The Last Smoke: A Short Story

The Last Smoke - Cover

 

The Last Smoke: A Short Story

John hunkered down further in the snow-filled trench as a gust of wind ripped through the fortified passage. Next to him, his buddy William did the same, blowing in his gloved hands to warm them against the chill. John sighed. All he wanted to do was curl up with his little girl and read her T’was the Night Before Christmas before he tucked her into her bed. Instead, he was huddled in a trench in frozen France, and he was surrounded by enemy soldiers.

He was almost frozen himself. Snow had been falling since the wee hours of morning, and his trench coat, trousers, and shirt were soaked through. He wished he could move. At least he could warm up that way. But if he accidentally exposed himself over the top of the trench, it would give away their position. And it would likely be the end of him.

He gripped his rifle and prepared to fire a couple of rounds.

William slid a round into his rifle and smiled at him. “It could be worse, you know? It could be this cold and raining. At least the snow gives us a little time before we feel it.”

John smirked then steadied himself.

He hated this part. The part where he had to peek over the edge, fire a round or two, and hope that he would be lucky enough to pull everything he showed the enemy back into the trench when he was done.

He took several deep breaths and nodded to William that he was ready. They both crouched at the edge of the trench and fired blindly into the white expanse.

Rolling himself back down into the trench, he hunched over himself to build up body heat.

William bumped into him as he dropped into a heap beside him. “Just a little while longer, Johnny. Then we can head down to the rest of the group and curl up beside a barrel fire until our skin turns read. You got any papers on you?” He dug around in his pockets, searching for his tobacco.

“They are probably wet. I’m soaked through.” John leaned to his side and pulled his papers out of his back pocket. They were wrapped in leather, but even leather soaks through after a while.

William took the folded leather and set it in his lap with his tobacco tin. He peeled his wet gloves from his hands and untied the string holding the leather closed. Running his index finger against the edges of the papers inside, he gave John a grin. “Middle ones are dry.”

“Hurry up and roll one then. I’m freezing,” John grumbled. He wrapped his hands around the barrel of the rifle, siphoning the last of its warmth into his damp gloves.

William set to work, sprinkling the tobacco on a dry rolling paper then rhythmically rolling it between his thumbs and fingers to pack the tobacco tight. He folded the leather pouch back up and handed it to John to tie closed.

John wrapped the strings around the leather and tied it tightly before he shoved it back into his rear pocket. The movement exposed his wet backside to the frigid air, sending a chill through his body.

William tapped the end of the cigarette on the lid of the tobacco tin to pack the tobacco even tighter, then he closed the tin tight and slid it inside the interior pocket of his trench coat. Pulling a box of matches out of the same pocket, he placed the tip of the cigarette in his mouth. He fiddled with the box with his cold fingers until he was able to push the end of it open, and he pulled one of the tiny sticks out. Striking it quick against the barrel of his rifle, he lit the cigarette and snuffed the match out in the snow.

He took two long puffs then passed it to John. “You know, I’m starting to wonder if we are even shooting at anyone. We ain’t had a shot returned in two days.”

John shook his head, taking the cigarette. “They’re out there. Just because we can’t see them and we haven’t heard them, don’t mean they aren’t biding their time.”

William chuckled. “I bet they packed up and left once the snow started coming down hard. They probably decided that if it got this cold up here, we could have it.”

John smirked and took a long draw on the cigarette. The smoke was warm on his throat, and it tickled it slightly, but it did little more to heat him up. He passed it back to William. “They’re out there. They’re probably just waiting for a clean shot before they let us know where they are.”

William tucked the cigarette in his mouth, letting it dangle as he talked. “I’ll prove we’re alone. If no one returns fire after our next shots, I ‘ll stand up and roll us another cigarette.” He looked at John, his face full of certainty. “I’m telling you, there’s no one out there. We’re just shooting at the snow.”

John pulled a bullet from his ammunition pouch and loaded his weapon. He frowned. He did not want to agree to such a stupid bet, but he knew that no matter what he said, William was going to do it. Once William set his mind on something, he did it. If anything, trying to talk him out of it only made him want to do it more. John bowed his head against his weapon in silence, hoping that William would just let it go.

“You ready, Johnny?”

John looked sidelong at his friend, doing his best to ignore the “I’ll show you” grin on his face. He gave William a nod.

William adjusted the cigarette in his mouth, and they both crouched at the edge of the trench again. They each fired a single shot into the falling snow.

Rolling back down into the trench, they kept low, listening. No shots were returned.

“Told you,” William said with a triumphant smile on his lips.

John put his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Just wait. They may still be trying to determine where the shots came from.”

William shook his head. “I’m telling you, Johnny, there’s no one out there. The officers just have us out here to make their superiors think they are working. We’re freezing while they’re down there by the barrel, eating and staying warm.” William took one last puff on the cigarette and snuffed it out in the snow. He placed the part he did not smoke in the pocket of his trench coat.

“Give them five minutes, Will. Just five,” he pleaded with him. He did not want to beg, but he would stall for as long as he could.

