“Can you do something to keep that bloody hound quiet?”

Barnes had had enough. He was trying to get into James’ pants, yes, but the howling of that damned dog was driving him to distraction, and it was just that much more than he needed out here in a muddy trench on the Aisne with the Huns singing and shooting off their guns at ten-minute intervals from dusk to dawn to destroy any chance he and his mates had at a good sleep.

“It’s because of Elliott. The dog can’t understand why he isn’t here anymore.”

Elliott, Elliott, Elliot. That’s all James could talk about since the lieutenant got splattered in three directions by a well-thrown hand grenade. Barnes thought that, with the lieutenant gone, he himself had a chance with the young—what was he?—a lord or something. Leave it to the aristos to stick to their own beyond the grave.

“It’s time to let the dog loose then, if he can’t reattach his loyalties, Master James. How did Corporal Elliott pick him up to begin with? We were on a bloody panicked retreat march all the way from Mons.”

“It was in the woods at the Battle of Mons. The dog was draped over the body of a dead Hun and howling. But Elliott managed to coax her away.”

“So, it’s a German dog. Maybe it’s a spy dog. Maybe . . .” Barnes stopped there. He could see that James was tightening up, distressed and displeased by this. “Sorry, sir, it was just a joke.”

The reminder of the difference in their positions, even in the trenches, had caused James to square his shoulders away and helped him to dismiss the comment. “She’s a British dog now. We were going mad—all of us. The dog gave us something other than the fighting to concentrate on. Some sense of what it means to be in the human race.”

That’s not all you found to pull yourself away from the war, Barnes thought. I know that you and Elliott were fucking whenever you could get the chance. And you’re a nice little piece, you are. I’d like to fuck you too. I intend to. Intend to give you a little taste of the democratic. Pull you down a notch. It’ll be good for you. After this war, things are gonna open up. There’s going to be less of a divide in classes then, you’ll see. I’m going to fuck you good—if for no other reason than that you give that mutt the lieutenant took off a dead German higher regard than you do me. Just because I’m a fisherman by trade and you’re an aristocratic lay about. Or you were before we were thrown in together in this mess—and no doubt you intend to return to that if you survive this hell on earth.

Barnes knew he was just blowing smoke about the extension of a class divide into the trenches. It was the Jameses and Elliotts of the world who ranked higher here than the bricklayers even though it was the bricklayers who had more of a feel for a dirty fight like this. And no matter what else, it would be the Elliotts and Jameses who were called by their first names by each other in civilian life and called master and sir, and the farmers and fishermen, like Barnes, who would be summoned by their last names in all circumstances.

His attention returned to the present, though. At least for the moment, the dog had stopped howling. James was holding her close to his chest, and, though trembling—they both were trembling . . . all three of them were trembling considering the circumstances they were in; there were no really differences between one breathing soul and another in a foxhole—the dog was momentarily quiet.

James had such a look of concern—for the dog—and nervous affection in his eyes that Barnes’ ire drained from him. Yes, James was quite a delicious piece, and Barnes hadn’t had any tail in weeks. James took it, Barnes knew. He’d seen him taking it from Elliott. Barnes was hard just from looking at James and thinking about what he could do with him—what he intended to get from him. It wasn’t just Barnes who was randy for it, he knew. James had liked getting it from Elliott well enough. And Elliott had been dead for over a week now. James was ripe for wanting it. Elliott wasn’t here to give it to him and Barnes was more than willing to step in to do the honors.

The dog. The dog was key to all of this.

“There, that’s better. She has quieted down,” Barnes said. “Sorry to have growled about the noise, but it’s a bad thing we’ve got here.”

“Yes, yes, I know. But Dog makes it nearly tolerable. There’s got to be some form of sanity and civilization that we’re fighting for.”

“Dog. Is that what you call her?”

“Elliott and I were discussing names for her. But . . . there wasn’t time. Elliott . . . well, we never got beyond calling her Dog. And she answers to that.”

