To my son

Today, in my writing class, we touched a little on poetry and before we finished, the teacher asked us to write a very short but very powerful poem. 2-3 lines that would be full of meaning. This is what I came up with. Needless to say it brought tears to many eyes, including mine.

So, here is goes…

“To my son
I pray that heavens would keep you from harm
To weave your life, I unwove mine

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“The attack of the dead men”

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Here is the piece I wrote for commemoration of the WWI centenary.

 

“The attack of the dead men” by Ekaterina Crawford

As we laid my great grandfather to rest, I couldn’t stop thinking about his last words.

“Dead man, dead man walking… they’ve come for me… dead man…” he kept mumbling until his final breath.

At first, I thought it was just the old dying man’ nonsense, but then it came to me. I remembered the story he told me once. He said he didn’t speak of it to anyone else, that deep was the impact of what he’d seen all those many years ago on the 6th of August 1915.

“For over 190 days our special corpus was stationed by the Osowiec Fortress, a 19th-century fortress located on the outskirts of the Russian Empire. It was not a grand settlement nor was it a first-class defence fortress, as many others scattered across the Empire’s borders, the strength of Osowiec was in its location. Built on a high river bank, among the vast, deadly and impassable swamps, it was one of the last fort posts that stood on the way of our, German army, as we tried to force our way deeper into the Russian territory. There was no way around it, the fortress had to fall.

After the reinforcements arrived, on the 13th of February 1915, we began a new offensive. Our heavy cannons fired every four minutes, in groups of 360, but Russian forces gave no ground. Over the weeks of siege that lasted from February into March, hundreds of thousands of shots were fired by our heavy guns and perhaps over a million rounds by the light artillery, yet Russians didn’t give up their positions. Day in, day out, week after week, the fortress withheld our offensives for another six months.

Days dragged as we waited for orders from our commanding officers. Then the orders finally came on the first days of August 1915, we were ordered to advance, to break through the defence positions and to take the fortress at whatever cost. But who could estimate the costs the order had spoken about? The siege had already lasted for almost a year. Many men, on both sides, had already died.

On the following day, one of our officers, using the cover of the white flag and the rule of parley, approached the fortress and tried to negotiate with the Russians. We were later told they were offered a half of a million Imperial Marks to surrender their positions. Can you image that much money for just one fortress? The argument was simple, our army would’ve needed to spend half a million Imperial Marks worth of heavy and light artillery shots and shells to force our way into their positions. Our commanders were prepared to pay this ransom to avoid the unnecessary manslaughter and a waste of ammunition.

Although the money wasn’t offered as a bribe, the Russians still refused. They were given a 48 hours ultimatum either to surrender or… Russian Chief of Defence Staff of the fortress said they’ll fight till the last drop of blood. A mad man. A fool? A dead man for sure! We had two armies in waiting, they, after all the offensives we’d carried out over the past six months, were merely a few hundred men at the very most.

Young and unexperienced soldiers that we were, we did not know what to do but wait. Surely a few hundred men and several lines of trenches wouldn’t be able to withstand our advance, to hold us back, yet somehow, they’d managed to do it since February. As it turned out, our commanding officers had a plan and for the next few days that followed the failed negotiations, we waited for the right wind conditions.

I think I will never forget that. Even now, when so many years had passed since, it’s still so vivid in my memory as if the 6th of August 1915 happened just yesterday.

At 4a.m., when usual heavy artillery bombardment would’ve begun on any other day, the gas batteries were brought in range, and under the cover of our heavy cannons, the dark green smoke of chlorine and bromide was released towards Russian positions.

What did we know about the chemical weapons back then? In the middle of the summer, the grass turned black and the leaves turned yellow. No one, in the range of several miles, could’ve survived the attack of the poisonous gas. Russian infantry was positioned too close to the gas batteries and didn’t have gas masks, we knew that for sure.

A few hours later, as the green gas had cleared, we started our advance – fourteen battalions we were, at least 7,000 men. I was among the first lines of infantry. Although, we knew there could’ve been no survivors, we made our progress slowly and carefully.

When we reached the first lines of defence, the shocking picture that appeared before us, was nothing compared to what we could’ve imagined even in our darkest nightmares. Nothing in our short army training could’ve prepared us for what we’d seen.

In the light of the morning sun, through the green mist that still hung above the ground, we saw Russian soldiers, who somehow managed to survive the gas attack, advance towards us. Their bloodied faces bore marks of chemical burns, their skin was peeling. Their faces and bodies were wrapped in dirty rags that only distantly resembled their military uniforms. They walked towards us, as if in slow motion, but walked with all their might. The most terrifying sight. Half-dead, they coughed as they walked, spitting blood and pieces of their lungs. They had but minutes to live, but they were determined to give their last fight all that they’ve got left.

