Pieces of Hell – The Bunker (story & critique)

The story

A long slip on a concrete wall casted rays of light over furniture. The rest of the walls were made of porous dirt, roughly shaped with a shovel. Maps, a few steel cups and a teapot for five servings were on a simple wooden table in the middle of the room. A folding wooden chair made company to a small tin stand with three drawers in the corner while one bed was on the other side of the room.

Colonel Darby entered, his uniform not up to standard, he carried the helmet by the rim like a disc. Major Greenfield marched in, wiped his mustaches, and laid his rifle on the desk. He reached for the pot and tried to pour himself a tea. Irritated when nothing came out, he cringed at the dented metal vessel and tossed it to a servant that came after him.

“Be a good chap and makes us some tea. “

The servant cadet nodded and went outside to fetch water.

Colonel brought the chair closer to the table and sat down. He leaned over the counter, supporting his head, he exhaled and looked at the papers before him. Captain Hills came in, smacking his trousers as he approached the table, placed both of his hands on the flat surface, and looked at the men’s faces. Major Greenfield lit a cigarette with no filter and spat the leaves that were caught in his mustaches.

“What arse decided to order the attack without any artillery support?” Captain proclaimed, the Colonel and Major looked at him with a blank expression. “Does this not concern you, lads?” he continued, but they didn’t respond.

“It’s shame, Greenfield, that this letter worries me so much.” Colonel reopened an old story without acknowledging the Captain’s remark.

The Captain looked at the Colonel and realized nobody wanted to have that conversation. He went to bed, laid on the sheets, and crossed his legs in the air.

“From Miss Clare, sir?” Major reshaped his mustaches and puffed smoke through a hiss.

“Ay, from her. Ill news, ill news.” Colonel shook his head. “I can’t do it, Greenfield. It aches me when I think about looking Lieutenant Gladstone in the eye. What would I say to the lad?” Darby searched for an honest answer, yet Greenfield stilled his gaze at the glowing slip behind the Colonel.

“Gladstone? A fine lad, he is. His men praise him as a national hero. A fine lad, indeed.” Captain Hills added from the bed and kept rocking his left foot. “What of him, Colonel?” the room went into silence when the cadet servant brought the tea and continued to fill the cups.

Right after the boy saluted and walked out, the Greenfield proclaimed.

“Miss Clare is a good neighbor to Gladstone’s aged mother. She wrote to Lieutenant that his mother had died in the air raid a week ago. None of us had the heart to tell him.”

“You what?!” Captain jumped from the bed and widened his eyes at both of them. “Outrageous! You need to tell him immediately, sir! That sort of behavior shall not be tolerated in Queen’s army. Send for Gladstone, now.” The Captain roamed the space around the table; Colonel gave him a blank stare and returned to his thoughts.

“We assume the news will crumble his fighting spirit. His unit depends on what he makes of the battlefield. It will devastate the lads he leads.” Major exhaled and took a long whiff from the cigarette.

“You’ve deprived him of the letters every soldier got in a week. Gladstone will surely notice something has happened if he hasn’t already. It is beyond madness, gentlemen, to be selfish like that. He must find out what happened.” Captain took a circle and got back to bed with a cup in hand.

“Why don’t you inform him of the news from home?” Colonel Darby jerked at the Captain.

“Would you like me to do it?” He added with one eyebrow peaking, the Colonel shook his head and sipped the tea.

“I haven’t still decided.”

The long sound of a whistle called them back to the frontlines. There was a clamor of men reaching from the outside when they picked their things and left the bunker.

The ground shook from the enemy artillery shells raining down upon the trench. Two beams fell diagonally, carving the space in two. Like a couple of searchlights, the rays pierced their way through a thin layer of agitated dust.

Colonel Darby walked in, but this time he didn’t have the helmet on him. His uniform was in lousy shape, barathea wool coat gapping, a piece of his beige shirt exposed, trousers stained with mud. Major Greenfield came soon after, his head in bandages, sleeves torn apart, arms bleeding. He had pain in his back and grimaced when he tried to sit on the bed, while Colonel evaded the collapsed construction and sat by the table.

Major grunted while pulling his cigarette case out. Two puffs later, he turned towards the Colonel.

“Have you seen the Captain Hills anywhere, sir? “

“No, I believe I haven’t. I know he took the chaps over the trench and charged at the enemy. I haven’t seen him return with the injured. “

The room was taken by the silence and a series of grenade thuds behind the frontlines. Colonel’s gaze was lost in the distance, thoughts swarming in his head. Major stared at the ceiling, contemplating, and whispered something to himself.

“Damn Jerries hold steady, innit? All I saw was the muzzle flash of their machineguns. Disciplined roaches, indeed.” Major wiped his mustaches and fixed his gaze to the illuminated slit in the wall.

“Gladstone brought all of his men back with him. Zero wounded. I swear; he alone would’ve won the war if all hopes were resting on him.” Colonel commented, and it seemed factual in the tone he used, to which Major nodded.

“Indeed, sir, he just might win it for us.”

Major leaned back and laid his head on the pillow, quietly puffed and grunted when the pain spiked in his back.

The siren went on again, calling the soldiers to stand in line. Soon, the chatter behind the walls amplified, and Colonel helped his friend get up. Both of them walked out the door.

