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Sad

  Stalemate. One eye staring deep into the barrel of your rifle, the bayonet scratching away at my eyebrow. The other eye on the nozzle of my own weapon, pointed dead at your chest, aiming at the heart of my enemy.

 

 Did I say enemy? I averted my gaze from my gun to you for a split second, and you did the same. I scanned the depths your eyes and you pierced back into mine. Yet neither one of us could find any trace of their enemy. Only the expressions of scared and confused boys seeking refuge amidst the chaos; given guns to shield themselves in exchange for turning on the ones they once called their Brüder.

 

It wasn’t the fear of killing, I have killed before. I’ve rightfully served my duty to mein Vaterland in this war. I’ve blasted countless holes through countless scoundrels who dared to challenge our might. I’ve impaled, slashed and beheaded any who fell at the mercy of my bayonet. I’ve seen more blood and more insides than any doctor would in a lifetime.

 

 One push of the finger, that’s all it would to take to end this deadlock; it would have been that easy. But with you it wasn’t. I couldn’t bear to bring myself to pull the trigger with you on the other end, and I sensed you felt the same. How could I sever the roots of the tree I was once inseparable from, whom I once grew side by side with?         

 

 We couldn’t have been older than 12 when we first met. I was always amazed at how perfectly you could speak our language, despite all its complex grammar rules and its other oddities. Your Papa taught you to speak. He grew up here, and thought you’d enjoy reliving his youth. After all, what better place to grow up than the lush valleys of Bavaria? I was still nothing short of impressed. All I knew in your language was the basic 'Hello', ‘goodbye’ or ‘thanks’, and of course the multitude of swear words you taught me. I could barely hold a conversation. Yet you had both the skills and courage to grow up in an unknown faraway land from your own, in a culture alien to yours. 

 

 It's no surprise your courage and sense of adventure led you here, in the heart of the battlefield. Not that either of us even had a choice. I could see the same pain, loss and suffering in your sleepless eyes. This war had its toll on us both. To think that your mother language was the only thing that separated us from facing the same side of our bullets.

 

Time was lost to me, no concept of weeks, or months or years. I don’t think I can remember my life before this hell.

 

 I watched the way the snowflakes drifted around you and listened to the crunching of the snow beneath your boots. I’m mirroring your every breath, every blink, every drop of sweat trickling from every hair on your body, and every inch of your finger etching back and forth from the trigger. Is it the danger of a deadlock that triggers the instinct of a man to mirror his attacker for the best chance of survival? Or was it exclusive to us - the bond we shared for so long that, to this day, still connects our movements and thoughts together.

 

  This bond we shared since the day we met. It was a grave mistake for the porter to pair up the two most mischievous fiends in the same dorm room. Oh the chaos we caused and the trouble we brewed. There wasn’t a single teacher in that school that didn’t have their hearts filled with resent and anger towards us. We were neither popular with them nor with the other boys in our class. We tried our best with the ladies, but fat chance we had to impress any of them. You had the beer belly of a middle-aged dad, and more chins than you had hairs. I on the other hand was short and scrawny, easily mistaken for a child half my age. They wanted the broad, bold, muscular men that we could never hope to live up to look like. 

 

 There’s nothing in the world I wouldn’t trade to relive those treasured memories. All those late nights gazing at the night sky, talking of grand life dreams. I wonder if you’re still set on scaling the Himalayas when this is all over? The overwhelming pride when we made it to the first eleven, and the very first goal we ever scored together on our debut game. Do you remember when we were caught drunk stealing from Herr Klein’s liquor cabinet? Even after all those years, I can still feel the burning lashes of the cane beneath my skin. Those torturous years of school made bearable with you by my side. How naïve I was to think those days would be my worst.

 

 I looked past your rifle straight into your withering eyes, desperately trying to call out to you. In hopes that somehow you can read my mind and hear me crying out - I miss you. I beg you, please shoot. Losing my life now couldn't compare to the cruelty of being one that severs our ties in an instant. Spare me from that burden. 