“She’s just a mutt.” A mutt, just like me, compared to you, Barnes was thinking.

“Makes no difference. She’s affectionate . . . and shows appreciation for any kindness she receives.” The dog was sitting up in James’ lap, reaching up to his face with her tongue in reaction to his gentle petting. He had a rope around her neck, which he held onto with a hand for dear life to keep her here. She had been snuffling around, looking for Elliott, and no doubt would go over the lip of the trench looking for him if she wasn’t restrained.

Barnes wished he could be kissing the beautiful young man’s face like the dog was doing. He reached over and rubbed the dog on the ear, and she turned her muzzle to him and licked his hand.

“Yes, I can see that she’s affectionate,” Barnes said. “You know you can’t really keep her for long here in this trench, though.”

“She’s safer in the trench than out there. And I feel more human with her here. And she’s part of Elliott. I mean to keep her until this all ends. Take her back to England.”

“You can’t take her back to England. You know the odds of doing that, don’t you?”

“It’s a goal. Do you have a goal, Barnes?”

You can bet your sweet ass, I do, Master James, Barnes thought. You can literally bet your ass on that. “I have a goal of just keeping meself alive through this, Master James. And I wouldn’t mind keeping you that way too.”

“Me?” James asked, giving Barnes a searching look—maybe the first close look he’d ever given the man. He was big—tall and broad shouldered—a ruddy complexion and flaming red hair. Heavily muscled, in keeping with a man who worked hard in manual labor. He was ruggedly handsome. James shuddered, realizing he found the man arousing. If anything, more primeval and overtly sexual than Elliott, who had been a bit effete—had been. “You’d have a lookout for me?”

“You can believe it,” Barnes said. “I’ve had a lookout for you for weeks.”

James’ mind worked on that. Now that he thought about it, it was true. From the time they’d fallen into a reconstituted unit of the British Expeditionary Forces at the Battle of Mons until they had literally fallen into this trench as the maneuvering against the Huns had settled down to trench warfare on the river Aisne, Barnes had been there, helping James avoid disaster and keeping moving in the retreat from Mons.

“Yes, you’re right . . . I . . .”

Whatever James was going to say was rudely interrupted by the burst of a shell very close by that rocked the very walls of the trench and had the two men hitting the dirt, Barnes protectively on top of James, as clods of earth rained down on their heads.

When they came up for air, the two men’s eyes were locked on the other’s. The expression on James’ face was one of surprise and sudden awareness; the expression on Barnes’ was undisguised lust.

Their faces slowly moved toward each other, but suddenly James’ eyes opened wide and, lifting the empty hand that had been clutching the end of the rope tied to Dog’s neck but now no more, cried out. “The dog. Where is she?”

She wasn’t anywhere to be seen.

* * * *

“Where is she? Where’s the dog?” James was scrambling around along the base of the trench. There was a pile of rubble beside him, dirt and rocks that had been pulled down off the wall by the nearby blast. He was scrabbling at this with his bare hands.

“Hold on, sir,” Barnes exclaimed, pulling James’ hands away by the wrists. “You’ll bloody your hands. And there ain’t room in that rubble for there to be a dog there. Quiet down so the Huns don’t turn their attention here, and I’ll take a look see over the rim and see if she bolted out there.”

“You’ll raise your head to the rim?” James called out in shock. “You can’t. You’ll get your head blown off.”

“Not if you’ll go down the trench and make a bit of noise, Master James. To divert any attention the Huns have to give. Well, go on now. If she’s out there, don’t give her more time to wander off.”

Giving him a look of both panic and appreciation, James moved down the trench and started making noise.

Barnes jumped up on a stool positioned at the base of the wall for the purpose and peeked over the top of the trench. He saw a couple of heads lifted over the rim of the German trench, but the German soldiers’ attention was focused to where James was raising a ruckus. He had chosen to play a death scene to make the German’s feel good about their one-off hand grenade attack. The dog was out there too, three or four yards beyond the rim of the British trench, crouched down and trembling with fear.

