It is sleeting here in Dixie tonight yet that is no where near as chilling as the story you have delivered to us. I cannot recall anything like it having ever been posted here before. I will be reflecting on our somnolent visit to the bunker for some time to come. Well done.
Now, here is something clearly from the absolute opposite end of the literary spectrum that I somehow had the audacity to post some time ago. This is guaranteed to get you readers dashing off for another large mug of schnapps or egg nog to help deaden the pain.
A Celebration with Friends Chapter One
Original HWH (page lost and unknown)
Originally Posted 12/4/01
It is Christmas Eve and a lone BF 109, the sole survivor of a German recon flight of six, limps along just above the cloud layers over a quiet English coastline that is draped in a mantle of soft snow. The bright moon above casts a dark, wavering shadow below the mottled gray 109 that rolls along over the wispy canyons and misty slopes just feet below the struggling fighter. The powerful prop grinds on whipping out fiery sparks and a billowing smoke trail that wafts along and then drops out of sight into the swirling clouds behind the stricken aircraft.
Shadows flit about inside the gloomy, broken cockpit. Caught in a moment of brilliant moon glow coming in through a hole in his canopy above his wounded right shoulder, a veteran of the recent Battle of Britain is fighting his shot up controls. Major Max Gruntannebaum puts more pressure on the rudder bar as he shifts his weight to relieve the pain. As he does so he briefly considers the easy target he has now become for the night fighters if they're able to takeoff in the storm tonight.
All this and more is on the major's troubled mind yet he has a special glint in his one good eye as he peers across at his dimly lit instrument panel. Several important lights are out. Those that are working tell him he may barely beat the odds to return to base once more. Max slowly smiles as if his cold, stiff muscles had just been warmed to the bone by the thoughts of the holiday celebration he knew was still waiting for him just 38 kilometers across the Channel. Just a few more kilometers and he would touch lightly down to be warmly surrounded and embraced by anxious friends. They would be looking for him now he thought… and praying.
Through a dark break in the clouds below Max can now see the English coast coming up and the tiny lights of a town just below. The twinkling sparks of life seem so peaceful nestled down there in their deep blanket of white. These lights tempt thoughts of warm backsides turned much too close to blazing Yule logs and of silent, slumbering children, dancing sugarplums, garlands of mistletoe and tables creaking with festive food and drink. Max couldn't't help smacking his dry lips as these pleasant thoughts drifted softly across his mind. If his Emil can hold together for just a few more kilometers, just a few more minutes…. BANG!! CRACK, CRACK! CRASH!
The agonizing terror of looking death straight in the eyes runs its icy fingers through every artery, vein and nerve of Max's struggling body. There is no time to wait. There is only time to roll the dying fighter on her back, release the hood latches, hang for a split second to spit out a prayer, release the safety harness and then fall screaming for God's mercy into a black blizzard and icy oblivion.
It is Christmas Eve and this pilot will not be coming home tonight to celebrate with his friends.
A Celebration with Friends Chapter Two
Just as the German Major was abandoning his stricken fighter to plunge into the icy void; down below, and nearly a mile to the East, James Harper, a much loved country vet, was having his own set of troubles. Jack Wilson's old Clydesdale, Bob, was down with a fatal twisted bowel (or torsion of the bowel) and Jim had been called out to end Bob's long life and relieve the misery.
“When called, you must attend” … “you MUST attend.” Even on Christmas Eve reflected Jim as he finished the terrible task, wrapped and put away his little pistol-like humane killer. At least it was for a very good reason. The now deceased beast had been in excruciating pain for hours. Bob was free from further torment now and as Jim looked across the disturbed layers of straw he saw that the peaceful body of the old stallion was still steaming in the frigid cold air of the creaky barn.
It had been very cold inside, yet as Jim struggled to get the old barn door open against the banked snowdrifts and heavy gale blowing outside, he realized it was bitter cold outside. Pulling down his felt hat and covering his face with the soft, red woolen scarf his wife had forced him to take along, he pulled up his coat collar around his bright red ears and thrust his bowed head into the whipping wind and snow.
Looking at his watch in the warm glow of the kerosene lamp he was carrying he told himself that if he hurried he could just make it home in time for midnight mass with his wife and friends. For a moment he stood gazing into the glow as big snowflakes kissed the hot globe of the lamp and melted away. It caused him to think warm thoughts of home and hearth...and comfortable friends waiting.
