The Crater

By Foxhole Filly

October 2000

(Note:  The Crater was written as a challenge from another fan and had to contain certain required elements and/or words.  I’m not saying who…but you’ll find her in it. Ahem!  Need I say more?)

The sun beat down relentlessly on the three men in the crater.  The confined space seemed to intensify the heat that shimmered off the ground.  The men had long ago moved beyond discomfort.   They had stripped off their field jackets and finally their shirts in an attempt to get cooler.  But it helped little. 

Caje swiped beads of sweat from his upper lip.  “I sure hope those Krauts are as hot as we are.”

Hanley cast a glance upward, squinting at the sun.  “Well, unless they have a fan over there, you can count on it.”

“They sure have been quiet. Hey, maybe they’ve gone,” Billy suggested. He was pale and wan, and his speech had become thick and slightly slurred. 

“You mean maybe they just vanished into thin air?  You aren’t thinking, Billy.  If we’re stuck, so are they.”

“But maybe they slipped out while we weren’t looking.” 

Caje shook his head. “No way.  They haven’t gone anywhere.”  He shot a glance at the lieutenant, whose expression said that he was reading Billy’s confusion the same way Caje was.   Billy was in trouble. 

“Well, maybe…” Billy stuck his head above the edge of the depression where they were hunkered down awaiting who knew what.   A line of bullets bit into the dirt below his face, sending a cloud of dust into his face.  “No, I guess not,” he cried as he pulled back into safety, hacking the dust from his throat.  “How’re we gonna get out of here, sir?”

The lieutenant picked up his sweat-dampened shirt and rubbed his face and chest.   “We wait, Billy. We wait.”

“I’m just so hot, sir.”

Hanley reached over and placed a hand on Billy’s cheek. His skin was cold and clammy.  He patted Billy on the shoulder, smiling reassuringly.  “I know.  Just hang in there.”

“Maybe I could try it,” Caje suggested.  “I’m fast, and I duck real good.”

“Forget, it.  You wouldn’t get any farther than Baker.” Hanley nodded toward the spot where the soldier lay sprawled in a pool of his own blood.   Three hours before, the young private had tried making a getaway and had been cut down by Schmeisser fire from the opposing crater.  The enemy was just as trapped on that field as the three Americans.  With no cover available, it was a waiting game until either one side killed off the other or reinforcements showed up.  The lieutenant settled back and tried to get comfortable. 

Caje leaned back against the dirt wall.  Sweat sheeted down his face and collected in the hollow at the base of his neck.  The heat was almost unbearable. 

Billy was panting heavily.  Hanley studied him and tossed a canteen to the private.  “Billy, drink some water.   You have to keep hydrated.”

Billy licked his lips.  “Right, Lieutenant.”  He gulped down the cooling liquid.  “Sure wish you’d filled it with beer.”  A thin smile crossed his lips, and the lieutenant smiled back in return.  When Billy tipped the canteen again but found it empty, he threw it against the side of the crater.  His smile was gone.

Sometime later, Hanley pushed himself up a bit to inspect the field that separated the two craters.  A single shot ended the effort.  He sank back and rested the carbine on his lap.  Moisture plastered his tee shirt to his chest.  He wiped his forehead with a sweaty arm.  Then his attention was back on Billy.  The boy’s color didn’t look good at all.  Wisps of moist hair fringed his face, but he was no longer sweating.  His eyes were closed, and his breathing had shallowed out.  “Billy, talk to me.”  

No response. 

Hanley and Caje both slid over to Billy, but they found him almost unconscious, his head lolling to the side when they shook him.    

Caje squinted up at the sun, feeling it beating relentlessly on his face.  He looked back at Hanley.  “I don’t think he’s gonna make it if we don’t do something soon, sir,” Caje said as he wiped Billy’s face with his shirt.

“I think you may be right.  If we wait here, Billy’s gonna die.”

“How much time does he have?”

Hanley thought for a moment.  “I don’t know.  But I don’t think he can make it much longer.”

Hanley felt as if the sun were frying his brain.  It sapped his energy for thinking.  

“Look, Caje.  I’m going to try and make it to the trees.  You cover me.”

Caje shook his head.  “Lieutenant, I think you should let me go.  I’m faster than you, and you know it.” 

“You’re right.  But I need your deadeye on your rifle.  You just might be able to increase our odds by taking one of them out.”

Caje considered Hanley’s words and nodded.  “Whatever you say, Lieutenant.”

“Lieutenant?” Billy moaned.  “Are we gonna get out of here?”

“You bet.  We’re gonna take care of things now.  You ready, Caje?”

