My Pal, Lawrence
rating: +11+x

It was another cold night in the trenches. Men were freezing to death like always. Some were using one of their boots as ear muffs when they were sleeping. Switching ears when one was just warm enough. Even the rats couldn't stand the unbearable cold, putting their tiny, little, light brown hands over their snouts, trying to feel the littlest sensation of heat on them. It was miserable for us all. And then there was Lawrence Fletcher. He was one of the many few who were up and lively, hesitantly looking over the place where man and barbed wire, alike, are allowed to act in their true nature: "No Man's Land."

I saw him carefully walking over my legs while I was sleeping, trying not to wake me up. I opened my crusty eyes and said: "Lawrence, are you ever going to sleep, my friend?"

"God, no, Lyman. Why would I," he replied.

Before I could utter a word, I dismissed my thought as nothing but a waste of precious sleeping time, and I just let him be. I knew Lawrence back when he and I were in training. I remember having a good, quick conversation during trench digging exercises. After graduating, we became good chums, and we were both sent to West Germany together.

It was daytime, and I awoke from the sound of bullets hitting the wall I was facing toward and the pieces of dirt flung by the shells, flying at my face. Seconds later, I heard screams from one of the gunners. Poor Oliver got shot in the eye. I have heard many different cries during my time here, and I've remembered every single one of them: All bloodcurdling but different in many ways. Oliver was still alive, and I could see him quivering due to the pain. They got him to the infirmary not long after. Hoping the poor kid doesn't get a disease from that wound, which he most likely will.

I've written another letter to my wife after the incident. I told her I loved her and said that I was fine and living quite comfortably, even though I was wasn't. I didn't want her to be worried. I was finishing the letter, re-reading it to see if it was good enough to be posted, and I caught Lawrence standing next to me, being a nosy bastard.

"You're writing to your wife again, I see," Lawrence said.

"Mm-hmm… I miss that girl, man."

"I can see that…. You're lucky 'cause I don't have a wife or any family except for the boys around us."

"I know that, Lawrence. You've told me that for the sixth time this month."

"Have I? I'm sorry, I suppose I forgot again."

Lawrence always resembled my father sometimes. My father always told me stories about my great-great-grandfather during the American Revolution. He was a drummer boy, and he would help surgeons collect bodies on the battlefield. He said he would find the worse corpses, too. Some fully coated in dry blood, turning their pure red uniforms into a tinted brown, some had their torso destroyed entirely by a cannonball, only leaving nothing but tiny fragments of flesh and bone on the ground. He saw soldiers messing with the Indian women after trading with them, taking them to their tents to do whatever they wanted.

He told me so many stories, and when he ran out of them, he just started repeating them, always attaching them with a lesson, somehow. I remember one day, he was telling me another familiar tale until I interrupted him by saying: "Pa, you already told me this one."

"Did I, now? Well, I'm going to tell you again." He would always say this when I pointed out that his stories were becoming too hackneyed.

My father never talked to me a whole lot until I got older. I remember leaving the cabin past my curfew to hang out with my mates, and when I got back, I saw him on the porch, rocking on one of the chairs waiting for me.

"Sit, my boy," he said, trying not to wake mother up. I was a bit reticent since I thought he was going to scold me, but in his eyes, I could see that he was tired. So I sat down, and we started talking for hours until the sun came up. He used to work at a mill, so he had to get up early. Due to the poor conditions, he died from a lung disease years after. He never told me that he loved me, but I always knew and was frequently reminded by my grieving mother.

It's December 24, 1917. It started to snow today like many days before this one, and now the ground is covered with this marvellous, double-edged commodity. Out in No Man's Land, we could hear the Germans singing from the other side. In return, we sang our own Christmas carols, but louder to get their attention. The Germans applauded when we stopped singing, ending it with mates giving an out-of-tune high note.

Today, there was no fighting. Instead, the entire day was spent determining who was going to leave their trenches to give gifts. Neither side dared to see if the truce was legitimate or not. But I understand their worries, of course. I've heard stories as forms of jokes about a German man who entered No Man's Land a previous Christmas ago. He was shot to the cold, rugged ground with his face lying in a muddy puddle.

I can't imagine dying like that. I don't think anyone would. During the night, Lawrence sat next to me, and we started chattering about who was going to give in.

