Today’s critique is from Chelsea. Chelsea is working on a historical fiction novel and plans to enter a competition soon where her entire entry is judge on her first thousands words. So she has sent these thousand words first to us. Chelsea would love to know if her characters are introduced strongly and how her setting and writing comes across in this excerpt. However, she would love to have any feedback that might improve her chances of winning.
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Kameradschaft (Excerpt from Chapter 1) by Chelsea
The sound of the morning bugle broke through my nightmare tossed sleep. I rolled over, buried my face in my pillow and tried to ignore it. I just needed one night of uninterrupted sleep. Just one! I was so tired and the idea of dragging myself out of bed and reporting for duty was not inviting.
The bugle sounded again and I peered at my watch, then threw myself out of bed. I’d slept in, it was already six o’clock and I should have been in the mess hall fifteen minutes ago. I scrambled into my uniform like the wind and walked stiffly up to the mess to collect my breakfast.
“Guten tag, Wolfe,” Leutnant Ernst Muller said, teasingly. “About time you were up, it’s almost afternoon.”
“Guten morgen, Leutnant,” I replied tiredly, retrieving my plate of cold eggs and ham and lukewarm black coffee and sitting down beside him.
“How’d you sleep, Wolfe?” Kurt Buckler, one of the young fighter pilots, asked.
I hesitated for a moment, staring into my coffee. How could I tell Kurt, a man whom I held up as a hero, that I had tossed and turned all night, unable to get the image of the burning English plane out of my head. How could I tell him that my eyes were bloodshot and my face grey, because the horror I had felt yesterday when I’d shot down a plane, ended a man’s life with my own hands, had not left me. I simply forced a smile, “All right thanks, Kurt.” I said.
Kurt was smiling at me, then he suddenly laughed, “Oh, Wolfe,” he said, “Your buttons are crooked.”
I frowned and glanced down at my jacket buttons, which were indeed done up in the most lopsided fashion possible. My frown deepened as I fumbled to fix them.
“And did you brush your hair, Wolfe?” added Leutnant Muller, in the same teasing tone.
“Or polish your shoes?” Kurt added, ducking under the table to check on my shoes.
I scowled at them, wishing my friends would just leave me alone.
“You’d better not let Hauptmann Adolph see you looking like that,” Kurt told me quietly, “He’ll probably skin you personally.”
I didn’t reply, merely rebuttoned my jacket, straightened my tie as best as possible, and raked a hand through my hair, hoping I now looked presentable. However, before I had a chance to fix my appearance too much, the door was flung open and Hauptmann Adolph, our kommandant, strode in and surveyed us. His gaze lingered on me for a moment, and I quickly stood to attention, hoping I didn’t look too ridiculous.
The atmosphere immediately switched from light and teasing to tense. We were required and the kommandant had arrived to choose some of us to complete his tasks. For the fighter pilots that would be simply routine patrols. However, as the Aufklärungflugzeug—air reconnaissance—we would be required for far more daring feats—photography over England, France, sometimes even Russia. Recon planes were slow and lightly armed, unlike the nimble killing machines the fighters used. Recon was a death sentence. So all of us, except me, for I stayed stiffly at attention, crossed our fingers behind our backs.
Hauptmann Adolph cleared his throat, “I need an aufklärung party to conduct a mission over England. I need two planes. Any volunteers?” He glanced around us, frowning. Nobody volunteered. “All right then,” he barked, looking irritated, “I volunteer Muller, Verick,” there was my name, “Hintzen and Loewe. I’ll see you in my office in ten minutes.”
“Yes, sir!” I chorused automatically as Leutnant Muller, Hintzen and Loewe stood and saluted.
My name had been called, along with that of Leutnant Muller, for the reconnaissance party, so I sculled the remaining cold coffee and scoffed the last of my eggs. Then I followed Ernst Muller into the hauptmann’s office where Hintzen and Loewe already stood.
The hauptmann sat at his desk, two large cameras lay on the desk alongside sheaves of paper. He glanced up at us as we entered in single file.
“Leutnant Muller reporting for duty, sir,” Leutnant Muller said briskly.
“Good.” Hauptmann Adolph glanced up at us and waved at the cameras. “I have a double job for you. I want pictures of the railways and main trenches behind the front lines, towards the French coast, and then I want photographs of the English air bases—and their locations. I want those Englishmen brought down.” He stood, picked up one camera, a large, cumbersome metal thing, and gave it me, then picked up the other and gave it to Loewe.
“Here are your orders,” the hauptmann handed his sheaves of paper to Leutnant Muller and Oberleutnant Hintzen. “Please be careful. Don’t take any chances. I don’t need to lose any more good men.” He nodded briskly, “You are dismissed.”
Together Ernst Muller and I strode to our room, and began changing from our formal beige and grey uniforms into our flying gear—warm leather one piece suits, ankle-length flying coats, gloves, caps and goggles. We were silent, both of us lost in our thoughts.
Ernst broke the silence after a few minutes with, “Are you all right, Wolfe?”
I glanced at him briefly, worming my way into my coat. “I’m as all right as everyone else here, I suppose.” I replied.
Ernst smiled faintly, “That’s the problem, lad. None of us are all right here, you least of all.”
I turned my head to study him, taking in his drawn, pale face, his ever-roving grey eyes. He wasn’t old, perhaps twenty-five or twenty-six, but the strains of war had left lines across his forehead. However, little but the constantly flickering eyes and the strange, high pitch of his voice, showed his ever-fraying nerves. I sighed as I realised that I probably looked just like he did.
“Why me?” I asked, finishing with the coat buttons and yanking on my flying cap.
“Because you’re not meant to be here. You weren’t made for this kind of horror, you’re too young to kill men and burn aeroplanes. You’re too young for that…we’re all too young for that.” He clenched his jaw as he did up his cap. “I’m only worried about you, Wolfe. Are you sure you’re all right?”
I paused in the act of pulling on my leather gloves, hesitating, eyeing my shaking hands. What could I say? I wasn’t all right at all! I had killed a man only hours ago, I was going out now and could possibly return knowing I’d killed another. “I’m all right.”