West Caudwell Street .pdf
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His eyes opened to the black of night. His ears rang with the shouts and
screams, the shrieking of artillery shells as they flew across the starry sky. It was a cold,
wet night; late in November. The ground had already frozen, the harsh winter winds
raced across the open field. Freed from the forests surrounding them, it raced down
along the ground like a horse freed from stable, whipping at the men and pushing dirt
and dust into the air. His face was covered with mud, caked and dried. The wind
whipped his face, the cold harsh gale felt as hot as boiling water against his bruised and
He rose from where he was sitting and, while still crouching, hobbled over to the
rest of his platoon. He tried to focus on the captain’s orders, but his mind was racing
through memories, trying desperately to bring him away; trying desperately to bring him
anywhere, anywhere but here.
Focusing again, he listened to the orders. His group was to move forward and
towards the left. A small hill had been dug out, but was at risk at being lost to the
enemy. If they took the position, they would fire down on the soldiers with their own
weapons, at an angle their bunkers wouldn’t properly defend. As he went over the
orders, he faded in and out from consciousness. Finally the command was given, he
breathed in and out deeply. Once, twice, and on the third breath he hopped over the
embankment and ran; low and fast. He followed alongside the rest of his group, shutting
his eyes to the world, and to the darkness that surrounded him.
In his mind, he saw his home. The light blue house on West Caudwell Street. He
saw the white window shutters, the large red door that marked the entrance to his
home. He ran to it, threw open the door and raced inside. It was just as he remembered,
just as it should be. He passed the stairs leading up to the bedrooms, and walked
through the doorway to his left. He walked into his living room, looking at all the pictures
on his shelf. His wife and he on his wedding day, his son on his first day of school.
As he walked down the line, he heard a voice call from the kitchen. He couldn’t
quite make it out, he called back as he ran back towards the stairs, but as he passed
them by and headed for the doorway, he felt everything around him shake. He reached
out for the stair’s banister to steady himself, but felt another strong shake. It felt as
though the whole house may well sink into the earth. And just as he was sure the
horrible quaking would rip the house in two, he opened his eyes, back to the cold,
unforgiving night. And he heard that awful sound, the shrill, whining sound that pierced
the night, just before it landed heavily on the hilltop.
He tried again to focus on his surroundings. They had taken the hill. The bunkers
had yet to be finished, but they had enough room to avoid the oncoming fire. If they
were to stay there, they needed to take out the artillery. The shells bombarded the
hillside, shaking even his vision as his eyes rattled in his head. They received radio
correspondence from the operations base; he couldn’t make out the sounds over the
ringing in his ears. Words made it through, and he tried desperately to piece them into
sentences. Artillery. Several troops. Three kilometers west. Forest.
He couldn’t make any sense of the orders, nor of his own thoughts. His mind felt
swollen and pushed on the boundaries of his skull. His head thumped heavily with every
heartbeat, and it felt that at any moment it might break free from its confines and burst
out to the ground.
Fortunately it seemed his companions were not as flustered as he was. They
spoke back and forth, giving each other orders and devising the plan. Several of the
men ran up to their own cannons, changing the angle and returning shots of artillery
back to the enemy. Another of them shouted his way, ordering him to follow them deep
into the woods adjacent to the hill. He ran after them, not knowing where they were
going or why.
They marched through the woods. Trees surrounded him, and without the aid of
the moonlight they could hardly see what was before them, or what they had left behind.
They dared not use lights, anything they used risked giving up their position. At this
point, the surprise was the greatest advantage they had, giving that up would be akin to
As the trees swirled around him, his head continued to pound. His vision began
to blur, he felt short of breath. He felt his lungs move, but it was as though no air would
come through. He felt like he was drowning, sinking deep into the abyss of an ocean too
deep for a bottom. And as his vision blurred, the moonlight shone through the treetops
like rays of the sun bouncing off the waves. He saw the fractured light bounce back and
forth as he fell, down into the dark depths of the sea.