"My guess? The English," he said.

"Why's that?"

"Christ, Lyman, look at us. We're miserable."

"So are the Germans."

"Of course, but we're tired of all the fighting. Since when was there a day like this, where there's no yelling, no whizzing bullets over our heads, no—?"

"I get it, Lawrence, don't remind me," I said, looking at the cloudy sky. "It's…. It is quite nice, though, I must say."

"See? I'm tired of this, Lyman," he said, sighing. "I truly am."

"I know… I am, also."

It is another day, but this one is an unremarkable day: Christmas. One of our lads was tired of being in this hellish trench, so he decided to go out in No Man's Land, waving his arms and shouting to get the Germans' attention.

"The hell is that man doing," one of our officers said.

"Get down here, boy, you're gonna get yourself shot," one man said to him.

We started murmuring to each other, praying for this kid to have the chance to see his home again. We waited to see what was going to happen. I was looking down at my toes, anticipating to hear the sound of a gun being shot and the loud thump of a heavy object hitting the ground…

Nothing… there was nothing except for the whistles of frigid winds. So the boy started walking closer to the German lines and still… nothing.

It was a Christmas miracle. Reluctant men on both sides fled their trenches and started walking on the destroyed ground, retrieving the fallen and receiving gifts. During the truce, I heard Lawrence speaking to one of the German soldiers. the German was showing him a pair of photos.

"Äh… meine Mama…. Mutter, äh," he said, pointing at the photo of a woman on his left. "Und das hier ist mein Vater…. Äh, Papa" He points to the picture of a man on his right and puts the photos back in his coat pocket.

"That's your parents, I'm guessing?"

"Äh… jawohl. Mutter und Vater, ja."

"Well, that's all you needed to say, lad." Lawrence lets out a chortle.

"Ja," he chuckled awkwardly and then started walking back into his trench to collect more items. Lawrence then looks at me.

"What the hell does 'ja' mean," he said.

"I don't know. Maybe it means…? Never mind, I-I don't know."

The man came back with a photo in one hand and two chocolate bars in the other. He gave us the chocolate bars and then showed us the polished picture.

"Und, äh… das ist mein Ehepartner… ja, meine Frau."

"Ee-her-partner?" He said in awful German.

I started eating the chocolate, and I must say that it was pretty delicious. No one can best the Germans when chocolate's involved, I say. I later left Lawrence with the enigma we call the German language and went back to fetch my water canteen because the chocolate left my mouth feeling parched. I found my satchel and opened it. Before I opened the canteen, I was called by one of the officers.

"Corporal, c'mere, boy," he said. It was Chief Officer William Atkinson.

"Yes, sir." I sprinted to him, dropping the canteen to the ground. When I got to him, holding my hands behind my back, I saw him writing something next to a caged carrier pigeon. The bastard was writing coordinates for artillery.

"Lyman Theodore Bell, I presume?"

"Yes, sir."

"Look here, boy, and listen good. Since it's Christmas, I don't mind you befriending the enemy, but tomorrow, that will change, understood?"


"Do you understand me, boy," he said with vigour. "If you disregard my orders, you will be court-marshalled, I promise you that. That goes for everyone else."

"Yes, sir." Of course, I couldn't say anything else but that. When a higher-up tells you to do something, it's either "yes, sir" or discipline. I later went back to pick up my water canteen, brushed off the snow, and enjoyed the cool water skimming through my tongue. I then went back to the jolly wasteland and enjoyed the spoils of Christmas as much as I could: playing football, giving/receiving gifts, hearing prideful speeches by the "enemy" that I couldn't understand, and many more.

Christmas is indeed over, yet the truce is still alive. I awoke, hearing the sound of singing on both sides, departing from trenches once again, refusing to harm each other. But, of course, most of the officers weren't retaining the same delight that we held. They began chewing men's ears off, terrorizing them with lawful punishments, demotion of ranks, it goes on and on. But we didn't care. We left our trench, so did the Germans, and resumed being pacifists, paying the jesters no mind. I saw Lawrence speaking to the same gentleman, giving him gifts and showing photos he "borrowed" from people he didn't like.

"And this one is me with my sister back in England," Lawrence said.

"Ah, sind das deine Cousins?"

