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Shaun Higgins

My Dearest Clem,

That was how the letter started, and also where it ended.
            The candleflame bobbed mischievously. The words would not come, and so Frederick let the pencil drop with a clatter to the plank upon which he leaned. He could not bring himself to set in ink either the immaterial trivialities of life in camp, nor the horrors which daily assaulted him.
            The wind rang twanging through the guy ropes, tousling the trees and tripping whistlingly over the corpses of both comrades and foes alike; all were as one to the elements, as they lay just beyond the ridge, scattered like apocalyptic confetti. Tonight, they were a sideshow for the moon, tomorrow they would be buried, free at last of the living’s guilt.
            His eyes flicked to the musket, then the sabre, before closing in retreating search of a darker darkness.
            Unspeakable sins had ever been the fruit of this war, he told himself. He had, to his shame, first countenanced, then condoned, and finally committed such deeds. War makes an intimate acquaintance of pain, exposure to horror renders the unbearable bearable and the awful justifiable.
           Opening his eyes, he stared at the candle’s bright wick as though hoping prolonged and intense regard might burn forever the image from his mind, be by candlelight cauterised. In expelling a breath of hopeless distress, the flame guttered and danced.
            Spying movement close by, and with a soldier’s innate response to threat, Frederick leapt upright, plank and paper flying to the ground, ready to guard his life. But it was only his own shadow, bobbing morosely across the tent-side. He regarded the outline, the silhouette shifting upon the canvas which buckled and warped in the breeze, giving motion to the inanimate, life to the dead.
            For uncountable minutes, in terror and challenge, he faced that looming shadow. Then, with a colossal force of will, he turned and took up the piece of paper, near-virgin blank, from where it had fallen upon the ground. 
            My Dearest Clem, that single line of text a stain on the paper. He brought it to a hover above the candle flame, the light penetrating through and illuminating the name – oh, sweet Clemency, how the distant suffer! – before lowering it.
            With a flare of amber ignition the paper went-up, taking with it all obligation to lie.