Dawn was breaking over the desolate Belgian coast; high above a long line of seamless white cloud sluggishly made its way across the milky blue sky. The air now felt sharp and cool and thankfully as the sun rose it was still quiet.
Sam Morgan had spent most of the morning digging in; the ground around the edge of his foxhole was loose and sand kept running back in to the deep gash he had strenuously hollowed out of the Flemish countryside. A gentle wind blew, cutting in from the North Sea and Morgan knew he would be safe for at least a few hours. He hunkered down to try and gain some rest, adjusting his tired body until it came to rest moulded against the soggy wall in his muddy damp cocoon.
The coming night would likely to be long and sleepless. The Germans had been lobbing deadly poisonous canisters in via mortar shells; it was a nasty turn of events. The smell of Chlorine usually meant you had reacted late and unless your gas mask was on and fastened tight your brain would rapidly succumb to the horror that the putrid vapour would bring upon you, shutting down the central nervous system and your life.
Only three days ago Sam Morgan had watched on in horror as two young Canadian lads, maybe no more than seventeen years old, had fumbled futilely for their masks. The heinous green cloud deviously enveloped them before they could react. The stricken young men with eyes hideously bulging and with flailing hands scratching at their mouths for air were gone; their pitiful faces forever etched into the subconscious of Sam Morgan.
Morgan reached down into his left trouser pocket to pull out what was left of his reading glasses the frames were falling apart; a week ago as bullets whipped past his head he had to dive head first into a trench and had squashed the eyewear. He pressed what remained of the lenses down onto the bridge of his nose and balanced them there while he re-read the latest letter from his sister Nancy.
The battered cream envelope still offered the comforting aroma of mothballs; it reminded Sam of his home and the tiny pantry where everything of note was stored. Milk, bread, butter and the writing pad and envelopes that Nancy valued so preciously. She wrote to him about ‘Spanner’ the family pet, a mad cocker spaniel mix that was still in the habit of pulling her down the street towards the local park despite her best efforts at training him to walk to heel.
Nancy wrote letters to her younger brother with such detail, clarity and emotion it always brought tears to his eyes; her description of what had been going on at home both hurt and inspired him. At the end of the letter she had told of the new contract she had been offered at the local newspaper to write true accounts of the war from badly injured young men that had been shipped back home. Sam Morgan thanked his lucky stars he was still vertical.
A large figure lingered above the foxhole that Sam Morgan had made himself comfortable in.
“Grand job son, make sure your gas mask is ready today we are expecting trouble from them, as soon as the wind changes they will be on us like a plague of rats”
Sam squinted up at the bulky broad shouldered man, the facial features silhouetted against a pale sky but Sam knew the robust mentoring voice came from a distinguished man with a caring tone.
A blast from a distant siren woke Sam Morgan from a cruel slumber; he had been running in the local park with his dog, so near and yet so far away. Just the other side of the choppy North Sea was home for Sam, he could taste it, he could sense it but it had gone now the dream had left him, saddened he strained to face the stark reality yet again.
The wind was beginning to drop and soon it would turn. Sam Morgan glanced up once more at the heavens; he looked upwards hoping for mercy for a sign of compassion. The atmosphere had transformed, thick blocks of cloud had now assembled in a grey threatening canopy and were moving out towards the sea, their pace gaining momentum. He wished he could climb aboard a cloud and get home just for one day, one fleeting moment.
Nancy’s letter dropped from his grasp, he gazed in astonishment as his fingers began curling into a tight ball, he had no control over his legs. His head throbbed then his throat began to burn, a fire erupted deep in his chest. The treasured letter tumbled down and into the pool of brown sandy mud that sat stagnant at the base of the man-made hole.
The eloquent words of Nancy Morgan began to run from the cream coloured sheet as her young brother Sam drew his last breath. Sam Morgan had died a lonely worthless death under the silent evil green cloud.
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