Characters: Hauptmann Dietrich and Hauptmann Arnulf Rosenthal
Author's Note: After enduring one of the most trying 10-day period in a very long time, I finally got to writing again. Once again I dabble in the subject of battle fatigue, because regardless of what history classes would have us believe, every army had this.
Summary: Tormented by constant loss, Dietrich is finding it difficult to look forward to Christmas Eve whilst his friend and pet lizard struggle to keep their morale up.
A pencil holder fell over, scattering its contents across the wood desk. Entering from the adjacent room, Arnulf glared at the small reptilian culprit and waved a finger warningly at him, "Rudy, not all of us have to be up this early! Aren't you even tired?"
Uninterested in his human, Rudy eyed a pencil with great interest and growled hungrily. It never ceased to amaze Arnulf at how loud an eleven-inch, rusty red lizard could be.
"Still! Sei doch mal still!" Arnulf hissed at him, shaking his head in disbelief. "I have an idea, how about I put you back in your nice warm box! It's so much warmer than being out here where you are knocking things over and…" his words trailed off when Rudy started chewing on one of the pencils. Arnulf lunged at the table, "Don't eat that! That's my only good one!"
Rudy snatched it up and darted away, sending the pens flying with a mere flick of his spiked tail.
Rudy, mouth full of pencil and his brow level and sneering, paused on top of a mess of papers that rested at the edge of the desk.
Arnulf balled his fingers into a fist and shook it at the lizard.
Rudy bit down on the pencil and shifted his weight onto his hind leg, causing the unsteady stack to shift towards the edge.
Arnulf relented and put his hands out in surrender. "Aha, tut mir leid, Rudy…" Looking back at one of the two beds, Arnulf was relieved to see that Dietrich was still asleep. It shouldn't have surprised him, Arnulf knew. After all, in the last few weeks Dietrich had been dragged from one side of the desert to the other, chasing (and then getting chased by) the Rat Patrol. The last encounter with a fuel dump had nearly ended Dietrich's career permanently. It was only the day before that Dietrich was released from the hospital.
Worry tugged at the corners of Arnulf's mouth as his gaze fell upon the gash along Dietrich's forehead that was hidden a little by his hair.
"Traum schön, mein Freund," Arnulf whispered with a light smile.
A growl redirected his attention back to the creature that threatened his paperwork. Giving Rudy the most pleasant smile that he could muster, Arnulf folded his hands together and said, "How about you be a good lizard for a change and get off my paperwork, ja? In fact, if you move, I might have a nice bullet casing for you to chew on!"
Rudy perked up a little, but soon dropped his head and widened his stance.
With a wag of his tail and a devious wink, Rudy the lizard leapt from his perch and onto the floor. Arnulf threw himself over the desk but was too late to save his paperwork from flying into the air.
"Ach du scheiß!" Arnulf cried, forgetting about his sleeping friend. He grabbed a folder from the floor, revealing Rudy, whose scaly face was covered with smug triumph. "I've had it with you!" Arnulf pounced, exclaiming, "When I get a hold of you, I am sending you to the Allies! Let's see you work your charm in one of their P.O.W. camps!"
Arnulf chased Rudy under a chair, upsetting it in order to catch the little creature.
Dietrich jolted awake and gasped as he sat upright. Panic briefly filled his alert eyes until he recognized where he was.
"Was ist los?" he inquired weakly.
Having not seen his friend awaken, Arnulf continued his pursuit of Rudy, following him under Dietrich's bed.
"Arnulf, what is the meaning of…"
From under the bed came a loud reptilian squall of annoyance.
"Aha! Got you you crazy little…" Arnulf scooted out from under the bed and slowly rose to his feet with Rudy clutched in his hand. Rudy glared ruefully at his human.
Dietrich suddenly coughed harshly, forcing Arnulf's triumph to the background. Arnulf gazed apologetically at him. "Ah, guten Morgen, was geht's?"
Dietrich didn't respond right away as he ran a hand through his hair and shivered.
Arnulf put Rudy up on his shoulder and sat next to Dietrich. "Es tut mir leid, Hans. I didn't mean to wake you up." He looked curiously at him having been worried by the sudden shivering that had taken over him. "Ist dir kalt?"
"Nee," replied Dietrich softly. He smiled reassuringly at Arnulf. "It was just something I was dreaming about when your lizard woke me up." Dietrich looked at Rudy and inquired lightly. "What did he do this time?"
"He made a meal out of my only good pencil and set me back about ten minutes on my paperwork."
Dietrich chuckled, "Gut für ihm."
"Du bist sehr lustig mein Freund!" Arnulf pushed Dietrich playfully with his arm. "Komm, tell me about that dream."
"It was more of a flashback than a dream." Dietrich shivered again but this time it wouldn't stop. He looked about him and asked, "Do you have a window open, Arnulf?"
"On a cold morning like this, nein!"
"It must be true then what they say about losing one's nerve."
The way Dietrich drew his words out and his eyes became distant chilled Arnulf. Immediately he drew a blanket around Dietrich and rubbed his shoulders. "Nein, you are not losing your nerve, Hans. You've been through a lot lately, and not just with those desert rats, but missions as well. You almost died as well."
"I've experienced nothing new here," Dietrich replied steadily, his voice as hollow as his gaze. "I've been shot before, nearly crushed to death… I don't understand why things are so different now."
"It's okay, Hans." Arnulf let his hand rest on his friend's shoulder as he drew closer to him.
"I feel as though if I head into battle again I wouldn't know what to do."
"That could never happen to you."
"I'd be killed this time."
Arnulf swallowed hard and gazed at the floor. Instinctively he wanted to withdraw into his own thoughts, but he could not ignore the despair in his friend, begging for help. Arnulf resumed rubbing Dietrich's arm as he said, "Nein, mein Freund. Your survival instinct would not allow you to freeze on the battlefield. You'd know what to do and then do it!"
"Arnulf, I'm not so sure I even want…"
Dietrich's shoulders sagged and he dropped his head into his hands. For a few painstakingly fearful moments, Arnulf worried that his friend had succumbed to his frustrations, but when all he heard was silence, Arnulf playfully tussled his hair.
"That would make two of us." Arnulf sighed and lowered his head as well. "I don't want you to die either, but we're both bound to the military we joined. I'm tired of fighting, and maybe you are too. But what can we do? When I joined, there was the war in Spain, but that was a civil war. None of us saw this coming. I didn't imagine myself over here in some god-forsaken desert fighting every day just to have water and shade."
Arnulf paused for a moment as Rudy began crawling down his arm and onto Dietrich's back. This caused Arnulf to smile some. "But I tell you what, if I hadn't joined, I wouldn't have met two people who have helped me through my own darkness. You kept me alive when I wanted to die. I was reckless, and you taught me how to live to fight another day. I can reassure you, mein Bruder, that I am here and I will help you through this."
Dietrich lifted his head and looked at Arnulf. The gratitude shone brightly, reassuring Arnulf that his friend was not lost.
"Bruder?" Dietrich inquired, his voice whispering amusement. "There is a lizard on my head."
24 December 1942