Winner for episode #138
The Laughing Man
by Naching T. Kassa
The heart was still warm when I found it near the latrines. It hung from the barbwire fence like some hellish Christmas ornament, dripping blood into the muck below. I wasn’t sure who it belonged to.
It might’ve been Private Jefferson’s or Lieutenant Blackmore’s. They’d gone missing and Sargent Collins had laid the blame on the Hun’s doorstep. I knew the truth, though. My mum had told me long before I took up my gun and gasmask.
“Go to sleep, Johnny,” she’d said one night before bed. “Sleep before Laughing Man comes. If he catches you awake, he’ll rip your heart out and hang it up to dry.”
“Does he come every night,” I had asked.
“He does. If you smell almonds, he’s coming. And, if you hear him whisper your name, he’s testing to see whether you’re awake.”
“What if I can’t sleep?”
“Best pretend, love. Pretend and pray.”
The memory of her words kept me from the trench and the squirming shadows which filled it. I returned to my dug-out as quickly as I could.
The blanket had grown cold in my absence. I huddled under it and would’ve drifted off if the scent of almonds hadn’t wafted in.
“Johnny?” a voice whispered.
I froze. Something moved in the moonlight. It dropped to all fours and peered through my doorway.
“You awake, Johnny?”
Moonglow didn’t favor the creature. Instead, it laid bare every flaw in his leprous face. I shut my eyes but the image of oozing sores remained. He hadn’t changed.
I answered with a snore as I had always done. A moment later, his cold hand clutched my throat.
“I’ve always known you were awake,” he said.
Laughter echoed throughout the dug-out and, like a malevolent lullaby, it bore me to my final rest.
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