Shells rained death with a continuous peel of thunder. Dirt shook from the trench walls, squeezing its way out between the raggedy boards. The muck at the bottom of the trench moved as if it had a life of its own. Someone was screaming; someone was always screaming.
"Ants," said one man calmly to his fellow.
"Ants. We're just ants. That's all we are." Jacobs announced this in the customary yell with which all conversations were held in the trenches, though his eyes were flat, almost vacant despite the effort of raising his voice.
Foster shot back, trying to convey a jocular tone in spite of the high volume, "What do you mean, buddy?"
"W-we're a bunch of ants, crawling around in our little tunnels. We're just ants waiting to be squashed by giant boots or fried by kids with magnifying glasses."
"I wouldn't worry about that, mate," Foster tried to joke for the benefit of his younger compatriot, "It's far too cloudy today for the magnifying glass."
Not at all cheered, Jacobs went on, "Ants, man. We're just ants. Lousy, filthy, scurrying ants!"
"Well, I wouldn't call the Western Front a picnic, but..."
Really yelling now, emotion rising somewhere between panic and anger, Jacobs cut him off, "I'm serious here! We...are...all...ants!" He leaned back, the furor slowly fading from his tired body as it slumped against the wall. Slightly trembling fingers traced the edges of his gas mask, picking at pieces of dirt and stray threads.
"Funny you should say ants, my friend," Foster said as reassuringly as he could. When his friend only shrugged, he went on, "The Myrmidons were an ancient, fabled group of warriors, renowned and respected for their loyalty and devotion. Feared too, for what that's worth. And their name, the Myrmidons, well, it literally means 'ant people'. Funny, huh?"
"So, you're right. We're ants. But maybe there's some glory in being an ant after all."
"Foster," said Jacobs calmly amid the din.
"You read too much."