“Oh, man, this just plain sucks ass!” the private moaned, but only to the other private with him.
“Uh-huh,” the other private agreed, though with considerably less rancor. He’d arrived a couple weeks earlier and was used to it.
“I didn’t come over to sit here and freeze,” the private sort of looked back over his shoulder, over the top of the hole, back through the thick trees and snow towards the platoon’s shelter at the old farm 150 yards back. With every word, every breath, a cloud of vapor exited his body and froze before his eyes. Eventually he might learn everyone expected grumbling and didn’t care what he thought. Might.
“Yeah, well, this is only your second night doing it whereas it’s my 10th,” the other private said, teeth chattering, “So …”
The private rubbed his gloved hands together vigorously for what good it would do. He sighted down the machine gun barrel for the thousandth time that night. They were on a rise that overlooked a fair piece of semi-open ground, but for the thousandth time all he could see in the dark was trees and snow. “Will you listen to that cold friggin’ wind!” he sneered, buck toothed, all gung-ho extroversion.
The other private had been too busy shivering to notice, but when he turned his attention to it, yeah, wind in the treetops seemed to have picked up. “Just another hour,” he clutched his arms around his body, head tucked, as introverted in posture as in temperament and as sick of the private’s would-be warrior schtick as he was the freezing cold. “We’ll be relieved, and we can go back and get warm.”
“I hope they’re not late again.”
“They usually are.”
“That Lieutenant has got the platoon pretty snug in that barn back there, like he expects us to be here for a while.”
“I still don’t understand why we don’t just go charging off in that direction,” the private waved a hand off towards the ground they were covering, “There’s nothing to stop us.”
The other private said, “I think it has something to do with supply lines. Anyway, the next platoon is a mile that way, so we’re not exactly massing for an attack. We’re more like on guard duty.”
“Guard duty for what?”
“We’re just watching the line.”
“Watching the line for what,” the private was disgusted. “They’ve given up.”
The other private didn’t say anything.
“Damn war was over before I even got here! Veterans back warm and cozy in the barn got to have all the fun, now they send us out to do the shit work.”
The other private said, “They don’t act like they’ve had any fun.” He noticed that the sound of the wind in the trees seemed to have picked up and sounded funny.
“And they really treat us like crap. Hardly talk to us. Won’t even learn our names.”
“Well, I think some of them have lost some buddies. Actually, I think they all have.”
The private looked back over his shoulder again, this time checking carefully that no one was back there, and lowered his voice. “Do you think they’re scared?”
The other private considered that. “I suppose, maybe. Shouldn’t you be?”
The private ignored the question if he’d heard it. “They should turn us lose; we’ll show ‘em!”
“Uh-huh,” the other private said. He noticed the world had lightened just ever so slightly. Dawn was sneaking up on them. More details ghosted through the dark. He looked into the treetops and noticed, despite the wind, he saw little movement by the frozen branches in their tops. It seemed to him the wind had picked up even more, but it wasn’t gusting; it was a constant howl, and more like a rumble. Then he felt a vibration in the icy ground that came up through his butt. “Hey…“, he started to say.
Then the world around them exploded. Shells smashed into the earth to their left, to their right, behind and in front of them, tops of trees shattered and rained down. Both terrified privates threw themselves deeper into their hole screaming and tried to will their bodies deeper into the ground. The first shots either had heard fired in anger and it was somebody else’s anger. More shells, closer, farther, all around and above them. The private peed his pants but didn’t notice. Neither was sure how long it went on, but when it stopped they were half buried in dirt and tree branches that had been blasted into their hole and the wind, the rumble, was even louder. They peaked over the rim of their hole and saw, less than a half mile from their position, a wall of German tanks, seemed like dozens and dozens of German tanks, moving towards them fast with German soldiers trailing in their wake.
“Oh, crap!” the other private screamed and grabbed the machine gun, pulled back on the cocking lever and fired off several rounds before being tackled off it.
“Are you nuts!” the private screamed, “They’ll see us! We have to get back to the platoon!” He began pulling the other private out of the hole.
“The machine gun,” the other private reached for it.
“Leave it!” They heard bullets striking the trees around them.
“Leave it,” the private pulled the other private over the lip of hole and they began running, almost in different directions. “This way!” he shouted. “The barn is this way.” And beyond it, Bastogne.
The other private shifted direction and followed. As it happened, not in the direction of the barn.
* * *
BTW: The photo art and prose included in any given post are separate creations and rarely have anything to do with each other. Duality and such …
All my life I have had to learn to do things differently. To see the world differently.