Claude had not slept well in the muck and soot, dreaming feverishly of home and his village being swallowed in imaginary flames. He did not wake from the sound of artillery fire, though of course it was there, always, like a ticking clock. Instead, he woke to men debating. 

“This whole business is like mixing oil with water,” Jacques said. “Now I have to walk around at night to the smell of Tommies, like wet dog.” 

Another infantryman brushed off the French sergeant’s comments, pulling his goatskin coat closer to his body as if that might do something to ease the cold. “Surely us Brits aren’t all that bad. The latrines are what really do us in; all that flooding makes a mess of things.”

“I was talking about the dead ones,” Jacques said, almost smiling. “You all know how to take a bullet in the head if nothing else.” 

The Brit frowned, a heavy disgust spreading across his face. they both moved on down the trench and Claude felt sick at the thought and the smell. 

There was no sun at dawn, just gray powder that sped forward in the wind. It was the debris of whole nations, Europe itself, floating through air as civilization collapsed into pinched moments of gunfire. It rained a deep cold, crusted into slush, then stopped, freezing hell over again. Claude attempted to ring out his clothes, but they were soaked and stiff; the clay and blood stains would not come out. Fresh mud seeped into his boots. Claude did not bother to move, letting the chill sweep over him until he shivered. 

Everyone shivered in those days, pressed between the pastures of Flanders, and the icy bristle of the sea. The men, hardly boys, shifted about in slow clumps of frost and weaponry. They were worms gnawing holes in the soil, searching, blindly grasping about in darkness for a place to hide from the tremendous weight of war.

Claude exited the dugout as officers called for inspection. They had new paths to shovel before it got too light. The troop’s breath were plumes vanishing in the air around them as they ladled out dirt. Claude slipped into the work, tunneling on muscle memory alone, gripped with the unshakable thought that they might be digging their own shallow graves.

At break, men complained about flooding, how the mud and holiday parcels were slowing carts down, and now rations were already dwindling this week. But mostly they complained about each other. The story went that toward the start of the war, French and British regiments had been fighting the Germans close by. There was a dip in the land. Like marbles rolling down opposite ends, they clanged into one another and by sheer force of momentum had merged into a single unit. The battalion was a total oddity, a beast patched together from separate parts and now left stuck and misshapen in the haze of war. Claude didn’t mind the company; the French always played good poker.  

 The complaints went on while Claude picked at a canned collection of old vegetables in a rancid broth, stuffing the end of a carrot and a rotted cube of turnip into his lapel for later. The grease of the tin-meal congealed into fat on his fingertips. He pulled his fingers together, rolled the fat into a waxy ball, and stuck it with the vegetables.

Soldiers were clustered together in a narrow space along the trench. They chewed the food like cattle, heads bent down against the wind. Claude tapped the shoulder of a tall French lieutenant with cigarettes to trade for the bulk of his turnip. The Frenchman was gaunt, a skeleton under faded colors of a blue and red uniform.

He spoke musically in his French babble. Claude pieced words together. The Frenchman divided the turnip into slivers and handed Claude a cigarette. Claude lit it silently, squatting behind a wall of sandbags, holding it away from the sky, cupping fumes with his palm so it did not all trail out at once. The bitter-warm taste, like toasted birch, was still new to him. The way it massaged the brain was desperately familiar. His father was there with his tobacco breath, pacing back and forth in Claude’s bedroom, railing against the Boers and lost battles amongst green hills from his own youth, then the image was gone. Several men gravitated toward the smell, huddling near Claude, wordless.

A fellow Brit, barely recognizable, with sunken eyes and curled hair approached Claude, taking in the nicotine.

“Sometimes,” the infantryman said, “I think the explosions have made silence uncomfortable to me. If you ever put me in a silent field, I will kill everything that moves.” The infantryman turned back toward the front. A shower of heat and radiant beams replaced the dim sun and rumbled. “If you put me in a noisy field, I will kill everything that moves…but only because I am ordered to.”

