Still, silent nights muffle the tramp of footsteps and soft voices caroling in the barracks better than an air raid could. Snow drifted gently down onto the trees and guard towers, some of the water freezing over the wood to form crystals that glinted back the light of the moon. Christmas, it seemed, could not be stifled, not even in a prisoner of war camp. And wasn't that a comforting thought?
One of the prisoners was stirring about, clothed in a thick jacket but shivering all the same on top of the main building, creeping behind the light as it swept across the compound.
"Cold, cold, cold," he muttered to himself, pulling out the necessary wire to adjust the antenna. "Let it snow, I said. It's fine, I said… my fingers are numb!" As if to illustrate his point, the coil of wire slipped from his fingers and he froze as it bounced audibly down the slope of the roof. Reaching out one arm, he caught the coil before it could slip down onto the ground below, praying that no one inside heard the accident. The sweet strains of a melody drifted through the window, and he let out a sigh of relief; it was possible they hadn't heard over the tune. But wait! He strained his ears, anxiously holding his breath as Klink's sharp voice cut through the song.
"Schultz, do you hear what I hear?"
"Hear what, Kommandant?" Schultz's voice asked innocently, and Hogan could almost see the sergeant cocking an ear for the sound mentioned. The vision would have made him smile, were it not for the rather precarious situation he currently found himself in.
"Up on the rooftop… a click, click, click," Klink said impatiently, throwing the window open and thrusting his bald head outside into the cold. He quickly drew it back when the first snowflake touched warm skin.
"Maybe," Schultz said with a smile that Hogan could hear from the outside, "Santa Claus is coming to town."
"Sorry, Kommandant, but I hear nothing."
The voices subsided into discussion of nieces and nephews and cakes and pies, leaving Hogan stretched out on the roof, cataloguing the various and sundry body parts that had gone numb. Straining to pull himself up, his boot caught on a wet patch and he yelped as he felt himself sliding down the side.
The snow billowed around him like dust, barely padding his fall.
"Whoever said snow was soft?" Hogan rubbed his backside, hoping to shake some of the cold stuff out. He never finished the thought as Klink and Schultz rushed out, coats wrapped around them as if they had thrown them on in a hurry. The Kommandant's cap was perched at a wild angle atop his head.
"Hogan!" Klink said, glaring down at the man. "What is going on?"
"Well, the truth is, Kommandant, that I was—that is a lovely coat; is that new?"
"Hogan," Klink said warningly.
Hogan blinked, pasting a wide smile on his face. "Yes, well, the truth is that I was making snow angels." With a grin, he threw himself back onto the white, arms spread.
"Snow angels," Klink repeated skeptically. One eye squinted through his monocle as if trying to detect the truth through the lens. "In the middle of the night, you decided to make snow angels?"
Hogan nodded. "Best time, at night. It's snowing, isn't it?"
A commotion from Barracks Two drew their attention away, and the trio looked up to see LeBeau, Newkirk, Kinch, and Carter making their way across the compound.
"What are you doing out here?" Hogan demanded, before Klink could open his mouth. He pulled himself off the ground, wincing as the motion reminded him how he'd ended up there in the first place. "I was just telling the Kommandant here about the snow angels I was making."
The men's expressions shifted uneasily, unwilling to announce that they had been watching through the frosted window and four cries had echoed through the room when Hogan slipped off the side. "Er, well, Carter here just mentioned that it was lovely weather for a sleigh ride." Newkirk nudged the young man, who nodded earnestly. He finished lamely, "Together. Out here."
"A sleigh ride?" Klink began incredulously, ready to cite the conspicuous lack of hills, sleigh, or permission when Schultz broke in.
"In this weather? No, no, you must wait until the snow is packed down firmly, that way you go farther."
Klink shot an annoyed glare at his sergeant that stopped him in his tracks.
Not that it stopped Carter from replying. "But Schultz, when the snow's all powdery like this, it flies around you and—"
"True, Carter, but—"
Carter was quite content to continue listing the various traditions of sleigh riding in his home town and the obvious advantages of powdery snow over firm snow when Klink stamped his foot. "What is this all about? What is going on?"
Hogan jumped in before his men could say anything else. "It was just me, Kommandant. Just wanted to make snow angels, that's all."
Newkirk chose that moment to lean forward conspiratorially and whisper in Klink's ear, "We think he's a bit sick, sir. The flu and all." The look Hogan shot the corporal would have had a lesser man shaking in his boots, but Newkirk just swallowed and affected a tragic look that the others quickly mirrored.
"The flu?" Klink peered at Hogan's face in the cold. "You are a bit flushed, Hogan. Maybe you should rest."
