One Christmas Miracle

Today we have an excerpt from a work in progress by Writers Forum member Michael Brian Brussin titled For King and Kaiser, and novel set in the trenches of World War 1. This piece recounts a miraculous event that actually occurred in those trenches in 1914. Michael read this excerpt at the December Read Around in 2016, and it is a perfect Christmas Eve story.

Excerpt from For King and Kaiser

By Michael Brian Brussin

 

Cropped Michael Bussin 1Evening came and it began to snow.

“All right—just because it’s Christmas Eve doesn’t mean you can take it easy; that’s just what jerry wants, so stay alert,” Sergeant Wade said to Albert and Jim and the men standing with them.

“We’re on top of things, sergeant, don’t worry,” Albert assured the cautious Sergeant Wade.

“I just wish it wasn’t so perishin’ cold,” Jim said, clapping his gloved hands together.

“Stop your moaning, Jim, it’s Christmas Eve and we’ve got snow; what more do you want?” Albert teased the young cockney.

“Yeah, Christmas,” Jim sighed. “Ya know, it feels like Christmas, even aht ‘ere.”

“It does at that, even in this hellish wasteland,” one of the other soldiers remarked, watching the snowflakes drift onto the parapet and beyond.

It was nine o’clock in the evening and the snow continued to fall. Oil lamps lit English and German trenches, and drum fires burned that had the men taking turns to warm their hands over the flames.

Albert sat by himself with a mug of tea thinking of home. Jim Broadbent sat with another private where they talked about their families and what they would be doing at that moment if they were home. Sergeant Arthur Wade walked up and down in a casual gait, lost in his own thoughts; and Captain Duncan made an appearance, checking on his men and making sure the parapet was lined with watchful sentries.

Hey, what’s that? What’s jerry doing?” one of the sentries said, peering cautiously at the German parapet.

“What is that?” another sentry questioned.

Sergeant Wade jumped onto the fire step and peered over.

The Germans had acquired Christmas lanterns and placed lit candles inside and put them along the top of the parapet.

The silence was then broken by distant singing.

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht…

The entire carol of Silent Night grew louder and was sung in a beautiful voice.

The English trench was captivated and touched by the singing of this hallowed Christmas carol, and when the song was finished the English clapped and cheered.

“C’mon, lads, let’s give ‘em one back,” Jim Broadbent said. “What’ve we got?”

“How about O Come, All Ye Faithful?” Albert suggested.

Sergeant Wade came over to the men and led them in a song like a choir master.

At the end of O Come, All Ye Faithful, the Germans applauded and cheered, and they then entertained with O Tannenbaum.

Christmas Eve ended with an exchange of more songs and a few shouts across the parapets.

“Happy Christmas, tommy!” a voice called from the German trench.

“Frohe Weihnachten, jerry!” Albert responded on behalf of the British.

The men in the trenches woke to an extraordinary sight—two robins perched on the wire in No Man’s Land. One of the red-breasted birds was settled near the German trench, and the other close to the British.

It had stopped snowing, but a soft covering lay on the ground. The sky was a clear blue and a biting yet refreshing cold filtered in the Christmas Day air.

There had been no ‘morning hate’ this day. No shots were fired; both sides honored Christmas with indications of peace. Neither side, however, took a chance looking at his enemy’s trench without the use of a periscope, aware of the ever-ready sniper.

The quiet and stillness remained, then the British sentries picked up some German movement.

“What’s going on over there? Sergeant! Come quick!” one of the sentries called. There was no response. “Jim, go and fetch the sarge, quick,” the sentry directed Private Broadbent.

“What’s happening out there?” Albert asked, hearing the commotion.

“Jerry’s moving about; we can see them. Rifles ready!” the sentry responded; then clicks sounded along the wall with rifles aimed and ready to fire.

Sergeant Wade rushed out of the dugout and looked through a periscope.

Good God, will you look at that!” the sergeant exclaimed.

“What is it, sergeant?” the men wanted to know, still unwilling to look without the safety of a periscope.

“They’re holding up signs…Happy Christmas, and…Drink with us.”

“What’s happening here?” Captain Duncan asked, appearing on the scene.

“Look! They’re coming over the top!” another sentry called.  “They’ve got their arms up!”

Sergeant Wade peered over the parapet without the use of a periscope, as did several of the other men.