The panic had begun among our troops. Everyone was screaming – me and my mates of fear, the Russians of pain. Their bodies decayed slowly as they walked towards us, but they kept shooting, they kept walking. Dead men walking. With each passing moment, they pushed us further and further, back into our positions.

Terrified, ignoring the orders of the commanding officers, we dropped our weapons and ran back to our positions, jumping on over our fallen comrades, dying on our own barbed wire defences. Despite our army had exceeded in their numbers, we, not them, have been called coward for many years after that day. We’d lost the offensive and retreated. We ran for our dear lives like dogs with our tails between our legs.

The sight of the brave men we slaughtered has never left me. Even today, I see their bloodied faces and half-decayed bodies as if it happened only yesterday.”

Driving home from the funeral service, I turn this story inside my head, over and over again. I now understand who the dead men my great grandfather was speaking about in the last minutes of his life were. I know what needs to be done.

As soon as I’m home, I check the flights from Munich to Warsaw, and then consult google-map for the directions to my final destination. From Warsaw there’s about three and a half hours’ drive to Osowiec-Twierdza. According to Google, the fortress now is a tourist attraction.

A war is always a tragedy. It brings death and suffering, destruction and devastation. Yet at the same time, it’s a testament and a celebration of the greatest bravery, courage and will.

I book my tickets. I don’t need to pack. I’m flying tomorrow morning and will rent a car at the airport. I will pay my respects to the memory of those brave Russian soldiers. Perhaps, their spirits will stop tormenting my great grandfather’s soul and he’d, finally, find his peace.

WWI commemoration

We are slowly approaching the 11th of November, and as a part of my writing class I was offered an opportunity to write a piece in commemoration of WWI centenary. I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to practice my skill and write something completely different to the story that I am currently working on. And so I did!

The short story I wrote is based on the true events, unfortunately, not many know of it.

In February 1915, Russian officers were given an order to hold off the German offensive on the Osowiec Fortress* for 48 hours to allow the army to regroup and re-treat.

Unfortunately, the order to re-treat never came and solders and officers were holding the Fortress for another 6 month. 2 weeks after the events described in the story, the Russians withdrew their army from the fortress (well, what was left of it).

I will post the story either later on today or tomorrow, watch the space!

(*WIKI info: Osowiec Fortress is a 19th-century fortress located in north-eastern Poland, built by the Russian Empire. It saw heavy fighting during World War I when it was obstinately defended for several months by its Russian garrison against German attacks.)

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POV exercise

Hey everyone! It’s Friday (again). Gosh, time flies! It seems like only yesterday kids started a new school year, but we already past the first half term and now back to school. We already turned the page on Halloween and in a week or so, all shops will start selling Christmas stuff and festive music will pour from the radios. Its all happening too fast. Too fast.

Anyway, it’s Friday and it means that earlier today I had another of my Writing Lessons. It’s been our second week talking about the Point of View (POV). We had so much fun looking at the different points of view and their importance for the story telling. We discussed different stories and the choices authors made in picking the correct character, through whose eyes the story to be told and how the that character’s POV affecting us as a reader, our feelings towards the story and its characters, as well, how we, readers, interpret the story when its being told from the POV of one or another character.

A good part of the lesson was spent on reading and discussing our homework – a point of view exercise and, trust me, it was really interesting how the same setting and the same scene is changes if looked through the different pair of eyes.

As always, the homework consisted of several parts. Part one was to take a life episode or any memorable even and write a scene. First, write it in a first person POV. Making sure that there are 2 characters in a scene with conflicting agendas, the task was to draw up a complete scene (beginning to end) and, most importantly (and most complex condition) to do it in no more than 200 words. Parts 2 and 3 were to re-write the same scene but from the different character (participant POV), still the same condition to do it within no more than 200 words.

And so I took a real life episode and wrote it and then re-wrote it 2 times, giving each participant a chance to share their view on the event. I guess me writing about it is a bit masochistic, but we all have to fight our demons. I’ve tried my best and I think I managed to do it. However, if I succeeded or not, you have to decide. Don’t forget to tell me what you think.

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POV 1 – First person (199 words)

Out of breath I reach the main gates. The words “he’s leaving” are throbbing in my temples.

I stop abruptly as I see Alex on the other side. He’s loading bags into a car, arguing with his dance partner. They always argue…

Not sure what to do, I stand and look at him and suddenly the painful realisation is hitting me – the iron bars are between us. I’m not allowed outside and the security guard is already eyeing me with suspicion.

I call his name, hesitant, almost a whisper. I’ve already embarrassed myself dashing through the camp, hoping to see him once more before he leaves.

