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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!

-Emily

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