White Star shells, they called them, equal volume of chlorine and phosgene to neutralize the disadvantages of both. They fired the shells hours before the men were to surmount the parapets. But often as not, the prevailing winds were from the east, carrying the men forward into a haze of their own chemical stew. Anyone whose mask didn’t have a tight seal was explosed.

It started with the intense scent of musty hay and green corn borne on the wind. A burning sensation like strong whiskey going down, eyes watering. They could still stumble forward, even fire, but within a day they’d be writhing on a stretcher, unable to breathe. Pink foam on the lips and water on the lungs.

Oxygen starvation does strange things to the mind. You see things that aren’t there, bright lights, phantoms. All too often, the man hasn’t the breath to tell you what specral horrors are coming to bear him away with them. He hasn’t even the breath to scream.

One who had survived his own phosgene dreams described it thus: “There was a crimson light falling like rain, like a rain of blood and light. I saw men stumbling in and out of it, dead men, men I’d seen blown apart. They were together with the other side in a rictus embrace, and they were dancing slowly to music I couldn’t hear. They reached out a finger to beckon me to join them in that angry, dead dance.”

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