“So, next week is really going to be 1944.”
The small living room in Captain Westheimer’s quarters smelled heavily of coffee, smoke, and pine. Despite it being situated in a prisoner-of-war camp in southern Germany, it was quite cozy. It was Christmastime, though, and Westheimer wasn’t one to care that he could be in a lot of trouble for inviting British Sergeant Plundell into his personal quarters. He hated the rules against fraternization.
Having served in World War I, he could remember the Christmas truce of 1914. It was when he learned he wasn’t the only warlock in the world who decided to live closer to people who didn’t have any magic. There were British warlocks, too. They traded magical items, many of which Westheimer still had, even long after their powers had faded.
“Yes, it really is going to be 1944 next week,” Westheimer replied. “It is Christmas Eve, Sergeant. Why are you thinking about the new year already?”
Plundell was quiet for a moment, looking down at his cup of coffee. “I managed to spend Christmas and New Year’s at home last year. Even with the war going on, we were able to reflect on personal accomplishments. This year is different. I feel like I accomplished nothing.”
“You have only been here for around three months. Surely, the nine before that had something of meaning for you.”
“Being on leave before the invasion of Sicily, and spending time with my girlfriend. We write as often as we can, but . . . there’s a part of me that’s afraid she’ll have moved on when I go home.”
“What is her name?”
“Monnie. Monnie Abberton. We met when I was on leave in 1940. Late summer. Since then, I couldn’t see myself with anyone else. A few of the others in the barracks think it’s odd, because they hooked up with someone different each time they were on leave. I’ve even heard some of them meet up with local German women when we’re on work detail.” Plundell paused. “You’re not going to punish them, are you?”
“As long as they return before sunrise and do not go out when there are inspectors in the area, I do not care. However, I hope you gently remind them that there are witches and Nazi spies to be aware of.”
“I will try.”
“Back on topic, why are you afraid of your beloved moving on from you?”
Plundell shrugged. “Probably because I haven’t physically been with her for over a year, and won’t see her until the war is over.”
“It will be a strenuous test for both of you. In the end, if you are still together, I reckon your relationship could survive anything. At least your Monnie knows you are safe. My wife has to endure the fact that I am, for lack of a better term, running a warlock resistance cell out of a prisoner-of-war camp and risk running afoul of Nazi goons just by making sure you have enough to eat.”
“And she’s loyal to you.”
“We have been loyal to each other for over twenty years. Nothing can split us apart.”
“I hope to have that.”
Westheimer grinned a little, adjusting himself in his chair to better face Plundell. “A little advice—” he gestured to his ears, “Listen to each other. Share secrets if you feel within your heart of hearts that you trust her. When I was first dating Anneli, I knew at some point I was going to have to tell her that I am a warlock, so I told her sooner rather than later. That trust was what solidified our relationship. Vulnerability is another thing you must trust her with. Showing her that you can let your guard down will allow her to let hers down. I went into my relationship knowing I did not have a happy past, but I did not want that to dominate everything. I watched trauma take over the strongest men I served with, and many of them took their own lives because of it. I refused to let that happen to me. You know from experience that your worst memories are not something you can face on your own.”
Plundell shook his head. “Is that how you be vulnerable? Just talk about your fears and nightmares?”
“In the right moment, yes.”
The room became silent aside from the crackling and popping in the fireplace. Plundell took a sip of his coffee. “I’ve definitely changed as a person.”
“That you have. I can remember that day in mid-September when you arrived.”
“I don’t like remembering that day.”
Not wanting to stir any memories for Plundell, Westheimer reflected on that day in his head. It was a fairly warm day, after a bit of a cold snap where the leaves on the trees began to change color. He had been notified a week prior that soldiers captured in Italy would be arriving. It wasn’t something to be surprised by. What surprised him was that when the truck arrived, there was only one man inside.
Approaching the guards, a pair of corporals, Westheimer gestured at them with his staff. “I do believe I was told I would be getting soldiers. As in, more than one.”
“Plans changed, Captain,” one of the guards said. “We were told this was the camp to send the . . . special cases.”
“Is he injured?”
“No, but he’s very much the crier.”
