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A Song in the Night This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

THE GREAT WAR, 1916

The Christmas snow this year would be red, because wars could not stop for the holidays. Every day there would be more fighting, and the mingled blood of Germans and Englishmen would continue to stain the soil of Flanders and all of Belgium through the New Year. This war was terrible enough to end all wars, so the end of it had to be pursued with the greatest of energies.

***

Jim glanced behind him only once at the red-tinted fields as he heaved a wounded comrade into the safety of the trenches.

“You'll be fine,” he lied to the dying man, whose name evaded his memory at the moment. His commanding officer approached.

“You did well, Barton,” he said. Half-heartedly, Jim saluted.

“Yes, sir.”

“We'll care for him. You can go to your barracks.”

“Yes, sir.”

When Jim reached the barracks he shared with twenty-odd other men, one of them was keeping watch outside. The man stood and slightly raised the bayonet in his left hand.

“It's me!” Jim called.

“Jim?” The guard lowered his rifle. “Thank God, you're alive,” he said with palpable relief.

“Hello, Walt,” Jim said, greeting his best friend. Walter peered at him with deep-set eyes that were impossible to see in the darkness.

“What kept you?” he asked quietly. “We thought you were dead when you didn't return to the trench. I told the boys to go to sleep while I kept watch for any … any news.”

“I wasn't dead. One of our men was shot, and I carried him back to the trench,” Jim explained, not adding that it had been too late by the time they got there, but he didn't have to. Walter understood, and a shudder passed between them as they were reminded of how terrifyingly random death was in this awful war.

“Can you imagine there was a time when we never thought about dying?” Jim said, as they felt their way to their adjacent bunks.

“This time two years ago we were having our final rehearsal for the Christmas concert in church,” Walter reminded him.

“Your voice squeaked in the middle of it.”

“Smack in the middle of ‘Silent Night,'” Walter recalled rather wistfully. “And I was so embarrassed, because ‘Silent Night' has always been my favorite Christmas song.”

“You shouldn't say it's your favorite!” Jim whispered furiously, snapping Walter from the bygone days.

“Why ever not?”

“Don't you realize who wrote it?”

“Franz Gruber, of course.”

“He was German.”

“So what if he was?”

“Corporal Walter Smith, we English have been shooting at the German lines ever since this war to end all wars began two years ago. How do you think it would look for us to fight Germans and still like them?”

***

Jakob knew it was winter, but nothing more. Worthless was the knowledge of month and day to those who served under Kaiser Wilhelm in this war. Time melted together into a slew of battles in the same way the snow turned to a soup of mud and slush under the slamming of a thousand soles. Flanders was not a place for dreamers.

So it was good for Jakob that he didn't really believe in miracles. He hadn't enlisted to fight for Germany because he wanted to vanquish the English from the face of the earth. He had joined because they had already begun drafting men, and sooner or later he would have been forced into the war. Jakob was the kind of person who liked to do things on his own terms.

The amber sun was rising as he crunched over the fresh sheet of snow. He was a young man, dark-haired, his eyes pensive and calculating under eyebrows slanted in a valley across his forehead. Once a mild-mannered musician, his features were now set in a stern countenance more often found on older faces. Fighting had hardened him.

“Guten Morgen.”

Jakob lowered himself into the pit.

“Ja, the same to you,” he told Karl, the private who'd greeted him. “Even though there's nothing good about it.”

“How do you know?” Karl asked. “Maybe it is the day the English surrender and we do not have to fight anymore.” The other men in the trench rolled their eyes at the young private, a green recruit full of foolish optimism and German pride that the others had long exhausted.

Jakob snorted. “You want victory? You're looking in the wrong place, private.”

“Try France,” called another man who sat hunched against the earth. “I heard our men are making better progress there than in this verflucht place … what do they call it? Flanders.”

“Think about it,” Karl pressed. “When was the last time you heard silence? We have been fighting the English and French since 1914, when the Archduke was shot.”

“And?” Jakob asked.

“Well, it must end some time, do you not think? Some day they will get tired of fighting. They will want to stop and listen to something other than bullets.”

***

“No!”

Amid the roar of the fighting, Jim saw Walter go down. In one second he was out of the trench and at his best friend's side. There simply couldn't be a red stain spreading across the front of Walter's khaki uniform. It must be a terrible dream.

It had to be.

For goodness sake, it was the night of the 24th, the eve of Christmas – the night of miracles.

The same thought seemed to have occurred to Walter.

“It's Christmas Eve,” he croaked.

“No … no.” Jim felt the tears sliding down his face. “Walt, listen to me. You're going to live. You're going to be fine.” But Walter's eyes would not focus on him. They were looking up into the heavens, as though the Star of Bethlehem itself had caught his eye.

“We should be in choir, Jim,” he said. “‘Silent Night' ….”

“Just hang on, you'll be fine,” Jim choked. He brushed impatiently at the burning wetness in his eyes and made an attempt to help his friend up. He would not let Walter die like the man the previous day. But Jim's friend stayed put, the blood from his wound continuing to stain his front a sickly red. His hand gripped Jim's sleeve with surprising insistence.

“‘Silent Night,' Jim,” he whispered. “Home … please.”

“‘Silent Night,'” Jim repeated numbly.

Walter drew in a breath, and when he opened his mouth, out came the first notes of his favorite Christmas carol.

Around them, the battle raged. But in that moment, for Jim, there was nothing in the world except the exquisite sound of his best friend's voice. His heart faltered. Then his voice blended with Walter's, holding the note for him. And together, as they had done for years, they began to sing.

