Thursday, December 15, 2016

Merry Christmas to All: Victory Song

Today's Christmas excerpt is from

Victory Song

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directly to Amazon
A sound behind him made Andy turn abruptly to see that at least one other member of his regiment was seeking out a place of retreat from camp life.
“I came up here to get away from the Christmas music,” Isaac’s familiar voice greeted him. “What’s your excuse?”
“Didn’t know I needed one,” Andy replied with a smile.
Isaac let the conversation lapse, stepped up next to Andy and peered over the logs toward the glowing horizon. After a moment he said, “We have a holiday, too. It begins tonight. It’s a festival of light. A celebration of God’s goodness and providence. Some holiday, huh?”
Andy was cautious as he ventured, “Isaac, what’s wrong?”
Those dark eyes snapped at him. “It’s me. I’m wrong. What I’m doing is wrong.”
“How’s that? You’re just following orders, like the rest of us.”
“But I’m not like the rest of you!” Isaac emphasized. “You haven’t heard the stories.”
“What stories?” Andy asked, confused.
“The old people tell stories…about what it was like years ago in Europe. About the persecution. Horrible…horrible stories about the hatred they lived with. The burning and killing. They left everything, risked everything to come here. They believed in this country it couldn’t happen again. They worked so hard! They built a new life here. A decent life. Not for themselves, for the future generations. They were so proud, Andy. Thankful that we could have a part in serving this country. And it’s come to this! The burning and the killing and the hate! All over again! And God forgive me, I’m on the wrong side! There’s no pride in this, no honor. Burning houses. Destroying crops and businesses. For what? Because they’re in our way? Because some drunk crazy general somewhere decided it might shorten the war? Well, I shortened it for a few of them! Do you know what I did? I shot a man today who must have been close to seventy. He probably had a business. Children. Grandchildren. He probably worked hard every day of his life. He probably never harmed another human being before this insane war! And all that came to an end today with a shot from my gun. A perfect stranger came all the way down here from Syracuse to kill that old man!”
Andy’s eyes narrowed, and his mouth drew into a tight frown. Though moved by the words, he remained unsympathetic. “That’s nothing,” he said. “I shot one that couldn’t have been more than fourteen.”
Isaac shook his head. His eyes retreated from Andy’s gaze, for they were not quite dry. “How can you stand it? How do you live with it?”
“I don’t know. Mostly I’ve been too tired to think about it.”
“But you’ll have to think about it sooner or later,” Isaac warned him. “Maybe a long time from now. When we’re home with our families and holidays come around again. What about then?”
Andy was suddenly defensive and resentful. “I don’t know! I’m not proud of this! But I try not to over-do it. And every once in a while I go out of my way to do something decent. It keeps me from going crazy.”
Isaac found the courage to look into his face again as he replied, “That’s what you think!”
Andy might have become angry, had that remark come from someone else, but he felt his mouth stretch into a smirk. Soon he was laughing out loud and so was Isaac.
Andy could not recall how long it had been since he had laughed in this manner. It did not matter whether the remark was humorous or not; it was an excuse to release some of the tightness his body had been containing. He laughed until he shook and felt weak. His stomach ached and tears came to his eyes. He clapped Isaac on the shoulder and continued laughing, nearly crying, until some of the frustration was spent.
“So…you think I’m losing my mind?” Andy challenged with mock indignation.
Isaac was grimly serious again. “I suspect we all are. And it’s really got me scared. What if we never get it back? I used to worry that I’d never get home again, that Anna and I would never be together again and I’d never see the baby. Now I believe I will survive. I will go home. But what if it’s not the same? I’m not the same; I never can be. Maybe she’s not, either. What if we never get back…what we had?”
Suddenly Andy became short tempered. “Why do you ask me all your hard questions? You’re as bad as Timmy! Am I supposed to know everything about everything? I don’t! You’re talking to a person who never had anything to lose, so how am I going to know what’s going to be the same and what’s going to be different? I can’t help you because I can’t even help myself?”
Isaac was silent, cautious. There was hurt in his eyes. Andy backed away from him, as if to get away from the poorly chosen words and the situation that had caused them. He was unsuccessful at both. He knew he should have apologized, but could not. He sensed there were things Isaac wanted to say, but another time would be better. He turned and walked away along the protective wall of logs.
His hand ran for several yards along the rough, sticky pine bark atop the breastworks. It helped him keep his place in the fading light. He stood long enough to lose track of time, his elbows resting on the log, his eyes gazing toward the light in the sky above the Confederate camp. He was not really thinking of anything in particular, just enjoying the quiet. A cool, clammy breeze puffed at his face, and on it in the stillness came the sound of enemy soldiers singing around their campfires.
“Oh, tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy…”
The sound left as quickly as it had come, but he had discerned enough to recognize the familiar Christmas carol. Andy had never cared much for Christmas carols; he had always associated them with snow and candles in windows, with visiting relatives and hot cider. He did not care much for hot cider, or snow, or his relatives. The old familiar song had never signified more than that, but tonight the trite, sentimental words touched something almost forgotten inside him. He began recalling what it felt like to be at peace, to take tomorrow for granted. The dull simplicity of his pre-war existence seemed, in retrospect, almost appealing.

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