He winked at Claude.

Claude puffed his cigarette, eyed the strange infantryman, and shrugged. The others stared at them both. A fat Englishman, a Frenchman built like steel, and two more bony Parisians who gazed with a hollow presence at the world around them.

“Artillery,” the infantryman continued, “it is a symphony.”  He demonstrated, thumbing through air. Hands moved in smooth invisible waves.

This should have been amusing, but it was not. Claude shuffled away an inch. The strange soldier pulled a carrot stick from his pocket and stepped up a ladder out onto the parapet, hands whipping around faster in the wind. He acted like he was composing in front of a grand orchestra of kindled sod and iced earth, swinging his arms as shells dropped up ahead.

The men, gathered in their nicotine-orange glow, ran toward him. The large Frenchman was there first tackling the infantryman into the puddle at their feet.

 “Keep your hands down, by God!” the fat Brit yelled.

A quick tap of bullets flew overhead, everyone crouched down expecting death. Claude followed their example. The infantryman lay still. His uniform was soaked, a drab thread of khakis and badges that meant nothing now. He stared unblinking at Claude and would not stop. Claude backed away further and put his cigarette out against the trench wall; they all did. The winds changed, and the smoke was pushing too far upward. Taps of bullets traced back toward them, then faded away again. One of the gaunt Parisians took the carrot from the ground. He did not wipe off the grime but just stuck it in his cheek and gnawed.

“What’s wrong with him?” Claude asked.

A brash soldier appeared strapped with extra bayonets, the French sergeant who Claude recognized with a lurking disdain as Jacques.

“He has gone mad,” Jacques said. He spoke in loud accented English. “It happens to everyone eventually.”  

Jacques walked over the soldier’s body and toward the Frenchman with cigarettes. The other soldiers dragged the madman to the side where he sat up and fluttered his hands in tiny circles, still composing his melody. Claude’s breath increased. Plumes grew hotter on his tongue. He couldn’t help himself and followed Jacques.

“You say eventually?” Claude sputtered this out and almost walked into Jacques as the sergeant stopped and turned back. “But this has to end soon. I’ve been hearing words of possible peace.”

Jacques looked Claude up and down, like admiring a porcelain doll.

“There is no end to war.” 

Jacques grinned; his teeth had a sharpness to them. “Victories, defeats, armistice, these are just words. They mean nothing. But guerre, guerre means something. It means a going on. That is what is expected of you and me. You go on, and when you don’t go on there will be no words because you’ll be dead.”

“So what of peace?”

It was Christmas Eve, Claude had silly thoughts coursing through him. He wanted to be preparing a round slick pheasant with his grandfather, heating vegetables until onions caramelized in the iron pan, whipping the plum pudding together with candied raisins and sugared milk. He wanted to be in church pulling his sister’s hair to the sound of a cedar-box organ until his mother smacked him. He wanted to feel the seaside bustle when they rode into Portsmouth, where he would press his face against a shop window full of tin soldiers and a Meccano construction kit.

“What is your name?”

“Claude,” he said.

“You got some Boche in you huh? That’s typical.”

Claude nodded, “German on my ma’s side.”   

Claude felt increasingly guilty about this as the war went on. Perhaps it was the idea he might be firing into a crowd of his distant cousins on the other side. Perhaps it was the thought that some distant cousin might be shelling his friends as he stood there and he would have no way of knowing the difference. “I just want some time without the racket,” he added, “you know?”

Jacques shrugged at Claude’s talk of peace, then gave another grin, blowing cigarette smoke to the air on purpose like a man kissing the sky. Bullets tapped above them. Several soldiers ducked, but Jacques just chuckled stupidly and went on down the trench.

 Claude shook off thoughts of pheasant, church bells, and tobacco breath, and they all glared at the odd infantryman imitating Mozart in the shadows of a warzone.

