All Flags Fall

André came to with the Sun in his eyes. His head throbbed and his ears buzzed. He tried to move, and he couldn’t.

He panicked.

He screamed for help, wiggling his body. Wiggling his body? Then he could indeed move. What was wrong? André craned his neck, trying to take a good look around him.

He almost threw up. Out of sheer force of will he managed not to, otherwise he would have choked in his own vomit. André had realized he couldn’t move because he was buried under a pile of dead bodies.

He cried. André barely felt his body, but there was a long distance between barely and not feeling it at all. He started pushing, swerving from side to side, and noticed that he could move out.

It must have taken him hours.

André pulled his own leg from under a headless torso, ignoring the bile accumulating in his throat, and finally fell to the ground. Exhausted, he lied there for a long time.

He was alive. Alive.

André must have fallen asleep, for he woke with a start. A slight but persistent rain fell on him. He looked around him, and wished he was dead.

The battlefield was strewn with dead bodies. Specifically, with parts of dead bodies. The mud and the rain had blurred the colours: all he saw were dirty uniforms covering bodies that had been cut up in all manners of ways.

André tried to stand up, and fell twice, face down. Water flowed in dark rivulets on pools of mud and blood.

Blood. Blood everywhere, streaming down from the dead. André was covered in blood, but none of it was his. He was sure of that. He would have noticed.

Finally, he stood and walked. He wandered amongst the piles of bodies.

He remembered.

He remembered his fear as he had charged, screaming at the enemy. What a world, where men ran behind their flags, sword in hand, as bullets started raining on them. He had seen the flags fall, once, twice, three times, and each time another hands picked them up and continued charging.

Until they had stopped doing it. Here the flag fell, and didn’t rise again. And there, and there. And then he saw the enemy flags, so close he could almost grab them. And there was fire and rain and screams and fight, and positions were overrun and more flags fell.

André felt the explosion once again. Felt himself being hurled about, hitting his head, and then nothing.

Nothing.

Until he had awoken in Hell.

++++

The rain spattered on every surface. It was a sick, dirty sound. André realized he was wandering among the battlefield. He was sure, almost sure, he had already seen that arm lying there, those dead eyes staring at him from a head without a body.

He vomited. He retched until there was nothing left in his stomach, then threw up some more.

André tried to gather his bearings. He didn’t know what time it was, and the clouds kept him from seeing the Sun. He couldn’t orient himself. All around him was a vast sea of mud dunes and dead bodies.

Suddenly, an idea struck him: was he the last man alive in the whole battlefield? He very much thought so. And then, and then, didn’t that make him the victor? If he was the last man standing, wasn’t it true that he had won the battle?

Victory!

He laughed like a maniac, overtaken by the idea. He had won! He was alive!

André kept laughing until he ran out of laughter, and then he started weeping again. He fell, and on all fours, he kept crying as he watched the rain running under him. As his tears fell and got caught in the rain, and disappeared within.

As if he didn’t matter.

But he had won the battle. He was here, alive, when all around him was death and mud and oh that horrible stench.

André stood once again and ran, ran to escape the smell, the putrid stink of rotten flesh, exacerbated by the rain. How hadn’t he noticed it before?

And then he saw it.

A flag, flying from a bent pole on top of a nearby hill. Only then did André realize it was getting dark, for he couldn’t distinguish which flag it was. One of his, or one of theirs?

It mattered little, since suddenly, the flag was the world. It was the only thing that was different, a source of movement in a sea of immobile body parts. He would reach the flag, and wave it if it was his, and capture it if it was one of theirs.

There was a crack and a whizz. No veteran heard that and just kept standing; André threw himself down, hiding between the fallen combatants. He dared to look up, and he saw the flag pole bending even more, and falling, taking the flag with it.

He felt rage. The flag was the world, and they had taken it from him.

He stood, and listened. All he could hear was the rain. Only the rain.

Another crack, another whizz.

André turned towards the new sound, and started walking faster.

Another crack, another whizz, closer this time.

André increased his pace.

Crack, whizz, and something bit his ear.

He roared and charged, screaming.

Crack, whizz, a sharp needle in his arm.

André ignored the pain and went on.

Crack.

Whizz.

~~~~

This is my entry for this week’s Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: Ten Titles From You. Last week the challenge was simply to give a three-word title, and Chuck picked ten at random. This week: write 1000 words choosing one of the titles.

I chose All Flags Fall, the title proposed by user lbstribling, and wrote the story above.