Today’s my Birthday – #FridayFlash – 4/20/2012

[The last of my Combat! contributions, for now.  FYI:  Paul “Caje” Lemay was a character in Combat!, probably best known as a vehicle for Vic Morrow.  Played by Pierre Jalbert, a French-Canadian actor, film and sound editor and Olympic-calibre skiier, Caje was supposed to be Cajun, and acted as the squad’s translator, in addition to being the guy who was best with a knife. He’s my favorite character from the show and I’ve written a ton of stories about him, the squad, his family and the Cajuns which you can find at: http://www.tec4stories.com.  BTW, the French in this story isn’t quite as ‘intuitive’ as in previous stories, so if you want translations, you can follow the footnotes.  The segment at the end is in <> and indicates something that ought to be completely French if i wanted to confuse my English-speaking readers.]

Today’s My Birthday

Non! Sors de là, Américain!” (1) The woman spat at the feet of the astonished GI. “Tu n’es pas bienvenue ici!” (2)

Caje, bewildered, stepped back involuntarily, and tried again … “Mais, madame, c’est mon an —

She waved her broom at him and scowled. “Ferme ton bec!” (3He watched as she went back into the small building and slammed the door.  He’d been told it was a place where he could get some wine and warm up. Obviously, he’d been told wrong.

The scout shivered in the cold for a moment, then pulled his beret from his shoulder and put it on.  He trudged back to where the squad was bivouacked.  Doc and Billy were the only ones there. Both of them were reading letters, and Billy was idly chewing on a chocolate chip cookie. Caje brightened.

“Hey!”

They looked up.

“We got mail? Where’s Brockmeyer?”

Doc glanced at Billy, who looked back. “Sorry, Caje.  He didn’t say you had anything.” The medic winced a little at the look of disappointment on the Cajun’s face. Billy jumped up and extended the box in his hand to Caje. “Yeah, but my mom sent some cookies! Have one …” His voice trailed off as the scout shook his head and backed out of the rundown former shop.

Non, merci, Billy.”

Rien? He tried to console himself that the package he was sure his family would have sent was probably chasing him around France. Maman never forgot a birthday.

He staggered as someone landed a thwack on his back and chortled, “How ya doing, pal?” in his ear.

“Kirby! Merde!

“Hey, Caje! Listen to this!” He waved the letter in his hand in Caje’s face. “I got some great news –“

“Not now, Kirby.” He pulled away from the BAR man and went on.

“Geez, what bit him?” Kirby looked at Brockmeyer, who had been walking with him.

Brockmeyer shook his head. “Well, one, it’s his birthday. And two, he didn’t get any mail.”

“Aw, that’s too bad. But he never tells anyone anything. How was I supposed to know that?”

“Dunno. It’s not like we can whip up a birthday cake for him anyway. So, what’s your great news?”

***

Caje continued down the street.

“Hey soldier!” A cheery looking man in clean fatigues that marked him as a civilian masquerading as “just one of the troops” flagged him down.

“I’m not …”

“Hey, not trying to sell you anything.” The man waved at an open truck with some strange-looking equipment in the back. “I’m Jim Ford with GEM razors. We set these booths up so you guys can send messages back to the States! How about it, pal? Want to say ‘Hi’ to the home folks?”

Caje swallowed. He wanted to say “Hi” to his parents and the rest of his family, all right – while standing on his front porch with a glass of his mamans lemonade and a plate of jambalaya in his hand. For a moment he considered, and then nodded a little wearily.

“Great! Great! Hey, Skip, get this GI set up to record his message, will ya?”

“Skip” put him in front of a microphone with headphones on. “Ok, pal. When I wave at you, start.”

Caje nodded.  But what to say? Suddenly, he knew …

“Chu aprés féter ma fête aujourd’hui …” (4) The lyrics to the Cajun birthday song rang out in a clear voice that would have surprised his squad. He’d never heard the end of Brockmeyer’s teasing about singing flat.

He sang out his longing for home and family, finished the song, and continued: “Tu me manques, maman, et toi aussi, Papa, Helene, Phillippe, Nonc Pierre, Tante Charlotte, Papère … Vous me manquez tous beaucoup …()”  He stopped and struggled with his emotions, willing himself not to give into the tears that were threatening. “Je vous aime tous. Je voudrais être là …(6)” He waved at the technician and Skip slowly turned off the recording equipment.

“Say, soldier … “ Ford spoke softly from behind him. “We’ll get that back to your folks – if you’ll just fill out this slip with their names and an address.”

