“Personal Hell” is a reworked version of a story by the same name that I first wrote for a writing class at Texas Tech University. It was the only story I wrote for the class that the instructor didn’t like; they felt the first-person perspective was “too artsy.” I argued that the story wouldn’t work any other way. I think they gave me a “C” grade on it, if memory serves.
Over time, others read the story and it was almost universally enjoyed. These days I eschew first-person unless there is a very good reason for it. For “Personal Hell”, I stand by my decision that it wouldn’t work in any other perspective.
This story was first published as an entry to a contest run by author Tim Baker. Largely a popularity contest, it still earned a solid finish – 2nd or 3rd, and people enjoyed it. It was subsequently published in the charity anthology “Something for the Journey, an e-book Collection” which appears to be no longer available.
By RJ Kennett
© 2013 RJ Kennett, All Rights Reserved.
God help us, here we go again.
Sitting in a trench, caked in mud. How many times have we been here? This damn war just won’t end. I watch as a worm makes its way across the toe of my worn out boot. My stomach grumbles. I wonder what that worm would taste like, but dismiss the notion of just slurping it up out of the mud. I still have standards.
We haven’t eaten in days, but that’s probably for the best. The stink of death wafting over the battlefield is enough to take a man’s appetite anyway. Charges and countercharges have left dead and wounded from both sides strewn over the field.
Rufus is coughing and sniffling again. I want to strangle him just to shut him up, but I guess it’s not really his fault. Besides, it makes him a mark for the Yanks instead of me.
The Lieutenant is rousting us again. The arrogant prick. He knows we’ve lost what… half our men? Two thirds? I’ve lost count, and still he’s going to attack. Trying to make a name for himself. He’ll make worm food of us all.
I check back with my squirmy little friend. The critter may just get the last laugh.
Poking my nose up, I look over the battlefield. It’s morning, and the fog hasn’t lifted yet. It’s thick, like a wall of dirty cotton. I can’t even make out the tree line on the other side of the field. How many Yanks are hiding there?
It’s not that I’m scared of dying. Been dying for pretty much my whole God forsaken existence. Dying’s easy. I just don’t want to die empty. Empty stomach, empty heart, empty soul. I’d like my death to mean something, and there’s no meaning in this. Not in this war, not in this trench, and sure as hell not in this idiotic charge.
Rufus is standing to my left as we load our weapons, fix our bayonets and steel ourselves for the charge. He lets off a whopper of a sneeze. I take a step to the right. He’s marked himself for sure now. At least the Yanks will kill him before me.
Well, that’s it then. The bugler is sounding the charge. Stupid to announce it like that. In this thick fog we could belly crawl right up to the enemy and they’d be none the wiser until it was all over. Now we’ll be running into a volley of lead with fog as our protection.
We head out into the field of misery. Rufus is yelling his stupid head off, trying to scare the Yanks, as if his sneezing weren’t enough. I stay quiet.
I can see a line of flashes through the fog, and the back of Rufus’ head explodes. I knew it would. Then I hear the crackle of the volley that took him. How weird is that? He’s a lucky bastard. He died quick and never saw it coming. I can see a couple of other boys charging alongside me, whooping and hollering like the Devil’s own. Through the fog, I can just make out the tree line and join in the battle cry. The Yanks won’t have time to reload before we get there.
I see a lad trying, though. I stop running long enough to draw a good bead on him, and drop him like a sack of potatoes.
I hurdle a low fence, stepping on the twitching corpse of the soldier I just killed. That’s for Rufus, you damn Yankee bastard.
Then I see the kid. Can’t be more than fifteen. Won’t live to see sixteen. The terror in his eyes as I roar up on him almost makes me feel pity. I ram my bayonet into his gut, then rip it out, taking a bunch of innards with it. The kid’s going to die screaming. I’d bash his head in to save him the pain, but I’ve already located my next target.
He’s a big, stocky fellow with a bushy beard. He’s swinging his rifle like a club and yelling like a man possessed. Several of our boys lay in crumpled heaps around him. I don’t think he sees me, and try to slip inside his guard to bayonet him. Big mistake. I see sparks as the stock of his rifle connects with my temple. I crash into him, though, and we tussle as I try to regain my bearings.
He rolls on top of me and pulls a knife from his belt. I try to fend him off, but damn he’s strong. I feel the blade slip in between my ribs and pop a lung, and maybe some other stuff. He rips it out harshly, laughing like a maniac and moves on.
Bastard. Finish the job for once.
The pain is unbelievable. I look at my bloodied hands and feel the intense, burning agony in my chest. My vision dims, and the cacophony of battle dwindles to a dull roar. A warmth washes over me and the pain eases. It’s not so bad; dying. Darkness envelops me.
Am I dead? I can’t feel my body. I’m drifting in nothingness. Then I see it; a pinpoint of light, somewhere in the black mists that surround me. It grows bigger, coming nearer. I remember the faces of those I’ve killed. That poor kid I disemboweled and left to die alone and in pain. The light gets closer. I’ve done nothing with my life. It’s been a waste. Sorry, Momma. I wish I could’ve made you proud. The light gets bigger still. Is this God? The light zooms in at me, encompassing me, burning me! I SCREAM AS ALL IS LIGHT-
God help us, here we go again.
Sitting in a trench, caked in mud. How many times have we been here? This damn war just won’t end. I watch as a worm makes its way across the toe of my worn out boot….