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Christmas in the Trenches | A Short Story

December 25th, 1915

We huddle together, trying to keep warm amidst the thick winter blanket which seeks to smother us. The earthen wall is packed stiff, and I can’t find a comfortable place to rest my head. So instead, I tuck it between my knees while keeping my hands under my comrade’s arms in front of me. It isn’t a strange thing to do anymore It’s just common sense. Survival. The trench is unnervingly still and quiet, as if the earth is holding its breath.
What ghastly crime will you stupid mortals commit next? What more can you do to defile my beauty?

And I have no answer, because I don’t know. None of us know until we’re confronted with it. We don’t know what horrors we’re capable of until our lives depend on our immediate decision.

Honor. Duty.Glory

These words describing war were drilled relentlessly into our minds as schoolboys. Now we feel that these words were meant for something entirely different than what we’ve witnessed and done. I shift and rub my hands together. I move each finger. Pain shoots through each one like fire eating up a match. I breath in. The dry, raw air strips away my saliva, leaving my lips cracked and my throat aching.

“Merry Christmas, fellas.”

The words are weak. Lifeless. I look around until my eyes land on the speaker. It’s Albert.
I lift my eyes to the sky and quickly look down again, blinking against the snowy onslaught. “What would you be doing now, if you were home, Albert?” I ask the question just to break the silence that rings in my ears.
Albert shrugs his scrawny shoulders. “Chores first off. Then we’d have a nice warm Christmas breakfast with bacon and buttered biscuits.” A few boys lift their heads at the sound of butter. “Then we'd sit in the front room by a blazing fire …” he looks at something that isn’t there. “I was never hungry. Never cold for longer than I could bear.”
“You’re stronger than you thought, eh?” I toss him a half  hearted grin. But he doesn’t see me. He sees his home. His family. Not us. Not the biting wind and the hellish trench.
I envy him right now.
“I’d be at my aunt’s,” says Peter. “She makes this chocolate cake … oh Lord.”
Roland punches him. “Thinking about ham and butter is hard enough. Don’t lead me to insanity with cake.”
“Then tell us about your Christmas, Roland.” I punch him back since Peter has burrowed himself into a fetal position to cry about chocolate cake.
“My brothers and I always have a snowball fight after Christmas service. If there’s not snow, we throw mud.” He smirks, but there’s melancholy in the gesture. “If I were home I wouldn’t do a fool thing like that. I took everything for granted.”
It grows still in the trench. I expect everyone is thinking the same thing.
You don’t know what you have until it's gone.
“Your turn, Everett.” Roland turns to me.
I pull my collar up to ward off the cold. “In my town, we always have a community Christmas celebration. There’s a Christmas pageant with little kids who can’t act a darn … and music … real nice music. Then we go skating at Herrington’s Farm and have steaming mugs of hot chocolate. Lord, it’s grand.”
We’re all quiet, lost in our own thoughts and memories of Christmases past.
“Next year,” I say, “We’ll all be home for Christmas, all this will all be just a bad memory.”
We cling to that hope.


A very Merry Christmas to all you lovely people!


WWI Trench Cake

 For some reason, I decided to try my hand at making a WWI trench cake today. I mean, why not? That's a totally normal thing to bake. Everyone does it. All the time. 

Women would make these cakes for their men on the front. These cakes are made without eggs and can stay good for a long time. It was a special treat for the soldiers, bringing them a taste of home.