"Uh… sure, mate," he nodded.

While I and a few others were playing music with our helmets, substituting them for drums, I saw a bird flying in the sky, going behind our lines. I stopped banging on my bruised, ivy-green helmet and got up to walk to the trench. Once I entered, I overheard Officer Lewis quarrelling with Atkinson.

"The hell did you just do," Lewis said.

"Our jobs, you fool. We're getting nowhere."

"But we—"

"I don't want to hear another bloody word from that mouth of yours," he interrupted. "If things continue like this, our superiors will serve our asses on a platter, do you understand?"

Doing his job is what he's doing, he says? What a hideous disgrace of a man. We've finally made peace, and he wants to destroy it by suffocating the sky with mortar shells, persisting us to slaughter each other, killing fathers, sons, husbands, all for a tiny bit of territory. When they were done arguing, they called our men back one by one, leaving the Germans to themselves. Few minutes later, they grew weary, and some went back to their respected trenches.

Lawrence was navigating the now congested channel to find me. Once he caught sight of me, he asked what was going on.

"What's with the officers?"

"Didn't you see the bird? They called The Big Guns, Lawrence," I sighed.

"I did… I did," he repeated. "So, that means…?" Lawrence looks at me

"The truce is over, Lawrence. Or will be."

"Bloody hell…." He looks down at one of his hands, revealing that he kept one of the German fellow's photos by accident.

"Ah, hell… I still got time, right," he questioned.

"For what?"

He didn't answer. He ran back out to the nearly desolate wasteland to find the German lad, trying to return the photo to him. I was eyeing him, standing on top of a misplaced sandbag to see what the hell he was doing. When he eventually found him, walking back to his trench. Lawrence patted on his shoulder to get his attention. When he turned around, Lawrence extended his arm, giving him the photo. When the man took the picture back, Lawrence extended his arm again to give him a handshake. Once the German united his hand with Lawrence's, he pulled him in to give him a good, long hug.

In a blink of an eye, I heard the blast of shells impacting the ground near where they stood. Everywhere, I saw dirt and water soaring into the air, only leaving clouds of filthy, black smoke blocking our sight to where Lawrence was. I ducked down, and the deafening noises continued for at least a minute, and when it stopped, I peaked over and waited for the discoloured smoke to clear. I could scarcely see Lawrence on the ground still moving when it did.

Lawrence, The lucky bastard he is, wasn't maimed at all and got up, staring at a limp corpse in grey attire to his left. He turned to us, seeing our desperate gestures to come to us. He started to dash back to the trench, struggling to stay upright and then repeatedly toppling to the ground. A medic nearby was brave enough to save Lawrence while avoiding fire from the betrayed Germans. Once Lawrence was carried back, he was sent to the infirmary. They said the blasts barely even touched him; I can't say the same for the German fellow, sadly from the look of it. The artillery strike only left him with a giant scar and a small dent on the right side of his head. He was only in the infirmary for about a few days before being released to fight once again.

Everything about him changed after that. I remember writing to my wife again, and I saw him walking past me with bandages wrapped around his head. Of course, knowing Lawrence, I thought he was trying to get a glimpse of what I was writing, filled with things I would do with my wife when I got back. Things I'm too ashamed to disclose to anyone.

"Are you trying to look at my letter again?" I chuckled. "Besides that, how are you feelin', lad?"

He ignored me and kept walking with an empty stare. I could see him struggling to walk, consistently hitting the walls, or walking into other soldiers by accident. One time, a man decided to get riled up when Lawrence bumped into him. Lawrence was always a coolheaded, subtle man, never showing any signs of aggression to anyone. However, when the man caught Lawrence's attention by pushing him, it lit a fuse, and Lawrence started shouting at the man, slurring his words like a mad drunkard. When Lawrence couldn't get his point across, and the man started chortling at him, he punched him in the mouth, causing a scuffle. Other men watched in glee, seeing them clashing with each other. Finally, an officer caught a hold of this and broke it up.

The next day, I was placing sandbags around our machine guns. When I walked around to get more, I saw Lawrence holding a live rat on its back. I saw him gently grazing its disease-ridden belly with his thumb.

"What in God's name are you doin', Lawrence," I said. "Leave it before you fetch something you don't want."