Heavy artillery roared, and the bunker shook vigorously. Teapot and cups fell off the table, one beam broke and smashed the desk in two. More dust rose, and the light dimmed. Rays fought the clouded air to irradiate the bunker’s interior when Major Greenfield entered. A step away from the broken table, he inspected the space and slowly dragged himself towards the bed, where he sat on the edge.

The pain slowed down his moves as he reached for a bloodied letter in his pocket. He reshaped his mustaches looking at the crumpled envelope. Seeing the long slit on the wall, Major exhaled, and returned his eyes to a piece of paper and began reading. With the other hand, he reached for cigarettes and opened the case just to see it was empty. Greenfield then noticed the pot has spilled and created a smear of wet ground. No tea for him. With another gasp, he fetched the lighter from the pocket and proceeded to ignite it. He brought the letter to flames and watched it burn on the floor between his dusty boots.

“No Colonel, no Captain, no Gladstone. Damn, Jerries hold steady.” He said it, almost whispering, the whistle sounded off, and he looked up, cursing the war.

With heaviness in his legs, he stumbled out the door. The clamor of men amplified when a barrage started thundering. The bunker shook, the rest of the beams fell down, and the bunker was no more.

The critique

This story is positioned as a theater performance. Looking at the construction, it appears as a script for a play. First, I laid down the scene. The most prominent thing in the scenery is the slip bunkers have. That is the only source of light. It can represent freedom, liberty, or a way out since the bunker is always in shade and dark. The second thing that comes to view is the walls and the elements a bunker would have. The final thing a play needs are the characters. I choose Englishmen for heroes of the story, all ranking officers in the Queen’s army during the Second World War. I do not know if I nailed the dialect and the way of speaking, but I did my best to make them believable. The setting could be an occupied France or any other neighboring country. I did not specify it since it is not essential for the story. I believe it could take away from the message of the story.

The whole story has three scenes, and all of them happen in the bunker. I divided the scenes so that they stand on their own. I accomplished that by beginning every scene with a bunker description. Every time something new needs to happen, I go back to describe the state the bunker is in, and then I get on with the scene. You probably noticed that in the descriptions of the bunker, the scenery changes along with the stability of the walls. Rather than showing the battle, I brought chaos into the bunker. This deterioration of the bunker represents the stages of the war and mirrors the horrors and suffering the soldiers endure during battles. Along with this representation, I wanted to show the downfall of humanity and hope people have.

The story told through conversation is a gem you should be looking at. Talking about a soldier that never shows, it provides depth to characters in focus. Colonel Darby is a confused officer who tries to estimate what to do with the letter sent to Lieutenant Gladstone. I had to google for English surnames to make it believable. Major Greenfield is someone who follows the rules and commands, not questioning the Colonel’s authority. He decided it is best to keep your head down, mouth shut, and do as told. If someone from the top made a mistake, it would not be for him to question it. He is an obedient soldier. Going one rank down, Captain Hills is a soldier of a younger generation, eager to harvest glory, or at least be heroic. He is a man of action, and he does have a sense of justice. This also makes him a bit hotheaded, temperamental and explosive, but the Colonel and stoic Major are the ones who pacify Captain’s fire. In that sense, Greenfield and Darby are veterans that saw battles and gave up hope. Captain Hills is a youngster that craves to see victory.

Slowly, we see them gone one by one. First, Captain reacted and charged the enemy lines that cost him of his life. He acted upon his beliefs and saw to gain glory, win the war, or at least one battle, and push towards the end of the war. Those who see themselves as heroes might be the first to go down. The second is Colonel, who stopped trying to win and just let everything go by its course. This apathy cost him of his life. One must always keep trying to find a way to fight a good fight and win, or in this story, one must try to survive.

Finally, we get the passing of Lieutenant Gladstone, a person abandoned by luck. It means that no matter how lucky and kind you are, without help and a sound system to provide guidance, everybody fails. When the battle line breaks, everybody on that field is easy pickings. Unity is jeopardized, and now everything crumbles, just like the bunker.

And finally, we get the passing of Major Greenfield as the last one to go down. Those who only follow orders are doomed to be sitting ducks when the system is gone and orders stop to be passed around. His purpose is defeated by the fall of the chain of command, and thus he is the last link to be eliminated.

As a closure, with the collapse of the bunker walls, we get symbolical caving in of the remaining system as we also lose the only light source and get the everlasting darkness. This is the part where curtains fall, only we do not get to see the actors take a bow. In other words, this collapse is a statement that all those ranking officers are somehow buried, dead and that their legacy will not be remembered. It all fades to black, to nothingness.

For what is worth, I found this piece very artistic and finely encapsulated, even if a bunker is a container of sorts. Do you agree?

What do you think about the story?

Until the next time, take care and bye.

– Shawn –

POH bunker cover art

4 thoughts on “Pieces of Hell – The Bunker (story & critique)

  1. Interesting. I haven’t read that much military fiction. The stories I’ve read, so far, were all about the action and suspense and blood and guts. This is the first one I came across, that had poetic, artistic flair.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Most of my stories were written with action and suspense. However, I am always experimenting with the genre and styles. It builds the character and a writer in the same time. It’s interesting to try something new and see what goes and what doesn’t.

      Liked by 1 person

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