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Historical Fiction

January 27, 1918

357 Kilometers east of Paris, France.


The night was cold and wet, rain had fallen for 3 straight days and showed no signs of letting up now. Pockets of gunfire echoed through the woods, punctuated by seemingly random artillery shells.


Corporal Georges McKay moved from tree to tree, careful to watch his footing as well as his surroundings. He pulled the Remington shotgun he carried tighter into his shoulder and took a moment to catch his breath.


Georges had gotten separated from his platoon during the battle and lost his way in the dense forest. He wasn't even sure if they were alive.


Snap!


Georges spun around as the sound. A shadow. No, a man was staring back at him. "Shit!" He gasped realizing he was face to face with a german.


"Warten!" The man shouted. Georges knew what the man said but he wasn't going to wait to be shot first. He raised the weapon and pulled the trigger. The report was deafening and it kicked hard into his sore shoulder.

The german dove behind a tree just in time to escape certain death. He scrambled back against the tree, sitting in the mud he pressed himself close to his cover. Georges chambered another round and fired again, striking the tree and sending wood chips flying in every direction.


The American took a stumbling step to his left and behind a tree of his own. He could hear the other soldier's heavy breathing, matching his own.

They stayed like that for a long time, though neither of them was sure exactly how much time.


Until the German spoke. "American?" The voice called out, causing Georges to flinch slightly.


"Yeah?" He called back, readjusting his shaky grip on the weapon. It was impossible to tell if he was shaking from the cold or from being nervous. Probably both.


"I'll make a deal with you." The man said.


His accent was thick but his English was fluent, Georges found that surprising but didn't comment on it. "Oh yeah? And what's that?" Georges asked.


"The way I see it," He stopped taking a deep breath. "I'm not your enemy right now, and you are not mine." The young German soldier was tempted to peer around the corner, but was sure he'd be killed if he did.


Georges laughed. "Oh, I'd say you're wrong about that! Why don't you op your head back out so I can show you?" There was an audible laugh in response.


"Nein, Tufelhuden," He switched back to german briefly. Georges spoke enough of the language to understand. Tefelhuden. Devil Dog. He smirked at the nickname the Marine's had earned for themselves. "The weather is our enemy, Tufelhuden. We're likely to freeze before the night's over, unless..." He looked up to the sky, frigid rain still falling from dark clouds.


"Get to the point, German." He said, relaxing slightly but still ready to fire.


"My offer is we put our hostilities aside for tonight. I don't want to freeze to death in these fucking woods, do you?"


"So what do you suggest? How do I know you won't shoot me as soon as I let you step out?" Fair point. The German tossed his weapon out from behind the tree. Much too Georges shock.


The German pushed himself to his feet, making sure to stay behind the relative safety of the tree. He squeezed eyes shut as tight as he could and slowly turned the corner of the tree. Fully expecting the American to gun him down. But when the shot never came, he managed to force his eyes back open.


Georges stepped from behind his tree as well, lowering his gun to his hip but still pointed at the other man. It was a tense two minutes, for both of them.


"What now?" Georges broke the silence.


"There was a cottage a bit up the hill, it'll get us out of the rain." That sounded great to Georges and it overrode his nerves.


"Alright, lead the way." He agreed.


"May I get my-uh-" He stopped, searching for the word.


"Gewehr?" Georges asked in german. A wide smile spread across the other man's pale face. "Go ahead," The man reached down for the rifle, faster than Georges liked. "Ah-ah! One hand." He ordered raising his own gun slightly.


"Right, sorry."


The two soldiers began their hike up the muddy hillside towards the burned-out cottage. They both tripped and stumbled the entire way, finally coming to a spot Georges couldn't scale. His boots failing to get traction he slipped and fell into the mud over and over.


Until a hand reached out in front of him. He took it without thinking and allowed his enemy to pull him up. "The guys wouldn't believe me if I told them about this." Georges thought with a small laugh escaping his lips.


Inside the cottage, which was mostly intact, was damp and cold. But it did get them out of the pouring rain. Something they were both immeasurably grateful for.


"So what's your name?" Georges asked the other man, finally really looking him over. The german was tall, far taller than himself, and lean. And young, maybe a bit older than he was, 25 or 26, maybe?


"Ow-guwst Koch. Yours?" The taller man answered, leaning his rifle against the far wall.


Georges furrowed his brow and thought about the answer. "You mean August?" He asked, slipping his pack off for the first time in 20 hours.


"Is that how you Americans say it?" August turned and gave him an amused look.


"Yeah, it is," Georges laughed. "You know, the right way." August laughed and shrugged. "Georges McKay," He extended his hand and they shook.