He, again, ignored me and gave the rat a slight grin. Before I could say anything else, he slowly plunged his sharp fingernail into the rat's furred belly. His cheeky grin vanished, and he started tightening his lips, displaying anger. I could hear it letting out tiny, high-pitched cries when he was doing it. He didn't stop and continued to torture the poor animal by moving his thumb in a circular motion to stretch out its wound. I could see his breath exiting his nostrils at a rapid pace, appearing to be aroused by it.

He hurled it into a small, deep puddle near him. It, of course, wasn't dead regardless of the torture and began violently shaking in the puddle, splashing bloody water everywhere, hitting Lawrence's boots. Lawrence then got up from his seat and walked over to it. He gently stepped on the twitching rodent to avoid crushing it and slowly pushed it underwater. Like an alligator killing its prey, Lawrence watched it slowly drown to death, not giving it any chance to get a second of air. He kept it underwater for several seconds, casually looking around like nothing was happening.

"Christ, Lawrence," I muttered.

"That's one way to get rid of them, dear God," one man said while laughing.

When he released the dead rat from his foot, allowing half of its floating body to be exposed by the cold air, he sat back on the lump of snow, holding his vile hands against his mouth. I could see the shame on his face, but seconds later, it returned to a chilling, numb expression. The same day, I've seen him hide peoples' belongings to get a reaction out of them. He enjoyed seeing people in distress. He would mostly steal from the young men for some unknown reason.

I stopped talking to Lawrence after that. It saddens me, too, because he was an excellent pal to me. We were like brothers since he and I both didn't have any siblings when growing up. What happened to him during that day shouldn't have transpired. All because of a blood-thirsty officer and a goddamn pigeon.

It's the night of New Year's Eve, and I was assigned to refill the sandbags for the next day. During that, Officer Atkinson walks up behind me.

"Corporal Lyman."

"Yes, sir," I said, quickly turning to him.

"Where's Corporal Lawrence?"

"Which one, sir?"

"Don't kid with me, boy, you know who I'm talking about," he scoffed. "Lawrence? Lawrence Samuel Fletcher, where is the bastard?"

"I'm sorry, sir, I-I don't know."

"Well, then find him, for Christ's sake. I need him for something."

Before I could say "yes, sir," I saw Lawrence walking behind him, doing what he always did during the night: lurk in the darkness.

"He's right there, sir," I said, pointing to him.

"Corporal Lawrence, c'mere," he said, snapping his fingers at him. "These men are going to infiltrate the enemy trench to catch 'em off guard. Make yourself valuable and join them."

Behind Officer Atkinson were four men, one being Sergeant Clarke and three others being privates. Lawrence was given a rifle, and he could barely even keep it in his arms properly.

"Try not to shoot yourself in the foot, Fletcher," Clarke said, chuckling at him.

"Bloody hell, maybe I should've made you do this," Atkinson muttered, turning to me. "But, I'm a man of my word."

He turned back, ordering them to get going. It took Lawrence a few seconds to understand what was happening. He was only staring at the wall behind us. Atkinson had to snap his fingers a second time and held his arm, leading him to his crew. Once they were gone, I went back to filling the sandbags. During the night, I could hear faint screams and the sound of gunfire over yonder. I thought nothing of it since I had listened to the same thing a day earlier.

They never came back, however. Hours later, the sun arrived, bringing a foggy mist, and they were still not here. People believed they died due to the distant yelling through the night, and I was promoted to sergeant not too long ago due to this.

What a terrible way to end the year. May King George and God, Himself, watch over them.

It's early in the morning, and the entire field is covered with fog. For the first time, I woke up feeling well-rested. It was abnormally quiet since Lawrence and the crew he was with left. To check what was going on, Atkinson ordered Sullivan and me to spy on the Germans and see what was going on.

Once we arrived, both of us peeking on top of a hill with our binoculars, there was nothing but an empty trench. We entered it, and the more we walked around, the more the interior became more unnerving: black grime leaking through the walls, German and English helmets covered in rust, bodies that looked like they'd been decomposing for months. I could go on for hours.

We continued exploring through the foul-smelling trench until we were greeted by an intersection that gave us two choices: left or right. Sullivan and I agreed that he would go left, and I go right. We both went our separate ways, never looking back at each other.

