Nobody could like Corporal Lawrence. That's not to say that nobody tried, or that he was somehow unfriendly, merely that he was one of those few that seemed to be “wired” differently. However, in the trenches of World War I, normalcy was at best a relative term, and one that had minimal relation of life, such as it was. Lawrence fought, listened to orders, and didn't disrupt the other soldiers, and that was all that was required. So what if people felt increasingly uncomfortable around him? In a place where the flesh rotting off your bones while you were still alive was the base-line of concern, a little personality conflict ranked several levels below a paper cut.
Lawrence, for his part, dealt with it as he always had. That is to say, remained totally unaware of the avoidance. The same way a man blind from birth cannot mourn the memory of color, Corporal Lawrence couldn't bemoan a lack of company. He was quiet, as he had nobody to talk to, and still, as he had nothing to do for long stretches of time. The enemy trench, less than a mile away, had gone silent for several days, letting boredom and nervousness sink in even more than normal…coupled with the unease that seemed to radiate off of Lawrence like heat waves.
The worst part was that there was no distinct reason to dislike the corporal. He was a plain man, average height, average build, bland of voice and action. Nobody could recall him raising his voice in joy or anger. He did have the occasional odd mannerisms, however. He tended to stare a beat or two longer than was acceptable at people. He rarely slept as well, and bunkmates said he would mumble in his sleep almost constantly. The content of those nocturnal ramblings, when they could be understood, were often odd, and potentially unsettling. One private moved to another barracks when he heard the name of his daughter pass Corporal Lawrence's lips, followed by a bubbling, muffled giggle.
It was strongly theorized that he was sent over the trench by his commanders more out of a desire to have him away than for his minimal combat skill. He and fourteen of his fellows were sent across the nightmarishly scarred waste of the no-man's-land between the trenches, to reconnoiter the enemy trench, and secure it if possible. Many seemed to hope that Lawrence would have the opportunity to prove his devotion to his country by making the ultimate sacrifice for it.
It was while he was gone, that three-day gap as the men held their breath, waiting for a surprise volley of shells, that someone started asking questions. Where as before, it was almost taboo to speak of Corporal Lawrence, since the departure of both him and his “aura”, rumor seemed to descend with the passion of the denied. Nobody remembered him ever talking of home. No sweet-smelling letters came, no soggy, dirt-streaked letters left. He mentioned his dreams often, and griped sometimes with the men over missed foods or pleasures, but never with any real passion.
Questions started to float among even the higher levels of the command. Nobody was able to actually find his station orders. He'd come in with a squad of reinforcements transferred from France…but there was no paperwork. The rest of the reinforcement squad had never seen the man before he'd been lumped in with them the night before the trip, along with the snips and scraps of other squads decimated by the Germans. Whispers filtered among the grunts of the corporal being a curse. Nearly every man who'd shared a bunkhouse with him had gotten trenchfoot, and the rooms he haunted always seemed to smell more musty and sickly-sweet, even for the trench.