Voices, 1914


The vehicle stood abandoned in the middle of the road.

The wires were still connected to the French machine, and it took us several minutes to realize it was a field wireless. None of my squad had used a wireless before, let alone seen one out in the field.

We were, I confess, fascinated by it.

I was standing post while the others peered at it and prodded it. As I stood there, a faint humming sound filled the air. It was a strange noise, high pitched and reminiscent of a dog’s sick whine.

It caused me to turn toward the machine.

My squadmates had noticed the sound as well, and they were backing away from it. As one, we raised our weapons up and aimed them at the vehicle.

I bade them back up, and they did so, and with some regret, I slung my rifle and approached the wireless warily. The closer I drew to the wires, the louder the whining became. By the time I reached the open door, my head was pounding, my stomach churning.

I read the labels as quickly as I could, and I saw one that looked as though it might turn the entire system off. But as I stretched my hand out to it, I stopped.

I could hear words in the whines.

I took hold of another dial and turned it up.

Agonized shrieks filled the air and caused me to sink to my knees. Interwoven among the exclamations of pain was the sound of weeping, that and of men begging in French.

Begging to be killed.

I pushed myself to my feet, staggered forward and turned the volume back down before vomiting off to the side. A glance at my squad showed me that they had understood the voices.

I gathered up the mills bombs we had and stuffed all but one of them into the vehicle.

With the harsh buzzing of the wires around us, we took refuge behind a barrier, and I threw the last bomb.

The explosion sent pieces of the field wireless spinning into the air, but when they landed, and our ears no longer rang from the concussion, there was silence.

Those who had been trapped in the machine were free, but I did not know who had imprisoned them.

With my squad morose and mute around me, we continued our patrol.

The war had other horrors for us still.

Published by

Nicholas Efstathiou

Husband, father, and writer.

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