“Fine, I’ll give ‘em five minutes, then I’m going to roll a victory cigarette, and we are going to march down to the other end of this trench and park our asses by that fire. The commissions can come down here and fire at the snow if they want to appear busy.”

John snorted and closed his eyes. He hugged the warm barrel against his chest and rocked side to side to create as much heat as possible. And he prayed. He prayed for a single shot to ring out, anything to prove that they were not shooting at nothing—anything to make his friend give up his stupid idea.

The minutes ticked by much too quickly. John counted the seconds and knew that he had run out of time.

“Gimme your papers, Johnny.”

He pulled the leather pouch from his seat pocket again and passed them to William.

William propped his rifle against the side of the trench and stood up. Swiping his arm across the snow at the top of the trench, he created a flat spot to wrap and roll his cigarette.

“I told you, Johnny. We’re gonna be sitting next to the barrel in about ten minutes, finally warm, finally dry. Them officers think they got us fooled.”

John could not say anything. He gripped his rifle and watched his friend, praying hard and fast that even if there were soldiers out there, they were hunkered down in the trenches next to their fires and not paying attention.

William pulled a small stack of papers out of the leather pouch and flipped through them to find a dry one.

John’s gaze darted to his friend as soon as the single shot broke the silence.

William’s head jerked back, and his hands stopped moving. He appeared frozen for a moment, gazing off at something in the distance. Then he fell, crumpling into a heap.

John sat, frozen in shock, as his best friend’s body collapsed into the snow.

A gust of wind whipped through the trench, picking up the cigarette papers and scattering them over the snow, but John could not do anything but stare.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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Weekly Update: June 30th

Good morning!

I’m going to start off by saying that this has been a very long week.  It hasn’t been a bad week; there was just a lot going on during it.

Other than some quick clean up and touch-up, the bathroom renovation is done.  I can finally start putting our stuff back in the bathroom.  That was my big project this week, and it consumed my every day from Monday until Friday morning late.

The kids also had Bible School this week, which means that every evening, I had to stop painting early so that I could bathe the kids in the still-wet bathroom, get them all dressed and ready to go, and then out the door with my parents to go out to the church to learn about Jesus.  They had fun, and I enjoyed a few child-free nights.  (I still had Seth at home with me a few of those nights because his temperament on those particular nights was not at its best.)  And on Friday night, I went out there with them for the evening and got to watch my kids sing and dance and have fun.  Now, they get to spend this week recuperating from the late nights.  (They were up almost an hour past their bedtime every night.)

This week, I am getting back down to business.  I have a few shorts that I would like to get written up in August, so I am going to pick one once I get the kids out the door to church this morning and I am going to start fleshing it out.  I also have a few other writing projects that I need to get finished up this week, so I will be working on those a bit each day, and hopefully, I will have them all finished up by Saturday night.

For now, though, I am off to get kids ready for church.

Have a great week, everyone!

Weekly Update: July 16 – July 22

Man, this has been a week.  I’ve been on a cleaning streak this week.  On top of dealing with the bathroom project that seems to be taking forever (know how hard it is to paint an entire room when you have a tactile autistic child?  Yeh, it’s hard.), but I have also been working on cleaning up and organizing the kitchen and the pantry.  All are big projects, but they all need to be done because I am tired of looking at the big messes that they are.

Writing-wise, I’ve been finishing up the finishing touches on the August prompt ebook and the August Workbook that are coming out this week.  I haven’t done any preparation for their launches, however, so I am not expecting them to do so well since I haven’t booked any promotions or set up any launch events.  Bad, bad me.

This week, the kids will be out of the house every single night until Friday night for Bible School, so I am hoping to knock the bathroom completely off my to-do list, and hopefully, by Thursday or Friday night, I will be able to sit down with a notebook and write something.  Anything.  I’ll take a journal entry at this point.  Not being able to write on a daily basis leaves my mind feeling addled.  Like it can’t keep up with everything that is in there.  Hence the reason I like to write things down.

That’s all that has been going on this week.  I know it isn’t a lot, but I’ve had to put my writing life on hold temporarily to get this house under control.

I hope everyone has a great week!

Weekly Update: July 2 – July 8

It has been a bit of a long week.  Family-wise, the kids have been coming down, in rapid succession, with some cootie that I have yet to figure out where it came from.  No one is so sick as to be overly worried, but we are all generally irritable because we call just feel icky.

Writing-wise, it was a slow week.  With two weeks out of practice due to the renovation of our bathroom, I spent the week trying to get back into the routine of simply writing something every day.  It has only been journal entries this week, mostly because it was so hard to concentrate with everyone sick and moody.

But that absence of writing gave me time to re-evaluate my branding, of which I determined that I pretty much have none.  I was too scattered.  I write nonfiction, fantasy, science fiction, urban fantasy, and I even tend to lean towards tween sci-fi and fantasy.  All in all, that left my brand very muddy.  So I sat down this week and evaluated what it would take for me to split my work up among individual pen names per genre and what it would take for me to maintain those profiles.  I’m still working out those kinks.  I will not be keeping these pen names a secret, and I will announce the names I will be using as soon as I have settled on them.

That’s all I have done this week.  I’m not feeling my best today, so I will be curling up with a book and resting as much as possible.

