Playtime

Trying something new. We’ll see where it goes.

SCENE—A deep, muddy trench beneath a gray sky. Barbed wire curls along its lip. We can see no further than a few feet in either direction, owing to the overwhelming gloom. Everything glistens slightly with moisture and rot. In the midst of this stygian tableau crouch two SOLDIERS, mired up to their shins in muck. They lean on their rifle butts, visibly exhausted.

SOLDIER ONE—D’you ever dream, Saunders?

SOLDIER TWO stiffens and sits up a little straighter. Caked in filth the two are almost identical, but there are a few differences: SOLDIER TWO has scraped as much of the mud from his face as he can and is either clean-shaven or too young to have any sort of real beard, unlike his companion. His helmet is unwisely in his hands rather than on his head for the moment. He turns it over and over as he considers the question.

SOLDIER TWO—I’d sure like to.That would mean I felt safe enough down here to get any kind of shuteye at all. All the waking and sleeping is getting kinda … muddled up in my head, if you take my meaning. Before Mess yesterday I looked about and there was a rat the size of donkey pulling straight for me, barreling down the trench like his tail was lit on fire. Went up like smoke before he could reach my throat, but boy! For a moment or two there I thought I’d just about had it!

SOLDIER ONE—Mmm. Fair chance that wasn’t a dream, kiddo. I’ve seen ‘em big as alsatians. Remember the one Jenkins stabbed to death last February? Thing had to weigh sixty pounds, easy. I’d say you probably just got lucky and the big bastard spooked and changed his mind before tackling you. Easier pickings around here than a living man.

SOLDIER TWO—You’re right, of course.

SOLDIER ONE: Damn right I am. (He smugly tries to light a cigarette that refuses to catch).

SOLDIER TWO: I just keep thinking about what it was screaming at me. You ever heard of something called the Plague Brigade?

SOLDIER ONE stops swearing and fussing at his smoldering cigarette.

SOLDIER TWO— (thoughtfully, more to himself than SOLDIER ONE) It sounded like it was speaking Nightmare, but it all happened so fast I couldn’t be sure. And why in heaven’s name did it have the head of Ma’s favorite china doll?

SOLDIER ONE has now turned completely around and is staring at SOLDIER TWO with open worry, cigarette dangling forgotten from his lip. SOLDIER TWO stares back levelly.

SOLDIER ONE: You, uh. You told anyone else about this rat, lad?

SOLDIER TWO: Nope.

SOLDIER ONE: Good. For pity’s sake, don’t!