Taking another deep step, the vet found himself falling. He had tripped over something buried in the snow. The lamp made a bright, white arc from his hand across the dark void and tinkled into a deep snowdrift a few feet away. It was dark now. It was cold and painful lying there sprawled halfway into a growing drift. Standing up, Jim brushed away some clinging snow and noticed a sharp pain as he tried to get his balance. Even a country vet had no difficulty recognizing a sprained human ankle he decided. This would complicate things. He was in a desperate situation indeed.
On he trudged limping in the general direction of the road where he had left his car. His frosty breath became labored as he plodded on through much more snow than he had expected to have to deal with. The chill was creeping down his collar and up his sleeves. His pants were already stiff and freezing. Perhaps he should turn back? He knew that he could not have gone more than a hundred feet from the big, red barn. Yet when he stopped and turned around, its looming, dark shape could not even be seen through the curtain of flakes and gloom.
That was when it struck him. He was crippled, totally lost and the wind driven snow was blinding. You do not get to write MRCVS after your name if you are an idiot and James was no idiot. He knew he was in trouble, serious trouble.
He said a silent prayer into the teeth of the biting, uncaring wind and turned to continue. At that precise moment, toward the East James saw a soft glow in the sky. Slowly it became brighter until it was a fiery ball. Whatever it was it was coming his way. He stood there transfixed as the burning orb rolled across the heavens in his general direction lighting the clouds above, the earth below and everything in its path.
Suddenly, James could see the barn silhouetted in the glow. Sure enough, it was just under a hundred feet away. Instantly he began to fight his way toward the relative warmth behind its creaky old clapboards.
There was a horrendous crash as what was left of Max's 109 plowed deep into the snow beside the barn. Knocked sprawling by the concussion, James rose and continued his struggle toward the barn. The fire was still blazing as Jim reached it so he stopped to thaw his frozen body a bit in its welcome radiance. Beginning to feel alive again Jim realized his savior was a pilot-less German fighter.
How ironic it was he thought, that such a machine of destruction and death had saved his life. It had, he was sure of that. Afraid that the ammunition might begin cooking off, he forced himself away from the welcome heat and into the safety of the barn. In the barn this was survivable. He knew that someone would see his car on the road in the morning and begin a search. Less than one mile away from the barn, on the same road James' car was parked upon, safe and warm in the comfort of his car, old Doctor Thom Fezziwig is beating his merry way homeward through the worst Christmas Eve blizzard in his long memory.
The kind old doctor is coming home from a evening maternity house call and is looking forward to a late Yuletide supper with a few of his many friends. His large, black automobile crunches along the icy road slipping and sliding from side to side.
Unfazed by the ice, the happy doc begins to sing a festive carol in a deep baritone voice and at the full capacity of his lungs. Suddenly, a bright streak of fire blinds the good doctor as it crosses the road at tree top height and crashes to earth somewhere beyond the roadside trees.
Rounding the next frozen curve the doctor is startled to see a falling man hanging from a parachute in the bright beams of his headlamps. The good doc slams on his brakes only to skid into the ditch beside the road. Within moments Major Max Tannenbaum is out of his frozen harness and resting in the warm car and being ministered to by the good doctor Thom.
Revived and thawed, Max swallows a huge slug of medicinal brandy and coughs his appreciation as he feels it course through his body like liquid fire. In his best English Max thanks the old doctor for his help and asks to be delivered to the nearest military authority. The doctor waves this away and reminds the German that it is Christmas Eve and that he has friends waiting for him. Max's wounds are not serious so he will stop at the nearest police station and let them sort it all out. Max is in no position to argue and only grunts his approval.
Backing out of the frosty ditch they begin the long journey into town. Before they have gone far the doctor points over to a bright blaze a few fields away. “That was your aircraft old man”, asked the doc? “Ya, it vass mine vun oh nine”, answered Max sadly. “It almost got me home tonight.”
They pass a beat up, old, green Ford parked in the gathering drifts by the side of the road. A few feet beyond the parked car Doc's car screeches to a slippery, sliding halt. That was James' old car. James is a very good friend and the Doc knows something is wrong if James' car is way out here on an inclement night like this.
