“Okay, I want you to imagine this,” grey armchair, cooling living room.
“This was quite west of all the plains, it was very flat in some parts, incredibly ravenous in others. I suppose we were lucky it was there we had our first test, tha region doesn’t tolerate bad weather or disease, you see.
“I can still remember the echoes of the ratchets and spanners assembling the artillery, the drills securing them into the earth, I remember the indifferent steel sky, that charming blue orb turning a blind eye to our new sins. The first half day we worked like ants. The farmers dug trenches, engineers readied teams of men into armoured cars and we kicked up so much dust we almost turned the whole ravine into a storm. The earth is so hard and dry there, men and women would collapse under the heat, and some of us began to worry whether we’d run out of water sooner than we’d thought.
“The next two days we waited. The entire division, primed and morbidly nervous, waited. We slept with our rifles strapped tightly to our legs, officers enjoyed almost no sleep tented on the cliff-face. Were they coming? While we stewed in the desert, would they launch elsewhere?
“Voices from the cliffs confirmed fears, and dispelled others. There, lumbering through the sands beyond our hard field was their machine. It was brown. A putrid brown churning black columns of death at our army. Sirens. Not ours. A wailing scream carried through the air and suddenly the beast was alive.
“It began to turn - it was already turning - I mean to say, it was never coming directly for us. Along its decks were giant barrels and sentries of people, the men in the trenches just before the third armoured car regiment began to writhe in pain at the horrid sound of the metal screaming for mercy as the barrels turned to greet us. We were all petrified, we felt defeated at once. I remember checking over my shoulder to see my friend drop his rifle in despair.
“A man came sliding down the cliff face, desert goggles on, and face strapped up like the locals during harvest - I don’t know how he survived the tumble - but when he reached the floor of the dust-bowl he came running. Good gosh that man ran. He bolted straight to the first armoured regiment he could reach and with an enigmatic flailing of limbs he started their engines and sent them toward the enemy. Within minutes the cliffs exploded with fire and flames, dispensed shells careening down the slope.
“We were ordered to fasten our goggles to our eyes, and watch the skies, and wait for the signal. By this time all the tanks had mobilised and were tearing towards the brown flaky beast. But it wasn’t all tea and biscuits. We’d stalled for just a fraction of a minute, and now we were going to learn the consequences of such a mistake.
“Our target erupted in a blizzard of pitch smoke, and seconds later the screaming siren was drowned out by second ear-splitting shrill. The cliff-face to our left shuddered angrily, releasing a hail of rocks and sand upon all those in the trenches, ultimately leaving us unharmed, but what seemed to be half the artillery division slaughtered. We just couldn’t contain ourselves - the butchers! The cowardly devils! They had the nerve to assault our army from afar! What irritated the men in the trenches most was the smoke the enemy was now doused in, sharpshooters couldn’t spot anything, let alone those tented above.
“A gale-force wind seemed to rudely peel the veil from our enemy, and we were once more met with a wailing eruption, this time far short of the trenches. The brown castle was hidden once again, met with no return fire from our own cannons - how could they see? Each time the smoke cleared, the beast had moved too far left, right, forward - they could not tell.
“The armoured vehicles arrived before the castle managed the adjust its guns to the right cliff. The revolting black curtain had been thrust open, and we gazed upon a fierce distant firefight. Chain guns and sized cannons fixed to the vehicles let loose on the sentries and hull; We could see the muzzles of their incredible weapons flash even from six miles. The artillery on the left cliff thundered - we watched the shells fall through the sky, holding our breath - and witnessed a corresponding clap on our enemy. Most had overshot them, but two shells succeeded in blowing out the upper decks of the ship’s reverse side.
“The back trenches were then blown out, I think. That two-toned harmony cleared out our best scouts right after we were ordered up and over. Red lights in the skies behind the wispy clouds meant a rude surprise for our friends in their brown castle. We walked at first. We walked about three miles - and we were going to walk another two, but the battle met us halfway. The brown ship had listed to its left, towards the ravine, taking the fight with it.
“Men scattered everywhere, women belted, tanks and cross-fire zigzagged like sand from a trodden ant-hill. I distinctly remember feeling like an ant - don’t laugh! We were almost stepped on too, you insolent little shit! Out of the sky fell fire and smoke, more bloody smoke, I hate smoke more than anything. Zeppelins miles up high in the clouds showered the battlefield with charges - with frightful accuracy as well, mind you - they succeeded in shattering the entire upper deck, letting the most grievous groan out of the rusted vessel, and voices of people from within… But never mind that -
I suddenly lost the will to write.