There were whispers in the trench as night descended.
"They say we go over at midnight," said George as he licked a new cigarette closed and stuck it in the space where one of his front teeth used to be.
"Who's this 'they' then?" asked Billy. George shrugged and lit up. "No one ever says who 'they' is."
"I o'er 'eard it in the loo. It was some officer bloke. Fresh to the front he was," said George puffing his punctuation.
"They always are, ain't they," said Billy, looking at a worm wriggle free of the mud on the opposite trench wall. "They come in on a Monday and they're face down in the wire by Friday. They all come in thinkin' they's the one that can move the line a few inches. There's a reason why it's called a 'trench'."
"I don't have any sympathy for 'em. It's them types that start these bloody things in the first place. Educated aristocrats thinkin' they knows everything just 'cause they cracked open some book on the Peloponnesian War. Krauts couldn't kill enough of 'em if you ask me. Gimme a drag mate."
"No! I ain't got but the makings for five more and we don't know when the next supplies are comin' in."
"Where's your humanity George?"
"You want a smoke that bad go crawl up and pick one offa one of them cadavers."
"Go to hell mate."
"What? Ain't you looked around lately? We're already there." They both broke up into laughter. There was booming in the distance.
"I wonder when they're going to run out of metal to lob at us," said Billy.
"Probably by the time we get our next leave," said George and they laughed again. The officer du jour pushed past just then, slipping in the mud.
"You there!" said the officer.
"Yeah...sir," said Billy.
"You two sound like giggling school girls! That behavior is not--" The rest of his chastisement was cut off by the loud explosion of dirt a few yards into the razor wire. A decaying German body somersaulted into the trench and onto the officer, who screamed hysterically.
"And 'e's the one calling us school girls!" They both chortled loudly again, as the officer struggled to get free of the oozing, belching body.
"Help me!" yelled the officer.
"All right, all right." Billy and George pulled up the body, and the officer screamed again.
"It's breathing on me! Ugh, it's wretched!" he said.
"No 'e ain't. That's just the stomach gases. Wait 'til you see one pop out there," said Billy laughing.
"Pop goes the weasel!" George and Billy laughed again louder, as they shoved the body up out of the trench.
"Get it off me!" yelled the officer, frantically brushing his clothes.
"We did you daft git," said George.
"No! No, get them off me!" He held out his hand, which was covered in a dusting of green. George and Billy looked closer. The dust was moving.
"What is that?" asked George.
"It look's like spiders, baby spiders," said Billy. The officer retracted his hand. "They're harmless. That's a lot of them though."
"They're biting me!"
"Look at that," said Billy, pointing at the officer's chest. "They're glowing like fireflies!"
"So's they are..." said Billy. The officer screamed in pain and stumbled off in the direction he came, trying to tear his uniform off.
"Lookit that..." George pointed at the edge of the trench top. A wave of of the creatures was coming over. George stood up fully peeked over the top. A sickly glow streamed out of the place where the dirt was thrown up. Billy joined him. The Germans in the adjacent trench were peaking out at it as well.
"Was halten Sie es?" said one of them. Just then, the sky glowed green. George focused his gaze in the distance. There were large forms moving on the German side. One of them flashed green at the top, and a large projectile hurtled towards the German trench. Billy and George ducked. The German soldiers ran up into the razor wire before the projectile hit, but it did them no good. They were splayed out on the wire as lifeless as scarecrows, the glowing creatures spattered across their faces.
"The krauts have some new weapon, but the blighters can't aim it right!" said George.
"We got to get the 'ell out of 'ere," said Billy. They started to run down the trench. The ground began to shake. Men were jostling and trying to run in both directions. Germans were clambering into the Allied trench. A horse complete with a dead officer in the saddle fell into the trench right in front of Billy and George. It kicked and struggled to stand upright, spraying mud and grunting.
"We have to go over!" shouted George, pointing in the Allied direction. They climbed up and picked their way through the wire. There was less of it here than between the German and Allied trenches. When they reached the clear at the back of the front line, Billy turned around, instinctively waiting for German bullets to start whizzing by, but what Germans who weren't trying to run were shooting futilely at the hulking, towering machines. There were hundreds of them, spanning to each edge of the horizon, stomping surely on three tall spindly legs, shooting a projectile in unison on every third step.
"They're walking!" exclaimed Billy.
"Blimey," said George in a whisper, "those Germans are efficient."
"Es ist uns nicht!" shouted a passing German, shoving Billy and George to start running. They all ran as hard as they could towards a treeline but the machines blasted glowing holes obstructing their path, and within minutes the feet of the machines had reached them Several of the machines shot beams of light towards the trees, and they instantly ignited into fireballs. The heat blasted the men off their feet.
"We're trapped!" screamed Billy. George picked up his rifle and aimed it at one of the machines, which was nearly directly over him. Billy grabbed his pistol and aimed for the same spot on the machine's underbelly that George was sighting. It was easy to see because it glowed red and blinked. The German soldier saw them and immediately unholstered his gun and aimed for the spot as well.
"One..." said Billy.
"Two..." said George.
"Drei!" said the German, and they all fired at once. Metal connected to metal and the glowing spot exploded with a high-pitched screech. A second later the hulk of the machined blew up, sending shrapnel and glowing liquid towards the other nearby machines, leaving three stalky legs standing sentinel. The other machines immediately turned and fired on the offending three soldiers. They died instantly. They were the lucky ones.