As you hold this letter to the light, hidden in the trenches, I imagine it is raining. Isn’t that the way of war? Always wet with mud and blood and tears. I imagine as well, that these pages shake in your hands as you read them. From falling shells around you, or your own trembling, trigger-weary fingers? I know not, care not. So long as your eyes can make out the scratchings of my pen, I will have done my duty by you.
I have known men who came back after war. They live with it embedded in their souls, like jagged edges of shrapnel. They take off their uniform, sit to dine with their children, and kiss their wives goodnight, but the pieces of war move silently under their skin. A door slams, and they hear the crack of bullets. Their dreams are riddled with bodies and explosions and bones snapping. They live with the metal shifting and grinding against their soul, and they know, still they know, they’re the lucky ones. But, if you survive the killing, then you must survive the living. Both can be hell, but one lasts longer.
But why do I write you now, you say? What good are these words? They will not ease your present hunger or thirst. They do not wipe the grit from your eyes or the sweat from your brow. They do not restore fallen comrades or comforts of home. What good is this letter when you are in a black hole filled with water and wretchedness?
True. This letter isn’t good for much. It won’t end the war, and it won’t unmake your scars.
But, it will do something else.
If you survive this day, and the one after that, if you survive them all until the killing is over, then you will have the chance for something extraordinary. You see, I’ve enclosed a key in this letter. It is an old and useful key, and few have ever laid eyes on it before you. Though I would wish to tell you more, I may not. Perhaps the curiosity of it all will serve you well, will fill a few empty hours. For now, lay low in the muck and do not collect more holes in your person than you must. Survive. And when you have done that, take this key to the address on the envelope. And if you are brave, Soldier, then turn the key.