In a sotto voce, Barnes called out to the dog, trying to get her attention, but the heads of the Germans snapped back in his direction, and he quickly pulled his head down.

He could hear the Germans talking, and he knew enough of their lingo to know they’d seen the dog. He waited, in fear, listening for the shots that would indicate that the Germans would use the dog for target practice. But then he breathed easier when he didn’t hear that, but, instead, heard them calling out to the dog, whistling for it, and speaking in tones of encouragement.

He reached for his ration box and took out a hunk of what they had been told was meat. He took the chance of raising his head to where he could see the dog and extended his arm, his hand holding the hunk of meat, over the rim. He whistled for the dog too and added his voice of encouragement to that of the German soldiers’. Any second now he knew he’d feel a bullet—not hear it but feel it hit him.

But no bullets came, and the Germans stopped calling for the dog. The dog turned its muzzle toward him and saw the meat. She moved a yard closer to him, but then stopped, in confusion, immobilized by fear.

“Es ist meine Hund,” Barnes called out. “Es ist ängstlich. Es ist nur meine Hund.” He hoped he wasn’t speaking German so badly that he wouldn’t be understand. He had tried to convey that it was his dog, that it was scared, and that it only was a dog. He knew it was a risk. If the dog was identified as a British soldier’s pet, there was every chance that would initiate the target practice that hadn’t happened before. But the spattering of German he heard from across the space between the trenches didn’t sound belligerent. And they had stopped whistling for the dog when he had started. And no one had tried to shoot off the hand he had extended over the rim of the trench.

James had crawled back. “What are you doing? Is she out there? You can’t expose yourself like that.”

“Do you have anything that’s white that you can lift on your bayonet?” Barnes asked, ignoring the torrent of concerned words James had unleashed.

James pulled out a handkerchief that had been white as recently as two weeks earlier and, his motions showing he was almost numb with fear and concern, stuck it on the bayonet and raised his rifle over the rim of the trench.

“Ich komme für der Hund. Nur für der Hund,” Barnes called out, trying to let them know that he was coming out of the trench only to retrieve the dog, nothing more. Then, with a gulp and a deep sigh—and shaking off the hand that James tried to restrain him with, he hauled himself up onto the rim of the trench.

“Come, girl, come to me,” he whispered in a shaky voice. “Nice meat. I have this nice meat for you. You come to me and I’ll share my meals with you, fifty-fifty. You want to see James again, don’t you?”

Slowly the dog inched toward him on her haunches. Her whole body was shuddering, but her eyes were on the piece of meat.

The whole world went silent in Barnes’ head. He was waiting to hear or feel the shot, but there was nothing, not even birds singing. The whole world was silent, holding its breath.

When the dog had come close enough, Barnes grabbed her and pulled her quickly down into the trench with him. As he descended, he felt his bladder give way. He was peeing his pants. But he didn’t care. He felt like crying out for joy—the joy of still being alive—and he was noisily gulping in great drafts of air.

He still was listening for the shots, but instead of that he heard clapping and cheering floating over from the German trench—and down the line of the British trench too, where, unbeknownst to him, British soldiers scattered down the line, more thinly scattered than they wanted the Germans to know, had been watching the little drama and were cheering and clapping as well.

He was clutching the dog to his chest, but he felt a weight pushing him down to the ground, covering him, and James’ lips on his.

* * * *

They fucked there on the muddy floor of the trench, wildly, noisily. If others along the British line knew what they were doing, they didn’t disturb them or try to stop them. The soldiers, to a man, were tired and beyond fear and caring, having faced battle and death—and, perhaps worse, weeks of just waiting for death in the trenches. There was little distinguishing between right and wrong anymore or the need to feed prejudices or to harbor smug attitudes of what any of them would or would not do to make it through the night.

