Artillery : A 15-minute writing session

Here’s the result of an uninterrupted, unedited 15-minute writing session inspired by the prompt: WWI.

Airplanes sputtered through the clouds. An overcast day in the French countryside smelled like firecrackers in Iowa. That’s what Fred remembered. He watched smoking hills mix with the gray mounded skies, awaiting the thundering of artillery fire. His platoon lost six men this morning, scattering the remaining sixteen up and down the river. Surely Garcia hid in the windmill by the water’s edge.

Fred, just turned nineteen, gripped his rifle tight against his chest. Soot and dirt caked his face, giving him an ashen mask over his pasty, Irish skin. His throat hummed but his lips trembled and chopped up the melodic breathing.

Blasts followed by plumes of black smoke spurted from the ground up the road. Chopping airplane propellers drooped lower to the ground. Fred tucked his chin to his chest, fearing the blades coming too close to the crown of his helmet if he didn’t. Chickens fluttered around the dirt road ahead of him. A blast decimated the flock into a spattering of feathers. The world went blurry for Fred. His ears shrieked with a piercing whine. The longer the noise hung in his head, the more it sounded like wind whipping into the open plane door before they parachuted to the fields.

Fred’s lips muttered the Lord’s Prayer over and over, though his own ears couldn’t hear it. The piercing continued. He shakily rose to his feet, pressing his hand deep into a pile of loose hay until it compacted enough to support him upright. The kitchen window behind him had blown out. A baby wailed inside. Another blast. At least Fred thought it was. In his head, his ears picked up what resembled a rice-loaded sock hitting a wooden table. As his eyes traced the sound back to the source, he found the windmill down the road, splintered with fire. Its tall, wooden spindle crumpling into the river.

Garcia.

Fred’s closest friend throughout their training and deployment. Smoke billowed from the reduced rubble. A doorway in the rock foundation kicked open as a man, bloodied and weak, stumbled out. He dropped face-first onto the grass outside.

“Garcia!” Fred yelled, waving his hands over head.

Planes rounded back. Fred heard their engines echo through the clouds, but the wisps of gray hid their growing formation. The baby screamed inside the farmhouse. Fred wondered about the mother. Its family. Where were they? Out in the open, Fred rushed toward the river bend closest to him. The water could cloak him. As he ran, leaving the shaded protection of the house, the planes dropped from the clouds. Bombs whistled.

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