***

“Jakob!” A hand shook his shoulder.

Jakob jumped and nearly dropped his rifle.

“What do you think you're doing?” he demanded.

“Listen!” Karl yelled above the thunder of rifles. “It is Weihnachten! Christmas!”

“What?”

“Just listen!”

Jakob strained his ears. And then he heard something he had not heard in a long time. A voice raised in song. The words were in another language, but he faintly recognized the melody.

“‘Stille Nacht,'” Karl said. “The song by Franz Gruber. They are singing it! They do not hate Germans entirely!”

But Jakob barely registered what Karl was saying. He was listening hard, straining his ears to hear the music. Then he was humming along, and then he remembered – and suddenly he was singing “Silent Night” in his own tongue, his voice lifting above the noise of the fighting.

Around him, men lowered their rifles and stared. Friend and foe paused in their battles and stood listening quietly. They heard two men singing – one in English, one in German – the same song of hope for peace on Earth.

And for one blessed moment, until the last strains of the song curled up into the starry sky, there was silence in the night.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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This article has 46 comments. Post your own now!

russianirishdancinggal43 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Oct. 1, 2011 at 10:13 am
This is GORGEOUS! To develop characters in so short a piece so well is incredible and the imagery and emotions make this piece UNBELIEVABLY good. 5 stars and favourited!
 
writerfreak21231This teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. said...
Aug. 8, 2011 at 11:11 am
wow that was sooo kewl! I very nice piece of work! great job! I just posted a new story i wrote called: Alien invasion series book one: the caller. If any of u had time please go check it out and post feedback and comments. It would be much appreciated! Thanks! and keep writing everyone! :)(:
 
Alon_Freevoice said...
Jun. 23, 2011 at 4:10 am
5 stars plus favorite :)

Good job.. 
 
kkkkanabelkkkk said...
Apr. 22, 2011 at 9:45 pm
This story was wonderful. it reminded me of the song Christmas 1915. its a true story about a german soldier who sang silent night in no mans land on christmas day. the resemeblence is amazing. you have a talent :)
 
Thomas M. said...
Apr. 14, 2011 at 4:08 pm
Beautifully written, I love the switching perspectives and the overriding sense of unity being all nation restricted bounds. As said earlier by someone, I too am an advocate of elegant prose, stunning.
 
K.a.t.h.l.e.e.n. said...
Jan. 24, 2011 at 5:53 pm

Wow! This piece is incredible! We have just learned about World War I in class and I think you effectively incorporate the emotion and wieght those poor soldiers bore. I could imagine the entire scene unfold through your great use of sensory imagery and detail.

Great job and keep on writing!

 
Shana said...
Nov. 26, 2010 at 2:44 pm
This was amazing :) I wish I could write like this. Silent Night is my favorite Christmas song as well, and you incorporated it so brillantly into the story, it made me like the song even more.
 
Shelly-T said...
Jul. 27, 2010 at 9:32 am
That was a great story, one of the best on this site, actually.
 
Ohhhhh Yeah! said...
May 17, 2010 at 2:39 pm
LOVED IT! I liked the incorporation of German language in this, great job!
 
dancer4jesus said...
Apr. 2, 2010 at 7:21 pm
That was a really great story! I liked how the "Silent night" was incorporated into the war scene, and how it gave a sense of a moment of peace between the two sides. It was really neat! At first, I couldn't understand what was going on when it switched from one side to another, but then as the story progressed, it became clearer. I think if you add a side note like "meanwhile" or something, it would help. Great job though!
 
Liana said...
Mar. 20, 2010 at 9:10 am
Your writing is sharp and to the point, O. Henry style. Great writing!
 
dreamerxp2 said...
Feb. 27, 2010 at 5:23 pm
This was really good! the weirdest thing is though, i wrote a similar story and i didn't even realize that someone else had that idea as well! heehee...well, i think your's is probably better than mine. Do you think you could tell me what you think of it? :) i'd really appreciate it!
 
jweiler said...
Feb. 15, 2010 at 3:26 pm
This is beautiful! God has given you a great gift! Keep it up!
 
eatsleep&read said...
Feb. 12, 2010 at 5:49 pm
You. Are. An. Amazing. Writer! I love your style; the language is reminiscent of that of classic novels. I'm a sucker for elegant prose. I hope you don't mind, but I am signing up to get e-mail alerts for whenever you submit another story!
 
daughter_of_athena This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Mar. 9, 2010 at 5:42 pm
Thank you so much for that, it is really needed encouragement right now. I have some other kinds of work here on TeenInk .com , but not more fiction, not yet. I hope to have another story soon, though! =)
 
oxStardustxo said...
Jan. 13, 2010 at 5:10 pm
really beautiful and great tying together the perspectives...<3
 
lamewriter said...
Dec. 29, 2009 at 10:53 pm
christmas is miraculous and the way you've explained it is even more miraculous
 
StarlingChild said...
Dec. 11, 2009 at 1:06 am
Wow, that was a beautifully written piece. I truly admired your imagery and the way you tied together the Germans and the English stories. Incredible storytelling, effective symbolism, and a bittersweet ending all added to the power of the story as a whole. keep it up!
 
emily.a said...
Dec. 10, 2009 at 8:46 am
greatest story I ever read here.truthfully,I was crying at the end.one word,"wow"
 
Andrnick replied...
Dec. 10, 2009 at 11:33 am
Very good Story; I got the image smirched in my mind like somebody took my brain out and attached a picture onto my mind.
I'm trying to get my story on here but there still checking it.
If anyone could read it then please read it.
 
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