Doctor Thom explains the situation to Max. Jim must be up at farmer Wilson's barn near that big blaze. He could be in trouble. If Max would help, they would set out for the barn using the fiery crash site to keep their bearings.
Max agrees to help the old doctor search for the vet. What else could he do for the man who had saved him from freezing to death by the side of the road? The two men gathered some items into a big black Gladstone bag, bundled up, and began tramping through the deepening snow toward farmer Wilson's barn and the beckoning blaze of Max's plane.
A Celebration with Friends Chapter 3
The freezing surface of the deepening snow cracked and crunched with every labored footfall as the two men began slowly making their way across the considerable distance between themselves and their destination, Farmer Wilson's barn. The newly grounded German Major Max Tannenbaum plods along next to the good English doctor Thom.
What am I doing? This was the question Max kept silently asking himself over and over. He is on enemy soil, make that enemy snow, and should be trying to escape. A decent man, Max reminded himself of Doctor Thom's kindness in saving his own life. The doctor had trusted Max for some reason and Max had given his word to help Doctor Thomm look for his friend James. In any event, and no matter the outcome, Max resolved not to go back on his word. On the two men forced their way through the bitter gale toward the flames of Max's crashed fighter plane glowing in the distance.
Lying there in the cold, and dark of Farmer Wilson's barn, wrapped in vile smelling straw, James Harper, the country vet, snuggles closer to the still form of the only recently expired draft horse, Bob, and counts his blessings on being there. The still crackling flames of the downed German fighter cast small shafts of light through the ill-fitting clapboards of one wall.
As the flames continue to flicker outside in the storm, James shifts uncomfortably and wishes they were close enough that he might feel the heat. He snuggled closer to Bob who was still warm and steaming and that helped a little. Most folks could think of better ways to spend Christmas Eve than cuddled up to a dead horse in a desperately cold and drafty barn miles from nowhere. James Harper was not “most folks”, he did not take time to feel sorry for himself at all and though each breath filled his nostrils with the stench of “dead horse”, he considered himself lucky... lucky just to be alive.
What he did concern himself with was his wife Ellen and his two children. They certainly had had every opportunity over the years to become accustomed to the late hours kept by a country vet. And yet, in spite of that, James knew they were already worrying that he had not returned. Looking at the luminous dial of his watch he was reminded that Midnight Mass would soon be starting. He would miss that and so much more. He would miss his family and his friends. With a sigh that was his only bow to self-pity, James rolled over and tried to sleep.
At that moment James sat bolt upright with a start as someone or something threw open the big barn door with a crash. A cold blast of arctic air hit James with such bitter intensity that he later swore with a straight face that he would not have been at all surprised if it had awakened the defunct Bob. There were two shafts of waving, blinding torchlight and the sound of several creative expletives in a deep, baritone voice James had known since childhood. In that instant James knew that Doc Thomm had come to rescue him.
With a shout of honest joy James met the two men before they could take a step and all three took hold of the heavy door and swung it shut with a clatter. Next, there was much greeting, thanking, explaining and general congratulating all around.
In due course Max was introduced to the shocked James who said that the name sounded vaguely familiar to him. Taking the torch from the doctor who was searching in the gloom through his bag for the bottle of brandy and some food, James played the yellowing light over the frosty face of the barely thawed German flier. My God, Max I think we know each other. We met once in Bavaria at a ski resort when we were both 16, remember? James held the torch light on his face for the German to see. “Mine Gott, Jim Harper, can this be true?” shouted the German. “It has been ages old friend.” “What great times we had…before the war.”
That night, Christmas Eve 1940, in an old dilapidated barn, miles from nowhere, sunk in the depths of the worst Christmas Eve blizzard in English memory, three men will spend a bitter cold Christmas Eve night together in utter darkness wrapped in odorous straw. They will huddle for warmth in the dark around a dead horse and joyously pass around a large bottle of brandy and loudly sing carols rivaling in volume the shrieking winds outside.
If you ask them today, they will in all probability, tell you that it was the best Christmas Eve celebration with friends that they ever experienced.
I am worried about Fearless founder SNAFU. It is not like him to be away for so long. I sent a Christmas greeting his way but got only a read receipt and nothing else in reply. Perhaps it is time to begin gathering a search party, or start a skip trace?