One Dark December
Author's note: This book for me was a joy to write as I got to know a special little girl named Stephanie and... Show full author's note »
A War Filled WorldSunday, October 21st, 1917
Halloween is coming up in just a few days and I have no clue what I am going to be. (I was considering staying home to help hand out bags of popcorn and candy apples but Mother urged me to go.)
‘Stephanie Aaron Bates, go and be a kid for goodness sake! Even though you are 12 now you are still a child. Go out and have some fun!’
Well, I decided to go, but still wondering what to dress up as, I took my problem to Emily Belle as she is the creative one on the family and always has good ideas. Emily Belle looked up at me and said in the oldest voice she could possibly muster, ‘Stephanie Bates, do you really think I am going to tell you?’
I stomped upstairs and went to bed, but just as I was drifting off to sleep I came up with the greatest idea possible! Thank goodness I have a twin. I sat up bolt straight and ran to the room Aaron and Charlie share. Well, Charlie was snoring away but luckily Aaron was up reading. He put his book down when I burst in the room.
‘Slow down Steph, what’s wrong?’
I took a deep breath and blurted out my idea. ‘For Halloween, I can dress up as you and you can dress up as me!’
Well, I thought that Aaron would be as excited as I was, but he just made a face and said, ‘Dress up as a girl … no way!’ Well, he must have seen my disappointment because be sighed and said, ‘Fine Steph, but only for you! If any of the boys from school see me though, you will be dead.’
I practically jumped on him, dear friend. He made a squeal, so I got off him real fast and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. Then Mother came in and crossed her arms.
‘What is all this fuss about you two? Do you not know that some people in this house are sleeping?’
Mother shook her head and managed to smile. ‘Okay, what is this about?’
Aaron and I looked at each other and I winked. ‘It is a secret Mother,’ I said slyly.
Mother smiled and said, ‘Okay now Stephanie, get back to bed this minute and Aaron, turn the lights out.’
That is one thing about Mother, she is always happy one moment and a grump the next! Well, I came back here and had to write this all down. Susannah is stirring beside me so I think I will stop now! Good night dear friend and sleep tight!
Monday, October 22nd, 1917
I got a letter from Hugh today. I will copy it here.
Hello my dearest Stephanie,
How is everything? Good I hope. Oh Stephanie, I hope I do not scare you with these further details, but I could not possibly tell Mother and Father as you know they would worry too much. But you dear Stephanie well you are as solid as a rock and I know I can dump all this stuff on you and you will not flinch one bit. We are in a place called ‘No Man’s Land’. I can understand why it is called that, for it is a place so inhuman it is just sick. Bodies are piled up as high as me and there is mud everywhere. There is always bombing and that makes the ground shake. My battalion moved up to the front line for about a week and I can tell you my heart was racing the whole time I was there. You were close enough to the enemy you could hear them sneeze. Those filthy Huns. There are giant rats everywhere and I itch all over due to the blasted lice. Sometimes the trenches are so full of mud that it can get up to your knees. This war seems to go on forever and ever. Will it ever end? Oh I hope so. I miss you dearly and the others too. I am glad I can have someone to tell the truth to. Please pray for me and keep up with your knitting. The socks you sent in the last package were heaven and feet are always cold. We are back behind enemy lines but 3 men in our group perished when we were at the front line. Oh dear God, keep me safe so I can get back home to you.
From your favourite brother,
P.S. I hope you like the chocolates I sent you. Happy Birthday!
I cried after I read that letter. What a horrible time war can be! It has been going on for three years. Will the war ever end?
Tuesday, October 23rd, 1917
Hello again, dear friend. Sorry I did not write much yesterday. I was all but too sad from Hugh’s letter. It is true that he does not tell Mother or Father the nasty parts of this war, but I think they find out anyway from the newspaper. I would not know because they never let me read it anymore. They say it is ‘too gruesome for a child of your age’. Well, after reading Hugh’s letter, I do not think that the paper could be all that worse.
