The mustard gas was what did it.

After being stabbed in the shoulder with a bayonet, and then, having to kill another living being, mustard gas and it's effects were the final straw.

Andrew McGinnis was one the hundreds of thousands of american soldiers fighting in the french countryside during the second World War. He was lucky though. He was fluent in french, german, and italian, and therefore was a translator for the United States Army. He hadn't seen much action up until last year of the war.

Andrew, or as he liked to be called, Andy, had heard about the gas. He never witnessed the effects in action, however. He only saw the twisted bodies after wards, men with blood, and bits of tissue and membrane dribbling down their chin and lips. He had never witnessed a man dying of it. It was his good friend Jim that showed him just how violent and painful coughing up your lungs could be. The yellow gas spread over the crater-riddled terrain, and an outcry arose amongst the soldiers.

"Masks! Masks!"

Everyone who heard, and listened, dropped their weapons and jerked their gas masks over their faces immediately. Andy had heard. Jim had not. In that aspect, Andy was lucky that he had not seen that much action. After two years of fighting, Jim had developed a sort of bull-shit filter during battle. He heard only what he thought he needed to hear. It must have been especially loud on the field that day.

Jim ran on ahead, screaming in anger, and blood-lust, stopping every few feet to raise his rifle and kill a german soldier. Andy never had a chance to catch up with him, since he was doing the same.

"Jim! Your mask! Jim! Jim!"

And then Andy was struck from behind. Hard.

There was nothing but blackness.

This was how he came to be sitting in a bullet-riddled chateau. The fighting has passed on north, and it was only a matter of time until the rest of the Allied forces came up behind, but for the time being, it was his sanctuary.

The old house had taken some structural damage from the mortar shells that the german panzers had been firing. An enormous hole had been blown in the roof that covered the third floor. Andy had crawled to the house after the battle had moved away. His head ached, and his body was stiff. When he had entered the deserted foyer of the house, he had collapsed, and wrenched off his helmet. A rush of blood flowed down his cheek, and gingerly, he reached upward to find the wound concealed in his hair.

It was only after he had satisfied himself that the damage was not severe that Andy remembered some scant bit of anatomical trivia he'd learned in high school. The scalp bleeds more than other parts of the skin due to the high concentration of capillaries contained therein.

A breath of relief escaped him as he leaned aganist the stairs. His eyes closed, and almost as if bidden, the memories of the recent battle came forth to torment him. He could not bring himself to think of Jim. He thought instead of his new status.

One of his dog tags was gone, indicating that another solider had come along and taken it. He was, though not yet officially, dead. Andy thought of his mother back home. How would she take the news? He had only to reveal himself to the american forces that would come behind to be alive again.

But did he want that? What waited for him at home? Andy McGinnis had enlisted because nothing kept him. As sad as it was, it was also true. He was eighteen, had no desire to go to college, and had no job. He had been living on his parents' farm when the call to war came. He hadn't been old enough before.

But in 1943, he had reached his eighteenth birthday, and his crowning moment was marching down to the recruiter's office and signing up. His father had been proud, and his mother had sobbed into her apron.

"You have to be careful! You have to come home."

Only by leaving, had he gained their approval and love.

It wasn't that his parents hated him. He was supposed that they probably loved him. But he also could not deny the constant distance that had always been between them.

For a moment, he considered his situation. He was as good as dead. He was fluent in french. He didn't have to leave.

Andy's head began to hurt with the consideration of it all. He busied himself for a minute, checking to make sure that there were no other wounds. When that was done, he decided to have a look at the chateau.

From what he could tell, it was three floors of charming french decor, all shot up with bullets and mortarfire.

Behind him, oak stairs led to the upper two floors. To his left was a parlor, and to his right, double doors leading to a formal dining room. There wasn't much to see in either room. The german forces that had come there here before the americans arrived had trashed the house. Decorative items lay smashed on the hardwood floors. A victrola sat over turned on a low table. Chairs and a sofa were helter skelter. In the dining room, chairs lay everywhere on their backs. The fine chandalier had crashed from the ceiling to the table, which was nearly broken in half. He found nothing of interest in the sacked kitchen.

Andy climbed the stairs, wondering what had happened to the french family that had lived here before the war.

