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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: The Writer's Challenge (NOT the FaithWriters Challenge) (06/10/10)

TITLE: No Man's Land
By Ann Grover


The light fades.

Carefully, I cache my pencil inside my shirt, for I’ll never find it in the quagmire sucking at my boots. It is quiet, and a few of the other boys have gathered in a dry stretch of trench. I follow the glow of their cigarettes and soft murmurs.

“‘Allo, Jack, pull up a chair.” They make room for me.

“Done scribblin’ for the day?” asks George. “Did yer write down how many we picked off?”

“You mean the lice we picked off, George?” The boys laugh. It is true, I keep track of the vermin infesting our trench as accurately as I document enemy casualties. I am compelled to capture the passion and fierceness of every moment, word by word, thought by thought.

A barrage of shelling sets the twilight sky ablaze. We shoulder our rifles and open fire across the swathe of cratered ground and twisted barb wire. The bombardment does not last long, but it’s time enough for Billy to take a bullet in the head and for Jimmy’s chest to spew us with splintered bone and blood.

“For the love of God,” gasps George. It’s a declaration, a prayer, a challenge, and there is no answer. We shift our dead comrades to the end of the trench, where they’ll be safe.

My heart still echoes the abated artillery fire. We reload our rifles. Blood is stiffening on my face, but I wear it like a token of tribute, a wordless eulogy.

Come morning, we pass through a burned village. Houses are still smoldering, and here and there a stray flame licks a timber or tattered blanket. My eyes burn.

At lunchtime, I write quickly between bites of moldy bread and bully beef.

An elderly couple push a wicker baby pram, but there is no baby, only a teapot, a yellowing photo, and an ancient Bible swaddled within. Old men lurch like broken-down gates; the women droop like empty sacking.

“Jack, look alive.”

An enemy plane swoops down and strafes the field where we huddle, churning up soil and sod. More planes follow, and we run toward the creek, to shelter under the trees along the bank.

“Oh, God.” George clutches his belly, and an appalling amount of blood flows between his fingers. “Are yer writin’ this one down, Jackie boy?” I hold his head in my lap, thinking to ease his breathing, but then George is still, remnants of his smile still lingering as he stares into the stinking haze.

“Let’s get out of here, men.”

We hunker down for the night on an abandoned farm. I spare an inch of my stubby candle and write feverishly, trying to keep pace with the surging images hurtling behind my eyes.

Whose war is it? Does it belong to the thin, begrimed children sucking their dirty fingers? Is there any future for the silent bundles held so tightly against hollow breasts? Is it a war of principles, of property, of power?

The land is broken.

The people are broken.

As we walk past them, there is no shadow of accusation in their empty eyes.

They care nothing for a faraway archduke or for the catastrophe foisted upon them and us. A few potatoes, a scrawny chicken, and some cheese is all they desire. They’ve become an insignificant expenditure, common people jettisoned by the ambitions and aspirations of others.

I see a doll lying in the scorched grass, legs burned away, tufts of grubby stuffing escaping, its dress tattered and smeared. The face is cracked, its painted smile contorted into a sooty, grotesque grin. Just like George. Billy. Jimmy.

I had hoped to write of nights spent around campfires with my valiant comrades, sharing cigarettes and accounts of bravery, and of days bounding over enemy territory, calmly eliminating faceless adversaries.

How pleased we had been, even jubilant, marching jauntily into the maw of death. We did not know, could not know, that the war to end all wars would persist past the first Christmas, that hope would rot in the foxholes, and despair would seep into our souls like trench water oozing into our worn boots.

I struggle. I am tested. How do I reconcile myself to proclaiming honesty with my earnest pencil, and then allowing my selfsame fingers, treacherous and duplicitous, to squeeze the trigger of my rifle, killing the fathers and brothers of homeless children?

We are all acquainted with the savage truth. We are no more innocent.

My words blur.

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This article has been read 5077 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Ruth Clowater06/19/10
stanley Bednarz06/19/10
Riveting portrayal of a writer in the midst of chaos and blood.Indeed to be init, life through it, and then write about. All a challenge beyond a facade.
Joanne Sher 06/20/10
Incredibly powerful and real and raw. Just wow. Engaged from beginning to end.

I wonder if I know who wrote this. :D

Catrina Bradley 06/20/10
I'm literally breathless with emotion. Wow. Stunning.
Colin Swann06/21/10
Great writing and a gripping story. Thanks - Colin.
Connie Dixon06/21/10
Your details and descriptions left me breathless. Great writing!
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 06/21/10
This is a brilliant piece. Once again I find tears trickling down my face. Your writing is so vivid in details it seems you must have experienced war first-hand.

I stay sheltered in my little shell, terrified of what the world may be coming to, but you have given me a jolt.

I pray your words are just a result of excellent research and a vivid imagination. I wish that statement could be true for every person on earth. But the truth is somewhere in the world right now a scene similar to yours is playing out in real life.

