The Touch of a Stranger
There was a lightening of the sky signalling the end of night, but not of nightmares. Sunrise did little to disturb the grey fingers of mist that unfurled over the now silent battlefield.The snow, once white, held a pink tinge not painted by any dawn.
Bodies having bled their life essence to colour their surroundings, lay still, stiffening in the snow. Frank could picture the carnage.
It was the silence that he felt the most. The guns finally quietened; the softly falling snow deadening the sound of footsteps. He was unable to turn his head to see his neighbour, so he lay not knowing if he would die with friend or foe. Not that it mattered. They were all men of honour; young men filled with the adrenaline of youth, enlisting in a wave of patriotism.
Frank chose not to call out to those silent footsteps. He was too wounded to last as a prisoner and he had no desire to feel a bayonet in his chest. He felt no pain although he could recall the machine gun bullets entering his legs. If the enemy found him, there would be pain; If his comrades found him he would be a burden for life. The bayonet would be quicker.
His hand inched towards a vestige of warmth; whoever lay beside him was not yet dead. Fingers locked and lay still. Perhaps it was an enemy who would share his final moments. Visions of two bicycle riders struggling through bombed out streets, to deliver death notices floated through his mind. Would their parents open the telegrams with stoicism, having expected the news each day since they had enlisted, or would grief and despair rise from both sides of the channel? He wished he could tell them that their sons weren’t alone at the end. That they had comforted each other.
The stranger’s fingers relaxed their grip, the absence of warmth leaving Frank bereft. He closed his eyes against the pink glow. Images of childhood and the touch of a stranger were enough to lead him gently to the other side.