• Jacob Palumbo

The Tribulations of John Beasley

Updated: May 5

I find myself walking down a familiar hallway, but I cannot put my finger on the location, or when exactly I had been there last. The lighting seems to be coming from candles, yet I cannot find the source, now I am becoming uneasy. Staring one way or the other I cannot see the end in either direction. With every step, the boards of the floor creak, confused and alone I push forward past an empty chest of drawers whose owners had long ago left them behind.

The air sour and the wallpaper peeling off the walls entirely in sections. Occasionally I find a bottle hoping the contents might replace my worries, but every bottle is empty. My stress grows just as the length of the hallway seems to grow, two feet for every step that I am taking. I desperately want to leave, but maybe if I could take one left or right I would be content with exploring further, maybe if there had been a door to lead me to another room full of empty chests and stale air but there was none and I continued to float through the least meandering labyrinth a dull mind could shape. I grew more tired of my situation by the moment.

Where are my things? Have I ever even had any possessions? How have I been unlucky enough to find myself in such a predicament? While all these thoughts run through my head, I reach into my pocket and feel a round metal object. I pull it out to realize that it is attached to my waist band by a small chain. A clock, I open the front to see the timepiece is not operating but it has the name John Beasley engraved upon the brass and for a moment a beautiful face passes through my memories, fading away as quickly as she appeared.

As I continue my journey gazing at the watch, I suddenly realize that I know this hallway, yet I know most certainly the condition is not in such disrepair. This hallway is in my home. All of my things have been taken out of their chest and the doors that lead to my bedroom and my study have vanished. My discovery leaves me panicked and I frantically began running back the way I had come from.

I ran and I did not grow tired. I ran and hours seemed to pass. I ran even though running felt hopeless. I ran to try to free myself from this hell, I want my things to be in their chest, I want a door to bring me to my bed. My wife may be there lying in wait for me to return to her, for I have no idea how long I have been gone.

Terrified I stumbled through my prison until I saw a light. There at what appeared to be the end of the hallway it called to me. I moved forward slowly as if not to make it aware of my location. When I had gotten about fifty meters away I made the discovery that this light was actually a mirror. This was no ordinary mirror, I scarcely saw myself, and past that, I saw my living room.

I stare through and see my red couch. There sits my wife Anne and her friend Mary, Anne is crying and Mary is doing her best to comfort her. I call for her but she does not hear my cries, I slam my fist on the glass but I cannot get their attention. Alone here at the end of this imposter that made itself appear to be my home I stand and watch my wife sob. After quite a while of the two of them exchanging no words I hear Anne say “Damn this war, he was only twenty two.” and then she goes right back to crying.

My stomach sank and I could feel a tight grip in my chest. The horror that swept through my body was unmatched by the horrors which brought me to this place. I remember how I got here. As soon as I have this epiphany, I am ripped through clouds of smoke, away from Anne.

Six months until I’m back in your arms I wrote in what would be my last letter to my beautiful wife. Our unit was stationed on the island of Lemnos awaiting orders. The first push was a failed naval assault led by us and the French. Now, we must storm the beaches. Until this news I had the utmost optimism that I would go home to Yorkshire, but now I could feel something heavy following me around those last days I spent on that Grecian Island. I ate my crackers as I always did, I smoked my cigarettes and had my coffee, yet I knew in the back of my mind that this would be the last few times that I would enjoy these pleasures in peace.

Each night before the invasion I slept very little. On the last night I got up to look at the stars and have a cigarette. In those stars I saw the heroes of antiquity. I began to cry because I knew that I would not be placed in the heavens along with Hercules. I am just a private in the British Army. I will die here in Gallipoli and I will not be remembered.

The day we were set to leave I was terribly nervous. I knew that I would not receive a letter from Anne during this excursion. All I could think of was her as we loaded onto our vessels. The waters were rough as we approached the coast of the Gallipoli peninsula, every wave seemed to be pushing us away as if to warn us to turn around and go home to Britain. We were really just a bunch of scared boys. Most of us had not even become men yet and I was older than the majority at twenty-two.

Just a bunch of boys going to give their lives to fight the Turkish. They will never know a wife or what their sons would have looked like. They will never feel pride, or joy, or sorrow again. Their waning moments will be filled with fear and pain. Our sergeant is yelling orders and preparing us for the landing, I look around at the faces of these boys and they look as if they have already become ghosts, apparitions with rifles held in their trembling hands.