“I asked what’s happening here,” Captain Duncan repeated.

“It’s jerry, sir,” Sergeant Wade answered. “They’re all out in No Man’s Land. I don’t think they’re armed.”

“Happy Christmas, tommy! Komm—have a drink with us!” a voice echoed in broken English.

“Let’s go, sarge! How about it?” the men elicited, with some of them already starting up the ladders.

“Stand where you are!” Captain Duncan ordered, stopping the men in their tracks. “There will be no fraternizing with the enemy. Now take up your positions!”

“Come on, captain, sir; it’s Christmas, peace an’ friendship an’ all that,” Jim Broadbent brazenly urged.

“What about a drink, tommy!” another voice rang out from No Man’s Land.

“Komm! We will meet you!” still another man called.

“What do you say, captain?” Sergeant Wade asked. “It is Christmas.”

Captain Duncan looked over the parapet and was amazed at what he saw. Scores of German infantrymen stood about in No Man’s Land, smoking and talking, and some were holding mugs of beer, having a jolly time.

Captain Duncan stepped down and looked at Sergeant Wade, then he turned to the men.

“All right…over you go!”

The men eagerly climbed up the ladders, but then they walked cautiously toward their enemy.

The Germans approached the British, and when the men of the opposing nations met in the middle of No Man’s Land, they shook hands and exchanged Christmas greetings.

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NaNoWriMo Wrap

When last we heard from our stalwart NaNoWriMo adventurers, their November writing marathon had  just begun. Did they finish?

You can see how I fared from the Dashboard at my NaNoWriMo account.

NaNoWriMo Dash

I started off strong. I was even well ahead of schedule by Day 3. I fell a little behind on Day 10, but caught up on Day 11.

Then I crashed into a wall.

I had an opportunity to cover the California Conservation Corps regional flood training for my CCC blog. I lost a couple of days of NaNoWriMo writing, but I already arranged to take the Monday and Tuesday after Thanksgiving off just in case I needed some catch-up time.

It didn’t work out that smoothly. I needed a few days to workout some technical issues that I had concerning the blog story. Then the stress from trying to get that story posted before Thanksgiving drained any energy I had for NaNoWriMo. Just before Thanksgiving, my wife Patsy asked how far behind I had fallen.

“Horribly.”

So…I did not hit the goal of 50,000 words for the month. However, I do have 26,370 words written that I did not have on October 31, so I’m counting this experience as a win! (By the time I got back to my NaNoWriMo account, NaNoWriMo was closed and I couldn’t add any more to the word count. I did write for two more days after my last official update, so I actually reached 26,370 words and not the 23,856 totaled on the Dashboard.)

I filled over one-and-a-half Moleskine notebooks. This was where I ended.

It Ends

I did learn something interesting about Redding participation in NaNoWriMo.

NaNoWriMo Redding 2

Apparently, fifty-eight novelists who consider themselves to be in the Redding area officially participated in the 2017 NaNoWriMo event. They wrote a combined 1,035,613 words in November.

NaNoWriMo Redding

I know that WF members Carolyn Faubel and Vickie Linnet participated. We heard from Carolyn on Friday. Vickie wrote consistently for two weeks, and then had a chance to reconnect with a family member. Two weeks seems to be the common point for hitting The Wall, doesn’t it?

I don’t know who those other writers were, but somebody made a mad dash on November 30 to push that final number over the one million mark. Well done, Redding!

I can’t wait until next year. Oh, yeah…I plan to run this marathon again!

We accounted for three of the fifty-eight Redding area writers officially entered at the NaNoWriMo website. That leaves fifty-five writers unaccounted for. Would any other Redding writers care to share their 2017 NaNoWriMo experiences?

My NaNoWriMo Experience by Carolyn Roberts Faubel

Today we hear from Writers Forum member Carolyn Roberts Faubel about her NaNaWriMo experiences. If you participated in NaNoWriMo, we would love to hear your story as well!

Cropped Carolyn Faubel 1

We are writers. It’s what we are.

Is it really what we are? Or is it what we do? Can you know, deep down that you are a writer, but the “doing” part is more elusive? Of course, we write little things, a poem here and there, an article, a bedtime tale. But the larger passion, the dream, the thing that wants to connect us to our real identities as writers is patiently waiting to get stirred up.

