Thursday, October 17, 2013

New Beginning 1014


Lieutenant Richard Gangly (whose last name was an unfortunately apt description of his appearance) lay in the mud beside a trench.

Earlier in the night, openings had been made in the barbed wire and mine fields directly in front of him. Beyond that: No Man’s Land. On the far side of No Man’s Land—perhaps as much as three quarters of a mile from where he lay—the Germans were dug in with layer upon layer of trenches, augmented by their own bands of protective wire and mines. Gangly’s thoughts largely concerned themselves with this large area in front of him, because he knew that he would have to cross through it in just a few minutes.

Wet mud sucked at his elbows and knees as he lay there. The breath plumed from his opened mouth in great billowy clouds, washed pure white by the cold light of the full moon overhead. His breath mingled with the clouds that rose from other men—tens of thousands of men—lying up and down the line. All of them waiting for the whistle to blow, the attack to begin.

Gangly pulled out his smart phone and tapped his banking ap. He quickly put a stop-payment on his echeck to the WWI-France Reenactment Company. He had envisioned wine, women, and croissants, not blood, guts and 90-year-old trench rations. Next year he was going back to Gettysburg, where they took war a little less seriously.


Opening: Dixon Hill.....Continuation: kregger

10 comments:

Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuations:


He had no pen and paper with him, so he used his finger to write in the mud he lay in. He knew that soon the rain and blood and tramping feet would make the words go away. But he wrote them anyway.

“My dear wife, this will be the war to end all wars, I’m told. There will be no Korea, no Vietnam, no humanitarian interventions in the Middle East. But fret not, my love, because my small sacrifice only means that our children will not have to fight and die and rebuild the towers of our dreams and hopes.”

Then the whistle blew.

--James


And there it was. The whistle -- to the tune of Pachelbel's Canon. How apt. Gangly's stringy limbs stirred into action and he wrestled through the mud, picking his way through the twisted, barbed wire and avoiding the freshly turned mounds, towards his target.

A man appeared out of the dark shadows, tending to runner beans. "What's all this, then, mate?" He asked, in a distinctly un-German accent.

"Wh-- Who are you?" Gangly asked in reply, pushing himself to a stand.

"I'm Norman. Can't you bloody read? This is Norman's land."

"Bugger."

Gangly never should have left the recon and navigation to the appropriately named Sergeant Djislekzic. He was not looking forward to explaining this to General Cornholer.

--ril

Evil Editor said...

Whether it's his gangliness or his name that's unfortunate, you can leave out "unfortunately."

Not sure "opening" is the right term for a passage through a mine field. In any case, tens of thousands of men seems like a lot if they have to pass through openings in barbed wire and a mine field. The whistle blows and there's an immediate clog at each opening. It's like a 10-lane-wide freeway that suddenly drops to 1 lane, and it's rush hour. Shouldn't they roll up the barbed wire and let everyone charge at once? Not that the military has historically shown a lot a intelligence.

Veronica Rundell said...

I should feel urgency here, but the prose is too thoughtful (or wordy) to allow for that anxiety build. I'm distracted by clouds and breath and sucking mud.

The first line hints at humor, but the rest is too slow-building and I feel as mired as poor Gangly.

I wish I could say I connected, but I didn't. Mostly because, despite the lovely setting descriptions, I have no internal landscape with which to identify.

Is Gangly: scared? Secretly exhilarated? Sexually frustrated? Bored? Praying he'll see the light of another dawn? Wondering why his ticket got pulled in the draft?

Battlefields are terror zones, and this scene lacks terror, IMHO.

khazar-khum said...

EE, you really need to brush up on your WWI history.

That last continuation line--'where they take war less seriously' killed me. That's brilliant!

Down Girl said...

I agree, the "unfortunate" Gangly starts this as comedy, but it quickly becomes dead-serious battle. Is it going to be a black comedy? If so, the humor should arise from something more than the omniscient narrator's crack about the goofy name.

But I pretty much liked the atmosphere. I'd clean up a few things --

"Gangly's thoughts largely concerned themselves" needs a fix.

Wet mud sucked at his elbows and knees [as he lay there].

The breath plumed from his [opened] mouth

washed [pure] white

cold light of the full moon -- I'd lose either "cold" or "full," since that sentence is losing momentum.

Final suggestion, I'd make Gangly's breath plume in tiny clouds, not great, billowy ones.

But I'm feeling the tension and getting the picture.

Dave Fragments said...

I read this early this morning but didn't have time to comment.

Veronica is right. There is no tension or anxiousness here. crawling in the mud through a battlefield strewn with mines requires a desperate and tension ridden tone.

Tk said...

If this was mine, here’s how I’d start to edit. It needs to be more in his head (eg he doesn’t call himself by his full name, he expresses some anxiety or other emotions) and faster, to make the reader as breathless as Gangly (and as anxious as Gangly presumably is that he survives). On a second pass I’d probably choose to describe No Man’s Land (his immediate destination) instead of the German lines (his ultimate destination, which he probably can’t see yet anyway). You picked a great place to open the story!

Gangly sprawled in the mud above the trench. Openings gaped in the barbed wire and mine fields directly in front of him. Beyond that: No Man’s Land. Beyond No Man’s Land—perhaps as much as three quarters of a mile—the Germans were dug in with layer upon layer of trenches, protective wire and mines. And Gangly was supposed to get there, tonight.

Wet mud sucked at his elbows and knees. Breath plumed from his open mouth in great billowy clouds, washed white by the moonlight, and mingled with the clouds that rose from tens of thousands of men lying up and down the line.

The whistle blew.

CavalierdeNuit said...

Here's a trimming suggestion from me:

Lieutenant Richard Gangly--whose last name was an apt description of his appearance--lay in the mud beside a trench.

Earlier in the night, openings (or EE's suggestion) had been made in the barbed wire and mine fields in front of him. Beyond that: No Man’s Land. On the far side of No Man’s Land--three quarters of a mile from where he lay—the Germans were embedded in layers of trenches, wire, and mines. Gangly would be crossing this line in a few minutes.

Wet mud sucked at his elbows and knees. His breath mingled with the clouds that rose from thousands of men lying all around him. They waited for the whistle to blow.

That might provide a better sense of urgency while not really needing to rearrange anything. I like the opening. I thought "embedded" might be a better description than "dug in".

Veronica Rundell said...

Tk! Marvelous ideas!

Mister Furkles said...

Dave and Veronica have caught it. It has too many modifiers and that kills the tension. Tk’s redo has fewer and much more tension.

But the “layer upon layer of trenches” should be something like “row after row of trenchs”. Also, from what I recall, except for advance scouts, the men would be standing in their own trench. They would climb up ladders and file quickly through their own barbed wire openings then they would spread out.

Then they all get shot by Maxim machine guns except for the ones who dived into the mud first. Well, they ended up in the mud one way or the other.

Also, they wouldn’t use Lieutenant Gangly’s first name. And the apt description works better if the reader thinks ‘Gangly’ not ‘Richard Gangly’.

Many years ago, Strategy & Tactics magazine (a.k.a. Strategy & Tactics Press) produced a very accurate tactical game on WWI western front 1915 through 1917. You couldn’t win by attacking. They did several other WWI games and offered a lot of analysis on what trench warfare was like. They also included extensive bibliographies.