My boots were treading on the discoloured floorboards, walking over abandoned rifles, corpses, corroded ammo boxes. I was pointing my rifle in front of me, expecting something or someone to pop out and attack. But that never came. I saw the wall to my left completely covered in black. I looked at the ground, noticing ebony footprints. I followed the trail, and it stopped at a destroyed wall with a pit filled with the black goo, littered with the remains of artillery shells. The spot smelled foul and would constantly move unnaturally: creating bubbles, and when they popped, they would release black fumes that I was too afraid to let through my nostrils. I got a helmet, touching only the cleanest part of it, the spike, and dropped it into the pit. It disappeared in moments, leaving nothing behind while making gurgling sounds when doing so.

I walked past the pit and later heard voices from it telling me to enter.

"Come, Theodore," a woman whispered. "Join us, Lyman," a man implored.

"Pa? Ma?" I turned to the pit and walked back to it.

They sounded like my parents, but they possessed a deep distorted voice. Since the day I was born, my father never called me by my first name, nor did my mother ever whisper to me. Even in her normal voice, she would always speak loud, never noticing that she was the most clamant one in the room. Right there and then, I knew the Devil was deceiving me. I slowly stepped away, scrapping the snow behind me, building up a small pile. I tripped on the mound, hitting the ground, and when my head pulled itself back from the force, I briefly saw a silhouette of a figure with bright, white eyes gazing at me, seeing half of its body in the ground. I sat up and hastily looked back to see nothing, only more black slime where the silhouette originally stood.

I heard hollers from Sullivan, and I got up and sprinted to him. Sullivan's screams abruptly stopped during the run, and it went silent once again. I eventually got to the left end of the trench and found no traces of Sullivan but additional black goo scattered everywhere. I climbed up a ladder and saw a vast, black streak on the ground and marks like someone was being dragged. Like the first, I followed the imprints, and it led me to a small pool of black goo and a lonely rifle by its side.

"The hell," I muttered in confusion. I turned back but later stopped in my tracks.

In the mist, I saw a creature fully coated in black inside the trench looking at me. The only thing visible was the upper half of its rotting head and his snow-white eyes. I stood there watching in terrifying awe, waiting for it to react, and it did. The creature slowly pulled its head down, still preserving eye contact with me. When it disappeared, I ran to it, pointing my rifle and to my surprise, it was gone, leaving a dark mark on the ground. The dumb bastard I am, I went back in to find Sullivan so that I could get him out of this hell hole. While I was cautiously striding, I heard the sounds of soft chuckles, and in the corner of my eye, I saw a black hand slowly reach for me, emerging from the wall.

I jolted back, instantly pointing my rifle at it. It looked at me as I watched it slowly revealing itself while having an enormous grin on its face.

There it was—the unclothed grotesque monster in its true glory. I could see open flaps of skin overlapping itself. Nothing but black covered everything from its head to its toes, exposing its shrivelled genitals; I could even see the bones under the living rancid carcass' skin. It calmly approached me, but I couldn't fire my rifle out of sheer terror. Instead, the monster grabbed hold of my rifle's muzzle and completely fused it shut upon touch. I dropped it, and the creature began quietly chuckling to itself. I backed away from it, and it just stood there, struggling to speak.

"Ly— …Ly-," it said with its deep, raspy voice. I could smell its decaying breath and see its cracked teeth when it spoke. It smelled like spoiled eggs, along with the scent of decease rats, almost making me tear up.

"I— …Stay the hell back," I yelled, breathing heavily through my mouth.

"Ly- …man," it grunted.

It knew my name. How? I stared into its callous eyes, and I noticed the dent on its head and the disgusting, infected scar.

"La—? Lawrence," I said with a mix of bafflement and unease. The monster said nothing and only gave a sluggish nod.

"Dear God, what the hell happened to you, man," I asked. He later turned his head to a similar pit of goo I saw earlier. His entire mood changed, and I saw his bottom lip quiver as if he was about to cry when looking at the hole.

"Wh—? What did it do to you," I said. He then looked at me and smirked once again. He then squats down to pick up one of the floorboards. The part of the board he was holding began to deteriorate while black streaks climbed up the untouched parts. Finally, the board fell to the ground, leaving nothing but black sludge in his hand.