Thank you for sharing and reminding me to pray for those touched by war.
Verna Cole Mitchell 06/21/10
Your vivid descriptions are so real. What a gift you have.
Debbie Roome 06/21/10
Awesome writing. I felt like I was right there with him.
Sarah Elisabeth 06/21/10

It's all been said.
mick dawson06/21/10
This is the most vivid account of the first world war I've ever read and the title was perfect!
Carol Slider 06/23/10
What an amazing and powerful story! I felt that I was right in the heart of World War I, that horrifying, world-altering period of history that so many have forgotten. Masterful, heart-rending writing from beginning to end--exceptional!
Beth LaBuff 06/24/10
Congratulations, Ann! This is extremely gripping and graphic, placing the reader in the trench. Amazing!
Gerald Shuler 06/24/10
Wow. That is the first time I've ever used that word in a yellow box comment, but... WOW! You definately deserve your EC. Powerful writing, without a doubt.
Nancy Sullivan 06/24/10
Such a powerful piece. A vivid description of why "War is Hell". God Bless and congratulations on your EC. Nancy
Patricia Turner06/24/10
Powerful; wrenching and excruciating in every detail. Congratulations; indeed, well deserved!
Kimberly Russell06/24/10
Wonderfully done. Gripping drama that held me spellbound. Well deserved first place. Congrats.
Margaret Kearley 07/01/10
This is absolutely stunning, heartbreaking, real, intense and amazing. May I be the first to congratulate you on your so well deserved BoB win?
Joanne Sher 07/01/10
I am SO thrilled for you, Ann. Incredibly so. This is an amazing piece, and is so fitting for the BOB. Because, my friend, you have an amazing talent from the Lord. Congratulations.
Connie Dixon07/01/10
Wow, second time through this and it is even more beautiful and amazing than the first. Congratulations!
Joan Campbell07/01/10
Ann - congratulations on 1st place BOB. Totally deserving, beautifully written and very moving!
Catrina Bradley 07/01/10
I'm not at all surprised that "No Man's Land" won Best of the Best - CONGRATULATIONS ANN!!
Beth LaBuff 07/01/10
Ann, Congratulations on receiveing Best of the Best with this superb story! You are amazing!
Benjamin Graber07/01/10
Wow. Powerful, gripping story. Congratulations on winning BOB - you deserved it!
Seema Bagai 07/01/10
Congrats on being awarded BoB for this piece. Forget tatting. Stick to writing. :-)
Theresa Santy 07/01/10
Congratulations on your well-deserved 1st place BOB. What an amazing piece: light humor, passion, poetic prose, depth. I loved it.
Rachel Phelps07/01/10
Ann, this is an incredible story. I'm so glad it won! Congratulations!
Charla Diehl 07/02/10
Congratulations on your first place win and the BoB award. This grabbed me. The raw emotions and vivid descriptions throughout this piece bring this story alive. And as we celebrate our July 4th Independence Day, it is so relevant still. Freedom is not free--your story targets this fact. God has blessed you with a marvelous gift.
Patsy Hallum07/02/10
Congratulations! You wrote this piece with such feeling, it couldn't help but win Best of the Best.
Mona Purvis07/03/10
Ann, as I read this I struggle to keep my eyes dry enough to write. How fitting this tribute to real war here at July 4th.
Your characters became so real and I ache with them and for them. Your writing is as top-notch as it gets and I feel blessed to have experienced it in this piece.
As A+ as it can be.
You moved me...and I won't forget this soon.

Genia Gilbert07/03/10
Excellent! Well deserved BOB award. My awe and congratulations.
Fredrick Nicholson07/13/10
Wow! I wanted to come up with another word to use, but "Wow" says it all. Exquisite imagery. You write I I want to when I grow up! Congratulations!
Karen Ward07/13/10
Inspired Ann, a well deserved BoB win! "Wow" came to my mind too, but I'd hate to be repetetive, so I won't mention that... ;)
Carol Penhorwood 07/14/10
What a heart twister and a question for the ages...

You got to the heart of it all! Congratulations on the Best of the Best!
Flora Sawyer07/15/10
Am reading this late, Anne, but and all I can say is, "What a writer!" - I aspire to that that kind of writing, especially in the creative non-fiction field. I trust you are NOW bravely launching out into that greater world of serious published writers, as you have no reason to fear that you cannot compete!

God bless your writing -

Eliza Evans 08/10/10
I finally had a chance to sit down and read this.

And now I am speechless.

Absolutely stunning.

Such an honor to read.

I know it's not (because I have tried it!) but you make writing seem effortless.

Heartfelt congratulations, Ann!

Such a well deserved first place. Wear your crown proudly! :)
William Beatty11/05/10
"We shoulder our rifles and open fire..." This would be difficult with the weapons on one's shoulders. Shouldering means to place the weapon the shoulder with the rifle's sling. Otherwise, good piece.
Verna Cole Mitchell 12/02/10
Highest congratulations, Ann, for BOB for this awesome piece--truly well deserving.
Rosemarie Thompson01/06/11
Incredible piece! I love the descriptions and the emotion of it. So real and moving. Definitely worth the award!Congratulations!
Adele Butler01/06/11
Hi Ann,

I just read your article. Very riveting. Very vivid. The characters came to life and war became a harsh and ugly reality. As I read the article I felt the pain of the characters as they watched their comrades fall. This account has deepened my appreciation for the brave soldiers who lost their lives in battle.

Congratulations on your win. It was well deserved.

Kathleen Langridge02/11/11
You took us there evoking, enraging even engulfing us in the depths and horror of World War I. I read your article before I knew your identity. But I sensed a woman had written it because it held nothing back. I want to be you when I grow up as a writer.
Micki Todd04/07/11
A gripping story. It grabbed me immediately. Congratulations!
Jim Moyer04/18/11
As a Vietnam combat veteran I can tell you have never been in combat nor do you understand it. You have no idea what you are writing about. Sorry to be so blunt, but I could not let it go without comment.
Coleene VanTilburg 05/20/11
As an aspiring writer...I have a very long way to go as I read this piece. You have perfected this gift God has bestowed. Congratulations.