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The sun was dropping ever so slowly over the horizon. Thick, ashen clouds were draped across the entire sky, however, so no one could really tell midnight from lunchtime. Only the faintest bulb of light could be seen hovering behind the clouds, fighting to shine brightly.
Corporal Shire sat, shivering. His army uniform was thick and heavy, but the subzero temperatures had no trouble chilling his very bones. His hands could barely move, but he ripped his gloves off and began to rub them together vigorously. Groaning, he blew on them, desperately trying to warm them.
"It won't help, Shire," James Conway whispered to him, bearing an annoyed scowl. His rifle was set on the muddy ground. Even the metal seemed lifeless in the merciless cold.
"Can't blame a guy for trying, James," Shire responded, attempting to sound optimistic. When all he received was a hateful glare from Conway, he slid his gloves back onto his hands.
The morale was like James's all throughout the regiment: gloomy. They had been hiking over the unknown terrain for the past months, all the while avoiding the German Army. Eventually, they had come across a whole swarm of Nazis, waiting for any sort of prey. The soldiers had swiftly built walls and dug ditches out of the frozen dirt beneath their feet and hid from the enemy fire. The forty-six men had been there for countless hours, aiming their rifles at the German's own dirt shields, waiting for an attack.
A mere fifty yards separated the two earthy fortresses. Fifty yards of empty landscape that had been dubbed No-man's-land. The terrain certainly fit its name. The ground was firm and frozen from the incalculable hours of sitting in the freezing air. An occasional brown shrub had sprouted here and there, but other than that, it was completely lifeless. If Satan had a garden, this was it.
A chilled breeze passed through the tunnels and through Shire's clothes. He yelped and hugged himself to preserve what precious warmth he had left. A loud flapping sound came from behind him. He turned around to see the flag of Great Britain fluttering merrily in the wind. It did Shire good to see his nation's flag standing tall and proud, but his spirits were still down and dreary.
"You men!" A raspy bark came from across the small camp. "Pick up your firearms!" General Winston Oakes bounded over to Shire and Conway, crouching in the ditch to keep out of the German's sights. "Those monsters could choose any second to strike! Don't be caught unprepared."
Conway rolled his eyes but shouldered his gun. General Oakes had a notorious reputation for blowing everything out of proportion. If a minnow swam into English waters, he would claim it was an enemy submarine and launch a missile large enough to destroy half of Asia.
"And another thing, you two are filthy!" Oakes thundered. Shire consciously looked down at his uniform. It was, indeed, covered in grime from the sleeves to the legs. Days upon days in dirt tunnels had accumulated on everyone's clothing.
Oakes continued scolding them for everything humanly possible. He must've been extremely bored, which Shire couldn't blame him for. If you weren't staring at the air, you were staring at the German's fort, which could really make a man anxious.
"Don't let any of this happen again, you lousy rodents!" Oakes stomped his foot to enhance his point and marched back to his post.
Four shuffling feet came toward Shire. Corporals Alexander Finn and Wallace Morrison slid next to him, teeth chattering and faces shuddering. The three fellow corporals had become especially close over the laborious and tense months. They had no choice. Rivals had to either get along or get killed in battle.
"Wow," Morrison sarcastically whistled. "You have put off Oakes for the third time this week, Shire. Going for a new record, are we?"
The three grinned slightly and sat down against the dirt wall, backs to the Germans. Finn clapped his hands to warm them. "Ich kann't feel meine zehen..." he sighed and squinted his eyes.
Conway grunted and snapped at Finn, "Cut that German trash out, Finn. I'm sick and tired of that language!" His eyes were wide as baseballs and his nostrils were flaring as if they were trying to fly away.
Finn was the head translator for the regiment. If it weren't for him, none of the Nazi's intercepted messages could be decoded. He had saved the entire British Army more than once, but he was so fluent in the language that he sometimes didn't know one from the other.
An awkward silence followed. Conway had closed his eyes and drifted into a fitful sleep. He kept muttering nonsense phrases like "Ho ho ho," and "mistletoe." Eventually, the words made sense to Shire. He snapped up as if he had been electrocuted. It was Christmas Eve. Tomorrow was Christmas! He had forgotten all about it.
He smacked Morrison's shoulder, awaking him from his slumber. "Wallace!" Shire hissed promptly. "It's Christmas Eve!" He smiled, hoping that the news would bring up Morrison's depressed spirits.
