The night was filled with a steady silence, pierced by the occasional snore and grunt. Snowflakes drifted down casting a white glow on the dead grass and land outside of the small barracks in the middle of nowhere.
An untouched blanket of virgin snow failed to set a mood for the holidays.
It didn’t feel like Christmas, for there was no merry singing to keep Thomas awake, no people chatting on the streets, an absence on the lingering smell of gingerbread and Evergreen.
There was a fear for his life, a dark, rooted pain that was missing his wife and children back in America. There were twenty-something other men in the same barracks as him letting out a symphony of sighs and snorts; and there was the feeling of something being off, but that was what Thomas was used to.
Thomas sat by his bed, holding a box that was hidden in his mattress, a small hole, torn with the help of his knife. Bits of stuffing was scattered around him as he eagerly opened the small box with shaking hands, his eyes studied the familiar print that was exclaiming about how their brand of cigarettes was recommended by three out of five doctors.
Inside were letters, written in the familiar hand of his wife, Linda, and two daughters, Lucy and Samantha. The notes’ contents were filled with compassion, littered with “I miss you”, and decorated in tear-stains that blotted the ink.
As he devoured the intimate sentences, Thomas prayed his children would be at peace as he blinked back the tears that were threatening to spill. The night felt too calm to be disturbed by Thomas’s selfish cries.
He returned the precious box and its contents to the mattress and caught a glimpse of the outside. A fresh blanket of snow covered everything, footprints ruined the purity of white snow.
Without missing a beat, he rushed to the bed of his pal, Mark, and shook him awake.
“The hell?” Mark shouted, stirring a few more men as he surveyed Thomas, obviously looking for bruises or life-threatening cuts.
Mark saw nothing that warranted taking him from his dreams, so he huffed and said in a loud, steely voice, “What?”
“There’s footprints on fresh snow, I think someone’s invading.” Thomas stumbled on his words while trying to get them out. Mark jumped up, along with everyone he had woken up.
“Guns!” he yelled, waking up even the heaviest of sleepers as he ran to the storage chest and picked up a rifle. As he quickly loaded it the other men scrambled in his wake, their hair messy but their eyes alert and terrified.
It was eerily silent as they waited for the sound of bullets to fly through the only window, the sound of someone’s dying scream. When? Where?
Thomas’s hands shook as he was the last to load his gun for he was unable to keep his hands still, his heart beat was so fast he was sure everyone could hear it, and he thought he could hear Mark’s, who was by his side.
A head shorter than him, Mark’s blonde head of hair, blue eyes, and uniform attracted many women but his sweetheart Linda, was back in America, pregnant with his daughter.
“We can do this,” Thomas whispered to Mark, knowing his mind was on his unborn child. Mark patted his back as the suspicious men went to hide behind beds and equipment, guns at the ready, pointing to the door.
One, two, three minutes of tense silence went by. Mark, who was by Thomas’s side whispered, “Are you sure it was new snow.”
Thomas peeped through the window, footsteps only leading to the barracks. “Yes.” he replied firmly.
Any second now, blood would spill.
As everyone seemed to be letting their guard down, the barn door opened and German’s stormed in, stopping dead in their tracks at the empty building.
“Sie sind nicht hier,” a guttural voice declared. Thomas, who knew little German, knew the man was stating the obvious.
“Unmöglich,” a softer voice replied. “Hello? Anyone here?”
The accent was thick but Thomas heard his last words as James stood up from behind a bed and shot him in the head.
There was a ringing sound as the bullet’s noise stung Thomas’s ears. But, as if on cue, the other soldiers of the barrack started shooting, some aimlessly, others at certain target, catching their foe off guard for a moment.
After a minute, the gunfire ceased and the only thing left was the smell of gunpowder and blood.
About a dozen Germans lay dead on the ground, others rushing out of the building. Thomas looked around, and saw, as if by some kind of miracle, their men weren't injured.
He stood dumbstruck before turning to Mark, and saw him on his knees, blood gushing from his arm. “I’ve been shot,” he weakly stated.
“I need bandages,” Thomas called out to the dark room and men rushed to Mark’s aid, using a bit of whiskey to clean the wound and bandages to make a makeshift sling and patch him up. Luckily, it was rather artificial and Mark seemed to be in little pain.
“We survived!” Thomas yelled, the men roared and clapped, a euphoric feeling took over him, and the dead Germans seemed insignificant. All was calm, it was almost bright outside, and it was Christmas, and they were all in one piece.
“Let’s drink!” cheered Mark, who was resting on his bed, and the men agreed with whistles and whoops.
Whiskey and caroling, making fun of the German. Thomas could feel his cheeks going pink and his brown eyes grew moist.
Nobody asked questions, of how the Germans found them, why them, or what took them so long. No one cared enough to.
Though he may not be hanging ornaments on the Christmas tree, or roasting chestnuts with his wife, he finally felt okay.
It finally felt like Christmas.