 

The the burden bared on my shoulders and weapon in my hold growing unbearably heavier; each passing moment a thousand kilograms heavier than the last. This machine- it terrifies me how each component is meticulously crafted, designed only to rip apart a man and bleed his soul out; with an explosion detonating in my frail, bony arm. What sick madman ever thought of such a contraption?

 

 I knew better than to take avert my gaze away from the jaws of danger, but I couldn't help but notice your leg, shaking violently, battle to hold control. Was your body also failing under the weight of this stalemate? I guess you never did fully recover from that football injury. I can still vividly relive the euphoria of that day.

 

 The final game of the season, and a single goal was the difference between ultimate champions of the city, or a close, woeful second place shame. Our goalie made a grave mistake at the last minute and cost us an open shot. It was fired like an artillery shell in the top corner, helplessly watching the efforts of an entire season fall to the mercy of a cruel mistake. I'd never known a man to have the leap of a gazelle. Yet there you went, darting into the goal as the ball skimmed against the teeth of defeat. Denied with an overhead kick strong enough to launch the ball on the other end of the field. But far too strong for you to wield, as you crash landed with a bone crunching crack.

 

 Your reckless, spider-like reflexes created the golden opportunity I needed. The referee blew the whistle, but not before I stormed through the opposition’s barricade, and took the final shot. It was over. The goal was mine; the title was ours, but the victory all yours. I carried you across the field and flung you up for the world to kneel before their champion. Now I wondered if I'd have to carry you across the battlefield and kneel before your unmarked grave. Or would you kneel before mine?

 

 The sting of the icy snowflake on my open wound suddenly surged a wave of adrenaline through my veins. How much time has passed as we continue to stand in this deadlock? Seconds? Minutes? Hours? Days? The tension an unbearable torture clawing away at me. Why am I not dead yet? Why have you not shot yet? WHY WON'T YOU JUST SHOOT?! IF YOU WON’T, I WILL!

 

You heard the deafening scream from within my mind and cocked back your rifle in perfect time with mine. The distinct clicks from the two hammers of both guns synchronised into one. Both weapons loaded. Only the final click of the trigger before the exploding bullets put an end to this deafening silence.

 

Silence… Silence…? Why was it silent? I thought my senses had faded out the background to focus on the danger before me. But even as I shifted my senses to the surroundings, the silence remained. Was I already dead? But the feeling of a machine gun rattling inside my chest confirmed my heart was still beating strong. The piercing daggers of cold winter air in my lungs told me I wasn’t on my last breaths anytime soon. Cautiously, I lowered my gaze from the scope of my rifle and waited. No explosions, no bullets, no agonising screams, no battle cries…nothing. Without realising, I slowly relieved the pressure from the trigger until it cocked forward.

 

 That was when I heard it. I put my ear against the wind in disbelief of what I’d just made out. Had I gone insane? Had this deadlock driven me to madness, or could I actually hear singing? I held my breath to listen to the faint melody in the distance. "...O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum, wie trau sind deine Blätter...". Which Arschgeige was singing carols in the middle of a battlefield?

 

But it wasn't just the one fool who'd lost his mind. Ten, twenty, fifty, something close to perhaps a hundred voices. "...O Christmas tree, o Christmas tree, thy leaves are so unchanging..." I heard the same melody in foreign words from the enemy.

 

 I watched helplessly in awe as soldiers from both sides erupted from their trenches and exploded harmoniously in song. White flags waved from both sides in armistice. Battle cries became infectious laughter, attack commands became friendly conversations, and the onslaught of bloodshed that once was, now an intense rivalry settled over a heated game of football. I was watching a miracle unfold before my eyes. Christmas day 1914, in the era of the great war. A day when, after months of feud and bloodshed, enemies joined together in friendship and jolly spirits to celebrate Christmas cheers.

 

 

The ball rolled outfield and stopped between your legs. You stared with a confused smile across your face. But as instincts always take over, you launched the ball back over with your mightiest kick. One of your soldiers beckoned you from across the field. “Oi! Put that sodding gun down! We need another man covering defence”.