 Later in the evening there was an order to go up to the firing line at the very front for sandbagging. Shoulders sagged, and heads bowed. They moved into the maze of ditches toward a great wasteland. Jacques, with cropped hair, badges, and clinking metals, pushed past Claude.

“Now you’ll see your peace,” he said .

 They passed a curved mound of frozen mud and roots. If one looked closely, one could see they were bodies and the roots were limbs of Frenchmen who would not be buried until spring when the ground softened and draining rains would loosen them from the earth eating at their guts.

Claude’s insides hurt. He turned away down the shaky line of men to the gray swath of sky, a frigid sheet of metal that had replaced heaven. He tried focusing forward, ignoring the mound, the way the roots almost grabbed out at him.

One of the Parisians eyed Claude and turned to the others saying in French and then English so the fat Brit and Claude could hear, “He cannot stomach a few dead bodies, he should not be here.”

Several soldiers chuckled. Claude’s face reddened in the cold, he kept walking and looked down, away from the sheet of metal to the dirt, concentrating only on his feet.

The hulking French soldier, the one made like steel, Joffrey, that was his name, said loudly, “None of us should be here.”

That shut everyone up, and they trudged on in a momentary silence, broken by cracks of artillery pummeling boys up ahead. 

Pillars of charred timber surrounded them. It had all been deep marshy woods with green pastures, leafy brush, deer, and twigs. Claude tried to imagine this as it had once been, but could not. His mind was drawn back toward roots.

The edge of the front was thirty meters away now. Men yelled out orders in frantic succession. Trails grew less intricate and the trench dissolved into a garble of mud. Horses clopped against wet soil. They breathed in great bursts, swishing their heads back like dragons wrought from hell and bones. Barbed wire coiled around the men in steel vines. A great flare went off and an unnatural lightning crammed onto the earth. It was God surely, smiting them all. The whole line pushed forward a little slower, blending together as one unit. An ugly pitiful creature made of dirt and grime, reeking of cold sweat, slouching toward Germany.

The world at the firing line was a mess of whizzing bullets and blasting mortar. In the distance men were dying alone, slowly and painfully. Claude searched for the horror within him and was surprised to mostly find numbness.

They inched along, shoving one another for protection against a supreme boogeyman lurking in the growth of darkness. Mass explosions bore upon them. Claude witnessed men running back and forth, charging into the fading light, bayonets drawn, cranking on mechanical gears, flinging alloy across the expanse. Claude bowed his head and murmured to himself as if to pray, but stopped as he could not decide what or who to pray for. Jacques gazed at him from a distance. Only half his face was visible through the flashes. He nodded upward as if presenting to Claude his futile ideas of peace ripped apart at the stench of gunpowder, peace plunged into a great darkness then set aflame in bonfires that ravaged the countryside and somehow grew without making anything any brighter. 

The gray sheet of metal was replaced with the black tide of dusk. The firing subsided and then there were only searchlights across the field. Joffrey approached Claude and instructed him to ignore Jacques because he was a big rude man who would probably get himself killed. Claude did not respond. The Frenchman’s lips tightened, perhaps feeling he had said the wrong thing. Joffrey spoke slower in near perfect English.

“You are scared my friend. But if we die, we die in glory, we die fighting for our country, honor, all we believe in.”

“I don’t want to die fighting for what I believe in. I want to live fighting for what I believe in.”

Joffrey frowned, then nodded in recognition. The whole line of men hunkered down. Night grew unspeakably cold until Claude could not hold his bayonet steady. He received word in whispers and speculation. Tomorrow they would go over the top. Tomorrow would be Christmas.


It was long past midnight when Claude awoke. A low frosty wind had swept into the trenches. Claude spotted a few stars tucked into the sky. He rubbed his eyes, looked again, and searched for the source of his awakening. Bleary sunken pupils, zombies of men were stirring around him. Those on night shift sat still in a confused chain. Everyone was turned toward the front. They waited and waited, then a slow shuffle and murmur spread through the men. What was happening ahead of them was haunting. It was not the peal of crashing death, or a fleet of bullets, or grenades sent to erode the universe around them into a thick dust.