From writing my first little plagiarized story in the third grade, I felt the thrill of creating with words, painting a world, setting a scene, putting characters in it and typing along to see what happened next. Although I was consistent in writing over the years, the span of time between my stories, poems, and writings was long, and I felt like I wasn’t really accomplishing anything significant. I had no discipline, and I had no defined goal.

I didn’t call myself a writer.  I wanted to, but I didn’t. When I did write, I saw myself as “doing writing.”

Growing older can make you peer closely at your goals and desires and compare them with how much time you are really spending on them. What place did I want writing to have in my life? How passionate was I, really? After discussing it with myself (I’m never bored, having such an attentive person to talk to anytime I wish), we decided that the thing we wanted to do more than anything else was to start, write, and complete a novel. Specifically, one for the preteen kids, about 5th or 6th grade. Wonderful! I had a goal. And about that time, I began to identify with “being a writer” as an identity, rather than as an activity. But now what? I was itching to put my typing fingers into action.

The standards I set for myself can be tough. The weight of my need to lay down meaningful and worthy and coherent words kept my typing fingers hesitating above the keyboard. Ideas got jotted down on little notebooks. Tips and tricks from books and the internet got filed. Websites with story prompts teased me to go have a look. And the dark ugly thought grew in me. Did I have it in me? Could I ever write something as long as a novel, even a short one?

And then came NaNoWriMo.

My sister told me about it. It was beautiful. It was permission to write a crappy novel! Just fling word after word at the wall, making them stick into something resembling a completed book. High encouragement to throw something together that might barely make sense, if that’s how it worked out. I looked at it as practice, and a test for myself. If I could do this, if I could just FINISH a crappy, disjointed little novel during the month of November, NaNoWriMo month, then I would know what I was made of. I would know that I wasn’t just a writer, but by golly, I wrote!

That morning of November 1, I had no plan, just a laptop and a cup of coffee by the window. My fingers began to type:

Like waves rolling and breaking further up the sand, now drawing back, then reaching forward, consciousness slowly came to Kevin. He still felt the paralysis of deep sleep, felt like his body was encased in plaster, and he couldn’t twitch so much as a finger, but his mind was beginning to move from the night towards the day. With great effort, he managed to open his eyes halfway. They felt sticky. Bright light from an open curtain washed across his vision, and for a moment Kevin felt the room begin to spin. Or was it his body spinning? He couldn’t tell. His head ached, and his mouth felt sour. Had he overslept until his body rebelled, or did he have the biggest hangover of his young life? He moaned and heard the pitiful sound as he exhaled. I can’t remember anything, he thought.

(Kevin)

 Neither Kevin nor I knew what was going on yet, but we both began to discover how he had gotten into his predicament.

It was pretty fun the first few days, but then the daily writing discipline began to be overtaken by other tasks and chores and obligations. And then November was gone, and I had not finished my novel. Drat! A bit of regret and disappointment in myself colored half of December 1, but then my natural optimism took over, and I stashed my story for later and planned on repeating my efforts the next November.

Later, much later on, Jared realized the significance of the thudding and scraping sounds that had started to waken him during that night. But he had not wanted to fully wake up at 2:00 in the morning so he had shut his eyes tighter and created peaceful scenes in his head to try to go back to sleep. It had worked, and he had been able to sleep in another 3 or 4 hours. At first he was horrified to realize that he had been sleeping away, like a Goddamn kid or something! While the most terrible and important thing in all of his thirteen years was going on, he was snoozing away, just like a baby!

(The Wail of the Zither)

Just like “Kevin,” “Wail” also did not get finished. I was annoyed at myself and stashed this one also for later. But I tried to use the experience get some revelation about my style, habits, pitfalls. I’d had a better idea about where this story was going, and that made it more enjoyable to sit down and write it. But the two-week mark was the killer zone, and I just couldn’t get my momentum back after that half-way point. I also realized that I was not a fast writer. Thoughtful, yes. Speedy, no. It was hard to just type away, not worrying about sentence structure, grammar, developed ideas. That would be what I would work on next year! Freeing my careful, controlled thoughts to something more fun and free flowing. Maybe.

