For a mere second the soldier closed his eyes and succumbed to sleep’s black embrace. It was long enough for him to shuffle off the rain-slicked duckboards; off that narrow avenue between places of fragile safety.
He landed on his back on the thick, bomb churned mud.
Staring wide-eyed at the grey, rain-filled sky, he screamed a muffled cry of commingled anger and terror at his fatal mistake.
Baring his teeth, he compounded his mistake by struggling to stand on his own two feet.
It was an instinctive act of self preservation; it allowed the mud to secure its grip.
He knew; felt himself sink to his knees.
He looked this way and that across a world of mud; searching for security, for solidity, for firmness beneath his feet.
His Mauser; his ever-present life saver, lay out of reach. It could not save him now.
The duckboards too were out of reach. He knew; he stretched out his hands nonetheless, tried to move forward.
The mud gripped his thighs.
He looked down; he was slowly being devoured.
The crater might be twenty, thirty feet deep; it need only be six to consume him.
He cried out to comrades shuffling by like grey ghosts.
He knew that they knew that they were powerless to help. To attempt to rescue him from their precarious footing would be suicidal.
The mud gripped his waist.
He bellowed out his anger and his terror.
They went unheeded; commonplace in this landscape of mud and rain: they meant nothing.
The mud gripped his chest.
He ceased his struggle for his life; struggle hastened its end.
He fell silent.
Death by a bullet or a bomb would have been a far better end; swifter, more fitting.
Had he been able to reach his rifle he would have taken that way out.
The mud nudged his chin.
Soon his body would join those of many of his comrades; become part of the desolated landscape.
Who would miss or mourn him.
Another war had returned his father to the ground. He would join him soon.
Mother was an empty shell; hardened by adversity and loss. She would determine not to miss him.
He gambolled with Gretl in a green valley beneath a multicoloured kite.
They shed their clothes in a sun-dappled glade; explored their bodies.
Naked, Gretl smiled her comely smile.
He opened his eyes.
The duckboards were gone; as was the mud, concealed beneath a multicoloured carpet to a shimmering blue horizon.
Enveloped in a golden haze, above a landscape of golden wheat, Larks rose and fell in a clear blue sky; singing to each other beneath a golden sun.
“ Sah ein knab ein Roselein stehn” rose from men and woman reaping a golden harvest.
The soldier knew at last where he was, where he belonged; his final resting place. He would always be there, beneath those fertile fields.
The mud swallowed his smile; drew him down into its eternal embrace.
“Röslein auf der Heide” (“Rose on the Heath”) is a line from the chorus to the German folksong “Sah ein knab ein Roselein stehn” (“Saw a boy a little rose”) based on the text of a famous poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, written 1771.