This terrified me, of course. Seeing what he was capable of, I asked him: "What are you going to do to me? You gonna kill me, Lawrence?" He, again, didn't speak. He was only shaking his head.

"I… I will not kill fr-friend," he said to himself. I watch in shock as he then slowly pulls himself to the ground, giving his final goodbye.

"Farewell… Lyman." When he disappeared, fully submerged into the dirt floor, I had the courage to say it back.

"Goodbye, Lawrence…"

Finally, there was silence once and for all. I left the trench in a hurry, fearing that he would return with a changed mind. When I got back, I told everyone what had occurred, but no one believed me. We took over the trench not long after. Everyone saw the goo but still refused to believe me. They thought it was illogical, somehow, even though all those men disappeared for absolutely no reason.

But I didn't care. I just want to get back home.

I survived this pointless war, and I was finally sent back to England for good. I still think about Lawrence to this day. Sometimes I have panic attacks whenever I think about him ever coming back. While I was walking down a dark street to reach my beloved home and my wife, I saw a paperboy selling his last batch under a light post.

"Get home to your family, son," I said to the boy, giving him a few pounds. "I don't want to see that ugly face on a poster, understood?"

"Yes, sir," he said, handing me the paper.

I chuckled, slightly tugging his cap's brim, and carried on. Skimming through the newspaper, its pages filled with nothing but info about the war's end, I saw a title in big letters. I flipped back to it, and when I read it, it turned my stomach.


I couldn't believe it. One paragraph stated that there were cases of young men being abducted by
this "Soot Man."

There were many rumors of his origins. Some thought that he used to be a miner that was killed during a cave-in; now, his soul is roaming the Earth for all eternity due to not receiving a proper burial. Some thought he used to be a hard-working chimney sweeper that got stuck and died with no one watching him, which explained why he was covered in black, and his voice sounded horrendous. All of them were wrong, of course. I was the only one that knew his true roots, and I kept it that way.

I balled up the newspaper and threw it in a nearby trash can. While doing so, I smelt the stench of spoiled eggs. My nose leading me to the wretched smell, I turned my head to a dim alley and saw a pair of white eyes looking at me. I stared right back as its silhouette slowly backed itself into a wall, becoming a part of it and later disappearing, leaving another calling card for local law. The next day, I never saw that paperboy ever again. The only time his face would return was on another newspaper about Lawrence.

When the war separated us, my wife pondered around the idea of having kids when I got back, but now, that idea has soured. Thankfully, his abductions suddenly stopped after the news got out. I don't know why, but I'm glad that monster got killed… or worse.

I still have nightmares of Lawrence, though. Not all the time, but a few. One time I dreamt I was in a dim room covered in green rust. I was surrounded by a number of corridors leading to walls of emptiness. Every time I'd blink, I could see his decrepit face, looking nowhere near the man I once remembered. I later entered through one of the corridors, and when I closed my eyes, I was in a place I'd never forget: the trenches.

Out on No Man's Land, I saw two still faceless soldiers shaking hands with each other. Both were wearing different uniforms—one being in a dirty brown and the other in an elephant grey. I heard them talking to one another, but they were uttering nonsense and were echoed as if it was all in my head, which it definitely was.

Before I could go to them, I heard the sound of wings flapping. I turned around and saw a dark, demonic bird with exposed bones and a fatigued eye replacing its belly in the sky. It looked similar to a dead pigeon, but it was longer than the Eiffel Tower and broader than any cathedral I've seen in my lifetime.

Soaring through the sky, eventually being above my head, I saw it leaking out giant red droplets from its bloodshot eyes as if it was crying. When the tears of blood collided with the ground, it burst open like a bomb. One of the droplets landed near the faceless soldiers, and I heard echoed screams and crying. In my mind, I thought it would be a good idea to hide under a row of planks that were on top of me to avoid the blood. And it worked, to my surprise. Peeking through the cracks, I found out the bird was gone. When I poked my head out to confirm it, one tiny droplet that was waiting for me hit my face. Before I could react, I woke up from that brutal nightmare, drenched in sweat.

I have more nightmares about Lawrence than I do about the war. However, my wife always comforts me during those nightmares, and I am forever grateful for her.

But no matter how much she soothes me, that man's face will forever be ingrained into my mind.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License