches for as many as ten days. Since the patient’s admission, his mental health has shown a clear and dangerous deterioration. The patient is refusing to eat or drink anything willingly, claiming to only be able to feed on the flesh and blood of humans or rats. He is unaware of his surroundings, not once realising he has been admitted into our institution or care, instead still believing to be out in the trenches with his fellow soldiers. He must be kept sedated at all times to keep him from constantly screaming the names of his fallen comrades and causing more damage to his torn vocal cords. It is our belief that due to witnessing the brutal death of so many men, and the physical and psychological damage experienced during the time he was lost in the trenches, his brain has shut down as much as possible, leaving the patient locked inside his own insanity.
The patient is presenting with regular panic attacks and moment of clear hysteria due to hallucinations of which he vocally expresses feelings of danger due to being surrounded by “other-worldly beings”. Find attached to this evaluation, a drawing done by the patient before his mandatory sedation with stolen pencils on a found poster.
It is my professional opinion that the patient is suffering from shell shock, chronic mania, traumatic injury, exposure, dissipation of nerves, hallucinations, hysteria dehydration, starvation, and night terrors. He will remain in our care for the foreseeable future, due to presenting as a threat to himself and to all others around him.