There is a stretch of land. You know this stretch of land. You have seen this stretch of land many times. You are looking at it now. It is on the side of a hill; the angle is steep meaning that each step you take as you push forward requires considerable effort as the unceasing force of gravity tries to pull you back down the hill. This stretch of land is territory which is churned up mud, thick and cloying mud which sucks at you, intent on grinding your advance to a halt. You know you need to get across this stretch of land however and you summon up your strength, gird your loins and set off.
The wire set across this stretch of land snags at your clothing, the barbed comments set along this coiled and bundled piece of wire rip into your clothing and you wince as one pierces your skin. You try to lift your leg over this wire as you feel your standing foot sinking into the mud. You hear the rat-a-tat-tat of the vicious volley of bilious bullets which are being shot in your direction. The malice machine gun spewing forth lies and insults which pepper the ground around you, whistling past your head and spraying all around in a scattergun approach. You are used to this but it does not make it any easier because you know this machine gun seems to have a limitless supply of those bullets. In order to avoid being hit you hurl yourself forward, feeling another barb from the wire scratch you through your clothing as you hit the ground with a hard slap. The wind is knocked from your lungs as you are sprawled in the mud, the machine gun still spewing forth its angry accusations. You hear the whistle of some incoming ordnance, perhaps one of those conversational hand-grenades that we love to lob at you from different angles. You cannot see it but you know that it is coming and you clamp your tin hat down on your head, hoping it misses as you try to sink into the mud to evade injury. There is a boom to your right and you brace yourself but the savage shrapnel of untruths misses you this time. You scramble up, cold and damp from the mud that now clings to you, eyes darting left and right in the fashion to which you have become accustomed. Your senses are in overdrive as your hypervigilance increases. You don’t know how long you can keep this up as you look out for a sniper on the ridge who might pick you off with a well-placed shot from his rifle of random repercussions. Your ears strain listening for the sound of another hateful hand-grenade or the caustic chatter of the malevolent machine gun. There is a roaring in your ears. Is it the sound of the blood racing around your body, driven by your thundering heart or is it the bellow of your aggressor? It has become so difficult to discern these days.
You race forward adopting your customary zig zag in order to avoid the attempts to cut you down. You charge, head down, legs pounding the mud, each step seeming to take longer and longer as you feel you are moving in slow motion. The air is alive with the smell of cordite, venom and vitriol. There is a billowing sound off to your right and instinctively you hurl yourself to the ground again, smashing into the mud as you feel the heat overhead as a flaming cloud of fury burns, churning and billowing from the flamethrower wielded by your aggressor. The air is super-heated and you can feel the heat across your neck and back as stay down. You cannot remain here for long though as you know you will be a sitting target for the mortar which will rain down its brutal bombs upon you. You start to crawl, the heat still gripping the air, the bullets pinging and whizzing past you, plopping into the mud as you crawl, breath ragged, lungs burning. You haven’t noticed how much you are shaking since you are too engaged seeking to avoid the volleys being hurled towards you.
The heat has gone and you scramble to your feet as you hear the ack-ack-ack of a larger weapon discharging its abusive ammunition towards you. You realise that there are three of these pieces of onerous ordnance as the enemy is triangulating you in an attempt to bring you down. You head to the left and back to the right as you wonder where your allies are, where have they gone? You can dimly remember that there were others once upon a time who supported you and helped you up this slope, encouraging you and urging you on but their voices have gone. One by one the enemy has picked them off leaving you isolated and alone.
This slope that now threatens to halt you advance was once a beautiful hillside adorned with verdant grass which swayed in the warm, gentle breeze. Flowers festooned it beneath a blazing golden sun as you ran down the slope each day with ease and in such a care-free manner. Your recollection of that time vanishes when you hear the rumbling noise and see the barrel of a tank coming into view. You know what is coming from this terror tank, a salvo of scathing shells, designed to send you flying through the air, dizzy and disorientated. The barrel is swinging around as your tormentor takes aim and with considerable effort you continue your advance. It feels like you are running through hell. The noise, the sudden explosions of furious fire and blinding light against the grim grey sky, the booms, the thuds, the sharp ping of bullets, the whump of the negative energy from bombs, shells and grenades being absorbed by the mud. You are under attack from all sides as you pelt forward and hurdle another set of barbed comments, avoiding being caught on them. You land and see ahead the ridge which signifies the end of this stretch of land. The end of the slope. You just need to reach there and you will be shielded from this assault, out of range and able surely then to rest and muster your strength. You notice for the first time that your teeth are chattering through fear, almost mimicking the chatter of the machine gun nests which are blazing their poison-tipped bullets towards you. The earth groans in protest as a line of bullets slaps into the earth and you take this as your cue to go forward again. You hear the throb of aircraft engine as a pain plane draws near ready to drop some incendiary device on you to have you burn or a fearsome bomb to blast you into smithereens with the force of its vitriol. Your breath is ragged and you can feel your legs shaking, the toll of this advance now exacting itself on your body which has endured so much. Five more steps and then surely you will have reached safety. The roar of battle reaches a crescendo, malicious metal rending the air apart as the aircraft draws closer, the tank twists, the barrel trying to keep pace with you. Four steps. The bullets whizz and another hand grenade explodes behind you. Three steps. There is the whine of a falling bomb which supersedes all the other clamour of battle. Two steps. Your heart is going to explode. One step. Everything is now being launched against you to stop you getting to the ridge. A massive explosion erupts behind you, furious and fearsome as you are hurled through the air, over the ridge and mud-smeared, ragged, bleeding and battered you crash to the ground and roll over, once, twice and a third time.
The world eventually stops wheeling about you. The spinning recedes and the frenzied sounds of battle have become muffled and distant. You hear your own heart still pounding, the sound of your heavy breathing as you mentally check yourself and realise you are intact. Just.
You open your eyes and turn to see where it is you have arrived and that is providing you with some kind of respite. You are in a ditch or perhaps a trench and you can see nothing but two earthen walls either side of you providing you with protection. You have made it. You got through the war zone. You crossed that stretch of land and succeeded. Elation soars through you as you tentatively sit up. Over the ridge to your right is where you have just come from, but what lies to the left. Carefully you peek over the edge of the trench.
There is a slope ahead of you. A stretch of land. You know this stretch of land. You know it well. It is churned mud with machine gun nests lining the sides of the slope as this steep section of land leads up to a ridge.
Yes, you know this stretch of land.