Short Fiction, Uncategorized, World War 2

The Gift

Welcome to the Advent Calendar Story Train, where you can read through 24 stories under the theme The Gift. Thank you for reading today’s story. The next one will be available to read on December 22nd, titled “Kunundrum of Size.”  The link will be active tomorrow when the post goes live.

If you missed yesterday’s you can go and read it here.

Advent Story Train, December 21st: The Gift

Cold sweat trickled down Henry’s neck despite the frosty air. He crept forward through the dark, his sleeve brushing the church wall’s rough stones.

Just another routine patrol. Just another Italian village to check out. Simple.

It might have been if the Germans hadn’t gotten here first.

Or if the church had been empty.

Gripping his carbine tighter, he forced himself forward. Only…about five yards to the corner of the building. From there he should be able to see the road.

And then what? Just stroll on back to our lines? If the Teds weren’t watching the road before, they will be now. If it hadn’t been for that S mine…

He pushed the thought back, focusing on the ground ahead. At least one bomb must’ve hit the building earlier in the day. Scattered piles of rubble waited to trip the unwary. The shadows were particularly deep here, between the wall and a few crooked olive trees rising toward the moonlight on his right.

Good cover for him. Good concealment for anyone else who was out and about tonight.

C’mon fellas? Where’s everyone else? The whole patrol can’t have gone missing…

Everything went sideways when Sgt. Barclay triggered that mine.  He’d gone down. The noise had attracted gunfire from the surrounding shadows. Petey and Frank and the new guy had scattered into the trees. Henry had run forward alone. Taken cover in the church which had been their night’s objective. Surely the other guys would find their way to it, too, if they were still alive.

As the night waned, none of them had appeared. Henry was on his own.

Well, almost.


From behind came the clatter of rubble and a short, sharp cry. Henry swung around, biting back all the things he wanted to say.

The smaller of the two kids he’d found huddled in the wreckage of the church sacristy had stumbled. He whimpered as the older one—his sister, maybe? —picked him up and brushed him off. Her soft shushing noises carried too clearly through the still night.

Henry leaned in close enough for them to see him and pressed his finger over his lips. Even if they can’t understand English, the oughta understand that, right?

The girl nodded and her little brother, to his credit, hushed up.

Well, that’s something at least.

Stone still, he waited, straining his ears.  Had the noise attracted any attention?

The seconds ticked by. Nothing.

He pulled in a deep breath, hoping the frigid air would clear his head. Gotta go. Gotta get back before daylight. But the kids…God, help me, I don’t know if I can make it with the kids.

One more stumble, one more cry—one noise at the wrong time and it would be all over. Alone, his odds would be better.

Sweat made his grip on the carbine slick.

Is there someplace closer they could stay? Somebody who could take them in? Someplace safe?

Safe. What a joke. The safe place, the sanctuary, stood bombed out beside him. The priest Barclay had been planning to make contact with, the priest who was supposed to know secret routes through these mountains, lay half buried in rubble inside. Only the kids, presumably some of the refugees he’d been sheltering, had survived.

Now they stared at Henry, waiting for direction. Counting on him to get them out of this.

And here he stood, knees knocking and worried about saving his own skin.

No one else is coming, no one else is gonna handle this, and I can’t leave them. So. He cast his eyes up toward the teetering steeple and the cross atop it. God…just, please, just give me the guts to get through this, ok? I mean, Amen.

He gestured to the kids to follow him, then turned. Back toward the road. Back toward the enemy, toward mines. Hopefully toward safety.

One step forward. Then another. The faint shuffle of feet came from behind—good. The kids were following.

He reached the corner of the church. The deep shadows extended past the wall at an angle—also good.

Hugging the wall, he peered around the corner.

Moonlight bathed the rutted road that came up to a clear space in front of the church. From there, the road swung around a curve, half concealed by gnarled evergreens and short, scrubby trees. He knew from earlier in the evening that it continued down a steep slope for about half a mile. From there he could cut across a field back to his outfit.

Through the trees or down the road?

Taking the kids through the dark forest seemed foolhardy. Going down a road with no cover with Teds lurking about seemed worse.

Trees it is.

Henry slipped back into the shadows and leaned his gun against the wall of the church so he could put a hand on each child’s shoulder. So thin. They’re so little. How can they possibly… He shook the thought away.

He didn’t dare speak, and anyway, he didn’t have his Italian phrase book along to help him try to parse together some coherent words. He just pointed to the trees ahead then put a finger over his lips.

The big sister nodded solemnly. The little one just kept sucking his finger.

Good enough.

Henry picked up his carbine and led the way. Walking half crouched, step after agonizing step.

Across the clearing.

Into the dark.

They travelled from tree to tree gathering into a huddle before crossing to the next meager shelter. Freezing at the slightest sound. Praying it wasn’t a German patrol. Wondering how much farther they could go.

At last, in the first light of dawn, a voice with a Texas drawl called out, asking him for the password, then asking what the heck he’d brought back with him. Henry was tempted to kiss the American-held dirt.

He’d been given another day. Another gift.

Thank you so much for stopping by today and taking time out of your day to check out my attempt at a 1,000 words or fewer story based on the theme “The Gift.” Thanks again to Ari Meghlen for coordinating this Advent Story Train!

All the best,


26 thoughts on “The Gift”

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