‘Graduation Day’ by Deborah Akinrefon, age 15, Year 10, Thomas Clarkson Academy

The stink of spent bullet magazines permeated my nostrils. I could see my wounded colleagues lying in the ditches, surrounding me like an infinite void. Screams of agony rang through my ears like gunshots. My rifle was on my lap, and thoughts of my dog at home filled my head. Thankfully, he was safe because he was being cared for by my wonderful aunt, as opposed to me, who was sitting in these dangerous trenches. At this point, I had stopped trying to make acquaintances for fear of them dying like my previous ones.

I was frightened of this happening. All the individuals around me have such different lives outside of this horrible war, but we all ended up in the same place – the trenches, fighting for our lives and our nation in the hopes of seeing our family/friends again.

A gunshot struck right above my head. A warning for my life. I climbed up the steep trench, hoping to get a shot back at the opposite squad. I examined my rifle’s magazine to ensure I had enough ammunition to shoot. I targeted; I closed my left eye to improve accuracy, and I concentrated. Bang. A shot had been fired. I imagined hearing a faint scream in the distance, one of suffering. This is a terrible scenario yet hearing those screams of pain and anguish makes me happy.

The tunnel was suddenly and unexpectedly filled with grey smoke, followed by a stink. I’d never smelled anything so terrible before. I realised something was wrong and instantly got up, grabbed my mask, and put it on. I couldn’t see any more since the trench had been completely swallowed by this stomach crunching smoke. I tried to warn the other soldiers, but it was too late, and before I could make another move, the smoke began to clear, revealing the horror that lay before me.

Faces and identities that I was conversing with a few minutes earlier were no more. Instead they were now languishing in a pile of useless junk. Their skin ripped off their bodies, exposing everything, exposing them all. Was it all a dream? I couldn’t bring myself to understand the catastrophe unfolding before me. I despised war and the never-ending battle. I needed to find my way back to the dugout.

Next came the scent, a stench that enveloped my entire body while silently and purposefully reminding me of nature’s frailty. As I began to walk, I felt thick, foggy, and heavy, before everything started to become clear in seconds. I looked down slowly and noticed that my legs had melted away, and the stench was from my burning flesh. The end seemed near as the pain began to set in and grew within minutes to the point where my brain felt like it would burst. I stayed quiet, closed my eyes, and wondered when I would be immersed in nature. My graduation day had arrived…