By Lois Overton, aka Foxhole Filly

December 2000

Kirby lay alone in the field, listening to the sounds of battle fade into the distance.  His legs were throbbing with pain.  He could use Doc right now, but Doc was with the main force.  And the main force was off somewhere that Kirby should be, too.  Stupid, he thought, to have let two green guys like Vanover and Dungan lead him into being separated from the others. They should have known better. It was their fault that he was in this pickle. Then he realized that he couldn't blame his own situation on them.  No.  It wasn't their fault.  It was his. He knew better.  When the pair had wandered off on the flank, he should have just let them go. Yeah, that's definitely what he should have done. But he couldn't.  Instead, he'd gone traipsing off to herd them back.  Dumb.  Really dumb.  Looking over, he could barely make out their lifeless bodies lying on the grass.  A lot of good his efforts had done them.  If only he had been able to reach them before they'd come into the line of fire of the Krauts who had hidden there. And that was the one part of the whole thing that wasn't his fault.  So just why did he feel so guilty?

He closed his eyes and sighed heavily with relief at the knowledge that he'd told Alvarez he was going after the two strays.  So at least the lieutenant and Sarge knew where he was, and they'd come get him when they could.  He reached over and fingered the worn stock of the BAR, pulling it closer to him.  He knew every knick and scrape in the stock.  He knew its feel, its heft and weight.  It was like an extension of him.  As long as he had it close by, he felt comforted.  For now, there was nothing he could do but wait there until the squad got back.  Or some other squad.  He'd settle for that.  As long as it was Americans.  He just had to stay alive until then.

Kirby heaved himself onto one elbow, then dug it into the hard ground and pushed himself all the way up to a sitting position, puffing with the exertion and concentrating on his breathing in an attempt to subdue the pain.  The breathing was one of his pain things.  But it didn't work.  It never did.  When he was little, his ma always told him how to deal with the pain of scrapes and bruises and even a broken arm.  He could almost hear her.  "Blow hard, Baby, and you won't feel a thing when I wash that cut." Or "Concentrate, honey.  Just take deep breaths and think happy thoughts, and you'll forget all about it hurting."  He found himself wondering if everyone's mother told him such lies, or if he were the only one.  Well, right now, his legs hurt like hell, and no amount of panting or concentrating or thinking nice thoughts or any other such nonsense could make so much as a dent in the pain.  Some things even a ma couldn't fix. Beads of sweat dotted his face.  Was it really that hot, or was he feverish? Was he chilled?  Or just imagining things?  He swiped away the moisture with the back of his sleeve.

He shrugged out of his backpack and ammo belt. Then pulling his knife from its scabbard, he ripped the sodden cloth of his left pant leg at the thigh, exposing the angry, puckered hole that had been made by the German weapon. Another bullet had pierced the inside of his right thigh, but it seemed to have done less damage-if one could judge such things by the amount of blood flowing from it.  "Just my luck," he groused to himself, "I'll get a million dollar wound and bleed to death before they send me home.  Stinkin' war." He looked over the right leg carefully one more time, and then he returned his attention to the blood streaming down his more seriously inured left leg.  Help had better come soon.

Removing his belt, he wrapped it around his thigh.  He pulled out a dressing and placed it over the wound, wrapped the ends around his leg, and tied it firmly.   Then he tightened the belt as much as he could stand.  His head dropped onto his chest, and he closed his eyes as he groaned softly.  When the pain had subsided a bit, he peeled off his jacket and shirt.  Laying the shirt aside, he put the jacket back on and zipped it up to keep his bare chest warm.   He cleaned out his shirt pocket, depositing the items on the ground beside him- a pack of cigarettes, a piece of tattered paper bearing the faded address of a certain mademoiselle he had met in Paris, a stubby pencil, and a lucky franc.  He wrapped his shirt around his right leg, winding it from his knee to his hip, grunting as he tightened the shirt and tied the arms together.  At least that should keep him alive.  For a while.

