Flames burst into Moffitt's line of vision.

He was standing waist-deep in the icy water of the English Channel, but he almost thought he could feel the intense heat from the bombs dropped by German airplanes. The bombs continued to fall all around them, hitting the town of Dunkirk, the docks, and the water installations. All around him, men cried out, treading the water, sometimes dropping – from a bullet or exhaustion, he didn't know.

The tangy scent of sea salt filled his nose, mixed with the odour of blood, ash, and fear.

It was the smell of death.

Someone called his name. "Moffitt!"

He swung around, looking for whoever had shouted out to him. The moment he saw the face of his friend, Allan, he relaxed – at least as much as he could in the midst of wet, cold waiting for the ships that would take them home and a ferocious bombing raid. In all the confusion of getting down to the beaches, he'd lost the rest of his unit, and seeing Allan now was a relief. One familiar face to cling to in the chaos.

"Have you seen any of the other men?" Allan asked, as he fought through water towards Moffitt.

Moffitt shook his head. "When the bombing started, I lost them."

"Me too." Allan swished over and stood beside him. They both looked out over the water of the Channel. The fog made it difficult to see, but Moffitt could make out a few ships emerging from the foggy mist, ships that had come to take them home. He knew they'd be coming, of course, but the sight of British ships, a British fleet, coming to their rescue, created a lump in his throat.

Maybe he'd even be able to snatch a few days' leave, go home to see Mom and Dad and Albert.

The next thing he knew, the entire world exploded.

Sea water splashed up all around him with the ferocity of an angry lion, and he rose into the air for a moment, only to come down again on the freezing water. Hard. A slap in the gut. Sinking below the surface, he struggled to reach the top. Water rushed into his ears, mouth, and nose, making it difficult for him to think. All he knew was that something had happened and he had to get back to the air or he'd drown.

When he kicked his right leg, pain shot through it, but he needed air, so he kept kicking, pushing towards the glittery, fragmented surface. Seconds later – although it felt like an eternity – he burst out of the water's death grip. Air filled his lungs again, and he closed his eyes. But only for a moment. Once they opened again, he saw everything that had happened while he was under.

Debris littered the Channel, all around where he waited. Men flailed and foundered about in the icy waves that smacked against them. Dead bodies floated in the water where moments before there'd been soldiers talking, sometimes even laughing. And then he realized what had happened. They'd been bombed.

Where is Allan?

Not far from where he'd been originally, Moffitt found Allan. He was struggling in the water, and even though one of the instructions just before the evacuation had been 'don't try to rescue drowning men – they can just as easily drown you themselves', he reached into the water and pulled Allan out. Shrapnel was embedded in his face, throat, and chest, and moments after Moffitt pulled him free, Allan breathed his last breath.

A wave slapped Moffitt in the face, and when he came back up, Allan's body was too far away to be reached.

Anger filled him. It wasn't enough that the Germans had to bomb the docks, was it? No, they had to shoot at the mostly helpless men in the water, the ones waiting for their rescuers, the ones who didn't pose any kind of a threat. At least not immediately. He would've killed them all, if he could've. As it was, he could only stay in the water with the rest of them, maybe surviving the next blast, maybe not.

He fought the waves, keeping the approaching ships in his line of vision, refusing to think of Allan.

If he gave in to grief now...

The choppier waves and nagging, sharp pain in his leg made it hard for him to stay above the water. He could no longer tread the salty stuff as easily as before – in fact, he could hardly move his right leg at all – and no matter how he positioned himself, the waves always seemed to catch him full in the face. But the ships were near, so near it seemed as though he could almost touch them. Now the captains and officers would see him and pull him out.

Soon. It needed to be soon, not just for him, but for all the men. Hypothermia could set in easily, something he'd been told by an officer, along with the instructions about drowning men, but he wasn't going to ignore those particular words. He knew they were true. So, he tried to keep as upright and visible in the water as he could, but it was nearly impossible. Water washed over his head more than once, and the ships kept passing him.