They clutched the dog between them for dear life, but they were clutching each other as well. They fucked in their muddy, stiff from sweat uniforms, Barnes sitting on the ground and James sitting in his lap, facing him, their clothes adjusted just enough for Barnes to have his cock out and James to bare his ass.

Barnes held James close and James raised and lowered his ass canal on Barnes’ cock until both had ejaculated in a flood of spent-up cum. Barnes remained encased, however, and, after they’d rested a bit, they fucked again in the same position, this time less frenetically, more languidly. James knew exactly what to do. He and Elliott had done this several times, like this, before Elliott had been killed.

Afterward, night having fallen, James huddled close beside Barnes, watching Barnes tie the end of the rope attached to the dog’s neck around James’ wrist. “There, now if Ellie is spooked by a blast and bolts, she’ll have to drag you with her over the rim.”

“I thought you hated the dog, wanted to get rid of it. I didn’t know you cared,” James said.

“I didn’t know I cared, either,” Barnes said. “But you were right . . . right about us needing to try to stay human, on an individual scale, through this hell we’re in. The German soldiers over there seemed to get it too. Makes you feel that if they left wars to the rabble like us rather than the generals and politicians, wars wouldn’t be near as bad as this.”

“You called the dog Ellie,” James said, suddenly aware that Barnes had done that. “What . . . why . . . ?”

“I think it’s a fitting name, don’t you? As you said, it was Elliott’s dog. I feel now like it’s our dog—mine too. But I understand how you feel about Elliott. And I do want to fuck you again. And again and again. I think it will help us get through this. But I’m not Elliott and I don’t want to supplant Elliott in your view of things. I want you if you continue to want me, but because of you and me, not Elliott.”

They sat there in silence for a few minutes, Ellie snuffling back and forth between them, showing appreciation that both were petting her, showing her attention, after that wild ride when she was just a warm body trapped between them as they took their pleasure with each other.

“I don’t even know your first name,” James whispered.

“It’s Thomas, sir.”

“If you don’t mind, I’ll call you Tom from now on . . . and you’ll stop calling me sir. I hardly think the distinction is appropriate if you are going to have your dick stuck up inside me frequently now.”

“Yes . . . I think I’d like that,” Thomas answered.

“Which part? Me calling you by your first name or you having that big cock of yours buried up my arse?”

“Both, sir,” Thomas answered, and they both laughed.

“And that’s the last time you’ll call me sir too, won’t it be?”

“Yes . . . James,” Thomas responded, a smile on his face, joy in his heart. The class barriers already were tumbling away. He didn’t have to wait for the end of the war.

“Where are you from, Tom? I’ve never asked. And what did you do in life before going to war?”

“No you haven’t asked. I’m from the port of Weymouth, in Dorset. I’m a fisherman by trade.”

“I’m from near there myself.”

“Yes, s—.” He’d almost said “sir.” This wasn’t going to be easy for him. Class distinctions didn’t erase that easily. “Yes . . . I know. You are from up at Abbotsbury Hall. And Master Elliott, he was from Maiden Abbey, wasn’t he? You were childhood friends, weren’t you?”

“Yes,” James answered sadly. “We’d come all the way from Dorset together. There will be shock when we don’t return together. But . . . but you knew who I was and where I was from, and I didn’t know about you.”

“Yes . . . that’s right.”

“We’ll have to change that sort of thing when we get home, won’t we? It will be a whole new world for England, win or lose.”

“Yes, I think it will. And, James . . .”

“Yes?”

“I didn’t mean it about not being able to take Ellie back to England with you. We’ll just set that now as a goal. You can almost see France from Weymouth over the water on a good day. And I’ve got me a fishing boat waiting for me in Weymouth. We’ll get us all home.”

“Thanks, Tom. I’d like that. I’d like that a lot. And now do you know what I’d like a lot?”

“Yes, James, I can feel what you’d like now. And I don’t see any problem in giving it to you. Giving it to you real good.”

 

Habu

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