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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: End (02/13/06)

TITLE: The Old Lie
By Corinne Smelker


The Old Lie

This had to be rain, unless rivers had taken to flowing vertically. A cold, steady, stinging rain common to this region in November. Wilfred sighed and ducked back into the makeshift shelter in the manmade ditches. Gaukroger looked up at the damp figure and smiled gently. “No good looking out old chap. It never changes.”
“I know, “ Wilfred muttered mournfully. He edged past Second Lieutenant Gaukroger to his bunk, and hauled out the journal he wrote daily. The oil lamp cast a mellow glow over the rotted wood, and caught Gaukroger’s face in repose. A young man, barely 20, Gaukroger had surprisingly become Wilfred’s friend although they were the exact opposite in so many ways.

From the confines of the earth’s womb, the rain could not drown out the noise of the artillery, and the sudden screams of agony from men. Wilfred wondered whether he would ever get used to the noise, and then wondered what he would do if he did. If you become inured to a man’s death, do you lose your humanity? He reflected that three years earlier those kinds of thoughts would never have plagued him.

“GAS!! GAS! Quick lads!” The yells erupted right outside the bunker and Wilfred lunged for his mask, grabbing it just as the poisonous, noxious fumes seeped silently into the confines of the bunker. He fitted it over his head, hardly daring to breathe. It was then that he noticed Gaukroger still casting about for his. “It was right here!” he gasped, knocking the lamp over in his frantic search for all that stood between he and death.

Tendrils of gas trailed over the battered wood desk, seemingly to viciously, relentlessly and deliberately seek out the weak and the unprepared. Gaukroger suddenly plunged at Wilfred, guttering, choking and almost drowning in the toxin. Wilfred watched in horror as Gaukroger collapsed at his feet, clawing at his mouth, and gasping for air poisoned as it was. His eyes rolled back in his head, and writhed in his face, tracking nothing, but constantly moving. Wilfred, almost too scared to move, reached down and grabbed him, flinging him over his shoulder, ignoring the pain as he took his friend’s weight. He tottered to the door and looked up and out, immediately drenched in the freezing relentless rain. In his ear he could hear the gargling of froth-corrupted lungs as Gaukroger battled to draw his next breath.
“Help me!” Wilfred screamed into the thick green night air. No one answered, and out of the rain-induced fog and mist emerged screaming, yelling aliens – gas-masked young men running for their lives, agile as gazelles on this field of death.

The shuddering of rasping lungs seeking life slowly halted even as Wilfred clambered out of the bunker. Falling to his knees he laid his comrade down tenderly, face to the rain, now cleansing Gaukroger’s blood-frothed mouth.
“No, no, no!” Wilfred mourned in the mud and like a mother comforting a child, took Gaukroger and cradled him in his arms, ignoring the carnage that surrounded him, the scores of other young men who had met the same fate as Gaukroger.

The rain finally won its battle against the earth and broke into the bunker, drumming down on Wilfred’s journal, pounding the words of the poem he had been writing:

Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori*

* Sweet and fitting it is
to die for one's country.

Wilfred Owen was one of the foremost and noted poets of WWI. His friend Gaukroger died before his eyes at the battle of Somme. Tragically on November 4th 1918, seven days before the end of WWI, Owen was killed in France on the battlefield.

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This article has been read 1126 times
Member Comments
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Phyllis Inniss02/21/06
To die for one's country is brave indeed. To try to save the life of a friend is a show of God's love in action. Well written.
Anita Neuman02/21/06
I think these men would be pleased with your interpretation of the account. You've honoured them with this story. One small correction: "between he and death" - should be "him and death". Other than that, great job!
Crista Darr02/21/06
An amazing story written with excellence.
Lynda Schultz 02/24/06
I read this piece earlier this week, but made no comment. It is an excellent piece of writing, and I am sorry I was so slow at seeing the irony in it. The title connects to the last line and tells the whole tale. Nothing "sweet and fitting" about being gassed to death in war, or noble in being the instrument of someone else's death.
Jan Ackerson 02/24/06
Good writing--you put us right there in the action.

Maybe it's just my computer, but you did something with the formatting that made this piece not fit on the screen; I had to scroll back and forth on every line. Maybe that's why you've not gotten so many comments?

Anyway, the irnoy was definitely there--your title is especially fitting. Nicely done.
Corinne Smelker 02/24/06
Hmmm, Jan - I don't know about the formatting, I thought it was just my browser! I didn't do anything different this time round, except centering the title, and that might have expanded the margins.

Thanks to all who have commented so far!
Linda Watson Owen02/24/06
The effect you've so skillfully woven by setting the idealistic poem in stark contrast to the heartrending, mud and bloodsoaked death of Wilfred's friend is jarring and unforgetable. This piece is beautifully dark, so masterfully written!
Andre Kingston02/24/06

You are correct, you did not make the irony quite as clear as you had hoped. If you had repeated the title in near the end somehow, it would have made it more obvious.

Otherwise, this is very well written. I cried the two heroes of the story.

Good job.
Maxx .02/24/06
This was a nice story... nice as in well written. You captured the horror of war. I'm not sure of the irony you were seeking being strong enough. The story was so strong between the title and the ending that it was easily missed.
Corinne Smelker 02/25/06
AAARGH - thanks Maxx, and the 'irony' is the actual line from the poem is:

The old lie: Dulce Et Decorum est...

So all I needed to do to tie in my irony was add those 3 words, and it would have made all the difference.
Julianne Jones02/28/06
Perhaps because I studied some of the poetry written during WW1, I was struck by the irony as soon as I read the last lines. Agreed, it is overshadowed by the story, but it is there to be found nonetheless. I also found it ironic that he was worried about saving one man when all around him others were dying. This was a sad tale that was well-written. Well done.