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Katrina Trask: After the Battle


Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

American writers on peace and against war

Women writers on peace and war

Katrina Trask: Selections on war and peace


Katrina Trask
From Free Not Bound

After the Battle

The fiendish work had waxed since daybreak. Upon the fragrant, blossoming earth had passed the drama of a seething hell; shot had laid waste the fields; a pall of smoke, grim and grey, had eclipsed the sunshine. Blood and powder had changed the wild flowers, fresh at dawn, into a stained and blackened mass. The shrill death cries of horses, human groans of the dying, and loud appeals to God had rent the air. Men made in the image of their Maker had been trampled into dust. Now, the long shadows of dusk were falling; the battle was over; the day was won.

David Dearford was crossing the battle-field; triumphant joy marked the remembrance and the foretoken of the victory. But he recoiled with a shudder as he stood still and gazed upon the hideous horror in its ghastly details: charred garments, broken weapons, human fragments, dead and dying, awful in the gathering gloom.

“God! I am thirsty,” said a thick voice at David’s feet.

David stooped over a mangled human mass. From his canteen he poured some water into the hollow of his hand, and put it to the lips of one who, an hour before, had been an enemy. Who dares now call him enemy, who is going to a common God?

“What may I do for you, my friend?” said David.

“You have killed me; that’s sufficient, thank you,” replied the thick voice, laconically.

“I killed you? Don’t say that!”

“Don’t say what? Don’t speak the truth? I tell you, things look vastly different when you come to die. You are just one human soul going into the dark alone, and all the ideas and make believes of other men drop away from you just as the men themselves – my comrades – ran off and left me here to die. O God! I thought I was an atheist, but I’m not.”

David again stooped toward him, heavy of heart, but the dying man waved him off.

“Go! Go! You killed me, and I wasn’t ready to die.”

“Oh, don’t say I killed you!” David reiterated in a strained tone.

“Well, maybe you didn’t actually do it, but you did it all the same, and you’ll have to answer for it. You ‘ll see that, too, when you come to die. It is awful to die! Can you pray?”

David uncovered his head; he tried to pray; his own words seemed so piteously inadequate, he repeated the Lord’s Prayer.

“What a world of liars!” the dying man said hoarsely. “Millions of persons praying every day ‘Thy kingdom come on earth’ while they are doing everything they can to help on the kingdom of the Devil. Just look at this field! God forgive me my part in it – forgive me – as – I – forgive those who -” speech failed him, but he held out his hand to David.

Then came that ominous sound. David saw the end was near; he bathed the damp forehead, moistened the purple lips, and stood watching the battle in which he could take no part – the battle between flesh and spirit. When it was over, and the spirit had outsoared the flesh, David went back to camp….

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