The second floor was nothing but bedrooms, with one lavatory. As far as he could tell, it was no different from the rooms he had encountered downstairs. The second staircase which led to the third floor was more interesting. It opened up on a lavishly decorated, if not dainty, sitting room. Off the right of the staircase, was a door that led to one huge bedchamber with an adjoining bathroom. This was the area that had taken the most of the mortar fire. The huge hole that Andy had seen from the outside covered nearly all of the master bedroom. Rubble littered the polished wooden floor. Huge chunks of plastered brick lay on the bed, chests, chairs, whereever it had fallen. One wall behind the massive dresser had been blown entirely away, the dresser itself was lying on it's front. The floorboards behind one corner jutted out into open air. Andy had the impression that if he touched the dresser, it would go flying out into the yard to smash on the ground.

Humouring his wild imagination, he stepped forward to see just what would happen. The floor creaked, and Andy could just barely detect the instability of the wood beneath his boots. He made as if to take another step, but was halted by the crunch of glass from his feet. He glanced down, then stooped to pick up a framed picture. He had shattered the glass by stepping on it, and he brushed away the glass slivers to reveal the picture of a young girl astride a horse. She was achingly sweet-looking, with short dark hair. She smiled the smile of a toothless ten year old. Andy's throat constricted with pain as he lay the photograph aside. He wondered where the child was now.

A loud creak, and groaning interrupted his thoughts. The floor began to shake, and he fell backwards, on his rear. With a shout, he crabwalked backwards, as the old floorboards gave way beneath the heavy dresser. Without his help, the piece of furniture slid over the bending and breaking floor, and pitched out the hole. Andy carefully moved forward on his knees, just in time to lean over the broken wood and see the dresser crash apart on the packed earth below. A cloud of dust rose from all the plaster and brick that the dresser had taken with it.

For some reason, Andy began to laugh. It came in slow, shudders until Andy was racked with hysterical laughter. He laughed for what seemed like hours, and gradually, the laughter turned to tears. He sobbed for everything. He cried for the war, for his brothers lost to the war, for the civilians who were terrified beyond their wits. He cried for Jim, for his parents, for his lost innocence. He was not the same boy who marched ever so cheerfully on the battlefields at first.

Andy collapsed onto the floor, laying his forehead on the boards, and letting the tears slide from his eyes. He blinked, reining in everything that had plagued him.

He could see between the floorboards now. The light that filtered into through the crater in the roof and wall showed the plastered ceiling of the second floor below perfectly. He saw the ancient electricity wires, the dust, the book beneath the spiderwebs...

His breath siezed at once, and he scrambled into a position where he could better see the dust-covered book hidden back behind the shadows. It lay on a bed of a grey handkerchief, and it was tucked back between the junction of two support beams.

A hidden book! Something to occupy his mind until he could better deal with his losses.

Pushing himself up, he sat back on his heels to survey the floor.

Rather than being made of many long boards as some floors were, the floorboards in this particular chateau were short, and nailed down to the support beams beneath.

Closer to the wall, and the hole in the wall, many of the boards had been torn loose, and Andy used this. With his hands, he began ripping up the boards, backtracking across the floor, until he was directly above the book. The nails in these boards proved to be newer than in other areas of the room.

When he was at last rewarded with access to the book, he didn't take it immediately. What was it, he wondered? Andy sat still, and listened to the sounds outside of the house. There was nothing.

Finally, he reached down, and picked it up. Dust filtered down out of the folds of the handkerchief, and he saw that the fabric was not grey. It was white, beneath a coating of grey filth. How long had this been in here? How old was it? Curious, Andy untied the leather straps that held the book closed, and flipped through some of the pages. The words inside were french, and were handwritten.

The pages were turning brown on the edges. The handwriting was achingly neat. Andy's hand cramped just looking at it. He supposed that the author was female, judging by the many neat, even rows of script. He flipped back to the first page, and went up to the first line. Squinting, he translated.

"In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. 1863."

Andy paused, and look up out through the hole in the wall. He heard nothing, no sounds of approaching forces, no cars, no voices. Satisfied, he read on.

"My name is Solange deCarey. I have been known by many other names in my lifetime, but this is the truest. This is the one that I claim with my whole heart.

My guardian, Marcus LaCroix, says that I should take a journal, and write out all the pain inside. I thought on it for a while. I must say the idea was tempting, though exactly why, I'm sure I don't know. Doing so would force me to wallow through the past, painful bit by bit. And there is so very much that I do not want to remember.

Somehow, for the past few years, I have gotten by, by simply not remembering.

It is not like my story is remarkable. I am simply a girl, who fell in love with a boy, and then lost everything that I cherished.

But there, I've just set the stage, haven't I? I must go on now, because in those few words, everything comes rushing back. So I'll start then.

I won't start at the beginning, because it's so cliché. Everyone starts at the beginning. I'll start at the end."