It was silence. The serene wintry quiet that filled the front in the early hours of Christmas morning. The artillery of German thunder had vanished from the sky. Clouds opened a little so more pricks of starlight appeared with the silver-blue halo of the moon.

As if a great bell had been raised, soldier’s heads lifted from the mud, one inch, then two, then ten. Helmets and felt hats peeked over the top without retribution. The air was calm, the space suddenly clean. The crazed infantryman from the day before clapped his hands over his ears, then went on sleeping. There was a splurge of chatter. Men removed themselves from the slush and mud, now frozen firm, bandaging wounds, scraping away shrapnel, coming into a new day.

A lieutenant shouted somewhere in angry French that Claude barely made out, “Shut up and keep down you fools! You’ll give us all away.”

Men turned back toward the front in expectation. The tranquility went on. There were rumors passed like a torch from soldier to soldier. That a ceasefire had spread down the whole front. Claude tried to imagine it, a whole country stretched back north to the sea and south to the hills, all steeped in silence. He could not. 

 Everyone stayed awake, watching their own shadows etched in kerosene lamps. Claude sat and nibbled at his turnip, rubbing it with the fat. It tasted of earth, rot, and December frost. But it also tasted of impoverished home, so he ate it anyway.

Joffrey sat down next to Claude. “Merry Christmas,” he said.

“Do you think there’ll be war today?”

Joffrey shrugged, pulled out the burnt tip of a cigarette, and smoked. The cloud of tobacco was damp and weak, but he puffed for a long time before exhaling it all from his lungs in a black mist. Then he spat into the earth, coughing and smiling.

“Christmas! What an illogical reason for men to stop a war. Sometimes I think us soldiers, us trained killers, are the most sentimental bunch of asses in the world.”

  There was a shout before Claude could reply. They were both pulled from their stoop and into a rumble of men. Something was happening near the German front. Claude was handed binoculars; more peeked forward to look. On the other side candles glowed, thin mystical colors, scattered across. Blurred figures shifted about; their heads raised above the trenches.

Claude turned to the other watchmen uncomprehendingly, “What is it?”

“A damn mystery,” the fat Brit said.

Claude pressed his eyes back to the binoculars. An aurora flickered into existence across the pasture of burnt bodies and worn metal. The chatter subsided. Men picked up bayonets before ducking back into trenches. Everyone gazed at the flames of something unknown.

“Is it a weapon?” 

Some were speaking in broken English now. There were always rumors of a new gun, a new bomb, a new poison. The bright light might be a neon switch, or a signal to attack.

“This isn’t a weapon,” Jacques said. “It’s annihilation.”

A commanding officer swore at him, “Not so loud, you’ll panic the boys.”

Jacques laughed. “If they aren’t already scared, they are the biggest fools from here to Gibraltar. We have no German thunder today, so perhaps those Boche pigs will provide us with German lightning.”

Men heard this and moved in a slow hysteria. Snow fell softly, frosting over the battlefield until Claude could feel, if only for a moment, that he was in a postcard, somewhere else entirely.

One of the gaunt Parisians peered through a telescopic rifle lens and cursed in French.     He said in his best English. “They have a shiny new weapon.”

Before Claude could answer, a noise arose from the other side. Claude pictured Germans charging over the top in a war cry, but the thought passed and through binoculars everything remained still.

“They are chanting and cheering,” Jacques said, “they think they have already won.”

Claude listened closer. “It’s song. They are singing Christmas carols.”

“We should go over the top. Charge now, catch them off guard. We can let their new weapons obliterate us as we sit here consulting, or we can fight like men.”

