In the Trenches

In the Trenches

A Story by Legion

This is a story I have had on my mind for many years. Not sure I am completely finished with it, but the main idea is here.




In the Trenches








The smell of dirt and death is an old acquaintance for Afanasii. His whole life he has danced hand in hand with the two. They are intertwined in his memory like lovers that have nothing in common but their lust for one another. He smiles at that thought, confusing his captors. Afanasii moves his eyes from the barrel pointing down at him toward his dirt encrusted hands. Hands that have helped carve history, although he does not understand that concept. In the last few moments of his miserable and simplistic life, he remembers.


Youth and War


His back has grown stronger through his labors. Digging and digging and digging. All those days spent digging. Trenches for miles to see. He was a soldier with a shovel, but not much more than a boy. Sixteen when this began by some standards, but he is unsure of his exact birthdate. Like his family and generations before, a simple potato farmer with hands in the dirt who now has found himself pulled into the machinations of monarchs. An assassin's bullet and historical tensions have ignited the world afire.

"Princip, you instigator of hell on earth. Look what you have done.", he curses under his breath so his brothers-at-arms will not hear him. For several years now, a stagnant war has defined their lives and ended many. The stench of blood and mud encompasses every aspect of their existence.

"Great War indeed. What is so great about it?" Another thought muffled.

So much death and destruction about him. Water saturating everything causing discomfort and ailments. Food is scarce as well. Starvation is as much a reality of death as bullets and bombs are. But not for the rats. Rats eat the decaying flesh of the dead, spreading filth and disease.

So many men lost. Good men. Friends. Men whom he would never have met if not for this overblown fracas.

He reflects that this war is not going well for the tsar. Mother Russia is faltering. Nicholas does not live in the trenches, so he does not understand. Does not know the hardships of this type of reality. It has alienated him from his subjects. But Afanasii understands. He knows this first hand. Lives it daily. He prays that it will end soon, but he puts no faith in mankind so he holds no hope that it will.

There is rumour from behind the trenches that things are not going well for the tsar back home either. Trouble seems to be brewing. His authority has become useless and the people contemplate revolution. Perhaps it will bring much needed change. Perhaps it will end this conflict. Perhaps.

Afanasii turns his attention back to his every day routine of survival.


Digging During the Great Terror


The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk had brought Afanasii back home, but what was to come in the following years he deemed worse than the war. At least in the war, the enemy was not his own government. Lenin, after the overthrow and death of Nicholas, had slowly put the country back together again with much struggle. There seemed to be hope (dismal or not) for the country.

But, unfortunately, Lenin died.

The tyrant Stalin took control with a ruthless hand. The communist party now infiltrated every aspect of life and Stalin used that to his advantage. His paranoia grew and soon incorporated the skills of Afanasii. With shovel in hand once again, he began sculpting the trenches for the burial of the purged "enemies of the people". A job he despised, but it was better than the gulags or handing his shovel over to someone else to be used for him.

Afanasii wept for his Mother Russia. He wept for his comrades. But those hands, his hands, continued to dig as he lived on.


Captured In War


Time rolled on and another great war had come. Operation Barbarossa delivered Afanasii into captivity under the Einsatzgruppen. The Germans had been marching across Russia hell bent on destruction and conquest when Afanasii reluctantly crossed their path.

He was captured on his farm west of Leningrad. They were not kind. He was assaulted repeatedly and then herded, along with other prisoners, towards an imminent doom within a nearby forest. The cold that raked his body was bitter. As bitter as the thought of what was to come. The group halted in a clearing within the wooded area. Shovels were passed out among the prisoners. Orders given to dig were expected. Along with the others, he once again put shovel to earth and moved so-called mountains. He knew the routine.

Once the trench had been dug, the prisoners were ordered down into it. He followed.




Beaten and bloodied, Afanasii once again stands against an old enemy of his beloved Russia.

Staring down at his dirt encrusted hands, he ponders his life. So much time down in the dirt. So much shifting of soil. From gardens of potatoes to gardens of decomposing flesh. What was it worth and who will remember his work?

The crackle of gunfire ensues and he falls further into the trench, mixing blood and earth once again. Falling into his legacy.

© 2008 Legion

Author's Note

I checked for spelling but may have missed some spots here and there. Some of this may not be exactly accurate historically, but I tried.

My Review

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Featured Review

Legion, this is an outstanding piece! Wow!