He awoke on the floor, right next to the stairwell. As his vision readjusted, he saw
his wife above him. She smiled at him, and helped him to his feet. They walked together
back into the kitchen. Breakfast was nearly finished. He marveled at the world around
him; everything exactly as it should have been. He had waited for so long to see that
sight again. He heard footsteps race down the stairs, and his eyes turned to the
doorway as his son walked through. His son looked at him as the boy wished him good
morning. He ran to his mother and gave her a kiss, before grabbing an apple and racing
out the door, nearly missing the bus on his way to school. The man smiled as his son
walked out the front door. He turned back to his wife, but when he looked she was
gone. As was the breakfast, and the kitchen and his home. The light blue house on
West Caudwell was gone, and in its place was a soldier, looking at him with concern.
And behind him were the rays of the moon, beckoning him to stand. Or perhaps it was
his fellow men asking him to, his senses were blurred and mixed and he was unable to
be certain. Regardless of who was asking, he stood. The man in front of him asked a
few questions. He couldn’t tell what he was saying, his mouth moved yet he heard no
voice, just mumbled and garbled noises. He nodded his head to answer the questions
he didn’t understand, and then they continued. On through the cold November night, on
through the deep woods overtop the frozen earth.
His heart raced with excitement as they continued to plow forward. He heard
screams and wails from both sides of the field as they crept silently through the woods.
The shrieks of shells ran back and forth, always followed by a rumble like thunder. A fire
had broken out near one of the enemy’s artillery, but was unable to spread along the
cold dead dirt, and was quickly expunged.
But as they snuck further and further towards the enemy’s lines, they heard a
sound that stopped all of them at once. The sounds of footsteps, quick and heavy, ran
over the dead leaves and wood. It was clear from the sound alone their group would be
hopelessly outmatched. The lead-ranking officer motioned up the trees, and began
climbing the one nearest to him. The rest of the group followed suit, eager to escape the
oncoming force. They quietly raced towards the top of the woods, climbing until the
branches could no longer support them.
Then they sat, silent, and watched with anticipation as the enemy ran through
underneath. Wave upon wave passed by, masked from view of the field by the woods.
As soon as they were sure the enemy had passed, the men climbed back down from
the ancient trees. As the man climbed down his, his thoughts once again drifted to
home, as it had many times before. He thought of the oak tree in his back yard, the
leaves of which had often given its protection in the summer months. He closed his
eyes and he was once again under its shade.
He looked up to his son, mitt in hand. The boy reached back and threw a ball to
his father. The man caught it with a smile, and threw it back to his son. The boy was
unable to catch it; he was still too young and was only just learning. The man laughed
and smiled, unable to contain the joy in his heart. He was home at last, after all the time
spent away, after all the nights spent awake and alone. He was home at last.
He reached the bottom of the oak, and moved towards the rest of the group.
They all took to a knee, as the ranking officer contacted the main base. He told them of
the advancing troops, estimating their size and position. The base acknowledged,
ordering them to continue as planned and to avoid engagement with the enemy prior to
arriving at the destination. After a call for radio silence, the men stood and continued
deep into the forest. The man still didn’t know their destination, but his head pounded
and his ears whined from the sounds of war. He didn’t bother asking questions that he
would be unable to understand the response to. So he followed suit, moving deep into
the woods as the moonlight danced overhead, darting through the holes in the branches
and painting the landscape below them with streaks of light.
They marched forward, continuing along their path. They came to a river that had
divided the field; the enemy had placed their front line right on the riverbed, making a
cross towards them as sure a death as any. The river flowed from the woods where
they stood down towards the field. It was waist deep, laying around twenty feet in width.
It was not a large body of water, but with the harsh winds and freezing temperatures the
water would be more likely to kill them than any other enemy they may face. They
marched up and down the river bed, but found no suitable place to cross.
That’s when he saw it. A tree on their side of the pass, it stood strong and tall into
the night sky, but the earth where the roots had held the tree had been washed away by
the river. Untold years of rains and droughts had eaten at the ground, and the tree stood
now right in the path of the river itself. Worn out as it was, it still stood, and its mere
presence had altered the shape of the flowing stream; the river bent around the oak
before continuing down towards the field. It was this oak that would provide them safe
He explained to the other men his plan, and they all agreed upon it. They stood
next to the old wood, and pushing hard as they could, the group swayed the tree to and
fro, unable to release it from the earth. Frustrated, they began to hack away at the base,
low as they could to the ground. But the progress was slow and they hadn’t time to
waste. They pushed and shoved, and much like a child on a swing, the tree swayed
further with each pass. As it swung lower and lower towards the earth, the men pushed
harder and harder, trying desperately to break it free. And with each push, the pounding
in his head grew louder, and with each shove, he felt his mind swell larger. And then he
heard the cracking sound, smaller roots snapped off as the tree finally gave way, falling
towards the river and landing with a thunderous thud and a monumental splash. The
impact sent waves in both directions, and as the men silently celebrated their temporary
victory, the man felt another vision come forth, as he once more left the harsh cold
world behind him.