The other guard hopped into the truck, taking the British soldier by his arm and roughly pulling him out. The man’s face was red and streaked with tears. The guard glared at him, shouting in German, “No wonder you were captured alone! You let the rest of your men die so you could curl up and cry like a child! The English must be desperate if they’re promoting men like you to sergeant!”
“I will not have you speak to a prisoner like that!” Westheimer growled. “Did your officers not have you read the Geneva Convention articles?”
“Then you will leave this man alone, or I will make sure you both are properly disciplined for acting like barbarians.”
The two guards fell silent immediately, though one of them said, “My apologies, Captain.”
“Do not apologize to me. Apologize to him.”
Plundell was trying to stand up in order to salute Westheimer. He was young, practically still a boy, and it was clear he had seen a lot most boys his age shouldn’t have to. He was terrified, uncertain about what was next. It was obvious he hated looking Westheimer in the eye.
It was amazing how that changed in three months. Allowing himself a small smile, Westheimer looked over at Plundell. “You have definitely changed for the better. You are not nearly as shy.”
“I’m the barracks NCO. I had to take charge. It wasn’t easy, but . . . I did it.” Plundell gave a weak smile, staring into his coffee. “Then there was the incident in October that changed everything.”
“Ah, yes, that damned poltergeist in your radio.” Westheimer shook his head. “We will be bringing that up long after the war is over.”
“Without it, I wouldn’t have found out magic is real.”
“I think you would have found out somehow, but this just happened to be the way you did.”
“It’s strange. Up until then, I thought magic was an element of fiction. Now, I’m sitting next to a living, breathing wizard, and it’s completely normal.” Plundell’s smile faded. His face paled. “We’re sure this isn’t a dream? Or . . . I’m actually dead?”
“No, son. It is not a dream, and you are very much alive.”
“Honestly, I think that’s the highlight of my year. Magic, as well as getting a chance to see that . . . you’re not my enemy. It is difficult to say that, given that your air force bombed London and drove my parents from their home, but . . .”
“I am not the man who gave the order to bomb London.”
“No, you’re not.”
“This is an unfortunate situation for many of us. It is unfortunate to look into next year, and see nothing but death and destruction, and while it is true that the war is going to continue in 1944, it is complete fallacy to go into next year without hope. I pity people who see nothing but darkness. I have seen the consequences of hope lost.” Westheimer suddenly looked withdrawn. “I have not been able to go a year without one person I know taking their own life. Not until this year. This year, 1943, is the first year where no one I know has died by their own hand.”
“I guess that explains why you care so much.”
Westheimer nodded. “It feels inappropriate to consider that an accomplishment of this year.”
“If it means that much to you, I would. It would be inappropriate to celebrate it the way others would treat their accomplishments. It’s something that deserves . . . a more solemn way of recognition.”
Plundell was quiet again, gazing into the fire. “Have you accomplished anything happy at all this year?”
“I would not consider this an accomplishment, but it was certainly a joyous moment. Remember how I left the camp for a couple of days earlier this month?”
“My eldest daughter had her first child.”
“Congratulations. That had be a wonderful change of mood.”
“It was nice to have my family back together again. It was the first time the entire year that we had spent any time together.”
“I wouldn’t mind meeting your family someday.”
“After the war, come to Augsburg for Christmas Eve dinner. We will make you feel at home.”
“I should probably return the favor and invite you to England as well.”
Westheimer’s smile returned. “Just like that, we have something to look forward to.”
“Do you think that by Christmas of 1944, we’ll be home again?”
Westheimer shrugged. “I would certainly hope so, but only time and the efforts of the militaries on both sides will tell.”
“If we’re still in this camp next year, I hope to have this reflection time with you again. This friendship is the one thing that has made the last few months better.”
“You have definitely made the last few months more interesting. Thank you.”
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Wow, Catherine! "Unorthodox Truce" was truly a new turn from the usual "New Year" prompt into something less contemporary. I love how even with all the dialogue going on, the story still managed to hold is gleam and kept my interest till the very end! If you don't mind, could you check out my stories, "An Enchanted Garden," and "Silver Sunflowers" and provide some feedback in the comments? And because I love a good conversation on my favorite stories, please provide two of your pieces of writing you would like me to read and review as w...
I'd be happy to. I'd recommend "Radio Poltergeist" and "Family Demons"--they follow the same characters as this.
An interesting story. Kept me reading the whole way.