"God rest ye, merry gentleman," Newkirk pulled off his hat and held it submissively in front of him. "We'll just take the guv'nor back to the barracks now."
Hogan did his best to look sick, hoping the glare in his eyes would be mistaken for fever gleam as the men led him to the barracks. It was like walking in a winter wonderland, the moon sparkling off the snow like water; even the barbed wire and guard towers seemed to shine with an otherworldly light. Staring out at the wintry night, Hogan could almost understand why Germany was the setting for fairy tales. Almost.
When they reached the door, Hogan's stride lengthened and he shook off the helping arms. Newkirk issued a silent prayer that the Colonel would remember it was Christmas and all.
The door slammed shut behind the prisoners with a slam. Each of the men winced as Hogan threw his hat on the center table and whirled on them. "What were you thinking? Didn't I tell you to stay inside?" Hogan turned, pacing around the table anxiously. "What would you have done if—where's the radio piece?"
"Here, mon colonel," LeBeau said, holding up the tiny transmitter from his pocket. "I snatched it while Klink wasn't looking."
"What about Schultz?"
"Ah, Schultzie never sees anything," Newkirk said quickly. The laughter that followed quickly died out when they caught sight of Hogan's face.
Hogan slammed a tin cup on the stove and began to fill it with the bit of hot chocolate LeBeau had scrounged by melting some candy bars in their little stove. "That was completely idiotic, disobeying a direct order and—"
"And it got you out of thirty days in the cooler on Christmas," Kinch said in a quiet voice.
Hogan paused. Laughing quietly, he drew a hand over his face and took a swallow of hot chocolate. "You're right. Sorry."
"No harm done, guv'nor," Newkirk said brightly, tossing his cap onto the table. "Though I must ask—snow angels, sir?"
Hogan gave a rueful grin. "Best I could come up with on short notice." He looked outside and shuddered at the whirls of flakes coming down. "I hate winter."
"But, sir," Carter protested. "It's the most wonderful time of the year! And the snow has just started falling…"
"It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas," LeBeau said. Letting a small shiver loose, he tossed another log onto the fire. There was a modest pile by the stove that they had been rationing, but a night like this called for the splurging of what little comforts they could afford.
"Once Klink and Schultz go back inside, we need to figure out how to fix that radio. It had to go out tonight, of all nights," Hogan groaned. The radio fix sat on the table next to Hogan's cap and each prisoner stared at it. It remained unhelpful.
"You say that like tonight is bad," Newkirk grumbled, taking a sip of his coffee and huddling deeper into his jacket. He shuddered. "Remember when it came in? And you sent me out to get it? They dropped it from a plane, upon a midnight—"
"Clear," Baker said, checking the door. "Our friendly Germans just went to get some more wassail."
"Oh, man, wassail," Carter said happily. "It reminds me of spiced apple cider. We used to go caroling out in the snow, when Christmas bells were ringing, and get so much cider from folks." He let out a wistful sigh. "No place like home for the holidays."
"Oui," LeBeau said, nudging Carter's shoulder companionably.
Kinch sighed. "I write my family every year and tell them I'll be home for Christmas."
"If only," Newkirk said, pulling a few peppermint sticks from his locker. He threw them on the table for the rest to share, pulling one out and sucking on the cane end.
"You know what we need?" Carter said, brightening. "We need a little Christmas."
"Sure." Carter stood up. "Deck the halls, chestnuts roasting on an open fire, the works. It'll be fun!"
"Fine idea," Newkirk said around his peppermint stick. "Except we haven't got anything to decorate this place with."
"The secret to Christmas," Hogan said with a mischievous look on his face, "is not in decorations, it's in spirit. And we have got spirit."
"You've got that look on your face again, sir," Newkirk informed him.
Hogan stood and pulled on his cap and jacket. Without turning, he asked, "What look?"
"The one that says you're getting nothing for Christmas," Newkirk told him.
"Now, Newkirk, Santa wouldn't leave me out. I'm about to make his life much easier. Right after I talk to Klink."
He disappeared into a flurry of snow, leaving the group of prisoners staring after him and wondering what he was up to but with the vague idea that whatever it was, it included them working. The next day, they found themselves enlisted to mortar stone together and cut holes in the roof to build a chimney and fireplace for Klink's office.
Hogan received seventeen lumps of coal for Christmas.
"Have a holly, jolly Christmas, sir," Carter said, depositing his onto the pile and turning to steal a cup of hot chocolate from LeBeau.
Hogan grimaced at the pile of coal in front of him before looking at the prisoners. "Though no doubt, you've been told this many times, many ways, I want to—" Hogan stopped, revising what he was going to say and settling on a grin, "wish you all a merry Christmas."