We grow closer to the shore and I know that I must have my wits about me, I don’t want to die, I want to go home to Yorkshire and hold my wife, If I could I would have never let her go. Bodies fall as quickly as they exit the vessel and the sand is already stained red by the time my unit makes it to the beach. Flying pieces of lead hit bodies and cause explosions of sand. I run and seek cover behind a makeshift barrier, and for the first time in my life my body shakes uncontrollably. I return fire and have fire returned at me. The day seemed to last ten years.

We had secured the beach head, news came quick that our Australian and New Zealander allies had also secured their beach. Small victories are nothing to celebrate, as we are surrounded by the bodies of young men already dead or dying. It did not take long for the flies to swarm. I light a cigarette and my hands still won’t stop shaking. I feel as if they are stuck this way and even if I ever made it home they would shake for the rest of

my life. We pushed inland and began digging trenches and setting up camp. Those young faces covered in blood and sand haunt me as I dig, those boys should be at university and instead, they are dead on a beach far from home.

For the first time since we had received our orders, I felt like I might still go home to Anne. I imagined sitting with her by our fireplace reading our books and enjoying each other’s company. I felt hopeful and as I daydreamed about my beautiful wife back home in Yorkshire the clouds opened up and for a small moment, we all felt like we were back at home in Britain.

What I thought would be a short campaign has dragged out much longer than I had hoped. Every day that we do not secure victory is one more day that I might die here, I know that I cannot stand to eat any more of this bully beef. I have been in this trench for two weeks and keeping your feet dry is nearly impossible, there have already been tens of men who have succumbed to gangrene just in our unit. What a horrible fate to be stuck in a trench watching as your limbs rot off of your body.

I have lost at least one stone since we've been here and I can now see my ribs through my skin. I feel as if my life is ebbing away and I grow more tired every day. Stuck in these trenches taking tremendous fire and we have gained no ground. We have pushed many times only to have the Turks push right back. The trench reeks of death as we really have no place to put the bodies of our fellow Englishmen. The rats consume their flesh and we are forced to watch this ordeal waiting and wondering when our turn to feed the rodents will be.

I had not had a cigarette in three days when a small unit of French soldiers arrived to give us support. Luckily a young man had extras to pass to our unit. If we had had the power of the Catholic Church we would have made him a saint right then and there. The man’s name was also John and just like me he would die tonight, here in this trench far from home. The evening was calm and we all enjoyed the company of the new soldiers and especially their cigarettes. We joked and laughed until the night.

I found myself lying in a little cubby that we had dug out of the side of the trench. There were not very many places to sleep that were dry, and it had started to rain again so I didn't really mind lying next to the bodies of my fallen friends. Eventually, your nose becomes blind to the putrid smell of rotting meat. I take off my boots for some relief and see that my feet are water logged. Gangrene is a real possibility and I don't want my feet amputated nor do I want to die. As I rub my feet, pieces of skin peel off into my hands and I grow more concerned, I decide to leave them alone and hope they may dry out before I wake up.

I drift away into the dream world as thoughts of Anne run through my head. Peaceful moments have been hard to come by, but if you are able to get any sleep it brings the release we all so desperately crave. My bliss is shattered and I am suddenly brought back to life as a rat bites my toe. Apparently, he thought I was his dinner. I shooed him away and put my boots back on. In the silence of night a piercing explosion shatters the air. I know that sound, it is the sound of heavy artillery.

The ground shakes as the shell hits the ground maybe less than one hundred meters away, followed by more explosions. The French and English alike begin to scurry like the rats about the trench. There is no use in their efforts as there is nowhere to go. I lay there in my cubby and I prayed.

I asked God to please take me away from here, I did not care where he took me, all I wanted was to be taken out of this trench In Gallipoli, to have dry feet, and to see my Anne again. Shell after shell pounded the ground around me. I knew that my fears were justified and that I would die here certainly. Then for what I think was the first time in my life, God heard my prayer and answered it swiftly. Before I had time to even contemplate what I had wished for, a large shell pierced through the ceiling of my makeshift shelter and God took me out of that trench. She had brought her divine intervention and gave me everything that I had asked for.

Jacob Palumbo

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