He was back inside the kitchen. As the school bus pulled away, his wife placed
his breakfast in front of him. She smiled at him and he laughed. They talked for what
seemed like hours, although he wasn’t sure what they talked about. All words became
slurred and jumbled, and although he couldn’t tell their meaning he didn’t need to. Just
being there, with his wife, home and safe was all that he could wish for. He looked
around at the kitchen, taking in the sight and praying it would never leave him.
He knew it would, for it must. He wasn’t home, and he knew what he saw was an
impossibility. But he welcomed the illusion with open arms, and embraced it for however
long it may last. Breakfast had finished and his wife cleaned the table. He knew what
was to happen next, he felt as his world blurred and shook, as his wife vanished into
blackness, as the kitchen faded from view, and as the smells of bacon and coffee raced
from his nostrils.
He felt a tear slide down his cheek as he realized his surroundings. He was on
top of the tree, moving between the branches and using them for support as he climbed
across the river. The water had screeched to a halt behind them, filling up like a pool. It
flowed slowly beneath the tree, not rising high enough yet to cross over it. He felt the
tear dry up as it slid past his lips. He continued forward, always forward, without ever
After what felt like ages, the captain stopped and surveyed the surroundings.
Pulling out a compass, he changed directions and they headed back towards the field.
As they approached closer and closer, he felt the earth tremble from the shells striking;
he heard the sky cry with anguish as they raced overhead. He heard yelling and shouts,
different than before. He could hear these more clearly, but he still could not make out
As they continued forward, the pressure in his head eased and released, as
though someone had drilled a hole through his skull, and the steam had rushed out like
a tea kettle. His eyes retained their vision, and the earth stopped shaking as heavily.
They rushed towards the enemy embankment. A handful of soldiers operated the
artillery cannon. Buried deep in a bunker and firing out of the earth, it was well hidden
and well protected. The rest of their army sat deep in bunkers in front of them, firing at
anyone foolish enough to cross the divide.
They raced towards the enemy cannon, silently and swiftly. They dove into the
bunker like hawks, killing their enemy’s quietly and without cause for alarm. Once their
station was situated, they turned the cannon towards the west; firing a shot blindly deep
into the woods. This was their signal, a sign that the cannons were offline and not
At once they heard the roars of their allies as they raced across the field. A wave
of men ran forward at once. The opposing forces were stalled by sheer bewilderment.
Caught off guard, they ran like deer before wolves, darting in any direction without order
or planning. A large group headed straight for their position, eager to retake the cannon.
The tree had slowed the river, shrinking its width and shortening its depth. It
stood barely knee deep now, and posed barely any resistance to the approaching allies.
If the enemy was to retake the artillery however, they could easily regroup and push the
much smaller force back.
They couldn’t allow this to happen, and readied themselves for the approaching
troops. As two of his allies began dismantling the cannon, they opened fire on the
enemy; dropping many of them in the initial volleys. The enemies took cover behind
mounds of earth and machines of war, many broken and battered from the constant
The two sides shot back and forth, and the sounds of the night were drowned out
from the gunfire. The lead officer took a shot to his chest, sending him reeling back and
gasping for air. The shot had pierced his left lung. He collapsed down to the earth as he
fell into a coughing fit, losing control of his own body as he hacked the blood from his
lungs. Another shout and the soldier closest to the man fell, silent and unmoving.
His vision blurred before him, but he fought the urge to retreat. He fought back
against the enemy, and against his own mind as it sought to betray him; retreating into
fantasy to escape the harsh reality before him. He couldn’t allow it, no matter how
strong the calling was. He fired back at the enemy, but they slowly pushed forward. The
sounds of screams raced down the bunker from afar, bouncing off the walls of the ditch,
just moments before an explosion from further down the line. He heard the sound of a
thud next to him, and looked at a grenade. Without hesitation, the man next to him
grabbed it, leaping over the walls and tossing it back towards the foes. It had barely left
his hands when it detonated, sending his charred body flying back into the ditch.