After shoving his few possessions into the pocket of his jacket, he dropped back down to the ground and stuffed his backpack under his head.  He was suddenly tired.   The throbbing of his leg was keeping time with the throbbing of his head. What would his mother do for that?  "Maybe you should just rest, dear."  Yeah.  That sounded good.  At least a few minutes. He'd just close his eyes and rest a minute, 'till Sarge or Lt. Hanley got back. Just rest...

 *    *    *    *    *     *

At first Kirby sensed the presence rather than saw it.  A movement.   A stirring of the air.  A dim shadow. Something was at his cheek.  He opened his eyes and blinked slowly, not sure whether he was actually seeing what he saw, or if he were hallucinating. He scrunched his eyes and opened them again, but the vision remained.  Small, soft amber eyes in a furry, black face inches from his.  Long white whiskers jutted out below a pink nose. The eyes blinked.

"Hey, Puss," Kirby said.

The cat cocked its head, as if it were trying to figure out the meaning of the words, and then it backed off, sitting a few feet away, watching the wounded soldier. Kirby reached out and waggled his fingers, but the cat would have nothing to do with him. It just sat on its haunches, passively watching the private.  Then its attention was diverted by a tall, fuzzy-tipped weed that swayed between them.  The cat batted at it. Timidly at first, and then with considerably more interest.  The soldier reached out, flicking the plant with the tip of his finger, and the animal's paw shot out. The cat caught the stem in the hook of its claw and pulled it toward its mouth where it began to chew on the spiky leaves.

Kirby looked intently at the cat. "Parlez vous Francais?"  The animal halted its play and the weed swung back to attention.  The cat watched, eyes unblinking.   "Hm.  Sprechen Sie Deutsch?"  The cat meowed loudly.  "Ah, the enemy.  Wouldn't you know?" the soldier quipped.  The cat meowed again. "Ja.  I vill call you Adolph!" he said, his voice thick with a bad accent.

The cat appeared satisfied and began grooming itself.  Its eyes narrowed as it licked a white-tipped paw repeatedly and then ran the moist paw over its face like a washcloth, smoothing its long, white whiskers.  Occasionally it stole a sideways glance at the wounded soldier, but it still made no attempt to move.  Kirby could hear its rumbling purr.  "That's quite a voice got there, Fritzy."

The cat watched him and meowed loudly with a voice that sounded angry, or at least put out.

"Sorry, Adolf."

Looking away, the cat lifted one of its back legs, stretching it out and spreading its claws apart. Its tongue began the task of cleansing again. Over and over.  Kirby watched as it licked down its leg and between its toes.  Finally, after giving a few final swipes of its tongue to its backside, the cat noticed Kirby again.

"You know, cat, I gotta learn how to do that.  I ain't had a bath in weeks. You're cleaner than I  am."  The cat studied him. It slipped a paw behind its ear and scratched vigorously.  "'Cept you got bugs in yer ears and I don't," Kirby snorted.  He stuck a forefinger into his ear and dug around a moment, but stopped when he noticed the cat was ignoring him again.

A searing jolt shot through Kirby's leg and his fingers dug into his thigh. He ground his teeth together. "One... two... three..." So much for counting.  The cat watched.  "What're you lookin' at, you son of a ..." The cat meowed loudly and stopped the soldier from completing his thought.  Kirby glared at the cat.  "Ehhh!"  He raised his fist threateningly.  But the cat never flinched. Never moved a muscle. It just watched as Kirby struggled against the pain.

Finally, the spasm began to subside.  The cat's ears rotated forward, and Kirby was sure that its mouth was turned up in a smile. "You're enjoying this, aren't you?"  He watched the cat a moment before continuing.  "So, mein hairball, how's the war going?" the soldier needled.

With a flick of its tail, the cat perked its ears and looked around.  Once more, it meowed loudly.  Then with a movement that could be nothing short of haughty, it turned its back on the wounded soldier.  Kirby was sure that the cat was about to retreat, but it sat back down and made no attempt to leave. Just to ignore.

"Gotcha, didn't I"  You don't want to talk about that subject, huh?  Well, let me tell you, you and your henchmen've had it.  In case you haven't noticed, we're winning."  The tip of the black tail flicked the air.  "You ain't got a chance - not that you ever did."