A murmur started. It occurred to Claude that Jacques was enjoying this. Claude raised his voice, “Those aren’t weapons. We are going to charge after some torchlights?”

But few listened now and many of the French could not understand Claude anyway. Jacques and the other officers were rallying the troops, shoving pointed sticks and other playthings of the devil into their hands. It was working; an army was becoming a mob. A young man asked about the ceasefire and was ignored. Some looked to the east, uncertain. Claude adjusted the binoculars and the enemy came into sharp focus. He could almost make out the big stone faces of the Germans, they were standing at the edges of the battlefield in full view. Against sticks, barbs, and posts they were hanging lanterns, warm, blue-green candles and kerosene decorations, hoisting up sickly pines; Christmas trees.

Claude fumbled with his binoculars, dropping them. He shouted but no words came, so he just slipped down from his position throwing his body against the force of men preparing for battle.

“There’s no danger, no danger at all!”

Men toppled onto him. There were frantic shouts amid the careening chaos of an undefined war. They catapulted into one another on the verge of charging, bayonets glinting forward into winter mist. But the noise rose up again from the front, familiar somehow. It froze the men and even shut up Jacques and the lieutenants. The wind carried it over where the Deutsch settled in the snow.

Across battered fields, in wonderful stretches of German, they were singing. Different words, different cultures, wrong setting, but the same meaning. It was Silent Night. The crazed infantryman was moving his arms to the divine rise and fall, and Claude could almost believe he was the maestro conducting the song. Soldiers grinned at this oddity, and hummed back in French, English, even Gaelic. Men of two different trenches sung out to one another, back and forth, over a chasm of mud, and the blood of nations.

Everyone waded into the fields as if in a dream, sleepwalking toward a miracle. The bushes of steel and mechanical sowers of death were all behind Claude now, long gone in a different foolish world. Soldiers tore off their hats and laid them upon their hearts. Bayonets dropped to men’s sides. The noise forged magic, it gained strength and it was as though this was not being sung in the war-torn stretch of Flanders, but in Bavarian hillsides, in Austrian snow-capped cottages, in Provençal fields of purple, in Alpine valleys; it was being sung in Irish bogs, Welsh moors, under the enchanted canopy of the Black Forest, at Dover’s sea-salt cliffs, the church steps of St. Petersburg, and under lantern lights flickering across Paris.

A long-dead emotion welled up in Claude. He searched for his voice, hesitated, then joined in. 

 The field felt much shorter now. The world shrunk, and the sky expanded. Two sides met near a crater marked with burns. The singing stopped.

They stared at each other for a moment. The French were dressed in tattered blues, reds, long baggy pants, boots, and flapping coats lined with meridian gold buttons rusting off. The Germans were draped in muck green-gray khakis, with straps, and helmets that pointed up in steel snake tongues.

A soldier coughed, there was the crunch of snow as men shuffled from side to side, bayonets clinking off one another. A fat man with a long mustache came to the center and said something in gruff German. A wiry man spoke back in French. There were translations as edged steel syllables of German met the silk tongue of France and was reciprocated into the raw clumps of English. Men shook hands, then stepped forward. Two crowds became one. Soldiers held out rotten vegetables, rolled cigars, tin cans, pastries, and candles. 

A large German boy struggled through the pockmarked earth and came to Claude. He whistled Christmas carols and presented a neat mound of fudge and dough, nearly the size of a man’s palm. Things like this did not exist in places like this. Claude’s mouth watered. He brought out his sliver of turnip apologetically. The boy laughed and broke off a fat slab of chocolate for him. He eyed Claude’s uniform and said in broken English, “You eat good today,” he broke off a piece for himself. “Gut,” he added, then nodded his head fervently passing on with his chocolate.

