Steven Taylor, tired, cold and wet from a previous downpour of rain, appeared at the window of a large unknown building. He looked inside and then glanced around, noticing that everyone seemed to be wearing military uniforms of the past.
“Where the hell did the Doctor get us lost this time?” Steven said aloud just as a face appeared at the window.
The man who had seen Steven, opened the window and smiled. “Can I help you?”
“I’m sorry, I’m lost. I got separated from my friend, found this little town and then ended up here. Don’t suppose you know where I am?”
“You know you’re in Scotland?”
Steven didn’t know, could’ve been another planet for all the information he had, but he smiled awkwardly as though he did. “Of course, but what is this place?” He looked up at the old, magnificent building.
“It’s a military hospital. A place you come to for a bit of respite, heal the wounds of the mind, you might say.”
“That’s the polite way of putting it anyway.”
“I’m sorry to intrude,” Steven said, shivering. “I’m just really frozen out here.”
“Come to the door, I’ll let you in.”
“Thank you, your name?”
“Siegfried Sassoon. And yours?”
“I don’t generally make someone’s acquaintance through an open window but I quite like it.”
Showing Steven inside the building which was instantly warm in contrast from the cold of outdoors, Sassoon led him to a fireplace as if he were an injured comrade rather than a lost traveller. They sat silently for a while, Steven wriggling his fingers over the flames and Sassoon observing him with interest. There was something quite queer about the man’s clothing he thought.
“Feel any better?” Sassoon asked, wrapping a blanket around his shoulders.
“Yes, thank you, but I really should be on my way, leave you to it.”
“To what, my strange friend?”
Steven laughed. “I don’t know exactly.” He looked at some of the men in the room, many who were lost in their own thoughts or roaming the room impatiently and anxiously. He felt so terrible for them. He knew what they must have been through. His days as a pilot had shown him both the best and worst of humanity.
“I’ll show you outside,” Sassoon said as they walked out of the building into the night.
He lit a cigarette and offered one to Steven who declined.
“Do they like you to go out at night?” Steven asked.
“It’s not exactly a prison. I don’t even know why I’m even here. Well, I do, but it’s not for the right reasons. Do you know what I mean, Steven Taylor?”
“I’m never anywhere for the right reason.”
Sassoon laughed. “You did arrive rather unexpectedly and now you plan to escape into the darkness as though you never existed. I was about to sit a while out here. Will you join me for a bit before you reconvene with your friend?”
“It’s a cold night, you want to sit outside?”
“I’ve grown accustomed to it. Besides, you’ll not freeze now, you’ve got that fetching blanket.”
“Alright then.” Steven sat down on a bench next to the soldier. He recognised the uniform his new friend wore from the many history archives he’d browsed over the years. But he wasn’t sure if it was WWI or WWII as he often mixed up the two and got a lot of the facts wrong about the 20th Century. How would he ask such a question?
“So, are you fighting in…the war?” He scolded himself for sounding foolish.
“I was. Things have taken a turn somewhat. Have you been out there?”
“I’ve fought in a war. I’m a pilot.”
Stubbing out his cigarette after a long drag, Sassoon looked at Steven with interest. “By George, you’re one of those flyers. Damn brave fellows, if not getting us chaps into trouble on the ground below. Still… always a handsome bunch.”
Steven laughed. “So…World War One?” He guessed.
“One? One hopes one would be enough.”
“I’m sorry, the year is between 1914 and 1918 isn’t it?”
“Are you sure you’re not a patient here? There’s plenty of chaps who get their years mixed up and plenty who want to forget those years exist. It’s 1917 my friend.”
“I’m sorry, I’ve been out of it a while, bit muddled with dates.”
“You always say sorry, is that a habit of yours?”
“It is when I get all my facts wrong.”
“No one seems to care about facts at the moment, Taylor.”
Steven could tell that something was bothering Sassoon beyond the hospital.
“The treatment of our men whether by land or air is criminal. If only this blasted war would end. Too many of our chaps killed senselessly and for no reason anymore, if there ever was one. Oh, it just makes me…” he scrunched up his fist, and to stop himself filling with rage he took out his notebook and began scribbling with a pen.
“Letter to home?” Steven asked.
“Not quite. A poem. Poetry’s my game. I’m here to tell the truth of it all, sent here because I tell the truth of it all. I must counteract the lies they told us— not all that glory and honour nonsense they forced down our throats for centuries.”
“Know what you mean.” Steven sniffed the air. “Are your poems any good?”
Shivering in the cold air, Sassoon smiled and handed Steven the notebook. “Have a look for yourself.”
“I should warn you, poetry’s not really my thing,” Steven admitted, scanning over one of the pages, trying to decipher not only the language but Sassoon’s handwriting. In his day handwriting was a novelty rather than a necessity. “I’m sure it’s striking stuff but it goes right over my head.”
