The day began cold and damp, the afternoon no better as gusty winds made our breaths puffy in the frigid air. We had been under attack for hours. The enemy was gaining the upper hand. Our ammunition was rapidly depleting.
Sergeant Ames reconnoitered with a fresh supply of grenades stuffed under his threadbare coat in a gunnysack, a risky undertaking. We immediately bombarded our foes while we waited for the heavy artillery to arrive.
“Don’t give up, boys! Defend to the end!”
My lungs ached in the bitter cold, my feet freezing through the rough woolen socks sent from home. In a moment of weakness, I allowed myself to imagine my mother knitting by the fireside in our home, old Duke laying comfortably at her feet on the hand-braided rug.
“Left flank attack!”
I ducked just in time to miss a direct hit to my face, while other comrades joined in the fray to defend our ground. Too late to go to his aid, I watched in horror as my best buddy took a fatal one to the chest. My tears froze, curdling my whiskers into hard little knots. I fought with renewed energy, then, hurrahing as the enemy was pelted with hurtling cannon balls from our rapidly approaching reinforcements. The dusky gray sky above us orchestrated the shouts of victory and screams of pain into a kind of unsynchronized mayhem, the muffled echoes of distant drummer boys playing sounding silent on our helmeted ears.
A pause then, louder than the fighting had been, replaced the sounds of war. Our enemy retreated into the forest from whence they had come! Seconds later, our commander approached, clapping each one on the shoulder,
“Way to go, soldiers, way to go! Victory may yet be ours!”
I cradled my downed friend’s head in my lap then, rocking my numb body back and forth,
“Way to go, soldier, way to go! You have the ultimate victory of being in heaven, now, resting in the Father’s arms.”
At that precise moment, I felt his limbs tremble and, panicking, I tore open his fatigues. His little white New Testament, which had turned a dirty gray with repeated use, had kept the ball from penetrating into his body’s vital organs, the entry shallow and weak.
“Medic! I need a Medic and a gurney, STAT!”
To this day, my buddy’s ammo-riddled gray New Testament is still carried in his shirt pocket.
“Boys! Boys! Time for dinner,” my mother’s feminine voice breaks through our war re-enactment, an assignment from our history teacher that we took seriously. Reverberations of similar commands wing through the neighborhood, the promise of hearty meals the only successful enticement for our complete surrender.
Corpses suddenly stand and brush the snow from their bodies, joining the rest of us to cover our stash of snowballs with tarps, and store the battle paraphernalia for another day.
As a finishing touch, both sides plant a stick-wrapped white handkerchief into their fort’s highest hill as a symbol of mutual temporary surrender.
We unwind our ice-matted neck scarves, walking collectively in standard formation as we discuss forgotten details of the historical figure’s journal we had chosen to represent for our presentation.
“Hey, we forgot the part when he rescued the wounded puppy from the ditch between the platoons,” someone states importantly, the barks of his own dog heralding his return home for the evening and reminding him of the omitted scene.
“Yo, what about that white New Testament of my uncle’s? Billy, you still got it wrapped up underneath your long-johns, right? I’d be in big trouble if that went missing!”
The children’s voices get fainter and fainter as they fade into the distance. And the little white Bible lays in a white snowdrift under the shadow of Billy’s white truce flag, the pages fluttering in the now gentle breeze. The wind stills and the page left open reveals one verse underlined in red:
”Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.” Revelation 6:11
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