Soldiers untangled strings and sticks. Christmas emerged out of long hollow tubes. Bulbs were lifted like fragile fruit. Men talked and traded. Someone suggested in English that they post sentries at the trench. No one listened, not even the Germans. No one cared for war. A Frenchman pulled out a leather ball and passed it around. Soon he was dodging and weaving about, shouting like a child and getting Frenchmen, Germans, and Brits to fall and laugh.

Men set up goals, drawing in lines with their boots. Claude helped set up the posts, handing sticks and twine back and forth among soldiers. Soon they stood out in the field forming teams. Claude received and kicked the ball, watching it glide, picking up snow.

He turned to the man next to him. “Is this really happening?”

It was a German fiddling with his own helmet, munching on a cigar that disappeared into his mustache. The man spoke something incomprehensible back in German. They blinked at one another, shrugged, and smiled. Claude held out his turnip. The man inspected it, shoved it all into his mouth, then coughed it down.

“Stille nocht, eh?” he grinned.

Men played football bounding about like dogs in the iron air of December. They started humble fires and ate gruel together; they stood in circles exchanging cigars, clothes, playing cards, buttons, booze, food, half- deciphered stories, and then bodies. Only a couple that they could pull out through the ice patches. Everyone stopped to watch the ceremony. The bodies were wrapped in cloth and flags. Prayers were said in different languages; a German sermon for the Frenchman and a French sermon for the German. Everyone listened, knowing that these were more than two bodies, but were two thousand, two hundred thousand, and many more beyond that.

A German sergeant was already tipsy and red in the cheeks, his skin stretched back tight around his jaw. He held out a jar of tonic and swished it down his throat. The sergeant spoke loud forceful German. At the end of his speech, he grunted out sharp words and smashed the bottle to the earth where it shattered against ice. The Brits translated the final words only, “Damn this war.”

Soldiers gathered around, raising the sergeant on a sloping drift of snow and dirt like it was a podium, a town meeting in the center of no-man’s land. The German sergeant clapped a French lieutenant on the shoulder, whose cheeks were even pinker and who slurred out his words. They clasped their hands and raised them upward in momentary victory. Men roared with applause, and they all sang another round of Silent Night.

The hours went by in wonderful succession. Claude ate pastries, drank beers, and laughed with men who did not understand his words. In the afternoon, Claude joined with a German to throw snowballs at Parisians who jeered at them before smiling and bending down with handfuls of snow. Claude stopped when the cold implication of this pastime dawned on him, and he shook away thoughts of roots again.

A new game of football had started anyway. Claude sprinted, hugging the feeling that everything might be alright, that if these men here could stand in peace, then perhaps the war truly meant nothing, because it wouldn’t beat them, and so it would have no power over them. A war to end all war. A peace to commence all peace.

Claude romped forward and received the ball. He looped and bounced it expertly until men whistled. There was suddenly a crowd, whole platoons cheered him on in foreign tongues. Several men approached, tackling over one another in a fit of hilarity, shouting stupid words that needed no translation. He watched the men charge and waited before kicking. The ball bounced off a post, arcing far out of bounds. The sudden wind picked it up. It landed deep among the barbs and wooden crosses staggered over the German line. The bounding, leaping, shouting, and zipping back and forth of men ceased. Someone swore, and men stared uncertainly at the barbs.

Claude slid to a stop. The ball was hidden in a thick brush of metal.

“Someone, grab the pinchers.”

“No, that is deep, in many spikes.”

“We can cut through it, we have the equipment,” Claude said. “All of us working together, it may take a bit, lots to empty out, but we’ll do.”

There was a long silence. It was a German captain who spoke in his best English.

“We don’t have the wire. We are low on many resources here.”

“It will only be fifteen minutes if we work together.”

“We don’t have the spare wire, we may need it,” he gave Claude a meaningful look, “later.”

Claude wilted, a weight dropped into him and stayed there. Soldiers looking onward stopped their nervous shuffling.


It was all Claude could think to say. Soldiers were translating in murmurs down the lines.

“It also is very close to our trench, you see?”

“There will be a later?”