He looks up and smiles and then walks to me, back through the gates. Do I imagine it or is he happy that I’m here? Yes, he is! He pulls me in and everything but disappears. I hold him tight, wishing this moment would last forever, but he pulls back. He looks at me. His eyes speak volumes but he doesn’t say a word.

“Goodbye,” he whispers finally. His lips brush against my cheek and he walks away. Too fast for me to reply, fast enough for him not to see my tears.

POV 2 – Third person (200 words)

Alex drops his bag into the back seat of the car. Tomorrow, he’d only need his tail suit and a shirt.

Julia’s already started the car and moaning he’s taking too long, she’s afraid they’ll miss registration. His partner is older and more experienced and never misses an opportunity to drive him up the wall.

He is about to get into the car when he hears Kat’s voice. He looks up, their eyes meet and the world stops. She’s come!

Trying not to look over-exited, he walks back through the gates and wraps his arms around her. He’d never met a girl like her, he even told her so. He knows he shouldn’t have, but at the time, it seemed like the natural thing to do.

He heaves a long sigh remembering the time they spent together, dancing and laughing. Being with her felt so natural.

He pulls back, yet unable to let go. He looks down at her, suddenly self-conscious. He wants to kiss her but fights the urge. They’re already making a scene. The security guard keeps staring and Julia rolls her eyes.

Kissing her cheek, he whispers his goodbyes, walks back to the car and drives away.

POV 3 – Third person – different character (202 words)

Julia gets into the car and starts the engine. Through the rear-view mirror she catches a glimpse of Alex fiddling with his bag.

“Can we go already? Registration finishes at 5,” she says angrily. “Mind the traffic, God knows how long it will take for us to get back,” she adds, her fingers dancing over the steering wheel.

Competitions are her life. In spring they’d finished sixth, this time she’s determined to be among the finalists.

“We’re gonna be late!” she moans again, sure that Alex is waiting for Kat. She hopes Max doesn’t find her.

Not that Kat’s a bad girl, on the contrary. Still Julia disapproves of this “friendship”. For her Kat is a distraction. Alex is a good dancer with a lot of potential, but he needs to work on his posture and heel placement, now that they’re leaving he’d be able to concentrate.

Julia rolls her eyes as she sees Alex rushing back through the gate to embrace Kat.

“Just friends, right…”

For some time, they don’t speak and don’t move, and she’s forced to look away to give them some privacy, but before she knows it, Alex gets into the car.

“Don’t,” he says quietly. “Just drive.”

 

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Writing exercise – “setting and mood”

Hey, I know, its been a while. School holidays is a hectic time for anyone, me not exemption. But as we approach the end of the week filled with little adventures, unlimited movies, hugs and sleeps in, and getting ready to get back to the usual school routine, I’ve decided to post another of the exercises I did at my writing class.

So, on a week two, we have been looking at Settings and how important they are for creating the right mood and the atmosphere of the story. My home work that week consisted of several parts. Part one was to find a familiar place and spend there 10 minutes. Observe. Listen. Take in. Part two was to write for 10 minutes a description of that place. Once the parts one and two were completed, it was time to proceed with Part three – the most important part of the work. The task was to add the mood and re-write the description of the same place with that mood in mind.

When most of my “class mates” used the description of the rooms in their houses, rooms filled with furniture, books, CDs, toys, photos, and other memorabilia, I decided to be clever (well, not really) and write a description of the hallway that greets me every day when I come to work – yeap, 2 walls, 2 doors, floor and the ceiling, nothing much in between!

When I finished , it was not as bad, as I thought it would be. I managed to come up with over 400 words describing an empty space. Too late I understood my mistake. It was when the teacher announced the homework for the following week. The task was to take the SAME PLACE, change the mood and add a character into that setting and write another description of the SAME PLACE with that character in mind. Oh that was fun! What ever came out of it, I leave for you to judge.

Below you will find two sets of description of the same place (hallway between 2 doors, probably 5 m long, 2 m wide) from the different people (personalities’) point of view. Hope you like it. Feel free to let me know what you think 🙂

Description 1

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A buzz, a click, a little push and you’re in.

As it opens, the heavy door lets the sun in and the space is filled with bright light. It gushes in, bounces of the walls and blinds you for a moment, but as the door closes behind, you’re trapped in the darkness of a narrow hallway.

The ceiling is high but there are no windows, no lights. And a small gap underneath the door is covered with a piece of rubber. A good intention, at first thought, it’s probably there to keep the draft out, but, as it happens, it also keeps out any light that may creep in from the outside.

They weren’t very clever, were they? I mean people decided to paint the walls of the inner hallway in this strange colour of slate, dirty water and lay these depressing grey carpet tiles.

