Charlie is gone.

Charlie is gone . . .

The words make no sense. Charlie has always been there, even when he left school, he was there. Even when I avoided him, hated his very presence, he was there. Even when I was so angry at him for leaving, when he went back home, to his Molly, to Molly's safe world, he was still there, with me, watching me drink away my fury. I almost felt him with me when he was imprisoned, even when his absence was the only part of the present that I really felt, the only thing that pulled me out of my memories, he was there, watching me, watching over me. Not now. Now, he is simply gone.

I won't think his name. It sounds strange, but that be giving up, letting them win, letting them take him from me.

I've written home, but the letter seemed devoid of emotion, even to me. I couldn't bring myself to tell them about his death, they'll find out soon enough anyway, and I don't want to have to write it down, to tell the story again. I want it to be a story, not real, so I keep I it out of my head, that I'll never see my brother again. My throat is very tight, but I tell myself I won't cry. I already killed my only friend in this hellhole through my cowardice; I won't insult his memory with it. I tell myself that it's all a bad dream, like the one about father, but not real.

Tick tock, tick tock.

I daydream that he's coming.

He's coming back. He's coming with Bertha, and father, and the version of Molly that I always wished to be true; the one that loved me, not him, and is holding my child as she reads of his death. Even as I think it, I hate myself. I would never have Molly any other way. Besides, it's probably best that she hates me, as she will after she finds out that it was my fault. Everyone I love dies. Father, Anna, Bertha and him. He is by the stream. Anna is cold in the ground. Father is in the churchyard. Bertha is in our garden. None are in Sunday-School heaven.

Tick tock, tick tock.

All gone. All completely gone. All all gone. I almost laugh at that. It catches in my throat and I start coughing loudly. Everyone else in the trench looks at me as if I've gone mad. I think I have, and at that thought I do laugh, because otherwise I will cry, and that would be letting them beat me.

"Someone shut him up," hisses our new sergeant. His name is something easily forgettable, like Smith or Simons. Either way, there will be more of them. There will be another commander, when this one dies. I feel like I have been here forever. Almost everyone I knew from before the war is dead, or I haven't seen them for so long that they are barely more than a memory. I am no longer sure that I truly remember anyone, or if I am simply imagining them.

"Shut him up or I'll shoot him!" repeats the sergeant. I stop laughing. I promised him I'd make it through the war, for Molly. "What is he doing here anyway? He's lost it."

"He's from a bad bunch, sir," replies a cocky looking soldier with a cockney accent. I can immediately tell that he's new to the war. He has not yet seen what I have seen, and still thinks that it's a game. "His brother was shot for cowardice, shot himself in the foot, and they think he's just faking the mad act."

"Is he?"

"Dunno, sir. He seems pretty loony to me." It takes all my restraint not to punch the stupid city-boy in the face.

"He didn't shoot himself in the foot," I practically growl, "The damned Fritz did it." The sergeant smiles, and I really see him for the first time. He has a big moustache, the kind they use on recruitment posters, but it doesn't hide that he can't be more than five or six years older than me.

"At least he knows where his loyalties lie." I have the sense not to reply that the only thing I have against the Fritz is that they're attacking us, which we are doing to them, albeit less successfully. I can't say the same for my own side of the war.

Tick tock, tick tock.

A shell comes overhead, and a few soldiers draw their knees up to themselves in their fright. Not me. I know that it won't make any difference, and besides, I'm not surviving out here for myself, I have other, more important motives.

Tick tock, tick tock.

I'm put on sentry duty that night, and I have not problem staying awake. It's staying alert that troubles me. The only thing that keeps me going is the memory of him. Him coming through the night, bleeding like a pig. I know that somewhere out there is someone else whose brother is missing, looking into the night, wishing every British sentry awake, and every Fritz asleep, or better: dead.

Tick tock, tick tock.

I can't wait for morning. The cold fog that seems to envelope my mind is coming out of my skull, and leaking into the night, making sentry duty even more difficult. But I am the perfect sentry. I sit up straight, looking to the furthest point that I can recognize, that isn't just a drifting, morphing shape in the dark: the fence to No-Mans-Land.

Tick tock, tick tock.

It seems oddly peaceful through there, all alone, no gunfire, no sound of soldiers. Friendly, enemy, who cares? Who cares who did what, who started it? I don't. I don't give a damn who killed Anna. Point is she's dead. Buried. Cold. And her corpse is rotting away, along with everyone else's. No one is innocent, not even G-d. G-d is worst of all. This is all G-d's fault.

Stay awake Tommo, stay awake.

I don't want to be left alone. There is too much emptiness to my thoughts. It's too painful to think of the past, and too frightening to think of the future. The present is almost unbearable, and besides, I'm not completely sure if it is real. My mind is a bit random, and keeps doing strange things like showing me Mother. I want to tell her to go back home or I will hurt her, and eventually kill her.

The ticking is going straight through my head. The damn watch keeps on going, recording every second, but it is far too slow. It keeps reminding me of the remaining hours left until dawn.

Tick, tock, tick tock.

I try to drown it out. I sing, but not the usual Oranges and Lemons. I sing a song that actually means something.

"Oh what a friend I had in him"

I look out over the mist, looking for someone's missing brother, hating the ticking that follows me wherever I go.

