I just found out yesterday that another of my dark fantasy/horror WWI stories, “No Man’s Land,” has been accepted for publication within a new anthology entitled Enter at Your Own Risk: Dreamscapes into Darkness due for release next summer/fall. This story was inspired by our 2012 trip to the fruit growing region of France which is also where the Western Front of WWI was located. This area has many WWI museums, memorials (one in every village, town and city), monuments, cemeteries, and battlefield remains.
At the time we took the picture, John and I had just walked along a logging road in the Argonne Forest, past partially filled in shell holes, to an old trench that cut back into the woods. I figured this was the trench (or at least, like the trench) where my great uncle Harry had crouched before the Meuse-Argonne offensive. The men of his regiment huddled there listening to a six-hour artillery barrage directed at the German lines and with a fair amount of enemy shells also directed at them. Rainy and cold with clay sticking to their boots, clothes, and gear, they waited for H-hour, and at 5:30 a.m. on September 26, 1918, they went “over the top” advancing into No Man’s Land toward the German lines.
Of course, I wanted to explore the old trench, but John hesitated. That was unlike him. Usually he was the one who wanted to explore, but he followed behind me as I climbed over trees, logs, and brambles, all newly grown since 1918. I heard him trip on a root and then stumble on another, but I kept going. The trench was filled with plant debris, the sides were slumped and worn, and it was no longer rectangular and boxlike, but it still seemed easy to maneuver, or so I thought. But after about a couple hundred feet of zigging and zagging, I turned to see John’s legs caught up in brambles, and his face pale with a strange look in his eyes.
“I’ve got to get out of here,” he said, and before waiting for an answer, he turned back the way we’d come.
When we were back on the logging road, he confessed to feeling uneasy, like something was pulling him down. Each step seemed to get harder than the last. I don’t know what it was, but something was definitely going on in that trench, and not time nor trees nor weather had washed it clean.
And that’s where my story begins – a husband and wife exploring France’s abandoned WWI trenches. I think it turned out to be a pretty darn good story, but that’s because I’m lucky to have two loyal first readers, my husband, John, and my good friend and writing buddy for almost fifteen years, Tamra Higgins, who both give me great feedback.
Now for the history lesson. No Man’s Land was the land in between the enemy trench systems. I think this aerial view of the trenches (and No Man’s Land) near Artois, France, 1917 gives an idea of it. But the other photo gives one the feel of it. (Click on each photo for a bigger and better view).