“Well at least you’re honest.”
“Hope I didn’t offend you. My old friend Vicki said I was too blunt which is rich coming from a young lady who says everything like it is.”
“Is she your sweetheart?”
Steven let out a loud laugh. “No, no, more like a sister. She’s very young. Long way away now. Still miss her.”
There was a pause as Sassoon looked up at the night sky. The wind caught his hair and tussled it slightly. Neither men said anything for several moments as together they gazed at the stars and the half moon that nestled in the blackness of the sky.
“I like it out here at night,” Sassoon finally said.
“I suppose hospitals are hard places to get to sleep,” Steven said.
“Men here scream out in the night as thought they’re still on the battlefield. There is no longer gunfire in this place, yet they hear it anyway. That’s why I come out here, to this glorious quiet place, to a silent night such as this.”
“When I was locked up, I suffered from nightmares.” Steven was surprised to find himself opening up in the way he was, baring his soul but Sassoon had a friendly face and a pleasant voice that made him want to share.
“I’m sorry for your troubles. And what about civilian life for you, Taylor? Who’s at home waiting for you?”
Steven looked away, feeling a tear rise in his eye. “I don’t really have a family anymore and the friends I’ve made along the way, well, so many have been lost.”
Leaning closer, Sassoon placed his hand on Steven’s and nodded. “I know the feeling but you have this friend you’re waiting for, a good friend, is he?”
“Yes, he’s a good man really. We fight a lot but he’s helped me too. He’s a bit of a survivor.”
“Well, now I suppose you may add me to your friends. A chance meeting on a cold, dark night. A poem could be made of this. Not my usual verse but perhaps later after this war, if there ever is a end to this madness, I’d quite like to think back on you.”
Steven felt his cheeks flush. Was a soldier from a war, hundreds of years before his time, flirting with him? He found he didn’t mind that much.
“Well I’d be honoured to be in a poem.” He resisted the urge to mention he’d already featured in one of Christopher Marlowe’s.
“How peaceful it is out here,” Sassoon said, taking a deep breath. “Feels like another planet to France.”
“Know what you mean.” Steven smiled. “You suppose there’s life on those stars up there or that we could travel up there?” He felt bad for teasing the soldier but was generally curious about Sassoon’s answer.
The poet thought for a moment. “On one hand I imagine beautiful sights and discoveries but on the other, I simply picture a bigger war but between worlds instead of nations.”
“Intergalactic ones? Yeah, I see that too. Whole galaxies in peril, evil aliens ready to terrorise.” He looked at Sassoon, noticing the sudden sadness and fear in his eyes. “I’m sorry, I can’t be helping.”
“No, no, it’s nice to talk. What else do you see up there for our future, you seem to have an affinity for it?”
“I see wonderful places, happy times. It’s not all going to be war you know? And this one won’t last, it never does.”
Sassoon grabbed Steven’s hand a second time, squeezing it tightly. “For some reason when you say it, I want to believe it.” He stared into Steven’s eyes for several moments, refusing to look away.
Suddenly the grumbling voice of the Doctor could be heard from the roadside and Steven jumped to attention like a soldier as if he’d been caught doing something he shouldn’t. Sassoon watched as the old man came into view puffing and panting by the gate.
“Steven, my boy!” he called, pleased to see him.
“Yes, that’s him.”
Sassoon frowned. “I suppose then that this is goodbye?”
“I suppose it is.”
“Then I shall look back fondly at our silent night together.”
Steven shook Sassoon’s hand. “Don’t give up, it doesn’t last forever. And keep writing those poems I don’t understand.”
“Oh, there’s still fight in me yet, Mr, Taylor, if not for me then for the chaps I have to protect.”
Reluctantly leaving Sassoon’s side, Steven joined the Doctor at the gate and looked back at the handsome soldier, stood waving at him.
“My goodness, my dear young man. I’ve walked miles whilst you’ve been here socialising.”
“Doctor, this is a military hospital not a social club!”
The Doctor nodded. “Yes, I can see. Terrible. Terrible. You made a friend hmmm?”
“His name’s Siegfried Sassoon. A very English gentleman with a not-very English name.”
The Doctor stopped still on the road. “Siegfried Sassoon? My boy, you were talking to the famous World War One poet?”
“My dear boy, you are most uncultured.”
“I never liked poetry, Doctor, it goes right over my head.”
“You’ve just had an encounter in 1917 with the famous Mad Jack.” The Doctor shook with excitement.
“Mad Jack? Well, Doctor, I don’t understand. That man is quite wonderful, quite brilliant, quite lucid. Why, he doesn’t seem mad at all.”