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The Magpie Sings the Great Depression:
Selections from DeWitt Clinton High School's Literary Magazine, 1929-1942

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By Gerardo Santora, '37

The Magpie, January 1936, v. 37, n. 1, p. 42.

It is dark and raining. In the middle of his shell-hole there is a murky, muddy puddle. From the sides, water trickles down to the puddle as branches of rivers into a great sea. The water has softened the earth and has made it so mushy that the soldier's shoe sinks more deeply into it with each slight movement of his body. The continual absorption of water into the fabric of the soldier's uniform has made it so heavy that he sinks under the weight. The rain, oozing down between his coarse collar and neck, causes the soldier to twitch uncomfortably.

To one's surprise, no blood drips from him anywhere. His position is that of a tired invalid sitting up in bed. Upon a side of the hole his back is resting heavily; his legs have been sucked into the placid mud. The puddle has burst its bounds and aims furtively at the soldier's feet where it gradually encircles his mud enveloped boots.

The soldier had been a cannoneer, a gunner, until a shot, fired from almost two miles away, landing, not on the cannon but five feet from it, disrupted the earth so terrifically that the cannon turned over, exploded, sent the other three gunners to Kingdom Come—but him, him it saved for a hell, right here on our own planet, earth. He was furthest from the cannon. The shock had blasted his eardrums, and shattered his nervous system so that the delicate nerve fibres were useless to the muscle endings in his legs. He was paralyzed. As he slowly awoke from unconsciousness, he could not convince himself that he was alive. It was inconceivable and yet, he reasoned, he could not be dead; the atmosphere was too cool.

Realizing the uselessness of his legs, he dragged himself eccentrically to the hole which the bursting shell had made. Being very tired, wishing he were dead, he crawled and landed a-heap in the bottom of the shellhole. Then the rain began again. The dripping, monotonous drops lulled the tired soldier to slumber. He slept the sleep of the infirm with the earth as a bed and mud as a pillow. When he awoke, it was still raining.

The earth has drunk in much water. The bottom and sides of the hole have become mucous so that the liquid no longer seeps through. A puddle forms itself in the center. It grows slowly larger and sneaks to the location of the soldier's feet. He feels no coolness, however, for his legs are senseless. His eyes stare at the puddle irrationally. The steady pitter-patter of the rain continues on his tin hat. The several hours that he has been here have driven him to a merciful, passive insanity. To his growing, glassy eyes, the length of the sides of the shellhole increase slowly to infinity; the puddle becomes a great ocean whose depth is unfathomable. Still it rises, rises, higher, higher, a sea of slimy mud. It has reached above his hips. He struggles frantically, desperately to move upward. Suddenly, as if by hellish magic, diabolical imps come and, having two strong mammoth spikes with them, are, with an immense hammer, driving home one in each of his legs. Their work accomplished, they disappear in midair, laughing hideously.

The sea of mud rises higher, slowly at first. Gradually increasing in rapidity, it reaches his chest, now his neck, up—up—up toward his head. "Oh God, give me strength to move," he cries. As he imagines his head has been submerged below the slimy substance, he yells insanely in a fit of delirium and then falls—in a spasm of unconsciousness.

The sky clears, the sun shines hurriedly through the breaking clouds. The battle is over and the war has ended. Victory is being celebrated somewhere. An ambulance rolls over to the side of the shellhole. Two men crowd out with a stretcher when they spy the figure in the hole. One jumps down into it plastering his boots with mud. He steps towards the soldier, observes that there are no bloody wounds, shakes him roughly, and cries, "Hey soldier, you can wake up now and get on your feet, the war's over."

The Magpie Sings the Great Depression

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