I see the fingers of dawn creeping into the sky. I am relieved of sentry duty, and told that tonight we are going to attempt to kidnap a Fritz. I feel like I am back at the beginning, when I joined up, and we went on our first mission, only this time I am alone, and unafraid. We spend the day digging the trenches deeper. It's backbreaking work but I don't mind. It means that we're safer from the bombs from the other side.

I don't hear them talking until they mention him.

"Yeah, there's people from his unit in ours. Tommo, the one who's weird, he's his brother. That soldier who they killed, they killed him 'cos he wouldn't leave Tommo when he was badly injured. Shot for cowardice, he was. Noble of him an' all, but so stupid."

"I think it was just cowardly. The guy shot himself in the foot."

I don't even think. I punch him in the face and before he has time to see my fist his nose is spurting blood. He lunges for me, and I duck. I am almost disconnected from the world, and the fact that it is wrong to punch people, or that I will get into trouble for my actions don't even touch my mind. This just makes me faster, and stronger. I punch again, for him.

"Hey! Break it up!" says the soldier who called him stupid. He stands between me the other soldier who I now recognise as the stupid city-boy, holding his shovel and eying us both warily. "Apologise," I spit at them.

"I'm so sorry," he says sarcastically. "Now you apologise."

"Never. I meant what I did."

"This is stupid, you're like little children," says the one, still holding his shovel threateningly.

"Apologise!" says the stupid city-boy.

"Just say sorry," the shovel-boy sighs.

"G-d should say sorry!" I scream at them suddenly, and I am almost in tears. I slide down the side of the trench, and hug me knees. The one with the shovel looks at me, concerned.

"Just go away," I gulp down my sobs. They leave me alone in the mud. It has started to rain, and I am reminded of how much I hate it. It makes a muffled pitter patter as it hits the ground, and I hear the faraway noise of distant thunder mixed in with gunshots. Still though, I can hear the ticking.

Tick tock, tick tock.

It's counting down to something bad, and this time, it will happen to me.

We leave the trenches in our attempt to go capture a Fritz for much needed information. Just my luck; I'm in a group with City-Boy and Shovel-Boy.

"He shouldn't come," says City-Boy. "He lost it."

"He needs help," adds Shovel-Boy. "He's crazy, violent, and ignores consequences."

"That's exactly the sort of person we need!" jokes yet another frightened boy in this war.

"He seems OK to me," says the Sergeant. "He's just faking it. Bring him with us."

So I come with them. Despite them thinking that I'm mad, they look at me every time they hear a noise coming from the blackness. I am the only one not terrified, and they look to me for reassurance.

Tick tock, tick tock.

I step and stumble along, cold but too numb to truly feel it. It seems an age before we cross No-Mans-Land. We spot their trench in the distance, and creep nearer. One of the soldiers is too scared to go on. The Sergeant points his bayonet at the lad's back, and the frightened boy moves forwards.

Tick tock, tick tock.

We jump into their trenches. Unlike the first time I took part in this kind of kidnapping, we are lucky enough to find just one soldier. He gasps, and pulls out his gun. He's too late. We have him surrounded, and have taken his gun. I just watch. They try to tell him to come, but he is petrified. They try to lift him out but he struggles.

Tick tock, tick tock.

Suddenly I can't bare it. I jump out of the trench, struggling to swing my legs over the top. No one notices that I'm missing.

Tick tock, tick tock.

I hate the ticking. The other soldiers can hear it as loudly as I can. I'm sure they will find me, if they just follow it.

Tick tock, tick tock.

I take off the cursed watch. Its bad luck: everyone who wears it dies. I throw it to the ground in disgust.

Tick tock, tick tock.

Still ticking. I take out my gun and shoot it. A bang rings out. Just like before, everything around me is silenced, although I see my unit looking up in alarm. Curses form on their lips, but already the Fritz are coming.

Tick tock, tick tock.

There is no noise, yet the ticking is still there! How can it still be there? I'm desperate, I can feel my time running out, ticking away.

Think Tommo! Think

What did Charlie say? Charlie said to take care of Molly. I have to be with her, support her, for Charlie. I will make them send me home. I do what they said he did, I aim my gun down and pull the trigger.

I fall to the ground. There is nothing but my own pain, and I scream, and the screams are all around me. I see myself as if from above. Tattered, blood soaked rags around a frail man, who in his pain is a screaming child. Where there was once a trusting smile there are teeth, bared in agony. From once bright eyes fall his bloodshot tears, mixing with the mud. All he sees are the Fritz. No, not the Fritz. People, startled people, who's trenches have just been invaded, and who are doing the only thing they can: lashing out. They shoot at him, and suddenly I am him, feeling the ground vibrating. My throat is raw, and my body racked with sobs. Most of what I can see is mud. Suddenly I see boots, German boots. I look up and see a face that I recognize. He remembers, and so do I.

"To cowards!" I call hysterically up from the mud. I don't think he understands me, but I can tell that he is having trouble forcing himself to reach for his gun. Another soldier is behind him, urging him to shoot me but himself reluctant to kill the man who is so obviously already dying inside. The man brings his gun up, and I know I have lived my last. I know I am about to go, and my brain does the only thing it is good at; it remembers. It shows me the face from my past that I love the most. It's not Molly, or Charlie, or Father; its Big Joe. I was really here for him, to protect him all along. He is smiling at me, and holding something I've only ever seen described. I know who it is, and it has my eyes: It's hope.

So with my last breaths I hum Oranges and Lemons.

"Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
And here comes a chopper to chop off your head!"