 "Hee! Komm her!" I heard one of my comrades call to me, “hilfst dem Stürmer vorne!”. We shared a look of excitement together and let out chuckles of relief that were months overdue. With an exchange of nods, we hurled our rifles at the ground where they belonged – discarded -and bolted across the battlefield to join the festive showdown.  

 

 It was just like our days spent on the playgrounds. No coach, no referee, not even a proper ball, just something large and round enough to kick about. We never failed to find a pitch to play on. Any open space or any tight corners would do so long as there were friends to play with, and a goal that could be marked. We made pitches of open farm fields, abandoned steel mills, and even the narrow lanes between houses where your shoulders would scrape between the two walls. Yet never could I have imagined playing on the bombed and battered battlegrounds of the Somme.

 

My awe was broken by the celebratory cries from the opposition. My carelessness had cost us a goal and cost us the lead. “HOHLKOPF!” I heard my teammate express his anger for my dazed state, “konzentierst auf dem Spiel!” He was right, I had to focus, get my head in the game, if we didn’t want to lose to such sad excuses of players our opposition were.

 

 The game waged on from what felt like sunrise to sunset, yet the score remained one-all. Neither side could even come close to breaking free of this stalemate. Until the goalie made a grave mistake. The scene was all too familiar. His pass mistakenly hit one of the opposition players. Too far outfield to make it back, the player effortlessly chased the stray ball down the final few yards. He pulled back his leg to fire the final devastating volley that would assure them the victory.

 

 Denied. Our final defender beat him to the ball by a fraction of a second and blasted it clear into the air. The ball kicked with such deadly precision now darting towards the opposition’s goal like a meteor. Would it go in, or would it miss? I couldn’t take that chance. I bolted towards the goal, tracing the ball’s trajectory, storming past the dumbfounded defence. I was reliving the final moments of the title winning game back in school. No defence, no goalie, no chance of missing. Just me, the ball, the open goal, and the golden opportunity to break this deadlock.

 

 And you. You too knew this scene all too well, and you stayed back as the last line of defence to risk defeat. The ball slowly descending, as our eyes met for a brief instant. No words, only an exchange of determination, with the same smug expression on both faces screaming out the same words- “the ball is mine”. I only had an instant to intercept the ball and land a diving header into the goal; my timing had to be perfect. The ball inching closer and closer to your reach.

 

NOW! I ejected clean off the ground and launched myself into the sky. Anticipating my every motion, you pounced with a mighty leap in hopes of clearing the ball away, just as you did when you heroically saved us from a bitter defeat all that time ago. But this time wouldn't be the same. This time you made one grave mistake. This time, you were up against me. I torpedoed my head towards the ball to blast it into the net.

 

 Direct hit! But not with the ball. My head buried in your chest, and your knee crushed into my stomach. Falling from a mid-air collision for what seemed an eternity. Both smashing into the ground that was as battered and bruised as we were. Face flat on the floor, staring silently at each other as we were left breathless from the impact. We should have been rolling around and howling in pain. But at the sight of our pathetic wincing faces, we couldn't help but let roar rapturous laughter.

  

I could feel the bullet wound in my ribs try to rip out of its stitches. I knew I had to stop laughing, or I'd spill my insides out and bleed to death. Somehow, I just didn't care. I welcomed the thought of my last breaths being ones of joy and nostalgia, shared with the long-lost Bruder who first taught me to laugh out my darkest days. Better that, than my last breaths emptied out as cries for help that were never to be answered.

 

 You reached down to me and offered a hand. "Don't know why you bother trying to get those headers, you tiny Zwerg" he taunted, "you were always too short to reach the top of my head, let alone a ball that high".

"I would have waited to chase it after it fell, but it would take me less time to run around the pitch, that run around you, you fat Scwhein". I took your hand and heaved myself up, dusting off the muddy snow that cushioned my fall. "I see even with the food shortage and running around playing soldier still hasn't helped you lose that pregnant belly of yours", I said, slapping your stomach like the drum it was. "Aww, big words from der kleiner Junge. I see you haven't grown much; you really should be drinking your milk if you want to grow up to be a big, strong man and tough out pain like me”, you replied, annoyingly ruffling my hair.

 "I'm not surprised you toughed out that blow, seeing as you have all that blubber on you to cushion the impact".