The Stone House | They Have a Story Link-Up

December 24th, 1944

“Hey, Louie, look up there.” I pointed my gloved hand toward a stone house flanked by two sturdy pine trees. The wind whipped around us, momentarily causing the stone house to disappear behind it’s thick white cloak. My face was numb, rubbed raw from walking in the biting blizzard all day, and I couldn’t feel my feet anymore. They were just two blocks of ice, moving involuntarily behind my older brother. Right, left, right, left, just like in basic training. I squinted my eyes, begging God to let me see the stone house again. Or was it all a mirage? I heard about people seeing things after walking days in the desert. Could it be the same when you’re trudging through an endless tundra? I didn’t think so. At least, that’s what I kept telling myself. If it was merely a fictional stone house, I would give up right then and there.
My brother aimed his rifle toward where I had pointed. He motioned for me to take the left flank. “Could be some cozy krauts in there,” he warned.
“So it wasn’t a mirage.” I raised a fist in victory. “Hallelujah!”
Louie glanced over his shoulder, raising a brow at my outburst. “Well? Get on with it.”
I nodded and aimed my rifle, truding through the heavy snow toward the flurry before me. When I looked for Louie, a wall of white stared back at me. “Louie?” I shouted. “Where’d ya go?”
“Shut up!” I heard the wind hiss.
I shut my mouth and moved forward. A structure began to materialize before my eyes through the blizzard. I hugged the side of it, weapon ready for whatever might jump out at me. I peeked into a window, my breath leaving steam on the glass. It was empty, at least, from this angle. I made a reconnaissance around the perimeter, meeting my brother on the opposite side.
“All clear, boss.”
He nodded toward the front door and we carefully made our way to the stone house. Louie threw open the door, ready to attack anyone who tried to stop him. No one came to welcome or stop us, so we entered, pounding snow from our boots on the threshold. After a thorough inspection of each room, we found it to be recently abandoned. The fireplace was still smoldering.
“Do you think whoever it belongs to is comin’ back?” I asked, sinking into a chair with a thud.
“Don’t know,” Louie stared at the window as if the occupant was watching our every move. “But we haven’t much choice but to stay here for the night. I ain’t goin’ back in that,” he nodded his head toward the storm. “We’ll head out tomorrow morning and find our unit.”
“Fine with me.” I yanked off my helmet and scarf, giving my ears a good rubbing.
Louie kneeled before the fire, coaxing it into being again. He rubbed his hands, blew into them, then turned to me. “Tomorrow’s Christmas.”
“Yeah, guess it is.” I shrugged, feigning indifference. I wouldn’t dare let anyone know how much my heart ached at the thought of being away from home for Christmas. I yawned, leaned back in the chair and closed my eyes.
“Either you’re a Scrooge or you’re tryin’ to be tough. Which is it, kid?”
I opened my eyes. Louie was staring at me. “My given name is Ebenezer. Didn’t you know?”
Louie stood up, snow cascading from his overcoat. “You’re a regular comedian. You missed your calling in life. Now go get some firewood, would ya? Just because we’re in a war during Christmas doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate.”
I stared at Louie. “What? Back out there? No way!”
“Robbie.” Louie towered over me, suddenly reminding me of my father right before I got a whipping. “Get some firewood.”
“You’re a real tyrant, you know that, Hitler?” I stood up, shoving him with my shoulder as I brushed past. “Where am I supposed to get firewood?”
“I saw a wood shed on the way in. Good place to start.”
I tossed the helmet back on my head and went once again into the storm and toward the shed. I gathered an armload and lumbered back inside, tossing it on the floor in a mangled heap. Louie wasn’t in the room anymore. I closed the door behind me, and it creaked in protest.
“Robbie, come here!” His voice was urgent, panicked almost. I bolted toward the plea, rifle aimed and ready for action. That’s when I found my brother sitting on a stupid little rocking horse with a stupid grin on his face.
I dropped my rifle. “I think it’s you who missed your calling in life, cowboy. What the heck are you doing?”