Morrison's face didn't change, however. In fact, his frown grew even more. "You didn't know that?" he said. "That's why we're all so down today." With that, he leaned his head back against the wall, trying to get back to sleep. Shire wanted to continue talking, but let Morrison doze off. Sleep was the safest sanctuary a soldier in the battlefield could have.
Thoughts flooded his mind. Why was everyone so sad it was Christmas Eve? Then, tons of realization crashed into his heart all at once. It was Christmas Eve, and they were away from their families.
Tears welled up behind his eyes, but he didn't let them fall. He knew that they would freeze immediately and need to pick them off his skin with pliers.
He painfully reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a battered, worn photo. On it were a man and woman, embracing lovingly. Sitting on their laps was a newborn infant, waving cheerfully at the camera. This was his family, who were back in London.
The couple was his parents, as happy-go-lucky and caring as ever. The baby was his little brother Timothy. His mother had been pregnant when Shire had been called into the war and left his loved ones. Timothy had been born a few months after that. Shire had heard the news and prayed every night since that the Germans would surrender and this godforsaken war would end. That still hasn't happened, and Shire still hasn't seen his baby brother.
He gingerly slid his thumb over the photo. Soot and ashes scratched against his skin. He had carried this one photo in his breast pocket for as long as he could remember. It was always right beside his rapidly beating heart. It had survived dozens of battles and fought through water, snow, sleet, and mud, but their smiling faces could still be plainly seen.
His thoughts drifted back to his house. The gigantic, full Christmas tree would be sitting by the hearth with a roaring fire within. Shire wondered what his family was doing that very second. Were they turning in early so Timothy could see Santa's presents in the early morning? Or were his parents reading Timothy the story of Jesus's birth for the first time?
A light hum sounded out of nowhere. At first, Shire rubbed his ear, thinking it was his imagination. The sound, however, continued. It started out annoying, but morphed into a soothing, sweet sound. He feared it, but he didn't want it to stop.
Shire, not stepping over anyone's feelings anymore, shook Morrison and Finn forcefully. The two jerked awake, grasping for their guns.
"Guys, put the guns down and listen!" Shire said firmly, covering their mouths. The two soldiers resisted at the start, but, after hearing the noise, stopped shuffling and cocked their ears to listen.
"You hear it?" Shire skeptically asked.
"Of course I hear it," Morrison said. He stood up, peeking out of the ditch to look at the German's camp. "Shire, Finn," he gasped. "Look at this!"
In less than a second, Shire and Finn were by Morrison's side staring at the opposing fort. The Germans had seemed to decorate their crude, makeshift fortress with small bonfires that dotted the walls. The flames mesmerized the three men, who continued to gawk.
The trio's scuffling had aroused the other soldiers. A few yelled out in infuriation, wanting to get back to sleep, but soon became curious about the sound and fires.
The humming noise grew in strength until everyone could tell that it was singing. The German soldiers behind the soil walls were singing in their native language all at once.
A soft muttering came from Finn's mouth. Shire nudged him with his elbow to catch his attention. "What is it?" he asked.
"They're singing..." Finn murmured.
Shire nodded and strained his ears to listen to what the Germans were saying. Eventually, words formed: "Stille nacht, heilige nacht. Alle ist ruhig..." The beautiful singing kept on without a break.
"Holy infant so tender and mild. Sleep in heavenly peace..."
All the soldiers looked at Finn in complete surprise. He was singing along in English. Shire's mouth was hanging loosely. The blood-thirsty army that they had been attacking for weeks were singing 'Silent Night' and worshiping the Lord.
"Silent night, holy night..."
Shire couldn't stop himself. He opened his mouth and sang along with Finn and the enemy. His soul had filled with so much raw emotion, he couldn't keep his tongue from praising his Heavenly Father.
The next thing he knew, James Conway, the most bitter and stone-hearted man in the regiment, was next to him, his hand on Shire's shoulder, singing.
"Round yon virgin Mother and Child. Holy infant so tender and mild. Sleep in heavenly peace..."
Within minutes, the whole regiment was singing in perfect unison. Shire sniffed to keep in his weeps of joy. This was the single most wonderful moment of his life. His eyelids began to drift closer and closer together. He slipped into a dreamless sleep, his brain filled with the gentle sounds of the enemy's harmony.