Just a few minutes ago Father came and stormed in here and started shouting at Susannah and I. (Susannah was reading and I was writing in here.) Well, in case you do not know, when he had arrived home from the waterfront (where he works) he saw a light in our upstairs window. Oops! Oh, this blackout is driving me crazy! I remember before the War when the whole family would walk down to the waterfront and just gaze out at across the river at the lights of Dartmouth. The way they would shine across the water and add to the moonlight. Oh, it was just beautiful. And on cold nights when I could not sleep I used to gaze out the windows and look down the streets and see the lights in the windows. This stupid, STUPID war! Well, at least we do not have to black out the starlight. Like we ever could! At least we have them to gaze upon. Oh, but when we went down to the harbour, all the ferries glowed with lights. Stephanie, stop yourself – that will once again happen! That’s just me. Always thinking about how things were instead of what we have now. The other day I was complaining about the War never ending. Father threw down his paper and bellowed at me, ‘Young lady, are you a young man in the trenches fighting for his life? Are you a nurse helping wounded soldiers in France? Are you fighting for our country?’ That got me quiet. ‘Well, you have it pretty good where you are, so stop complaining and help set the table for supper!’ Then Father got a sad look in his eyes and he excused himself to his study. After he left, a cold silence fell across the room and everyone glared at me. Like it was my fault! I remember before the war when Father always used to joke around and laugh that loud laugh of his and he would not strap us nearly as much! Oh, how I just wish Hugh would come home. Oh, there I go off again. Stop it, Stephanie!
Wednesday, October 24th, 1917
I cannot believe it, dear friend, I just cannot believe it! When I was out taking Cassie for a walk with Aaron and the twins, we spotted Colleen flirting with some sailors down by the harbour! Well, lobsters and a kettle o’ fish! That is something I though Colleen would never do! Aaron and I just gasped and the twins giggled. Well, when we were not looking, Cassie got away and off her leash and raced down to Colleen, barking up a storm. She is such a sneaky thing. Anyway, what happened next was like out of a moving picture. Poor Cassie, being a big dog and all (Great Dane), knocked the sailor Colleen was flirting with right into the harbour. Well, poor fellow. Cassie jumped in right after him thinking he was drowning. Cassie tried and tried to save him but he just kept pushing away. We had pretty much given ourselves away by now because you could hear our laughter all the way to Timbuktu. Colleen glared at us and went to help the sailor out of the water. Well, he just brushed her off and walked away. Cassie (who was dripping wet) climbed out of the water and shook herself off onto Colleen! Well, her cheeks turned red and her eyes popped out! She stormed over to us and said through seething teeth, ‘If you tell Mother or Father about me being out (she’s supposed to come home after school straight away) I will tell them about you letting Cassie off her leash and knocking an innocent gentleman into the water!’
Boy oh boy, did she get us there! Ever since Cassie first came into our family, Father always stressed to never let that ‘enormous dog’ off his leash. Well, all I can say is we would be in deep water (no pun intended) if Father knew. Anyway, enough writing for tonight, it is bed time and I have not finished my home work!
Thursday, October 25th, 1917
At school today, our teacher, Mr. Mellows told us of an exhibition of War Trophies in town. He said it was our ‘patriotic’ duty to go for it would give us a better understanding of the War if we saw things firsthand and asked questions. At piano lessons today, Mrs. Lathy rapped my knuckles with her ruler. She says I have not been practicing my scales. Well, try practicing piano when your little brother and sister are running around the house screaming and playing some wretched war game. Well, speaking of which I think the twins are in bed so I can go downstairs and practice.
Much Later – 2am
I just had the most frightening dream and woke up screaming. Colleen, being the only one awake, rushed into my room to see what was going on. Well, when she came in and saw me sitting there bolt upright she came and sat down beside me. ‘Stephanie what’s wrong?’
I just burst out crying and Colleen hugged me. That is not like Colleen. Usually she keeps her space from me. Anyway, she asked what was wrong and through my tears I managed to tell her my dream.
I was in a trench and there were giant rats everywhere. I tried to run away, but the mud kept getting deeper and deeper. I could hear guns echoing in the distance. All of a sudden I saw Hugh. He was a few feet in front of me and calling out my name. I tried to take a step towards him, but I could not move. The mud kept getting deeper until it was up to my neck. I looked behind me and saw Huns chasing after me. I tried to move and screamed out for help – but I could not. Hugh’s image disappeared and the mud was now up to my nose. I could not breathe. I looked behind me and the Huns were getting closer. I looked in front of me and found myself staring into the eyes of a giant rat. I felt an icy cold hand on my back. I screamed and that is when I woke up.
By the time I finished telling her, I had both Colleen and me bawling. Susannah was awakened and she joined in. We sounded like three babies wailing for our mommy. Mother came in and sat with us and we all cried together. Then Mother made some hot cocoa and that put Colleen and Susannah right to sleep. But I could not get my eyes to close so I got up and decided to write in here. So here I am. I am starting to feel drowsy so I will stop now. Good night, dear friend.