It’s a startling experience, as, all of a sudden, you’re swallowed by darkness. Cause, after all, it’s just you, the sound of your beating heart thundering inside your chest, and that old scary monster from your childhood nightmare.

There supposed to be an emergency green light, indicating your way out of the building in case of danger, but it either wasn’t planned, perhaps by the same clever-heads, who approved the colours of the wall paint, or it’s broken, but in any event, this hell-hole is pitch black.

It smells in here as well. The old buildings have specific odour about them, but it’s not just that. It’s been raining all day before with heavy thunderstorm lashing through the night, and now the air is dump and it stinks of cheap coffee, burgers and chicken nuggets – all thanks to the dirty takeaways that litter the street.

Hyperventilating, yet very carefully, trying to dose the intake of the stenched air, you move your hands about in a complete darkness, addressing all the saints that you can think of. You may even consider selling your soul to the Devil, especially if he is as good looking as you saw yesterday on Lucifer.

As your eyes adjust to the dark, you begin to see a little clearer. The saving barrier of the inner door that will take you out of this misery is just a few steps ahead and so you rush forward and push what apparently needs to be pulled and after this exertion of pushing and pulling, you are finally free, out of breath but free.

Description 2

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It’s warm in here. A little dark, perhaps, as the entrance door, bright blue on the outside is painted marble grey on the inside. Usually the doors are white, but this clever designer move has its charm and it matches the colour of the walls and carpet. The space is not grand, a meter wide and probably 5 meters long but that’s what makes it special.

This street has never been quiet. the tourists, noisy busses and never-ending road and building works which seems to go on forever, just migrating from one part of the street to another. One feels strangely happy having made it to the saving door, from the tube and through the street alive and in one piece. Outside there is no one escape from the cacophony of sounds, but you can always hide away in this grey little box.

There is not much here in this hall. There is nothing really but 2 walls, 2 doors, and a ceiling. A brown door mat, a red fire extinguisher, a big red and white “non-smoking” sign stuck to the grey wall, a light grey box of the fire alarm system, shinning happily with the green and red lights. But the heavy door keeps the elements at bay, as well as shields you from all the people outside. The fire door, placed at the end of the hallway, preserves the peace and quiet, separating this place of tranquillity from the chaos of the legal office that awaits you upstairs.

The green emergency light on the wall shines like a guiding star, pointing the way along this narrow hallway towards the sea of stairs and landings, chatty people and noisy printers, computers, constantly ringing phones and boxes. Boxes and boxes of papers stalked up against the wall, their towers reaching up to a height of a grown-up person.

You stand there, bracing yourself for a day ahead, noting all the small, minimalist’s features of this hallway, trying not to think of what awaits you behind the second door. But divine smell of coffee and freshly cut sandwiches, coming from a shop behind the wall to your right calms you down and a gives a promise of an easily assessable lunch. You can nick in and out, beating the crowds and then again retreat to your happy little place.

“The sweet memories of youth”

Hey!

hope you’re all having a great Friday. I, personally, can’t wait for the week to end. It’s been a long and a trying one. FGIF!

As I mentioned before, I will use this blog to post some of the stuff that I do for my creative writing class and maybe some short snippets from the book that I’m currently working on.

 

We know the life goes on. We know we can’t turn back the clock and return to our past. But some times we hope, we would. This piece below was my first home work for my writing class – a flash-fiction on the subject “The sweet memories of youth” (NB: model has nothing to do with the homework, just the picture I thought would fit nice with the subject 😉 )

“The sweet memories of youth”

She stepped down from the bus and looked around. Filling her lungs to the top, she breathed in fresh, so much familiar, but at the same time so very much forgotten air of this green oasis. After all the noise and bustle of central parts of San Fran with all the tourists rushing back and forth and rattling trams, this place was calm and peaceful. It felt like home. She was home.

The street was still the same, the houses were the same, and if it wasn’t for a few extra cars on the road and on the driveways, nothing had changed much. It felt as if some magic hand wound back the clock, taking her to the time when she was just sixteen, when her grandma was still alive.

She closed her eyes and saw herself a young woman prancing down the street in a light summer dress. Wild and care free, as she was, she turned heads of young boys and much older men. She saw her Nan standing on the door steps of their little house, a rolling pin clenched tightly in her hand, reading to scold her for yet another complaint of the neighbours.

“Ah, the sweet memories of youth,” she thought, opening her eyes. “How innocent everything seemed back then.”

Suddenly she felt sad. Whatever memories of the past she cherished, she knew she was a different person now and as one of the ancient folks had said, she couldn’t quite remember who exactly, but there was something about walking into the same river twice.

Forcing down a knot that began to build in her throat, she wiped a lone tear and crossed the road to the other side to wait for the bus that will take her back to the hotel.

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