His slumber seemed to fly by in a flash. A split second later, his eyes snapped open. He was momentarily blinded by the dull rising sun. He whipped his head around, searching for his comrades. Morrison and Finn were both sprawled on the ground.
"Up, up, up!" General Oakes vaulted over all the sleeping bodies, screaming at his soldiers. "Get up, you slacking loads of lard!" The soldiers sprang up, wide-eyed and apprehensive. "Those murderous monsters may had fooled you last night, but it'd be just like them to strike on Christmas Day!"
The soldiers reluctantly rose, most didn't stir at all. Oakes would then get outraged and drive the toe of his boot into their ribs. Incomprehensible shouting filled the frigid air, but Shire didn't notice. He was gazing at No-man's-land.
A lone German soldier was walking across the desolate pasture. At once, all the British soldiers silenced and stared curiously and cautiously at the isolated figure. It was clutching something it its right hand. It may have been a rifle, but it was tall and bushy. At long last, the light shined brightly enough to see what the man was carrying: a Christmas tree.
Foot by foot, the German soldier was striding toward his enemy's fort. Shire could see the man's expression now. He had a boyish face, complete with wavy yellow hair and pudgy cheeks. His broad smile stretched across his face. He extended a friendly hand, greeting his foes.
In that moment, Shire's legs were controlled by some unknown force. He leapt out of his dirt ditch and began to head for the German.
"Whaddya doing, idiot?!" Oakes bellowed. His voice seemed to make the very air quake, but Shire didn't stop. On the contrary, Morrison and Finn rolled out of the trench and followed Shire.
'What am I doing?!' Shire screamed to himself, but he didn't stop. His eyes focused on the German's dirt fort. It seemed to overflow with evil and hate, yet there were no blazing rifles, no cruel battle cries. Just the single man and the Christmas tree.
Shire and the man walked until they stood mere feet from one another. The sworn enemies stared each other straight in the eye, but neither turned away. The German smiled slightly and held out the tree to Shire.
"Mirry Chreesmas," the man said in very sloppy English.
Shire hesitated for a moment, but only a moment. He took the tree and responded in his amateur German, "Frohes Weihnachten." He took the tree and embraced the German.
Finn and Morrison stepped forward and shook the boyish German's hand, smiling and talking positively while doing so. Finn flawlessly switched his dialect from English to German and chatted hastily with their former enemy. Shire grinned and looked around. He gasped.
Dozens of British soldiers were crawling out of their hiding places, happy to be free of the dirt prison. German men were doing the same. General Oakes was screaming at his soldiers, but no one listened. Everyone kept walking toward the three insane Englishmen and the smiling German, tentatively but surely.
Eventually, every single soldier on the battlefield had left their strongholds and were standing in No-man's-land. Most of them looked as if they were ready to bolt away at the first vague sign of trouble. There was, however, no vague sign of trouble, so they stayed put.
For the next few minutes, the opposing rivals stood looking at each other with frightened expressions. Neither side knew what to do. All they knew was that a German had offered a Christmas tree and an Englishman had taken it.
Shire scanned the German crowd and found hundreds of hostile eyes glaring back at him. He gulped and wiped the sweat off his brow. 'Why am I sweating?' he wondered. 'It's freezing weather out here.'
"Oh!" A frail German voice rung out over the unbreakable silence. He had a slight smile tugging at his lips, but the peer pressure kept him from letting it bloom fully. He slowly reached into his knapsack and withdrew a diamond-shaped leather ball. It looked strangely like an English football. Apparently, it was, because several Germans and Englishmen yelled in approval.
Those wanting to play separated from the rest of the group. Shire expected there to be great difficulty over establishing the rules, but there wasn't. In fact, the teammates were laughing and punching each other in the shoulders. They then spilt into teams To his total surprise, the teams were integrated with both nationalities on each.
Suddenly, an eruption of conversation broke out and the crowd dissolved. Everyone spread out and began to talk. Language was no longer a barrier. Gifts of cigarettes and small jewelry were exchanged. All spare food and drink was brought out to create a Christmas feast.
Shire burst out in tears. He couldn't help it. The good Lord was watching over them, and this was the perfect way to honor his birth date. No blood would be shed on this day, and enemies would worship the same God. For the first time in history, Christmas had come to the battlefield.