Ragged undulations and watery craters define the pockmarked contours of the monster that is no man’s land. It quivers beneath its frost-hardened carapace of soil, scattered body parts and crusted blood, punctured by the ragged quills of the splintered treeline. It is ravening, insatiable and will swallow, without trace, friend or foe alike. But for now, it waits, listening, as quickening night gives way to watery day.
Two soldiers, little more than mud spattered boys, stand in no man’s land on Christmas Day. Tommy grasps the hand of the enemy he’s been taught to hate, to kill. They stand toe to toe, man to man, eye to eye. Their young faces mirror each other’s fear and sorrow, capturing the death of a generation’s innocence. Images of sweethearts are shared, edges frayed by the constant caress of the absent lover. So alike, in another life, they could be friends, comrades.
Soft, shell-shocked earth sinks, settles under their feet. The rabid creature is waking, stretching, hungry again.
Jerry accepts Tommy’s cigarette. He coughs. Both laugh, joyously. It’s a sound so rarely heard, brittle in that frosty dawn air. All around, other young men breathe clouds of heat into the crispness; steaming evidence of their zest, vigour and vitality. Life after all this the only Christmas gift they seek.
A football soars high into that sharp, bated breath of early morning. Youthful eyes follow its flight, heads tilted up and away from the horror quivering beneath them. They run and jump and shout for joy if only for a few brief splinters in time, imprinting heavy boots upon the beast’s back.
Generals grow impatient; the distant guns begin to roar once more, growing ever closer. The monster licks its cannon-fodder hungry lips. Time to feed once more.
Ken has been writing for most of his life but only turned to short stories and flash fiction in his 60s after almost a lifetime in education and training as a teacher, headteacher, teacher trainer, school governor trainer and consultant for children educated at home. He is still on the steep learning curve in his writing. He likes to read his work to an audience, usually just one “captive” listener/wife at home but larger audiences have also heard his voice. Low lighting, beer and a convivial atmosphere are Ken’s favourite settings. His subject matter and style varies from the nostalgic to the weird and wonderful world of magical realism. He loves descriptive writing and probably uses too many adjectives.
Ken writes regularly for a US based site called the Fictionwritersgroup.com where he has posted upwards of thirty short stories. Each submitted story is critiqued and then judged by his fellow writers and on six occasions his stories have won first place. Three of his first flash fiction pieces were published in the 2018 Worcester Lit Fest Anthology “Sacrifice” and read by him at the launch of the anthology in Worcester.
He has read his work to live audiences in Stroud, at Smokey Joe’s in Cheltenham, Left Bank Talking Tales in Bristol and Worcester. He has been a contributor on Corinium Radio in Cirencester where local writers and authors read and discuss their work. He has also contributed a number of short stories to the Five Valley Sounds where local news and short stories are sent out on memory sticks to people with sight difficulties.
Ken’s only foray into playwriting resulted in a performance of his ten minute “Dry Run” at the Stroud Theatre Festival in 2018. He is also a member of a comedy / improv group The Severn Wonders who have written and performed their own comedy sketches in and around Stroud since 2017.
His short story, “Bobby and Margot” was longlisted for Ink Tears short story competition in 2018.
Cover Image by StockSnap
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