This story was a submission to our March 2022 Short Story Contest.
The air was filled with sulfur and the smells stung your nose. I had always wanted to see Sturmwalle’s golden seas, their beautiful waves of wheat like a rolling ocean and clouds towering like giants in a line. Alas I bid farewell to the beautiful land and walk home over reddened black dirt, with my rifle and the spirits of my comrades.
One day I will come back to this fair land to see this land in peace, I will see the prairie roses as red dots on a sea of gold, each one to remember their spirits. Why must we fight these wars, to fight a steel man is not honourable, their cold dead eyes of white show no emotion, they kill the weak and injured. To the men of steel there is no option, death or surrender. You must beg the man of steel for your life, to it your soul, your honour, your ancestry is worth less than a soldier molded in a far off land here to fight for a long past royal family.
I pull the photos out, each from the dying hands of friends, of brothers, of fathers, each one asking me to say their final goodbye’s. One by one I will walk the streets of my hometown knocking on doors bringing the worst news one could hear.
Their family will wail out when I tell them of the steel men who took their life as they came and pleaded for me to stay long enough to take their photos and address. Whether I return to my town as ruble, as ashes or even at all, never to war will I go again. The smoke will haunt me, the screams will follow me, I will never be free of this war, the sun will set on this day, we board our ships and head to fight the real men, I pray the sight is no worse than the cold white eyes and the bright red flash of death.
Dark columns rise billowing towards the heavens as whistles blow and boilers chuff. Passing the roads there are tanks and tractors strewn motionless like the corpses of my comrades, their death of starvation rather than war. The dead silence hung dark in the carriage as people handed pictures and final goodbyes to those who lived in the towns of their comrades, joy for those still alive and respects for those passed.
As the harbour neared the cranes and stacks loomed high chaos was everywhere as people rushed. I looked for my ship as dark clouds gathered, the darkness followed us with our burned scares and soulless blank eyes. Many lost hope of returning to their families and lay on the harbourside walls in crutches and bandages, they sit like corpses with dead faces and limp bodies. Their will to push on, gone like their friends and the people they love, many hold pictures of their family and hug the thin wet paper as the last embrace they will ever have. They are treated as the dead, their soul and their happiness gone, their very humanity gone. They are like the men of steel, but these men miss arms, they miss legs. The beautiful photos of their loved ones they hold, but to this world to the people who lead this is but a number on a page, a line on a map.
These common folk, soldiers and farmers and workers and miners, they sit here and they plead why must we fight, why must the steel men come, why must they take our land, our homes and our family. These wars were promised to be over in a year yet some wonder where the love of god goes when the days turn months. The trenches change people you live moment to moment, no time to think, people turn to animals. The shells, the guns, the bright white smile of the mad, screams and shouts of the injured, these things will never leave you, they grip you, they control you.
The blast of a whistle and the waters turn below, I hope never that one has to see this. The wailing and screaming of those left behind, those who soon will sit next to the living dead, them too with their photos held dear and their lives all but suffering and pain. The wind in the wires made a tattletale sound, the witch of the west is hungry. Her bone chilling winds, and tossing waves, they bend your steel behemoth like a willow in the wind. This journey is long and soul is weary may the gods have mercy on us all.