Weekly Update: June 25 – July 1

Wow, what a week!  I am sorry for my abrupt silence.  My dad, who is also my landlord, scheduled a renovation for our bathroom which was long-overdue.  It was supposed to be a three-day job.  That was last weekend.  After a whole week of work, our bathroom is almost complete, but there are still some finishing touches that need to be done.  I am ready for it to be done.  My entire schedule is off.

I managed a few small writing projects this week.  No finalized projects, but I got a few outlines for several short fiction pieces down.  I did not have the focus to write anything out, so I used the time to brain-dump some of my ideas down on paper.

The plan for this week is to get back on my schedule as much as possible.  I know I still will not have the entire week to work due to the bathroom still not being complete, but I should be able to take one of the outlines for one of the shorter pieces and get parts of it down.

We shall see.

If fiction words will not flow, I will focus on my nonfiction project for this year, the prompts for The Daily Prompt 2018.

That is all that is on the books for me this week.

Weekly Update: June 11 – June 17

This was the first full week of my kids at home, out of school.  I was expecting to accomplish a lot less than I got done, I will be honest.  I figured with them at home that I would spend the entire day trying not to pull my hair out and doing my best to keep them from killing each other.  Four kids in a small house tends to lead to cabin fever, even if they have only been inside for a few minutes.  But, I managed to get quite a lot finished this week.

Right now, I am focusing on my nonfiction work, and I am trying to get ahead of it enough that I can take a month or two off from it and focus on my fiction work, full-fold.  This week, I finish setting up all the monthly editions, quarterly editions, and the yearly edition in their digital formats, and I got their listings on Amazon prepared up to the point where I press the Publish button.  They are ready to go, and all I have to do is hit that button on the correct day.

Due to a possible formatting issue, I am currently at a full-halt on my workbook editions.  I realized that I made a possible error on the June Workbook edition that I released earlier this month, so I don’t want to move forward with any of the other editions until I have the June Workbook in my hand and I can see if that possible error has any detrimental effects on the presentation of my book.  Because all I have to do is copy and paste to a template with the remainder of the work, I can’t really move forward until I know if my template needs to be adjusted or not.

So this week, I am working on the 2018 edition of The Daily Prompt.  I have a few more prompt types to come up with, then I can start setting it up in Scrivener.  Once I have done that, I am pull my months, my quarterlies, and my yearly editions for ebook format, and then I can start working on those workbooks.

If I can get far enough ahead with the 2018 edition, I should have a nice long while to work on my fiction projects.

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New Release: The Daily Prompt 2017: June Workbook

The Daily Prompt 2017: June Workbook is now available for purchase!  This publication is designed for writers who prefer to write to their prompts directly in the book.  Each prompt has two pages, lined front and back, for you to write out your prompt response or to begin making notes on a larger project.  This paperback is currently only available at Amazon.

Weekly Update: June 4 – June 10

Although it has been a hectic week with end-of-the-school-year IEP meetings for my middle son, awards ceremonies, a Pre-K graduation, and excitement from the kids because school was getting out, I still managed to get a bit of work done.

I’ll be honest, though.  None of it was creative work, really.  I have been formatting my digital and paperback editions of my nonfiction books that will be coming out this year.  I will be spending this upcoming week finishing up those projects so that I can focus on my fiction projects for the year.

This upcoming week, I have a new release coming out, if Amazon can decide that my paperback book’s cover is formatted correctly.  About two months ago, I decided to start creating workbooks for each month of my The Daily Prompt series.  These books are available in paperback format only, and they are designed to be written in.  I know that some writers do not like to write in their books, but others love to be able to scribble their notes right next to the prompt, so I am releasing this series just for those writers that love to write in their books.

The first paperback of The Daily Prompt 2017 Workbook series should be available by Tuesday morning.  I will keep you all posted on that.

That was about all I managed to get done over the last week, thanks to all the end-of-the-school-year events.  Hopefully, more will be accomplished this week.

How was your week?

Weekly Update: May 28 through June 3

Good morning, everyone!  It has been a lovely week here.  My youngest school-attendee is now out for the summer, and I have one more week before the oldest two are out as well.  It’s been a bit rough getting Seth acclimated to home-schedule, versus his school schedule, but he has done well.  We fell right into rhythm with him having his fill of “time with me” by 9:30, and he entertained himself with puzzles, books, and memory match cards until about 11:00.  And he let Ian play with him, so it was nice to get some time to write this week.

I have been easing myself back into the swing of things.  I got frustrated about three weeks ago.  Not with any story in particular, but mostly with the fact that I couldn’t focus.  I was also have laptop issues this week, and as much as I hate it, I think I may have to replace this old clunker.  I’ve been on my desktop most of the week trying to clean off my cloud storage areas so that I can clean off this laptop.

But I have been writing as well.  I started outlining what I believe will be a fantasy novella.  I won’t know for sure until I get the words on the page, and I plan on starting that this week once I finish editing The Last Smoke and The Siren’s Song.  I made great headway on those two stories this week.

That’s been my week in a nutshell, though.  I didn’t finish anything, but I did make progress, which in itself is great.