Trigger Warning: Graphic injury detail; mild profanity
'What did you do in the war, Daddy?'
Jack T. Canis
So all those propaganda posters were actually true, well this one at least. The one where the father’s sat in his armchair with his pipe and his adoring son looks up at him from the floor, with his hand on a tin soldier or a tank and then addresses his father,
‘Daddy? What did you do during the war?’
I was sat in our sitting room, not with a pipe in hand, but a half drunk glass of warm bitter and the Sunday paper on my lap. My son, Andrew, his curly cue blond forelock dangling just above his left eye, suddenly looked up from where he was playing with his tank brigade. A thought having struck him as he played.
‘Hm,’ I replied, engrossed in the paper.
‘Did you do anything in the war? I mean, were you a tank man or something?’
I glanced up from my newspaper and looked down into those hopeful blue eyes. It would mean the world to him to know that his old da had been inside a tank blowing the crap out of Jerry. I looked hard at Andrew as a cold chill slowly encircled my chest, gripping at my heart and clenching tightly. What could I say? Should I lie and say, Yes ‘Drew daddy blew the shit outta Jerry with a massive gun propelled on tracks? Or should I tell him the truth? I had been in a tank, that would’ve been true. But I couldn’t tell him that. I was obliged not to tell him, or indeed anyone else, what I had done during the war.
So what could I say to appease the imploring gaze?
‘I worked in Whitehall during the war, Drew. I did get to inspect some tanks on one occasion though.’ I tried a smile to mollify the obvious disappointment my message conveyed.
‘Oh,’ Drew replied returning to play with his tanks despondently.
An image slipped unbidden into my mind, a memory of an icy, clear moonless night somewhere in Norway. A night so dark that the sentry’s silhouette seemed to be nothing more than a slightly darker blackness within a Stygian world of corruption. I remembered the warmth from his body as mine encircled his; the hard leather ammunition pouches on his harness dug into my hip bones. His sudden tension as my hand closed over his mouth, wrenching his head back onto my shoulder, exposing his neck. My right hand swinging round to plunge my knife, point first into his throat, slicing through his carotid artery, tip pressing into the vocal cords, sealing the windpipe to prevent noise as he died pressed against my chest. I let his stiffened form slide silently to the leafy loam of the forest floor. Before pressing on into the night.
‘Yes,’ I continued to Drew, although more to myself than to my son, ‘I worked for Whitehall. Very boring, office work, important for the War effort though. It was a reserved occupation.’
Drew looked up at me again, a new thought springing to his active imagination, ‘Like a spy?’ he asked hopefully.
I could give him that, couldn’t I? But, no, no I couldn’t, I still worked for Whitehall and my obligations were even more intense than my efforts during the war, I couldn’t openly admit to my son that I spied for my country, whether this was true or not.
I sighed again, my son would just have to believe that old daddy was a boring pen pusher. Besides, no matter how much my activities had thrilled me in the day, how much I relished the kill, it was not a life I would ever wish upon another, and certainly not for my son. Too much risk, too many opportunities to be killed, maimed or worse. Capture and torture by the Gestapo.
‘No, not really, Drew. Wish I could say I’d been a spy during the war, son, but no. No, I worked on supplies and distributions, ensuring our soldiers had the best equipment we had available and ensuring that it was delivered to them before they needed it. It was important work, but very boring. Never left the office, except for those rare occasions when I’d go and inspect the goods before they were shipped, like with the tanks.’ I put on a brave smile for Drew and I could see his little mind ticking over. Yes, he could see that such a role was important in the grand scheme of things, but actually that didn’t matter. Dad wasn’t a war hero, dad never saw real action. He had never faced the Nazis in open warfare, he had never killed for his country. But everyone had done their bit, not everyone could be a soldier, not everyone could be a hero. I saw Drew nod to himself and his attention returned to his soldiers once more.
I flicked my newspaper, suddenly consumed by an agitation. My memories started to flood my mind and I was awash with blood. So many nameless men and boys that had fallen to my blade in the silence of a tenebrous night. My heart started to race and I could feel the yearning to once more slip through the corridors of power in an alien land meting out justice to evil doers. I snorted derisively, there was no justice in what I had done, it was merely my mind trying to protect itself from what it already knew. I loved the thrill of the hunt, but better yet, I loved the kill. I relished the moment the knife slid into my enemies flesh and I felt their life slither from their body along the edge of my blade. Cold, dark nights were best, as you could almost see their souls coalesce out of the gaping seeping wounds torn in their throats. I was a god extinguishing life in lesser beings and I adored it.
Jack T Canis lives in South Wales, UK with his wife and three neurodivergent children. He started his professional career as an archaeologist, but through the years has also been a self-employed armourer; an administrator for the NHS and in recent years a qualified person-centred counsellor specialising in bereavement and loss, now retired. Currently he is a full-time carer for his youngest child who has additional emotional & physical needs and carer for his eldest child who is autistic. He is a part time writer. He is published in a number of publications including: Purple Wall magazine (honourable mention & co-champion), Datura, & Sledgehammer Literary magazine. He is in four anthologies and has been longlisted in the Cranked Anvil monthly competition & Bridport Flash Fiction Competition (2021).
The collection of dark short stories, 'Horrific Tales for a Horrific Year' published by Abergavenny Small Press (ASP) is available from:
A second short story collection, ‘#Rehashed’ & the sword and sorcery e-novelette, ‘The Unsung Hero’ are available from:
Twitter (daily): @jackcanis.
Facebook (rarely): @jacktcanis.