That’s when he felt it. It was cold as ice, a pain that he had never felt. His mind
struggled to describe it, words floated in and out of his head as he desperately tried to
piece them together. Pain. Cold. Piercing. It was as though thousands of hornets had
descended upon a single inch of his chest. Then he felt it once more, now through his
leg. And then again, this time higher on his chest. He felt his collarbone shatter as his
legs gave way and he fell to the ground.
Once again, he looked at his home. He raced to the door, but found that he
passed through it. He went inside, looking at the house around him. It wasn’t as it was
in his dreams, it was tainted. The pictures were swept from the shelf, tossed across the
floor. The house was littered with empty bottles, crushed cans and ashtrays of
cigarettes. He walked to the kitchen, and saw an empty fridge. The sink was filled with
dirty dishes, and the pantries were empty and barren. He raced upstairs, to find his
son’s room empty. His posters removed from the walls, his bed gone from where it
always had been.
His eyes readjusted, and he saw two more of his allies fall down. One struggled
to crawl away before being executed by the enemy. His vision blurred again.
He left his son’s room, and raced towards his own. He didn’t understand, he
couldn’t understand. Where had his family gone, why had his home been desecrated?
Questions raced through his head faster than he could make sense of them. And when
he entered his room, he froze in horror. Sitting on the bed, his bed, was a man. He
could hardly recognize him, he wished that he couldn’t recognize him, but he knew. The
man he saw was himself, sobbing uncontrollably as he leaned over the unkempt
And then his mind allowed him to remember. His mind flashed back. His son
raced down the stairs, popped through the doorway as he sat waiting for breakfast. He
yelled at the boy, he scolded him for being late. He screamed at him to get on the bus
before it pulled away, and made threats towards him if it did. When his wife sat his
breakfast down, he barely touched a bite, complaining that his coffee was stale and the
food was cold. He argued with his wife throughout the entire meal, as she tried
desperately to cheer his mood.
He remembered the layoffs from the factory. Losing his job as an assistant
manager as the operations were sent overseas. He remembered struggling to find a job
before settling for something with nearly half the pay. He remembered sinking into his
depression, blaming the world for his misfortunes. He remembered his dive into
alcoholism. Bottle after bottle, liquor and beer, drowning his sorrows.
His wife was brought to tears, and finally stood up, cleaning the table off and
leaving the kitchen. His mind shifted again, he was underneath the shade of the oak,
playing catch with his son. As his son threw the ball to him, he scolded him again,
insinuating he threw like a girl. When his son was unable to catch the ball, further insults
followed. The boy was hardly six, and he was cursing him, using language that scraped
against his ears and tore at his heart. Tears raced to his eyes as he watched the scene
unfold, unable to stop himself from making his mistakes.
His eyes opened again to see the enemy notice the damage they had done to
the cannon. It was unfixable, and they panicked upon the realization.
Then he was in the living room. His wife was begging him, for anything. He sat
silently, eyes fixed on the television. He ignored her pleads, he tuned out her voice. But
he still heard her. Begging him to change, to go back to who he was. She handed him
the wedding photo, pointing to a smile he hadn’t worn in years. He threw it across the
room, shattering the glass.
A single tear rolled down her cheek, and she grabbed her last bag and her son’s
hand; leaving the house for the last time, never to come back.
The man watched his descent further, saw himself reach lows that he couldn’t
notice at the time; lows that he had ignored, lows that he had denied up until he could
deny them no more. He saw the man sobbing at his bedside, just moments before
leaving. He was to be shipped. There was a war overseas that needed fighting, and he
had nothing left in this world for him here. He left the house with an empty heart, never
once turning back to see it as he left.
He opened his eyes once more, and saw the enemy panic and retreat. He saw
his own allies pass by. He thought to call out to them, to call out for help, but decided
against it. He laid upon the bunker, nestled in the cold, frozen earth. And he breathed in
and out deeply. Once, twice, and on the third breath, he shut his eyes to the cold dark
night. And once more he saw it, the light blue house on West Caudwell Street, as it
once was; as it should have always stayed.
He was home at last.
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