 

 I was on the verge of another laughing fit at our childish taunts. But I stopped dead at the sight of the explosion to your distant rear. Cheers suddenly became cries, and the beautiful orderly arrangement of the football game diminished to chaotic scattering on the battlefield once again. Each side screaming orders to retreat and take arms. I noticed I was still clinging on to your hand, your grip tightening. The same grasping regretful thought clenched us tightly together – I’m not ready to say goodbye, not when I haven’t had the time to say hello properly.

  

 I felt a hand on my shoulder tugging me away to head back. I watched one of your own men do the same, desperately calling you back to retreat. But it only made us tighten our grip. I put my other arm around you, as we held each other tightly in futility. Determined not to let go. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing you again. Your helpless grasp crushing my ribs told me you felt the same. But the fear and hatred stirred by the war had overpowered us, and we were ripped apart from one another, once again.

 

 We flailed and barged and threw our bodies violently in the clutches of our comrades as we were dragged across the battlefield, clawing out to reach and grab hold of one another once more. Every so often I was able to lunge forward and brush your fingertips. But my aim was worsening as the tears clouded my visions, and you grew smaller and smaller. Even when you disappeared, I stretched my hand out still desperately reaching out to you, listening to your muffled cries in the distance. Fading, knowing we were fated to never again cross paths. 

May 07, 2020 19:19

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42 comments

David Drew
07:24 May 10, 2020

Your writing is full of colour and description!

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A. Y. R
10:57 May 10, 2020

Thanks! Hope you enjoyed it!

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12:48 May 09, 2020

Very intense beautiful writing!

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A. Y. R
12:52 May 09, 2020

Thanks! Hope you enjoyed it!

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13:16 May 09, 2020

I did!

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Rhondalise Mitza
15:44 May 27, 2020

I read the title as Soulmate Shootout and started thinking all kinds of crazy things, but you went past even those ideas! But it was great. You're doing so good, man!

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Kaylee Cook
12:52 May 24, 2020

One of my most loved topics. There are so many lessons in stories of war most of them being a lesson in love, such as this one was. I loved how you made it seem as if it were a game even though it was much more than just a game. Great job!

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Hailey S.
17:24 May 20, 2020

Great story! You write very beautifully. Also I love that you used first person referral. I think that POV is so fun to write and I wish it was more common in short stories. Keep writing!

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12:36 May 18, 2020

Wow, this was incredible. I love the story of this truce, and you brought it to life in such a powerful way. You've really got talent!

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01:24 May 18, 2020

This Christmas truce has often fascinated me, and I loved your interpretation of it, especially the mixture of past memories with the present. The ending was quite sad, though I was glad that they didn't shoot each other (or at least that the story ended before they did)

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A. Y. R
07:30 May 18, 2020

I agree - it's just such a huge and powerful moment in history I believe. The inspiration was actually from VE day that happened to be on the week of the competition

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Katy S.
19:52 May 17, 2020

This is amazing! I'm surprised it didn't win.

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A. Y. R
21:43 May 17, 2020

I'm flattered you think that! Can't say that I'm surprised though, the competition isn't easy, there are so many intriguing stories out there, and so many talented writers (such as yourself!)

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Katy S.
22:05 May 17, 2020

That is true, there are many talented authors. I am really glad you think I'm one of them, :) but I still have a long way to go for sure! You are definitely going to win soon though, your stories are all flawless!

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12:04 May 16, 2020

Great story! I like how well you managed to switch between the present and the past to tell the story of their friendship.

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Mamun Dalai
06:12 May 14, 2020

Wow! You must have lived that... to put it into your own words. It is like witnessing the history again. Thank you for this amazing story... and keep writing. ....😊👍

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A. Y. R
15:54 May 14, 2020

Thank you for reading it! Thankfully I didn't have to live it, but really glad you enjoyed it!

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Mamun Dalai
14:39 May 16, 2020

Haha......what I meant by 'u must have lived that', is to be able to empathise what we read. And yes I enjoyed ur story..😀

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Laura Watts
07:03 May 13, 2020

Amazing story! It was really well written, I loved how you built up so much suspense at the beginning.