I am not only impressed by the exceptional writing
itself, but also by the story you've created to
tell a piece of history. Such a tragic tale...
and time. You've re-created it with such talent!

Definitely a favorite!
What an outstanding read this was... thank you!

Posted 10 Years Ago

4 of 4 people found this review constructive.


It was Lenin's hubris (his anti-Marxist view that he could combine a socialist revolution with the capitalistic reality of a transition from agrarian feudalism) that created the nightmare for the Russian people. Stalin merely inherited a system that was always doomed by its authoritarian and despotic nature (state capitalism). Having corrected your rose tinted view of Lenin I have to say that this is well written and full of poignancy.

Posted 2 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


2 Years Ago

The view of Lenin, as well as Stalin, is based on how the protagonist viewed them through how each a.. read more
Wez Hardyn

2 Years Ago

Just deconstructing a widely held myth for our fellow readers - thanks for the opportunity.
Very interesting read Jim. I confess to knowing little about Russia other than the Romanoffs and their murders as well as the millions killed by Germany during WWII. It is an interesting perspective on war, life and death. I didn't want him to die in the end but of course he did.

I might want to expand the story about...learn more about his childhood, key relationships, what formed or forged him to be who he was.

The shovel is a wonderful metaphor...digging for gold...digging one's own hole to live...digging to die.

Good piece! Thanks for sharing.

Posted 6 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

I’m very impressed with the quality of your writing. This piece was wonderfully written and painted vivid pictures in my mind. The ending was a little shocking for me, but left me deep in thought after. Great write.

Posted 7 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

An interesting piece, Legion, well written and intelligent. A history lesson told through the modest life of one affected man is a great concept and you've delivered it well. I think you could have built on it considerably in both the historical and emotional areas. I'm not certain how much demand there is in the publishing world for pieces under 1000 words...I think you could easily build this to 3000 though and it would be a more satisfying story. You make a couple of references to his love of Mother Russia. It's an area that could be expanded, as well as the historical references. I don't think you want to belabor the historical references, but perhaps give just enough additional info so your readers don't have to google to figure out your reference.

From a writing standpoint, there are two things I wanted to mention. The first is've written this for the most part in present tense, but you do slip from time to time into past tense. Take a careful look and make sure the tense you are using in each sentence is the one you really want and you are being consistent. The second thing is the use of fragments. You use them heavily. Without actually counting, I would guess one out of every three sentences is a fragment. Although deemed a "bad" thing by most editors, I'm not so certain it is here. That abrupt, fragmented style seemed to work for this story and I'm wondering if it was an intentional tool that you used. It worked for me, I'm just not certain if it will for a publisher.

I found only one typo...

"Princip, you instigator of hell on earth. Look what you have done.", he curses... Don't need both the period and comma after done, just a comma inside the quotation mark.

Posted 7 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


2 Years Ago

Thanks for the review. The perspective of Lenin and Stalin is based on how the protagonist viewed t.. read more
Beautifully written. Tragic yes, but still a wonderful write up.
Well Done!

Posted 7 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

This was a tragic, but excellent story. I want to see it expanded. The themes were very strong, and you told your tale very well.

Posted 7 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

This is magnificent and I respect your knowledge and love of history. I would love to see you expand on this because it could easily be a novel. Fantastic use of language and metaphor. The soil will always be the most prominent metaphor for us all.

Posted 8 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

I wouldn't worry too much about spelling... unless you think this is the final words. The story is too short, and more could have been said but it is your writing, not mine. Research, research, research for the truth, and than write about it... that's what you did and that's what good authors do. I think it's an excellent write. KS

Posted 9 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

afanasii Fet? Russian poet with German decent-
My Poem stems from a Russian Mossin rifle that I purchased for a presentation in my Russian Language class. Why Fet? I enjoyed the devisions and how forceful the images were. Best story I have read on Writers cafe.

Posted 9 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Life is often cruel and you've captured that one here. It's sad to hear a soldier defeat and the war he goes through. You've captured everything with this one. From the sad tragic war to the chilling fear of imminent death.

Posted 9 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

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31 Reviews
Shelved in 2 Libraries
Added on August 17, 2008
Last Updated on August 21, 2008



Nowhere near a BBQ pit!

I write about various topics. Mostly I write poetry/songs. I took my screen name from a concept album/epic poem I wrote years ago titled "Legion's Legacy: Tales of the Damned" which was inspired by .. more..


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