The only ones left alive in the trenches were the Cook and the Colonel. It was clear, from his shallow breathing and the occasional mumbled order that would never be carried out, that the Colonel did not have long. The Cook almost envied the Colonel. He would soon be free of the smells of spent explosives, the burst latrines and the burgeoning decomposition of the fallen in the fetid mud.
Earlier, The Cook had managed to trap a rat and, after skinning and gutting it, he scraped together some twigs for a fire to cook up a thin soup. All he had to thicken the meagre broth was the crumbs from a tough old bread crust he’d found in a dead soldier’s pocket. He tried to spoon feed the Colonel, to no avail, and an hour later, after a final gasp, the old warrior succumbed. The Cook wondered briefly how many times he’d seen this before and how long he was fated to stay on this treadmill.
His thoughts were interrupted by the clanking tank tracks of advancing troops. Rifling the Colonel’s pockets, he found a trench-soiled handkerchief still white enough to serve its purpose, attached it to a stick and waved it frantically above the parapet. An unmistakably foreign voice shouted “Come out slowly, with your hands up.”
The Cook tentatively raised his head to face an enemy soldier, standing poised with a Kalashnikov at the ready.
“Are there any more survivors?” he demanded.
The Cook felt safer when he saw the Lieutenant stripes on the soldier’s uniform. Officers tended to be more civilised in his experience.
“No, they are all dead, sir.”
The Lieutenant motioned to his troops to come forward and search the trenches. They soon confirmed the Cook’s report.
The Lieutenant slung his gun over his shoulder.
“Who are you and why do you have no uniform?”
The Cook said calmly “I am the Cook, sir. I was their prisoner.”
“So where are you from?”
The Cook sighed “From so many places I no longer remember them all, sir.”
The Lieutenant nodded. “Are you really a cook?”
“Yes, sir. But there is no food left to cook.”
“We’ll take care of that” the Lieutenant said. “You’re our prisoner now. Unless you’d rather die.”
“No, no, no, sir, I will happily cook for you. It’s what I always do.”
“What do you mean, it’s what you ‘always do’?”
The Cook explained “It always comes to this, sir. Eventually everyone is defeated and the victors are always hungry for a decent meal, so they don’t kill the Cook.”
The Lieutenant smiled.
“Unless they are a bad cook.”
“True, sir. But, as you can see, I am still alive and I am at your service.”
That night, after he Cook had prepared and cleaned up after his first meal for his new master, the Lieutenant sat down with him.
“When did this all start for you?”
“I was personal chef to Vercingetorix the Gaul, sir, until he was defeated by Julius Caesar at Alesia. And so on and so on, throughout history.”
The Lieutenant guffawed.
“You may be able to cook but you’re also obviously insane. That would make you immortal.”
“I bow to your greater wisdom on that matter, sir. All I know is that there will always be wars and there will always be winners and losers. And that I will always be there at the end.”
The Lieutenant seemed to lose himself in his thoughts.
The Cook, fearing he’d unnerved his new boss, said quickly “Would you like some dessert, Colonel? Oh, my apologies. Lieutenant. Although I don’t imagine it will take you long.”
And so it came to pass, as The Cook accompanied his captor through the ranks, all the way to General. The Cook felt closer to this one than any before and they would often talk well into the night about art, literature and music.
Until The Cook found himself one day confronted by the body of the General, dismembered by incoming fire, along with everyone else as far as the eye could see. At least as far as The Cook’s eyes could see through tears that could not be stemmed.
“Enough!” he shouted. No more would he be pinned to this obscene samsara, this never-ending wheel of loss and destruction.
As he heard the enemy approach, he cradled the General’s gun in his lap to make himself look like a combatant and waited for deliverance. It appeared it was to come in the form of a boy soldier. The boy, shaking, raised his gun and was about to fire when a Lieutenant slapped the weapon aside. “Not him, you idiot! That’s The Cook.”
About the author
Doug Jacquier is an Australian who writes stories and poems. He’s lived and worked in many urban, rural and remote places, and he has travelled extensively overseas. His work has appeared in several anthologies. His aim is to surprise, challenge and amuse.