"Pleasure," August smiled. "Thanks for not shooting me."


"You're welcome, though it wasn't for lack of trying."


August started a small fire with what little tinder he had. "Where'd you learn to speak English?" Georges finally asked as he watched the man warm his hands by the small flame.


"My Mother," A smile appeared on his face. "She wanted my sisters and I to learn a language when I was small. I chose English, they all chose French." He finished and stretched out on the damp stone floor. "You," He pointed a finger at Georges. "Speak German, yes?"


"Ein wenig," Georges held up his thumb and index fingers.


"Why?"


Georges smirked. "That way if I got captured I could tell you Jerries to go fuck yourselves in your own language." That earned him a laugh.


August reached into the pocket inside his jacket and pulled out a small metal box. It contained a few black and white photos and a note. The German looked through them, and Georges could see the homesick set in. He recognized it because he often had that look, as did his comrades.


"May I?" Georges asked, holding out his hand. August handed them over without hesitation, surprising Georges again. There were five photos. He stopped on one of August and a baby in his arms. "Is this your daughter?" He guessed the gender by the bow on the baby's head.


"Yes," Georges handed them back. "Anna. She's 3 now, walking, talking-" August stopped and swallowed hard. His eyes found their way to the shotgun in Georges lap. Desperate to distract himself from the homesick that had hit him like a tidal wave. "Can I see that?" He pointed at it. Georges arched a brow and scoffed. "I've always wanted to see one up close." He'd only ever seen the damage they could do.


"Fine," Georges removed the bayonet and the shells from the weapon. "Not looking to be killed with my own gun." Georges thought, though he didn't feel like August would do that.

He trusted the German, even if he wasn't sure why.


"Danke," August said, assuming Georges would know what he meant. It wasn't much heavier than his rifle but felt far sturdier. Less elegant, more brutish.


Georges watched him as he looked over the weapon. "You don't strike me as a warrior. Or even a fighter." He'd been fighting the German's for 5 months and hadn't given much thought to what they were like. Hell, he hadn't even thought of them as PEOPLE. Just enemies. Something to be destroyed.


"I'm not," August answered honestly. "I just want this war to be over, I don't care who wins." He thought of his wife and his daughter back home. And of all the countless families who'd been caught up in the conflict. "All this killing, it's wasteful," He paused. "And you, do you have a family?" August asked.


Georges sighed and shrugged one shoulder. "No," He said simply. It wasn't something he wanted to discuss.


August moved abruptly, causing Georges' hand to shoot for the pistol on his hip. "Be awfully rude to shoot a man about to offer you a drink." August laughed, presenting the American with a bottle of brandy.


Georges opened it and held the bottle up. "To your family, may you return to them safely." He drank. "Uck!" Georges grimaced. "How do you drink that shit? It's so sweet." He wiped his mouth on his still soaking wet sleeve.


"You get used to it," He took the bottle back and held it up. "To you, my American friend." August smiled at the younger man and drank.


"Friend, huh?" A yawn came out with the words. The exhaustion of 24 hours of no sleep settled in on him. He wanted to let his eyelids to close and sleep, but wouldn't let himself.


August watched him struggling to stay awake, sipping on his brandy. When something dawned on him. "Do you hear that?" He asked.


Georges sat up slightly, his eyes only half-open, and listened. Nothing. "No, what do you hear?"


"Nothing." A wide smile spread across his face. "The rain stopped." August, a religious man, chalked it up as a small gift from God. A reward for them proving human kindness and decency could still exist. With a smile, he settled back down, determined to sleep.

And so they did, both of them, for the first time in months the 2 soldiers slept soundly.


August woke first, the morning sky was overcast and he shivered in his still damp clothes. But no rain fell from the sky, and he found himself in good spirits.


He turned back to the young American, who was still fast asleep. He almost didn't want to wake him. "Georges?" He shook him.


Georges snapped awake. "What!? What is it!?" He began to scramble backward but August's grip on his shoulders stopped him. "Gimme a fuckin' heart attack why don't you?" He pushed the man's hands-off with a chuckle.


They both collected their weapons and packs and stepped out of the cottage. "I guess this is where we part ways," Georges said, a small feeling of disappointment in his chest.


August nodded and extended his hand. "When this war is over, perhaps our paths will cross again." He knew that was unlikely, but he would like to believe it.


Georges smiled. "I'll be looking forward to it."










































August 28, 2020 03:07

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1 comment

Deborah Angevin
12:00 Aug 31, 2020

I like the way you wrote the dialogues; it flows smoothly! I enjoyed reading this :D P.S: would you mind checking my recent story out, "The Purple Sash"? Thank you :D

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