We Needed Them | They Have a Story Link-Up


We Needed Them

by Emily Ann Putzke

A street of blood.
That’s the first thing I see when I open my eyes. The sickeningly sweet smell of death is thick in my nostrils, and something warm soaks the side of my face. I lift my eyes to the slight incline above me. There lies the corpse of Harry, my comrade. My friend. His dark hair is matted down from the pool of blood draining from his head. It’s trickling down the cobblestone street, bathing my face. I curse and scramble to my feet, stumbling to the side of the road where I lean against a bombed out building, sliding down the sooty exterior. My dog tags clink together as I pull my undershirt up to my face, soiling the white cotton with Harry’s blood. My pounding heart racks against my sore ribs. The distant sound of our guns attacking the retreating German army engulfs the conquered city. 
I leap to my feet at the sound of heavy footsteps, adrenaline coursing through my veins as I try to tear away. A hand falls on my shoulder, yanking me back before I can run. “Calm down, Jackson. It’s me, Bailey. Aren’t any Krauts left in the city. We scared the hell outta them.”
I sag in relief, turning toward my sergeant. He points up at a building in front of us, a church, the only structure that wasn’t hit with mortar. An American flag snaps in the wind from the bell tower.
“We whipped’em,” Bailey grinned between his cigarette. “Now we’ve got a mess to clean up. We’re pulling out soon. If you’re not too roughed up, help us identify the dead and wounded.”
I nod as Sergeant Bailey walks away, his shoulders pulled back in confidence. Does none of this affect him at all? Does he not feel that sickening ache in his stomach when he sees the dead lying all around? I suck in a breath, burying my horror as I return to the street to search Harry’s body. He gave me specific instructions on what to do if he was killed. We’d been sitting in the barracks playing cards when he said, “Send my sisters my dog tags, my notebook, anything that’s on me. They’re sentimental. They’d even want my used handkerchief.”
I kneel down in the street, staring at my dead comrade. His eyes are open, glazed over like glass and grey as ashes as they stare up at the sky. His jaw is mangled and torn, his skull sunken in. My stomach wavers, and a bile burns in my throat. I crawl away from Harry’s lifeless body and vomit all over the street.
 Three soft knocks sounded on the door, tearing me away from my morbid memories. “Yeah? Want’da want, Josie?”
“Can I come in?”
I raked both hands through my mussed hair as I tucked my head between my knees. I felt sick to my stomach.“No one’s stopping you.”
My kid sister entered my bedroom, gently closing the door behind her. “You didn’t come down for breakfast.”
“Not hungry.” I lifted my head to look at her. She’d grown up while I was overseas. When I left, she was that annoying tag along sister every teenage boy seems to have. Now she was nearly sixteen, confident and more mature than me.
“This came for you." She handed me an envelope as she sat beside me on the bed.
I flipped it over, reading the address. It was from Bailey. I tore it open and a photograph slipped out, fluttering to the floor. As I leaned over to pick it up, my breath caught in my throat. I ran my fingers along the worn edges. There we were. Smiling. Laughing. Forgetting about the war. There was Harry, linking his arm with the pretty girl who sang to us boys on the front.
“What is it?” Josie asked.
I leaned toward her so she could see. “It’s from a USO show. The rare moments we could actually smile.”
Josie studied it, her cheek resting against my shoulder. “Mama wouldn’t like it. One girl among all those men?”
“It wasn't like that,” I scolded, setting the photograph down on my lap. “Some of the guys were a bit rude, but none in my outfit. We looked forward to those shows more than anything. We treasured the girls who would risk everything to come to the front and sing for us.”
“Why? You never used to like concerts.”
I fell back against the mattress, covering my eyes from the onslaught of light shining in through the window. “War is hell, Josie. You come to appreciate music after hearing nothing but gunfire, explosions, dying boys wailing for their mothers … you’re surrounded by suffering, death, evil. Then you hear a song at one of these shows. It’s one you know. One you grew up with. You think of home and good things like Ma’s apple pie and playing baseball with your brothers. You remember listening to the radio with your sisters, working alongside your Pa. You think of quiet Sunday mornings after church, or goofing off with your friends at school. You forget about the war for a blissful hour or two. These girls, Josie, they were angels to us. They brought us back home, at least for a little while.” I sat up, staring at the photograph with a wistful smile. “You have no idea how much we needed them.”


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There's one week left to enter the October edition of They Have a Story!


What is They Have a Story? It's a monthly historical fiction link up hosted by yours truly. Once a month I'll post a historical picture. Your job (and mine ... I'm totally doing this!) is to write a short story inspired by it. It can be as short or as long as you like. Have fun with it! Post the monthly picture, your story, and blog button on your blog, then link up. Let’s see how many different stories we can get from the same picture! Link up HERE.





-Emily

5 comments

  1. This is was heartbreaking. Especially how Josie made me think of Harry's sisters, and the difference between them.
    Amazing story - your writing makes everything so real. I just want to hug all of them :'(

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  2. What an amazing, amazing story. Your stories suck me in fast:-)

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  3. So good, so sad, so true. I like how you come up with so many interesting ways to tell a story. :)
    Which one is your main character in the picture?

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