It was more than a couple years later when I was able to try NaNoWriMo again. This time, I had a secret weapon, a writers club! I was a member of the Redding Writers Forum, and I knew that at least one other member was going to plunge into the word frenzy of National Novel Writers Month! I could feel the silent backing of the like-minded people entering this dash. I signed up on the website in October. I created a summary of my intended story. For once, I knew what was going to be happening ahead of time in my book! But I was very disappointed when outside events kept me from taking the time I needed to begin writing. After the first whole week of November had passed, I decided it was too late. I knew I wrote slowly, and there was no way I could catch up. But then, I got an encouraging email from NaNoWriMo.  And it said,” If you haven’t started yet, it’s not too late!” A simple message, reminding me how much of this is about the trying and the effort. Just get your damned laptop out and start writing! I got my resolution back.  I began typing:

At first, the girl felt, rather than saw the rosy glow that surrounded and enveloped her body. It was warm and felt good. Soft almost, like a fluffy sunset cloud touching her sore skin. She didn’t know why it was sore and felt bruised, and why her head ached, but the red warmth felt nice and she laid there as she tried to think. Was it morning, and she was just having a hard time waking up? It didn’t feel like her bed, her sheets. It felt more like the grass in the back yard. She didn’t remember anything, and it gave her a little bit of a scary feeling. The girl did not want to open her eyes. It was safer and more pleasant to just lie there, probing her thoughts to see if anything came to her. There was a great temptation to just go back to sleep, but in spite of her wishes, her mind only became more alert and awake. She opened her eyes. And instantly the girl knew she was not in her back yard.

(The Strange Planet of Alien Snails)

Alas, “Strange Planet” did not get finished either, yet. The halfway-through-the-month doldrums caught me again. But I learned even more about myself and what I will need to pull this off, this novel-writing stuff. For one thing, I will have to be a NaNoWriMo renegade and break a rule. Because I write more slowly, I shall begin my novel next year on October 1. I consider this accommodation similar to a handicapped horse race, and I do not feel guilty in the least. I shall take the time commitment more seriously and block out what I need in my calendar. I shall collect even more people to keep me accountable. I must prepare for the mid-month slack-off and put strategies into place. I will appoint for myself a place to write that is beautiful, inspiring, secluded enough, and provided with a bowl of snacks and a place to set my coffee cup. I will give myself permission to write purple prose if need be, to use bad grammar, if that’s what it takes, and to have some things just not make sense, if that will get the thing done.

Because that’s what I am, a writer.

Christmas Then…And Now

Today we share a piece from the 2016 December Read Around.

Christmas Then…And Now

By Jeanne Crownover

jeanne-crownover

Am I the only one who resents going to the store in October and finding I have to wade through aisles of Christmas decorations to get to the Halloween candy?

Reflecting back on my childhood in Wisconsin, Christmas preparations never started until after Thanksgiving. It wasn’t until the leftovers had been eaten, the little ‘potato turkey’ we brought home from school had begun to rot, and the cornucopia along with the fall-colored tapers had been packed away that anyone even began to think about Christmas.

Not until people had recovered from one holiday did they start preparing for the next: shopping for gifts, writing cards, baking cookies. The tree was a distant concept, not having to be dealt with until before shortly before the actual holiday.

I know that not all families were like mine, waiting until the 23rd or 24th to purchase their trees. In our household, however, the week before Christmas found my mother reminding my father on a daily basis, more harshly as the days wore on, that with the only car in the family, he needed to go get the tree!

But the selection obviously remained good, as a tall, fragrant pine was always obtained, and on the 24th was brought into the house and decorated. The lights were tested briefly to make sure they were all working, but the formal lighting of the tree did not take place until darkness fell on Christmas Eve.

I remember coming home from church at night and seeing how splendid the tree looked in our big bay window. After a glass of milk and some freshly baked stolen, I was hurried off to bed, being told I needed to allow Santa ample time to make his delivery.

Christmas morning, the family arose to find the tree surrounded by a profusion of brightly wrapped packages. After opening gifts, they were left under the tree for several days so friends could see them when they came to call.

What a shock years later when raising a family in Southern California, to have my kids tell me on Christmas afternoon that at our neighbor’s house across the street, all gifts, save the few that the children were playing with at the moment, had already been put away.

This feeling of disbelief was eclipsed only by the disappointment I experienced a week later when attending a New Year’s Eve party at the same home. The house felt like a tomb. Not a scintilla of Christmas remained.

It made me pause and wonder. Had it been around so long that the magic was gone?