The cat spoke to him again, but this time, its meow was quiet and gentle. "No way, Adolf.  It's a little late to be apologizin' to me.  Apologize to them."  He nodded toward the dead men.  "Apologize to them," he repeated soberly.

Kirby's leg was pulsing with pain again.  He cursed under his breath, wondering if that was another one of his mother's cures.  "Just swear honey. It'll make all the hurt go away."   He tried again.  Nope.  That one didn't work any better than the others.

Kirby felt a nudge on his arm.  The cat had moved next to the soldier.  It reached out with one timid paw and touched the sleeve of Kirby's jacket, then immediately pulled it back.

"I ain't talkin' to you, Kraut," he said through clenched teeth, still watching the cat from the corner of his eye.  "Two can play this game, ya know," he muttered.

The cat touched him again.  Lightly.  Just a quick touch, and then it pulled back.  Kirby still played disinterested.  When the cat reached out once again, its nails were unsheathed.  The soldier could hear as well as feel the claws as they raked
slowly across his jacket.

Kirby's leg was a throbbing reminder that time was short.  Somebody had better come for him soon.  He took a deep breath and let it out noisily. "Yeah, ma.  I remember.  Get your mind off the pain and you'll be fine.  I hate to tell you.  It's a lie. It's all a lie!"  He slammed his fist hard  n the ground as his body stiffened with the growing spasm. Finally, the pain eased a bit, and his body began to relax.  "Sorry, Ma," he muttered. "Didn't mean to yell."

 The cat looked at him quizzically.

"You had any good eats lately, Fritzie?"  Kirby asked, punctuating the question with a raspy groan as he tried to shift his body into a more comfortable position.  "Maybe you should go get a big hunk of cheese."  The cat's ears rotated forward, and it cocked its head.  It meowed again. Judging by the ribs that showed clearly beneath its skin, it wasn't finding a wealth of food.  The soldier reached into his jacket pocket, and after a moment of rummaging, he pulled out the remains of a chocolate bar.   The rustle of the wrapper caught the cat's attention.  It moved a few steps closer until it sat against Kirby's side.  Ducking its head, the cat rubbed itself against Kirby's shoulder and meowed again.  The soldier pulled off a corner of the chocolate and held it near the cat's mouth.  The cat's yellow eyes moved back and forth between Kirby and the morsel he held.  With great slowness, the cat's tongue flicked out and slid across the chocolate. Finding the treat to its liking, it licked again, and then Kirby felt the gentle pressure of the cat's teeth against his fingertips.  As quickly as that, the chocolate was gone.

Kirby started to toss the remainder of the chocolate into his own mouth, but the cat cried out to him, its voice plaintive.  It moved in even closer, and rubbed its head against the coarse cloth of the field jacket.  Then Kirby felt the sandpapery roughness of the cat's tongue on the back of his hand.

"For cryin' out loud, Adolf.  I gave you more than you deserve. I can't go feeding the enemy.  We got rules 'bout them things."  Kirby turned a bit to see the cat better.  Once again, he pulled off a small sliver of chocolate. But lest the cat try to make him feel bad again, he quickly wolfed down the rest.  "Here.  That's all yer getting.  It's more'n you oughta get."

As before, the cat gave a couple licks to test the food.  Then its tongue curled over Kirby's fingers, and the chocolate was gone. Sensing that lunch was over, the cat placed its paws against Kirby's side.  Stretching out, it arched its back and began to knead the soldier's body, alternating right and left.  Right and left.   Kirby reached out and drew the cat into the crook of his arm, wedging it next to his body.  Bending his wrist, he reached back with his thumb and gave the cat a couple of deep rubs on the forehead. "Hard to stay enemies when you've shared a Hershey bar, huh?"

Kirby shielded his eyes with his hand and looked toward the sun hanging in the clear, blue sky and shivered slightly.  The day was getting away from him.  And still no help.  A bird wheeled overhead, spotted something, and dove out of sight.  "Hey, Kraut.  You gotta be more aggressive.  That bird just got your dinner.  A nice, juicy mouse... or a chipmunk.  Wash it down with a bowl of milk."  The cat cried out loudly.  Kirby pulled his head back slightly and looked at the cat seriously.  "OK, OK.  Keep yer shirt on. Make that a bowl of Schnapps."

