Cade Mello, 1917

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He didn’t want to stay down.

I’ve buried more than a few friends in this war, and too many men in my unit have died as well.

Cade Mello was one of them.

We were in the process of being relieved, and the Germans had somehow found out about it. They bid us a fond adieu with a barrage from some trench mortars, and several of our squad didn’t make it out of the lines.

Two of the men were killed outright. A third, and Cade too, suffered from mortal wounds. The third man succumbed within moments.

But not Cade.

He held on out of pure spite. His legs had been taken off at the knees, and he sat with his back against the trench wall, glaring at the sky. Some of the medics put tourniquets on his legs, but it was no use, and Cade knew it. I passed him a flask of good whiskey, and he drank his fill. When he finished, I lit him a cigarette, and he smoked it with the calm of a man who believes he has the whole day ahead of him.

Cade died with that cigarette between his lips.

We carried our dead back with us, and we put them in their graves.

Over the next few hours, we were deloused, fed, and given fresh uniforms. We were due to have fresh replacements as well as a few who were returning from hospital, and so we spent a fair portion of the night drinking and minding our own business.

It was close to midnight when Cade dragged himself into the tent, and I was the only one still awake.

He was covered in dirt and filth, and he was undeniably dead.

Cade sat down beside me, and I passed him my whiskey. When he finished it, he motioned for a cigarette.

When he finished the smoke, he drained the flask and passed it back to me. He glanced at our sleeping squadmates.

“You won’t tell them I was here?” he asked in a low groan.

“No. Staying longer?”

Cade shook his head. “No. I was told I didn’t have much time. Give us another cigarette, Blood, and I’ll crawl back to my hole.”

I nodded, lit a fresh cigarette and passed it to him. He gave a grunt of thanks, and with the cigarette between his lips, he dragged himself out of the tent.

I was sad to see him go and sadder still that he’d finished my whiskey.

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Nicholas Efstathiou

Husband, father, and writer.

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