|When I Had Friends
Author: Yva J PM
A Seasonal story about Anton when he fought in the war just prior to his capture or that fateful meeting in Jenkinsville.Rated: Fiction T - English - Tragedy/Drama - Words: 1,616 - Reviews: 6 - Favs: 4 - Follows: 1 - Published: 12-03-08 - Status: Complete - id: 4693602
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
I have absolutely no idea where this one shot came from, but since it is sort of a tragic little story, I figured posting it too close to Christmas would not be such a good idea, even though it is seasonal in nature.
I will hopefully be getting back to the bigger story in the coming days, but I figured that I would go ahead and share this with you. It is about Anton the winter before he gets captured and meets Patty Bergen. The history is actually factual. On Christmas Eve 1914 along the Western Front there was a three-day ceasefire between British and German soldiers during World War I. That story has always fascinated me, and it was that, which inspired this story.
When I Had Friends
By: Yva J.
The war had been going on for months, and the first snowfall of December was upon them. It had become apparent that none of the soldiers in his infantry had any idea as to why they were there, but they knew that answers would not be forthcoming. Hope at returning home for the holidays had dwindled. With Christmas upon them, morale was especially low.
As was the case with illness and poverty, war did not discriminate when it came to causing pain and suffering.
What gave Frederick Anton Reiker a small semblance of hope was a Christmas message that his father had shared with him when he was just a little boy. Erikson Karl Reiker was a historian, and he knew the stories of the past like a well-read novel. These words of inspiration seemed to permeate the large house in Göttingen, Germany like the fragrances of cookies backing in an oven.
One story somehow held far more relevance at that moment than it did over a decade ago when Professor Reiker had told it to his eldest son. Anton remembered it as though it was yesterday, and his body yearned for the physical comfort and warmth that came with sitting in front of a fireplace and drinking hot chocolate. After all, it was a tale of optimism and hope, one that today seemed so far removed from reality.
During the first part of his third year of medical school, Anton was drafted into the German army. At the time of this, no one knew what would become of him nor did they want to even contemplate it. One thing was clear, on the day of his departure, his life would change forever.
Now, it was December 23, 1943 and Anton was sitting in a drafty bunker helping a fellow soldier battle with a cough that would make the bravest man think that he was knocking at death's door.
Perhaps in hindsight, he was.
Anton did not have to be a third year medical student to recognize that his comrade was not doing well at all. The man's name was Holger Rosenthal and he was stricken with illness for at least the fourth time since they had left boot camp earlier that year. No one seemed to care that Holger had an illness that deemed him unfit to fight in this silly war. They simply saw him as a number, another man to hold a gun and push their crazed ideologies.
Anton never agreed with what he was being forced to do, but he did it because resistance meant death, and he wanted to live. The swastika armband that had been wound around his upper arm had been like a hard smack of reality. The news of death camps coming into existence not only ended lives of Jewish people all over Europe, but they also signified the end of innocence and childlike fancy.
He was determined to never allow his heart to harden as was the case with those around him.
"Nein," he whispered under his breath. "Ich kann nicht mehr." (No, I cannot do this anymore.) As if by impulse, he covered his upper arm where the familiar band was concealed beneath the green colored camouflage coat he wore. He allowed his eyes to fall closed as he tried to shut out the rest of the world.
What he did not expect was for the man confined to the bed next to him to raise his head slightly and begin speaking. "Was?" His question emerged in the form of a gasp. "Wovon reden Sie?" (What? What are you talking about?)
"Es war nichts," Anton responded as his eyes popped open and he turned back to look at the man next to him. Of course it was not nothing, but he refused to speak of this. The question of trust haunted his thoughts and ideals every single day. Instead of offering an honest answer, Anton had taken the lessons of his early days in the army to heart. Now, he refused to show the other man the extent of his weakness or emotion.
"Reiker?" The man managed to speak his name, his voice abruptly changing in intonation as he switched languages. "You know I'm dying, don't you?" Instead of waiting for a response, he cast a wary glance over towards the screen covered door that was the only thing separating them from the violence of the world outside.
"Why do you say that when it's just a cold? You've had them before," Anton muttered as he too glanced towards the door nervously. "Now, if the commander caught us speaking in English to each other. He'd no doubt accuse both of us of being spies."
Holger reached out and took the other man's arm, his dirty fingernails digging into the fabric of Anton's coat. "I'm dying Anton. I will not live to see my family again. For that matter, I will not survive to see Christmas."
"You'll be fine, Holger," he said without thinking. He had spoken the other man's given name even though he had not addressed anyone with their first name in months. Perhaps he was taking Holger's lead, he did not know, but somehow this kept him from speaking further.
Instead of initially responding to his statement, Holger shook his head adamantly as he looked over at the other man. "You know that most of my friends call me that," he eventually muttered.
"Most of my friends call me Anton," he offered with a slight smile. "When I had friends, that is."
"You don't think the people here are your friends?" Holger asked skeptically.
Anton shook his head. "No, I never considered them my friends. You're the only one, and that's why I asked if I could sit with you tonight. You helped me when we were in boot camp. Then when I got depressed some days ago, you told me about how you missed living in Munich and seeing the Christmas decorations every year in the marketplace. What you told me sort of reminded me that I do have something to live for – going home and seeing my family again."
"You never talked about yourself before," Holger said. "Why?"
"I don't know," Anton mused. "No one ever asked."
Holger nodded, that answer seemed acceptable enough.
He closed his eyes for a moment before opening them again and regarding Anton. "Would you tell me the Christmas story?"
Anton looked around where he was sitting. How can one find hope amidst this chaos? The thoughts drifted through his mind. "I'm sorry, but I would rather not," he began. For some reason this particular story struck a nerve with him. The basis of belief was what this horrible war seemed to be about. It was no secret that he believed that there existed more nobility in building a chicken coop than destroying a cathedral. Sadly, government seemed uninterested in that partiular philosophy.
"Did you ever hear about what happened in 1914?" The next question emerged, and as an afterthought, Holger added, "Anton?"
"Yes," he nodded. "German and English soldiers were fighting against each other in the trenches and on Christmas-Eve, they stopped fighting. They called a ceasefire, put down their weapons, and celebrated Christmas together."
"Do you think that it could happen again?" Holger asked.
"I don't really know, maybe," he responded with an unconvincing shrug of his shoulders. "Maybe one day we could look at those perceived enemies and see love and compassion in their eyes. Perhaps they would see it in ours as well. That would no doubt be the beginning of peace on Earth and good will to men."
"So who are our enemies, really, Anton?" Holger asked. "Is it the Jews, the Russians, the Americans, the British; who?"
"I don't really know," Anton confessed. "I haven't really thought about it. To be honest, all I want from this is for you and me to survive. Perhaps one day we'll discover that answer to your questions before we succeed in destroying ourselves."
Holger nodded and closed his eyes. "You are very wise, my friend."
That night Holger Rosenthal slipped away.
On the evening of Christmas-Eve, Anton Reiker was forced to say good-bye to the only friend he had ever had in the German army.
As he stood at the edge of the trench where his friend's body was to be buried later that night, he stared down into the hole as tears caught in his eyes. "When I had friends…they called me Anton…" he whispered to the stillness.
Backing away from the grave, he raised his head and saw a single star shining in the night sky. As a semblance of hope enfolded him, he retreated back to his bunker.