By Katie Dunbar
I didn’t think I would wake up that morning. In the early hours, as I slowly sunk into a coma of complete exhaustion, I caught a final glimpse of the tiny icicles which had begun to spout on the rims of my glasses. Like socks hanging on my mother’s line, droplets trickled down their body and fell into my lap. Here, they were absorbed into the blanket of sleet which I snuggled under. Another crimson flare climbed into the busy sky. Craning up, my neck crackled, as the coating frost across my skin fractured. I could’ve sworn I saw them. Souls, swimming in the ink above us, weaving between the pockets of smoke and sparkling debris. I thought I was a goner. Panic filled my bloodstream, but the cold tightly gripped my heart in his fist. Instead of rushing in distress around my limbs, now my blood oozed through my arteries. A sludge drained of energy. The rhythm of my beating eyelids calmed. Then, they closed.
“Come on Sleeping Beauty. They’ve spotted something. Up you get!”
“What…” My throat was raw, coated in sleep and starved of moisture.
“The lookout, he needs you to identify something. Here, this’ll wake you up.”
A rusty cup of thin muddy liquid was thrust into my hands. Steam slithered up into my nostrils and began to dissolve the ice blocking them. I couldn’t smell anything, but I didn’t care, it was warm. My body was empty, everything numb. Then it began. First my stomach stretched and contracted, desperate to absorb the heat. This feeling dispersed and travelled along each nerve, lubricating my stiff muscles and restoring some strength to my brittle bones. With my shell woken from it’s frozen slumber, I resumed control and climbed out into the main trench.
“Morning, Sergeant.” Automatically, my arm engaged and raised my hand to graze against my wiry eyebrow.
“Morning Private, please, in your own time.” I opened my mouth to reply but before any words could depart, he barked, “Come along then, the enemy waits for no man.”
With purple fingertips, he beckoned me forward like a gun dog and I followed him, trailing at his ankles as we weaved through the meandering paths. Weighed down by the cold and tiredness my feet dragged and caught of the loose panels which lined the floor of the trench. Raised a good few inches off the ground, an ice rink lay beneath them, between each board you could see the vermin and other unmentionable items frozen in the stream. Still numb, at least I couldn’t feel the bones splinter, each time I stubbed my toe on what I hoped was wood. Suddenly, he halted at the junction of the ironically named Gunner Road and Baker’s Close.
“Have a look at that.”
I shuffled over to the telescope and pressed my face against the solid mental. The smell of iron clawed at the back of my throat, a reminder of my visits over the top. I swallowed and washed the memory down. Then it came into focus. At the end of the tunnel I was greeted by a ghost.
Bright. Lush. Green. Not a dark and worn khaki, like that which covered the corpses who rested around it. No, this was vibrant. Juxtaposed against the rising black smoke and charred trees, it popped, reached out and pulled me closer. I drank it in, like a wave washing over me, hydrated; I was human again.
“Well, what is it man?” The officer slapped his icy hand onto my shoulder. Under the additional weight my knees quaked and began to buckle. I retracted from the spout and turned to address him.
“It’s a Snowdrop sir. Spring, it’s finally here.”