“I thought I’d have a look around the stone house and I found this bedroom. Even has a Christmas tree,” he nodded his head toward an unadorned miniature tree leaning against the wall. “The family must have moved on when they realized how close to the front lines they are.”
“So? Did you find any food? Because that’s really all I care about right now.” I sagged against the doorjamb, hunger gnawing at my stomach, irritable as heck, and as Scrooge-like as they come.
Louie stood up, appearing a trifle disappointed that I wasn’t as excited about the Christmas tree as he was. “Well, we’ve got some fancy cuisine. It’s called la C rations.” He smirked as he brushed past me, patting my shoulder.
We sat before the fire, now blazing steadily before us. We finished off our rations and I began to feel a little better … a little less Scrooge-like. The sky was slate grey, turning darker shades as the day came to an end.
“Whaddya think the family’s doing right now?” I asked. The scent of pine burning encompassed the stone house. Its sweet, crisp scent took me back to the apartment in Brooklyn where we always had a real tree.
“Gettin’ ready for Christmas eve service, I guess.” Louie’s face was illuminated in the firelight. His brown eyes were fixated on the flames as they snapped the logs.
“Then they’ll decorate the tree. And listen to the radio. Mama will sing in Italian.” I smiled as the scene came to life in my mind.
“I suppose it’s a good thing we’re not there.” Louie glanced at me, mischief in his eyes. “We’d eat all the popcorn.”
I laughed. “And Marie would slap us for eating the decorations. And her slaps hurt like heck.”
We chuckled, remembering our spunky younger sister with her big nut-brown eyes. My laughter was suddenly transforming into sorrow and pain. I could hear Mama’s sweet voice filling the apartment. I could hear dad’s newspaper crackling as he turned a page. I could hear Marie’s high pitched voice filling every corner of the house.
“You all right, Robbie?”’
I ducked my head, sucking in a deep breath. “Swell. Just swell.”
“We can’t let them have all the fun without us. We’ve got a tree. We don’t have popcorn, but we’ve got a tree. Maybe there’s some decorations around here.”
“Yeah, maybe.” I buried my face in my hands.
Louie slapped my shoulder. “Come with me.”
I slowly stood up, shuffling behind him into the bedroom where the Christmas tree stood. He picked it up and set it on a wooden crate, rubbing his hands together. “Perfect. Search around for something to put on it.”
I kneeled down, fumbling through a few boxes that lay near the tree. I opened one and pulled out a handful of tinsel and a few glass ornaments. “Here’s something.”
“Hey, good find.” Louie took a fistful of the tinsel from me, then glanced up when I didn’t do anything. “Decorate the tree, soldier. That’s an order.”
I pulled apart the glistening tinsel and began adorning the pine tree. To my surprise, it was actually relaxing … almost fun.
“I’m dreamin’ of a white Christmas—” Louie began crooning.
I viciously tossed a handful of the tinsel in his face. “That’s the last thing in the world I want to hear. Save that for the boys in the Pacific.”
Louie grinned. “What song should we sing then?”
“Anything that doesn’t involve snow.”
“I’ll be home for Christmas. You can plan on me. Please have snow—” Louie stopped mid-singing. “Robbie, I hate to tell you this, but I don’t think they make Christmas songs that don’t mention snow.”
“Well, that’s something I’ll change when I get back home.”
“You’re gonna be the next Bing Crosby, are you?”
I tossed the remaining tinsel on my side of the tree, then brushed my hands across my pants. “I might surprise you.”
Our tree was finished, and even I had to admit it looked swell.
“Time to get some sleep. Santa won’t come if you stay up all hours, Robbie.”
I smirked. “I’ll put out some C rations for him.”
Louie yawned, patting me on the shoulder. “Goodnight, little brother. And merry Christmas.”


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.


Snippets From The Eastern Front

I've been busy editing/formatting Resist for its February release and thought I'd share some snippets from the student medical company's campaign on the Eastern Front. (All images via Pinterest.)

I followed his gaze out into the field and spotted a young man trudging through the flowers. It was a drastic contrast—a soldier with soot covering his boyish face, his clothes singed from an explosion, and his gait weary among the cheerful, waving sunflowers. Otto snatched a rifle that was leaning against the school and began clicking off the safety-catch. He closed one eye and aimed. —RESIST