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A. Y. R
15:54 May 14, 2020

Thanks! Hope you enjoyed it!

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Harken Void
11:26 May 12, 2020

Wow, this was such a warm yet sad story, I was hoping the whole time that they wouldn't pull the trigger and was relieved that they didn't. I loved the message, your descriptions are very good and tied perfectly with the theme of hte story (machine gun ratling in my chest) and I loved the adition of German words, which made the story feel all that more authentic. As other have pointed out, there were a few grammatical mistakes, but that's technicality. Your writing is very good and I enjoyed it. Thanks!

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A. Y. R
18:47 May 12, 2020

I should be thanking you for reading it and for the feedback - means a lot coming from a great writer such as yourself! Really glad you enjoyed it!!!

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Harken Void
21:04 May 12, 2020

Thanks for the compliment! You're no newbie yourself ;) That concept, from your other story (planets undergoing transformation through summoning living beings to come change them by living on them) has realy stuck with me. I love it! It's genius! Keep it up!

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Hamadryad 77
01:43 May 12, 2020

I was seriously impressed with your writing. It needs quite a bit of editing for grammar, flow, etc., but way you write is super great. I loved the characters and the way you expressed the prompt. The emotions and portrayal of brotherly love is beautiful!!!

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A. Y. R
07:02 May 12, 2020

Wow thank you!! That means a lot!!!

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Hamadryad 77
01:02 May 13, 2020

You're very welcome!

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18:22 May 11, 2020

I really enjoyed your writing! The perspective it was written in was something I usually don't see in writing, and it was interesting to read. It's my first time on Reesdy; I would really appreciate some feedback on my writing!

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A. Y. R
19:47 May 11, 2020

Glad you enjoyed it, and sure! Will absolutely review yours!

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Adrie Byman
15:32 May 11, 2020

Whoa! Beautiful. I couldn't tear my eyes off it. Continue writing!!

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A. Y. R
16:44 May 11, 2020

Glad you enjoyed it! And I will do, look forward to my next story soon!

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Adrie Byman
17:16 May 11, 2020

talk then!

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Peter Ayeni
12:00 May 11, 2020

The writing was so intense. You write well. Continue and reach for the Stars

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A. Y. R
16:43 May 11, 2020

Thank you so much! Will keep reaching!

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Rachel Mac Lean
18:31 May 08, 2020

This is very beautiful writing! Iove the description and you completely absorbed me, the pacing was perfect and I like how you included German words.

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A. Y. R
19:05 May 08, 2020

Thanks! I tried to make it as authentic as possible! Thought it'd be interesting to mess around a bit with both languages

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Zea Bowman
13:08 May 08, 2020

This was an interesting and fun read! I loved your descriptions, and you pulled 2nd point of view off very well. Amazing job, and keep up the good work!

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A. Y. R
13:17 May 08, 2020

Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it!

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Aqsa Malik
08:57 May 08, 2020

This was so heart warming and sad at the same time, which made it all the more relevant to the prompt. Man, you're a really good writer. My favorite thing about this story was your use of parallelism and how you let it convey the bond between the old friends. Also, I have no interest whatsoever in football, but your writing style was so good that I read all the way through the descriptions of it. I also love the fact that you incorporated another language into it, although I didn't understand what they were saying haha. A few gramm...

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A. Y. R
09:18 May 08, 2020

Thank you so much, means a lot! I'm really glad you enjoyed it too! I was writing it from the perspective of a German soldier (if that helps?).

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Aqsa Malik
09:43 May 08, 2020

Haha yeah kind of, it made me look up some stuff which I always see as a positive thing :D

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Emmanuel Umanah
08:47 May 08, 2020

Great! First of all, I must say that I enjoyed reading this story and I read it to the last word. My impression: One who understands the German language would read this story smiling right from mein Vaterland to der kleine Junge. What a creativity! Another very creative aspect of your work is the way you conclude each paragraph. I really liked the flow. Eine tolle Geschichte!

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A. Y. R
09:12 May 08, 2020

Viele Danke! Glad you enjoyed it!

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