As a child I’d heard about the twelve days of Christmas and assumed that was why we left our tree up until at least the fifth of January. None of us grew tired of Christmas. We never wanted it to end.

So as an adult, I’ve always felt a bit out of sync as the holidays approach. While my California offspring never let me wait until the 24th to put up the tree, and I realize that keeping a tree up until the 5th of January could be construed as flirting with a visit from the fire department, I know my cards are always the last to be sent, my gifts the last to be wrapped, and my tree the last to be decorated.

Customs ingrained in childhood are difficult to erase. I’ll always view Christmas Eve as the beginning of my holiday, and while I know the enchantment won’t last forever, I hope that it lingers at least a little while, before it slowly…only slowly…fades away.

Member Monday: Larry Watters

Last Saturday was a Writers Forum Read Around. That means we have fresh material for our Member Mondays!

Our first piece will be from past Writers Forum President Larry Watters. Larry says that since he has stepped down from some positions of responsibility, he actually has time to write. We look forward to more from Larry!

Too Many Graves

By Larry Watters

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Chapter One: The Counting

Matt shook his head in frustration. The first time he counted he thought he had made a mistake. He just as easily could have signed off on the tally, but being a perfectionist, he just had to get it right.

But when the second go-around came up with the same number, he got concerned. “Boy,” he said aloud to himself, “there should only be eighty-one graves, not eighty-three.” Then he giggled at the thought of what someone would think if they overheard him; a mass murderer maybe.

Matt Wampler was the supervisor of the, some would say gruesome, job of relocating graves before water started covering them next month.  Matt had won the bid for relocating the old Brandy Creek Cemetery to higher ground before the waters behind the new dam started flooding what had been the old communities of Brandy and Bourbon, both so named from the freely flowing kegs of yore.

It was a mix of old and new graves. Some of the sites dated back to the Gold Rush days when the area was host to California’s second major gold find. It was said that gold was on the surface back then, needed no picks, or even shovels, to gather it up.

Others were fairly recent. While the soon-to-be-covered towns were technically ghost towns, the cemetery was still active, popular with descendants of the early pioneers.

But having two too many graves was unsettling. He had hired a crew of five to dig the new graves, dig-up the old and rebury the remains. He suspected that his crew had got a little over eager when digging fresh sites with the backhoe and had simply lost count. He had let them go, all except for Paul. He briefly considered that he and his sole helper could uncover all to find the empties, and then decided that they didn’t really have to go to that extreme; that they only needed to poke a rod down to find the empty ones.

They didn’t really need to check all either; only the twenty-three that were unmarked. The rest had markers.

He rang Paul on his cell, and explained the mystery. Paul said he’d be there the next morning with a couple of long rods for probing.

Contented, Matt decided to call it a day and enjoy the beauty of the new location. Situated on a small rise above the dam, it overlooked the soon to be lake. Scrub pines with their raucous Scrub Jays filled most of the hill side. But in clearings a cavalcade of color ran riot. The native wildflowers were in bloom.

Sighing, Matt pulled his lunch from his backpack in the shade. He ate the same thing most every time when he was working at the site; Cheddar cheese from a local creamery, salami from a local meat locker, and Ritz crackers. It was a meal that seemed made for graveyards. Well, not really. But it was one that he was used to.

He fondly remembered being with his dad on road trips, and how it was almost a rule to have that same snack on stops. Sometimes roadside, but most of the time dad detoured off and found an old cemetery. After wandering to see who found the oldest grave, they would sit on the tailgate of the pickup and chow down; Matt with his sodas and Dad with his beers. Matt had outgrown sodas, preferring water these days.

He wished his dad had outgrown beers, but alas, it never came to be. Hal had never been one to get drunk, but Matt could never remember when his dad didn’t have a beer can stuck between his legs while driving, sitting on a tree stump when they stopped, or perched on the tail gate eating.

Listening to the birds, Matt sliced his salami, cut his cheese, and piled each on crackers. Cracker by cracker, he polished off the tube. He had a sense of being watched. Maybe it was the squirrels expecting a hand out. He hoped so any way.

Not many people shared his love of eating with dead people. It was an oddity that he could not explain. But today was different.

He really had the feeling that more than squirrels were watching. It was a sense that had saved his life back in ‘Nam.

Premise: After checking, they discover that none of the graves were empty.