Riley couldn't believe it. It was all so surreal- only a few months ago he had been in army training, nauseous and scared of what was to come. And now suddenly here he was, lying in a trench in war-torn France, listening to the prayers of wounded and dying men between the deafening noise of outstripped Five-Nines shooting through the air.
The British Army had lost thousands of men in a horriffic freak accident in their French base, and, at a loss for what to do (short of surrendering the war), they had called upon all of the trainee troops in the surrounding area to fight in the places of the lost men. But Riley was terrified, and even though his position meant that he was so much closer to locating his brother, he couldn't help but wish he was anywhere but there.
Riley had joined the army after the bomb attack that had left him utterly alone- most of his family dead, and his only surviving family, his twin brother Michael, still refusing contact with him. At the age of 19, Michael had fallen in love with a girl from their hometown. A whirlwind romance ensued, and they were due to be wed the following year. But, at their engagement party, Riley got terribly drunk. One thing led to another, and the party- and wedding plans- came to an abrupt end when Michael found his twin brother and his fianceé rather compromisingly in the cloak room.
Michael had upped and left the following day, packing his bags and intending to join the army. Riley never heard from him again. Alhough Michael had frequently written letters to their parents and sisters, Riley was never mentioned nor referenced in any of them. That incident was 10 years ago now, and Riley had still not been able to contact his brother.
So, following the bomb attack and the subsequent death of their family, Riley had decided nought was to be lost in finally being reunited with his only remaining family member. And so that was how Riley came to be lying on his belly in a muddy trench in the middle of a war, with no idea what to do.
Suddenly, Riley heard his name yelled out over the clamour of the gunfire. "HASHISH!" He recognised the gravelly voice of the general, and clumsily scrambled to attention.
"SIR, YES, SIR!" he shouted, squinting through the fog to locate the general. But he couldn't see him anywhere. This struck Riley as odd, for Hashish was not a common name, and as far as he had known, Hhe was the only soldier by that name in this sector. Then an idea trundled into his mind with such a speed that it knocked the breath out of him- if it wasn't him the general was calling, it had to be Michael!
Riley was hit with a burst of irrepressible joy. He was about to be reunited with his twin brother, his only family, his best friend! Tossing his gun aside, he desperately craned his neck to search the line of men either side of him. And, abut 17 men to his left, he saw what he was looking for.
A muscular soldier was experlty re-loading his gun, bending his head and exposing his neck as he did so. On the skin below his right ear, a magnificent tattoo was just visible; a majestic eagle with it's wings spread wide, perched on the intertwined letters R and M- the tattoo that both Riley and Michael had gotten together, on the same day, to celebrate their 18th birthday.
Riley was overwhelmed with emotion. He was finally about to be with his best friend again! Totally swept up by the emotion of the moment, Riley surged to his feet- just as rhe soldier lying next to him fired an overhead shot. Excruciating pain ripped through Riley's throat and he dropped to the ground, releasing a strangled cry to his brother as his world faded to black.