The scout wiped the sweat from his eyes and raised his Garand, resting the barrel on the edge of the crater. “I’ll give them something to think about.”  He raised his head just enough to put his eye to the sight as he zeroed in on the German position.  He emptied a clip, and it ejected.  He ducked down and pushed in a fresh clip, and then he began firing off another, one shot at a time.  Hanley tensed, ready to make his leap into danger as the Germans returned fire.

Suddenly, a bullet struck the barrel of Caje’s rifle.  With a crack, it shattered the metal.  Caje’s arms flew back with the impact of the projectile, the rifle flying from his hands.  He fell backward and hit the rear wall of the crater with a groan.  A trail of blood streamed down his arm as a jagged piece of the barrel embedded itself in his flesh.  What was left of the bullet ricocheted off the rifle barrel and tore into Hanley’s shoulder.  He made no sound as he crumpled and spiraled into darkness.

*   *   *   *  

The first thing Hanley was aware of was the sweet scent of perfume filling his nostrils.  At first, it was almost enough to make him sick.  He was used to the smell of sweat and gunpowder and smoke and dirt and blood.  His mind wasn’t prepared to accept the fragrance without protest.  But on the other hand, it was so enticing…how could he resist being called to consciousness by it. 

“Easy there, Lieutenant,” a soft, feminine voice cooed. 

Hanley was startled by the sound.  Where was Caje’s firm voice with its distinguishable French accent?  Where was Billy’s voice full of youthful wonderings?  How did a woman get into the crater under the Krauts’ nose?  He opened his eyes slowly and for a moment, all he saw was light and haze.  As his vision cleared, he realized that he was not in the crater any longer, but in a room.  Bright light filtered through an arched window high over his head.  He felt a wool blanket beneath his hand and a pillow under his head. 

“Where am I?” the lieutenant groaned. 

He started to rise, but gentle fingers pushed him back onto the bed.  “Don’t move too much, or you’ll start to bleed again.”

Turning his head, he stared into the most brilliant brown eyes.  And the face of the most gorgeous woman he had ever seen.  Her lips were ruby red and glistening.  Soft strands of dark hair surrounded her face.  Her nose was small and pertly upturned. The woman was truly a vision of loveliness. 

“Whoa, Mama!” Hanley muttered.  “I must have died and gone to heaven.”

“Don’t be silly. I’m your nurse,” she said with a huge grin.  “My name is Victoria, but most everyone here calls me Scout.”

“Scout,” he repeated slowly, savoring each syllable.

“You were brought to this chateau that we are using as a hospital.  I was afraid that you weren’t going to make it, but I can see that you are doing much better.”

“I think I am feeling better.”

“You poor baby. You are just sweatin’ up a storm.” 

She removed a cloth from the pocket of her uniform, dipped it in a basin of water, and sat on the edge of his bed.  “Don’t worry, Lieutenant. I’m gonna take good care of you.”

Once again, Hanley could smell her perfume.  Only this time, he was in full control of his faculties, and didn’t mind the scent a bit.  It had been a long time since he had been this close to anyone that he found as attractive as this.  Not since Hazel had he felt such stirrings.

“And now I am going to give you a little ole bath.  Won’t that feel nice?”

Hanley was speechless and merely nodded.  Scout wrapped the cloth around her hand and began to slide it up and down his chest. 

Suddenly, Hanley sat bolt upright in bed. Overcome with emotion, he grabbed Scout and planted his face against her neck, kissing it greedily.  “Scout!”  He moaned. 

“Lieutenant!  Lieutenant!”  Caje cried as he pulled away, forcing Hanley’s lips from his neck.  “Get ahold of yourself, sir.”

“Scout…I need you,” the lieutenant crooned and tried to wrap his brawny arms around the scout’s waist. 

“Sorry, sir…I hate to do this…but…” Caje reared back and planted a fist squarely on Hanley’s chin.

The lieutenant fell back in the crater, moaning with pain.  He opened his eyes and looked at Caje questioningly.  “I was with someone.”

“Yessir. Billy and me.”

“No…scout.”

“That’s right, sir.  I’m the scout.”

Billy moaned.  “Easy Billy,” Caje said as he surveyed the area beyond the woods.  “Help is here.” 

Hanley’s shoulder was burning.  “Damn shoulder.  And my jaw feels like it is broken.  Musta hit it when I went down.  I was dreaming about being in a hospital.  And there was a beautiful woman.  I remember kissing her.”

“I know.”  Caje rubbed the moisture from his neck. 

From his spot at the edge of the hole, Hanley could see the Americans arriving.  One of the soldiers jumped into the opposite crater and inspected the dead Germans.  “I guess our side got here first.”

“Yes, sir…and just in the nick of time.”

A medic joined them in the crater, and after checking on Billy, he gave his attention to Hanley.  He pulled out a Syrette of morphine and prepared to administer it. “Don’t worry, Lieutenant. I’m gonna take real good care of you.”  

Hanley groaned.