Rope ladders dangled from the ships' sides, and soldiers all around him grabbed at them eagerly, but he was too weak to do even that. Cold was setting in, making his arms tremble and his teeth chatter uncontrollably. A small, contrary, eddying current tugged him away from the main body of soldiers, and he was helpless to do anything more than slap the water weakly and attempt to swim a little. But his leg twinged and if he'd been on dry land, he would have certainly collapsed from the ache.

A wave slammed into his head, filling his mouth with salt water – which, in his surprise he swallowed, instead of spitting it out – and leaving his brain ringing. He saw another wave approaching, and closed his eyes. The ships' crews didn't see him. He was being dragged further out into unfamiliar territory. And he would probably drown before getting there.

It was all too much.

Waves washed over him, one after the other, and he made no move to escape them.

:::::

Coughing.

No. Hacking.

Salt water poured out of him as he doubled over, gasping with pain and exertion.

Pain, because of his leg.

Exertion, because all the water in him now wanted a way out.

Moffitt finally opened his eyes, and found himself on a dry, slightly sand shore of the Channel. He wasn't willing to bet that it was the English side. The waves had to have driven him up against the shore, sometime after he lost consciousness. Rocky boulders stood, shoulder to shoulder, all around him. There was a small pathway through them. He could see green, maybe grass, maybe trees, through the gap.

"Bleiben wir auf der Suche."

He nearly bolted upright, remembering his wounded leg just in time.

Germans. Nearby. Maybe only a few feet away.

He hadn't pinpointed the exact location from the few words, spoken in a quiet voice, but he knew that if he stayed on the beach in plain sight, he'd be on his way to a German prisoner of war camp before he knew it. But first he needed to know where they were. He knelt on all fours, panting from the exertion of retching up the sea water and pulling himself into that position, praying that they'd say something else. Now that he knew they were there, he wouldn't miss his opportunity.

"Ich bin müde von dieser," came a second voice.

There. He had it. Several yards away, behind one of the rock formations to his right. He wasted no time in crawling straight for the green path. It was his safest bet, and the most welcoming place he could see. Even crawling was painful, on the hard rock, but walking would've been worse. Much worse. It only took a few minutes to reach the end of the pathway and found himself in what seemed like a different world.

Green grass. Trees clumped around farm buildings. A gaggle of geese rushing past him.

Even the air smelled fresher, cleaner. Anything was better than salt water filling his nose.

He spied a huge mound of hay, sitting off to one side, and even though the farm was obviously inhabited, he crawled over and burrowed into it, as deep as he could. At the moment, it was his only defence against the Germans who were searching for Dunkirk stragglers.

Minutes passed, and then stretched into hours. The Germans, wherever they were, hadn't come back to the farm as far as his ears could tell him. They had probably already searched the farm, and if that was the case, he was relatively safe for the time being. He could hide in the hay, emerging at night to find water and food – farms were always full of both – wait for his leg to heal up a little, and then leave. He still didn't know exactly what was wrong with his leg, but once night came, he would find out what he could.

That, however, was not to be.

Only a few moments after he'd made the resolve to stay at the farm as long as he needed to, footsteps approached. They paused in front of the hay stack, and rather than risk being skewered by a pitchfork, Moffitt decided to come out. The steps had been lighter than heavy German boots – their owner was most likely the farm's proprietor.

With some difficulty, he pushed his way out of the hay.

"Qui êtes-vous et pourquoi êtes-vous ici?!"

A French girl stood in front of him, her brown eyes more wide with surprise than fear.

Moffitt decided to take a chance. "J'étais à Dunkerque."

Her eyes softened slightly. She hesitated for a moment, and then said, "Avez-vous besoin d'un endroit pour rester?"

Moffitt smiled and nodded.

Translation notes:

Bleiben wir auf der Suche – Let's keep looking.

Ich bin müde von dieser – I'm getting tired of this.

Qui êtes-vous et pourquoi êtes-vous ici? – Who are you and why are you here?

J'étais à Dunkerque – I was at Dunkirk.

Avez-vous besoin d'un endroit pour rester? – Do you need a place to stay?