The cat ceased its kneading and gently placed a paw on the soldier.  Then a second. It lightly sprung up and perched on Kirby's chest.  Despite its size, it didn't weigh much at all.  Fascinated by the shine of the metal dog tags, the cat placed a paw on them and tried to pull them toward itself. Kirby smiled slightly and lifted the chain with one hand, letting the tags jangle in front of the cat.  It reached out and batted at them.  After a few moments of play, the cat tired of the game and once again feigned unconcern. It made a 360-degree turn and settled down comfortably, head resting on its paws.  Its chin was barely inches from Kirby's.

"Hey! Don't get too comfortable, Kraut.  You ain't stayin'."

The cat blinked.

"Nothin' personal.  It's just that I'm a pooch man myself."

The cat meowed loudly.

"Sorry.  Maybe I shouldn't mention the "P" word, huh?"

Kirby put his hand on the cat's head. He gave it a quick rub and smoothed its fur from nose to tail; its skin quivered under his touch.  The cat pushed its nose against Kirby's chin and rubbed hard against it. Over and over, Kirby's hand smoothed down the soft fur from nose to tail, and each time the cat raised its head to meet his hand. Eventually, the cat had been satisfied and settled its head back onto its paws.  It cried out once, and its eyes narrowed into slits.   Kirby watched its tiny, pink nostrils opening and closing as its breathing started to even out. Finally, all Kirby could hear was the loud drone of the animal's purr.

Kirby shut his eyes.  "Ya know, Adolf, if I was you, I'd just give up the whole shootin' match. End it right now.  Let everybody go home.  You too. Don't you want to go curl up in front of a nice fire in the Reichstag?  Find a lady cat and raise a family?"

"Whew!  Is it hot here or is it my imagination?"  he said in spite of the chill of the air.  Adolf's voice vibrated quietly.  "Yeah, I thought so." Kirby wiped his forehead with a grimy sleeve.  "You know... my buddies will be here soon... I hope."

The cat meowed without opening its eyes.

"Yeah, yeah.  I'll introduce you.  But no talkin' Kraut.  And be careful. None of your lip around Sarge.  He don't take nothin' from nobody."  The cat was quiet. "Yeah.  That's probably best.  Keep a low profile. At least for a while.  Till he gets to know ya."

Kirby was quiet a moment, then he sighed heavily.  He reached over and gave the dark head a final pat.  "You go to sleep now, Adolf.  Get some shuteye." Kirby's head was spinning.  He blinked as he fought to still the dizziness. His hand was suddenly weary.  It slid off the cat's back.  The cat gave a low rumbling meow and settled down quietly, as it joined Kirby in sleep.

*   *   *   *

"Easy, Kirby," the voice cautioned.  He opened his eyes.  Doc was tending Kirby's wounds, and Littlejohn knelt alongside.  You're gonna be fine."

"We almost didn't know where you'd gone to," Littlejohn said.  "It's a good thing Alvarez wasn't unconscious too long and finally remembered where you went.  You musta thought we'd never get here."

Suddenly Kirby tried to push himself up.  "Adolf!  Where's Adolf?"

"Adolf?"  Littlejohn asked, shooting a concerned look at Doc as they pushed their friend back down to the grass.

"Yeah, Adolf.  He was here.  Where'd he go?"

Doc shook his head.  "Adolf was here, huh?"  He pulled a Syrette from his bag and tossed the cap on the grass nearby. "That leg's pretty nasty. Pain must've been real bad... having to wait all that time alone.? He jabbed Kirby's leg with it.  "You'll feel better as soon as you get some of this in you."

"You know," Littlejohn started, "my ma always told me when something hurts, you should..."

Littlejohn's voice faded away.  Kirby's head fell over to the side, and as the darkness moved in, he spotted a black tail moving through the tall grass at the edge of the meadow.  It stopped, and Kirby was sure he could see amber eyes peering back at him.  "I gotta tell ma she missed one," Kirby thought.  Then the tail flicked once before it disappeared.  And Kirby slept peacefully.