They said these two sentences simultaneously over one another. Then a dull wind was the only sound. Soldiers stopped their chatter completely, staring wide-eyed at the exchange. A half circle grew around the spot.

“Please, I didn’t mean to kick it out.”

Claude said this as an apology, glancing at the mass of bodies. Jacques, Joffrey, the other Frenchmen and Brits were whispering for him to step back from the wires, to give it up.

The German spoke much louder this time. “The day is getting late; we may have to end this soon.”

“Please, the people are having such a nice day.”

“The people are soldiers,” the captain said, motioning to them all, “and tomorrow they will be having a much worse day. A much louder day.”

The captain paused and looked from soldier to soldier, chewing his lip and mustache like it was a wad of tobacco, perhaps knowing he had said too much.

Claude held back tears. Then soldiers were holding him back too, because he felt his body moving in a craze toward the barbs. He was sputtering about getting the ball. He heard his own voice pleading, numbed to it, as if it came from a far way off.

Jacques growled at Claude from behind,” You’ve tainted the war with your peace, now get the hell back.”

The German captain spoke. “Soldier. It’s not the football. Don’t you understand that?”

Joffrey held Claude by the arms, “Of course he understands that,” he said in a blaze of anger, “and can’t you see what that does to a man?”

Claude kneeled, and in ragged breaths sobbed, in the center of everything. He was yelling and calling them bastards, the German command bastards, the French command bastards, the English command bastards, and God a bastard. Then he stopped.

The German captain just stood there, raising an eyebrow.

“Get this child away from me,” he said. “This is war. This was a bad idea.”

A German lieutenant stepped forward and started dusting out the lines of the football field. Men, stretching down the field, walked forward and joined in pummeling the lines of defense and center field out of existence. Claude was unsure why, since the snow would surely cover it all up in good time.

Soldiers separated from each other. The Allied forces grabbed Claude and started stumbling backward toward their side. They held their bayonets tighter, surely wondering if the fighting would start right then and there with men gutting each other in the fresh snow. But no one charged. They returned fast, climbing into their trenches, pouring in like thick gruel. Steaming breath gave away their position in the holes of mud. It suddenly grew fierce and dark out.

Claude was aware of Joffrey pulling him along through the maze.

“We have to try again tomorrow, if there’s still silence.”

Joffrey was already shaking his head before Claude had finished his sentence.

“Tomorrow will not be Christmas,” he said. “It would be unsafe to try.”

Claude turned to where the glow of lights and trees were extinguished in the distance. “Tomorrow can be anything we want.”

Joffrey shook his head harder this time.

“The German was right, you’re a child, at least in the heart.” Joffrey headed toward crates of weapons and the bulk of the trench where men were already preparing artillery for tomorrow. He turned back, “I’m sorry,” he said.

Claude gazed up to the sky. Clouds had replaced the stars. He crawled into the dugout as wind rushed back into the trenches with the onslaught of night.

Hours later, Claude awoke curled in darkness. There were half-shadows everywhere. He shivered, teeth chattering without end. A strong murmur drifted out in the distance. There were lights and a high chord; he was sure it was the band of Germans singing another chorus into the night. But then came a rumble and the flow of a melody transformed into a peal of artillery and mortar. Explosions rocked the distant spaces. Men stirred. Claude almost sobbed, but the tears froze before he could think to. The weight that had been slowly crushing him gave way to a hollowness. And German thunder rained down in the field. It was early morning, December 26th, 1914.



Francis Felix Rosa is an editor, conservationist, and author of the children’s book Cryptidpedia. His fiction has appeared in the museum of americanaThe Helix, and Hidden Peak Press. His prose in the Big Bend Literary Magazine was nominated for Best of the Net. In 2018 he was the recipient of Wheaton College’s Helen Meyers Tate Memorial Prize for Original Verse. A wandering New Englander, he currently resides in Green Bay, Wisconsin.