Okay, so it’s not technically original. In fact it is a patchwork quilt of a story, pieced together of quotations. But I’m dashed if I’ll file it as a fanfiction! Of Wilfred Owen I am not a fan.
“Hallo, chum. Got a moment?” A bluff, cheery, red-faced bear of a man, burling into the peaceful white room. Louder by far than his tweed suit, the visitor’s voice crashed about, shattering the stillness of the precious quarter-hour after breakfast like a bullet shattering bone.
“Yes,” the poet replied. “Several moments.” There was a boy as well, he noted absently. Supple fingers tugging shyly at the thickness of his curls, the boy bared white milk-teeth, teeth made for laughing and crunching apples, in a sheepish grin.
Curtly, “Sit on the bed, Boy,” the poet rapped. Anything to get the child to stop disturbing those live specks of dust turning in the sun-shaft from the window.
“Were you in France?” the boy asked eventually. The poet could almost hear his heart, hot-beating like a bird’s, ardently hoping for tales of proud fighters, worthy Victory. “What’s it like?”
Glancing at the boy’s father where he stood with a smile on his fat lips, the poet asked drily, “May I tell him?” He was smiling himself, he could feel it, a smile faint as a waning myth.
“Yes, all right, all right.”
As he gazed at the boy’s eager eyes, the poet considered what, exactly, to tell.
“It was at Beaumont Hamel,” he began slowly. “A sad land, grey, cratered like the moon. We had been there – I don’t know how long. Cramped in that funneled hole long enough that their eyes grew old with wincing every time a bullet missed a brain. Boys scarcely older than you turned into old beggars bent double, huddled for warmth, fighting forlornly.”
The child closed his eyes, dreaming of all the valiant.
The poet went on, “Marching back to the town, many had lost their boots, but limped on. Men whose minds Death had ravished.” His voice trailed off, mourning the undone years, the hopelessness. Happy were men whom no compassion fleered, who ceased feeling even for themselves. Happy this lad whose mind was never trained to war – then, what business had he in telling horrors?
“My friend…” the poet reached up convulsively for the man’s sleeve, his fingers fidgeting on the rough tweed. “For the love of God, don’t tell the boy that old lie.” Wild with all regrets, his own voice sounded loud in his ears. “Don’t tell him the lie that… dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.”