By J. Keith Haney
Flanders, November, 1914
It had been a long night…a long night of shelling, screams, and death, both swift and slow. Lt. Donald Fields had refused to give his eyes permission to close the entire night in spite of the constant burning he felt in them. This was far from his first war and one iron rule had been ingrained in his head by his first commanding officer: “Sleep is easy at the front. Waking up is another matter altogether.” This was as true in Ypres as anywhere else he had fought.
Seeing the dawn finally break in the sky, he shook the shoulder of his sergeant to wake up the rest of the men. The sergeant toppled over like a sack of old potatoes, a death’s leer horrifically fixed on his lips. Several parts of his skin were covered with blisters that leaked yellow fluid. The same was true for every other man in the trench with Fields, the ones who were still whole, anyway. There was nothing left of his unit but a demonic circus of dead, scarred clowns. Fields smelled a whiff of something in the air. He’d been smelling it all night, an acrid stench that made him think of horseradish. It burned his nostrils and lungs to breathe it.
“Then why am I--”
The question died in his throat as he looked over the trench into No Mans Land. A figure in black plate armor rode a white charger horse with blazing red eyes, a medieval nightmare on a modern battlefield. The early morning fog cleared enough for Fields to make out the knight’s face underneath the raised visor. A bleached white skull stared down at the trench’s sole survivor. Fields felt a cold chill in his stomach as understanding came to him. The Black Man’s form may have changed, but there was no mistaking his presence.
“Two thousand years to the day, Diocletian Gaius Fidelius,” the skull said. “It is time to serve my lord Azazoth.”
Fields nodded and climbed out of the trench.
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J. Keith Haney was born in Misawa, Japan but has spent most of his life in Athens, TN. At age nine, fascinated by "Clash of the Titans", he was given a college level book of world mythology. This started a life-long affair with fantasy that led him to genre writing.
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