Sean lay outstretched on the bed gazing upwards into space. It was one in the morning and this was now the sixth night in a row he had endured without any sleep. His cloudy eyes were as dry as cotton balls, their lids struggling to support what felt like cinder blocks. The room was mostly bare with its white walls and ceiling giving the illusion that it was larger than in reality. The disinfectant chemicals smeared across the wood stained floor emitted a nauseating smell flooding his nostrils.
His insomniac state was beginning to take an effect on his mental well being, too often was he subjected to panic attacks. He believed that the shadows of the décor were moving in around him, their twisted shapes wrapping around the room like strings of barbed wire. His throat felt like it was caught in a rusty vice tightening over time, crushing his vocal chords preventing any cries for help. He was all alone in the silence except for the rhythmic footsteps of the night nurse walking the corridors doing her rounds of the hospital.
It was the sober feeling of isolation that affected Sean the most, after he had been diagnosed with this illness he had no-one to turn to expect Him, the only form of portrayal; a wooden cross above his bed stead. He had never married and was never too close to anyone after the war, afraid of what they may think of him if they found out what he had done during the conflict. His commonly drunken mindset would most likely allow him to divulge descriptions of his regimental life that he would instantly regret in the morning with a swollen head and dry mouth.
Yet looking back on his life now he wished things had been different, wished that he still had time to change, wished he could be forgiven for the horrendous actions buried in his past.
Sean was brought up solely by his father, who was part of the Green Howards regiment, a respected Sergeant and Great War veteran. Inspired by his father’s actions at a young age Sean was overjoyed when his father took him to camp one week, unofficially of course. This was one of his most memorable and enjoyable excursions. The obedience of his father’s regiment was unlike anything Sean had ever seen, marching in single file, repeating “Sir” after every sentence spoken to his father. Sean knew from that day that he wanted to be part of this, to travel to exotic places, meet new people and to be respected.
The strain of the bright light and exhaustion on his eyes was becoming too much to bear and for what felt like only a moment Sean closed his eyes. The light from the overhead lamp sank out of existence and he was transported to thin dark corridor. Not a sound could be heard except from the air escaping from Sean’s lungs. Standing in the night his eyes scanned the room for familiarity and he suddenly realised that he was not alone. The outline of a figure could be seen faintly in the distance, its posture was proud with its arms placed behind its back. A smile crept over Sean’s face at the memory of his beloved father.
“Dad?” he yelled, his voice echoing off the walls around the room.
The figure seeming to respond made its way towards Sean, its footsteps getting louder and louder as it drew closer to reveal itself out from the darkness. To Sean’s shock it was not what he had envisioned. The features he recalled of his dead father, the crew cut blond hair, blue eyes and round nose were all absent and instead stood a man with a blank slate of skin stretched across his face. He was dressed in a coal black suit and tie with a white shirt, his shoes newly polished as if he had almost been expecting him. Sean wanted to yell out for help but no sound could escape his lips, it was a frightening sight to see and one which he immediately tried to avoid. The faceless man slowly extended his pale hand to Sean as an indication to take it.
Sean stood stone dead his arms frozen against his body, terrified of where this unidentifiable being could lead him.
“This cannot be my father” he summarised, after the terrible things he had done in the war he could not even bring himself to look at this ghastly figure standing before him let alone his proud parent.
For a moment Sean thought that this faceless creature would just turn around and go without him, but instead it grabbed at Sean’s wrist with such speed that he had no time to react. Sean attempted to resist as the man began to walk back towards the dark pulling Sean along with him.
“No” cried Sean “Please I don’t want to go, please don’t make me”.
“It’s alright Sean” echoed a woman’s voice that sounded overly familiar “You’re okay”.
Sean shut his eyes tight in an attempt to block out what was going on around him and then the strain on his legs ceased, and the light of the hospital room began to come back into focus. A white figure stood over him and he recognised her instantly as the night nurse holding onto his wrist, checking his vitals, a sympathetic smile drawn across her face.
The corridor from this nightmare brought back memoires of the last mission Sean had been on with his regiment. He and his fellow soldiers had been sent into mainland France to intercept a convoy of German officers. They had explored the countryside for days trying to find their enemy only to come across a large farm. Their sergeant, a green army leader who had seen very little of combat and made it up through the ranks as a training officer ordered them to surround the area as he was convinced that the German officers must be hiding in here. The platoon surrounded the farm and closed in on the main house under cover of darkness despite many protests brought up by a lack of intelligence which were dismissed by their Sergeant. Sean took to the front door and prepared to storm in tossing a grenade in through the front window. The blast knocked Sean back from the house, his ears ringing as the men opened fire on the unsuspecting home. He lay still on the wet grass in front of the farm house in fear of getting struck by gun fire from his own men, his hands clamped over his ears and his eyes shut.
Eventually the firing ceased and the chants of victorious soldiers could be heard singing in the night air. Sean picked himself up and stared into the wound the explosion had made in the front of the house. Furniture had been shattered into pieces and blood was strewn across the walls.
“Bray, Cooper, get inside and finish off any survivors” the Sergeant yelled, a big grin smeared across his face at thought of receiving a shiny new medal for bravery.
Sean stepped through the front door and preceded down the dark corridor, all the lamps had been shattered from the explosion making it hard to tell where to stand to keep a sure footing. He could hear faint cries coming from the main room adjacent to where the grenade had been thrown in. As he opened what was left of the door he saw the scattered bodies of women and children, which looked as though they had been tossed across the room. Their arms and legs twisted into obscure positions, their eyes were all open and seemed to be looking straight a Sean, blaming him for what had been done to them.
“Oh my god” Sean mouthed, trying to hold back the need to throw up.
He searched the room trying to find the source of the cries, lifting some of the fallen debris off the floor he found a small child and woman squirming in agony like flies missing their wings, their faces were drenched in red rain, fragments of wood and brick fused to their skin like scabs.
“Sergeant” the other solider yelled “Sergeant, get in here”.
The Sergeant came in at once and saw the massacre before him, the grin disappearing from his face as his brain shifted gears from success to panic.
“Medic, get the medic in hear, we have two survivors” Sean yelled out.
“You are going to be okay, you hear me, just lay still” he whispered to the poor souls hoping to comfort them.
Sean couldn’t take in what was happening, it all began play out in slow motion, the medic charging in trying to help the mother and daughter, the Sergeant stood still in the middle the room shaking, soldiers pointing and yelling at one another then at the Sergeant then at each other again. He couldn’t move.
The need to sleep now was overwhelming and Sean knew he wouldn’t last must longer in this world. He closed his eyes and again was taken to that dark corridor, back to the unnerving silence. Opposite him stood two people, a young girl and holding her hand was a tall woman. Sean recognised them instantly as the two he had seen at the Farmhouse. He began to breakdown inside and tears filled up around his eyes, the salty rivers of despair running down his cheeks.
“I’m sorry” he cried as his legs collapsed under him, “Please forgive me”.
The two outstretched their free hands to Sean and helped him to his feet, the tears still running down his face.
“Come with us” the infant whispered in his ear.
He was finally ready to follow, the feeling of guilt and shame that he had carried with him since that night at the farmhouse began to ease. He was at long last able to apologies for what he had done to those people. His last moments were the happiest he had been for an age.