"I had the dream again last night"
"Yup, same dream, just a bit more detail each time"
"Tell me again, if it helps"
"The dream is of Vietnam. I'm with a patrol, walking through dense vegetation. The smells and sounds and colors are now so vivid. They weren't at first, at first it was just an impression, now its like I'm really there. I've woken up sometimes recently slapping the mosquitos off my arm. I'm dressed in army fatigues, with a bandana round my head to catch the sweat out of my eyes. I'm the tail end Charlie; as we turn a corner there is a click under my foot. I know what that means. Like I say, sometimes it doesn't get that far because a mosquito bite wakes me. Last night it got that far. 'Click' "Mine!" I shout, the others dive for cover. I'm stuck. If it's a timer that's me done, if it's waiting for me to lift my foot I have a chance. Then I woke. I want to know! I never see myself of course, I'm the one looking out; and of course it isn't me, it's my father. Whether it was a timer or a pressure switch, it did for him."
His medal was on the mantle piece. Mum was pregnant with him when he died. He had 1 week left of his tour to do. Convinced that this time he'd broken the curse.
The Boer war is grinding down the Afrikaaners as only a huge military machine like Britain's Empire can. Jack Broby is walking with his platoon to the river, at the river they see a beautiful black woman bathing. When she sees them she covers her genitals and makes for the shore. Too late. Even now, when starving the Boers into submission, when their wives and children are herded into camps and die of malnutrition and disease. Even now, abusing an Afrikaan woman would be a major crime. But not a black. The 5 men take their turns and leave her to crawl back in shame to her family's kraal.
The next day an old woman is standing at the gates of the camp, chanting. A cook translates, loosely.
"She say 'All who took her granddaughters sanctity are cursed' She say 'All die' She say 'the chief will never see his child nor his child nor his child'"
"What the fuck does that mean Kimbo?"
He shrugs, he doesn't want to try and explain "That's what she says"
Two days later, in an ambush, the last of the Boer irregulars kill Jack and his platoon. The Boers are hunted down of course; but in England a little three year old boy begins to have awful nightmares.
He is a man walking across an open, rolling, dry, grassy plain with some friends. Out of nowhere – where could they have been hiding? – some men fire into their band and the men begin to fall. There is no cover, the boy can sense the rising panic. Lying flat as possible on this open land they return fire against an enemy they can't see and, one, by one, they are hit. Peter Mulligan (how does he know the name? It just comes to him) is hit in the thigh and then the stomach; as he writhes in pain his head rises briefly and a bullet passes right through his skull. The Boers use hunting rifles that would kill a buffalo, the bullets punch holes through anything. The dreams become more and more realistic as time goes on. His three year old mind can barely describe what he sees in words his mother understands when he wakes in fear and sweat. As time goes on he becomes almost used to them. No treatment, no tincture, no psychotherapy wipes the dream away; though they lessen the frequency.
Now he is alone. All his colleagues are dead and he is straining to see the enemy, straining, hope against hope, to hear some support from the camp arriving. They must have heard the shots. They must have done! He knows he is going to die. He crawls to one of the bodies to gain some cover from Angus, Angus was a big man, even lying flat he would have been clearly visible to all. Five bullets left, he fires randomly, hopefully, panically. He is no hero he is just a city guy who joined up with his friend as a laugh. He wants to be back in London, even with no job and a wife and child that would be better than to die on this sodding veldt. The boy's dream never gets to the final bullet that kills him. When he is older he almost wishes he did. But he is dreaming his father's death and the bullet that killed him was instantaneous.
The boy has grown into a young man. He had tried to join up at 16, but his mother managed to stop him. As the war dragged on he realised it was less of the glorious adventure than he'd hoped, but then balancing that was the sense that it was his duty. His father has died fighting for the honour of his country; he never heard the story of the rape three days before; though in recent years a troubling second dream, a dream of screams and pain had begun to recur. At 18 his mother could resist his insistence no longer and watched, tearful and proud as her only son marched off to war. She put her arm round the girl who, at the last minute, had agreed to be his wife.
Walking the trenches when he first arrived he found it impossible to describe the fearful Armageddon he had descended into. At his side, as he wrote a letter, an arm was clearly visible in the parapet. To remove the body – British? French? German? Belgian? Who could tell? – would have been dangerous and destructive to the trench so it was left. He had been there barely a week, not yet learnt the rules of survival, so when a mortar plopped into the mud nearby he reacted slowly. The explosion blew him down the trench, would have killed him if the foot deep mud hadn't lessened the impact (both of the mortar and of him landing on his back 12 feet further along the rat infested ditch). Broken arm, broken leg, shards of metal in his stomach. Trip to Blighty! His colleagues said he was lucky – to be alive and to get a trip back.
Naturally during the recovery the 'hero' visited his mum, visited his girlfriend, and he and Mary were rapidly married by an understanding vicar. His mother vacated the double bedroom for his old room and pretended not to hear the noises that night. That night a new son was conceived.
Now he was back, reading the letter from his wife, growing bigger by the day, and his mother which contained just a hint of dissatisfaction in the new daughter-in-law. It was to be expected, they hardly knew each other. Perhaps the only thing they had in common was their love for this young man.
The guns opened up, pounding the German lines with hundreds of shells. "Lads, they don't stand a chance. We'll just walk in" said the Colonel. The old hands knew he was wrong, so did he, but what could he say? After the barrage moved forward, the whistle and then they climbed over the top. The soldiers had learnt not to walk (as they had in earlier years), now the aim was to get there quickly and into the trenches, kill the Boche, and most of all survive!
He didn't hear the bullet, didn't realise it was from his own side. As the captain fell, shot through his stomach, to lie painfully on that pockmarked field of mud until a stretcher arrived, his pistol hit the ground still in his hand and fired. The bullet hit the soldier on the spine just below the shoulder blades and he tumbled into a shell hole full of mud. His broken spine stopped his legs working, only one arm functioned and struggled to hold on to the slippery sides. His cries for help were easily overwhelmed by the shells, the screams of the dying, the yells of the attackers. It took 40 long minutes to lose the fight, to lose the strength in that one arm, to slide, slowly, down into the thick mud. Even then, with the first gulp of muddy water, he revived enough to pull himself painfully up an inch, two inches, but the mud had him firmly now and would not release his boots and sodden clothing. It clawed him back and finally only a hand fruitlessly grasping the mud could be seen. Then it was gone. Maybe he would be ploughed up in 20, 40, 50 year, who knows? Another lost soul in a sea of despair.
His son was born 2 months later and named after him. He was an unhappy child, his foetal memory of coming down the birth canal being merged with a dream of drowning in a grey sludge.
.... There is more of this story ...