* * *

As Caje left the booth, there was a hesitant tap on his arm. The woman from the café stood there, tears in her eyes. <I’m sorry.>

Pas de problème, Madame.”

<No, you don’t understand.  My son – his birthday would have been today. He would have been about your age.> She paused to wipe tears from her face. <I’ve been so angry; he died fighting with the Resistance. All I could think when you came today was that you had been safe in America while he was fighting. But you aren’t safe now – and when I heard your song and that it was your birthday, and how much you missed your family … well, I’m sorry.  Please – please come back with me. It would be my honor to celebrate for your Maman et Papa, who cannot be here with you today. And for my son also…>

Merci, madame. Il me fera honoré, aussi.(7)” He took her hand and tucked it in the crook of his arm, as he would have his mother’s, and they walked back down the street together.

– 30 –

(1)    No! Get out, American!

(2)    You’re not welcome here!

(3) Shut up!

(4)    I could only find the first line of this in Cajun French, but the English translation goes: “I’m celebrating my birthday today. I’m here with all my friends. All my presents have been unwrapped but you’re the only present I wanted.” (And I’m pretty sure it’s not WWII era, but I’m using it anyway :))

(5)    I miss you, Mama and you, too, Papa, Helene, Phillippe, Uncle Pierre, Aunt Charlotte, Grandfather … I miss you all so much.

(6)    I love you all … I wish I was there.

(7)    Thank you, ma’am. I would be honored as well.

Regret – #FridayFlash

[Author’s note:  You can read this as a war story standalone. Or, if you’re a Combat! fan, this is my take on what happened to Doc #1]

Regret

“Un autre verre du vin rouge, Mademoiselle. S’il vous plait.”

The young woman looked down the bar at the ragged GI sitting there, bearded and scowling, but who’d spoken to her in good French and with decent manners. Ignoring the two sergeants and a corporal who’d charged up to her, waving scrip, she poured the red wine and set it down in front of the soldier.

Merci beaucoup.” Their eyes met, and he considered trying to engage her for later, after the bar closed, and decided against it.

She saw the idea come and go and shrugged to herself. There were other Amis there.De rien, M’sieu’,” she tossed back casually as she picked up the money in front of him and moved back to wait on the non-coms.

I should have gone back – marrrde, I should have. Why didn’t I? In his heart, he knew why. I’m a soldier. I follow my leader. I obey orders. But I should have gone back.

“If you don’t let go of that glass, it’s going to shatter.”

The quiet voice broke through his reverie. Caje looked over his shoulder to find Saunders there, and released the glass, which wobbled uncertainly until he steadied it. “Sarge.” The Cajun turned back to face the bar, body rigid, face set.

“Still angry?”

“What do you think?” The scout hissed at him, avoiding looking at the man who led his unit, the man he thought of as a friend, or as much of one as he’d let himself have, after Theo.

“I think you’re still angry.” There was a tiny bit of wry humor in Saunders’ voice, but it faded completely with his next words. “How many times have I told you that you can’t carry this stuff around with you? Haven’t you learned yet?”

“I obeyed the order. I’m here.” He slammed the wine back and nearly choked.

“We couldn’t have gotten him out of there. I’m no doctor –“

“No, you aren’t.  And now, neither is he!” His voice rose to a shout, and he stopped suddenly as he realized he was attracting attention, and not in a good way.

Saunders pressed on, disregarding Caje’s anger. “One, he wouldn’t have made it, not at the pace we had to travel. And two, the Germans had moved around us.  Even if he’d had a chance, sending someone back would have been suicide.”

“I could have made it. I’d have found a way. Maudit, Sarge! It was Doc! He wasn’t like us, he wasn’t…” Caje’s voice trailed off, pain evident. He thought of the gentle medic. Of all the people to leave alone, dying –

“We pull out of here tomorrow. Should I tell Hanley you’re staying behind? You want a transfer?”

For a long moment, the scout focused hard on the empty glass. To have to start over again. Leave the others behind, maybe never knowing what happened to them. Slowly, he began shaking his head. “No. No, I’ll be ready.”

“Good.” Saunders knew better than to push the Cajun scout. He waved off the waitress and turned to leave. “You’re on watch tonight.”

“I’ll be there.”

The non-com exited into the twilight while Caje glanced at his watch and then signaled for another glass of wine.

I Shall Be Waiting – #FridayFlash – 3/30/2012

[A/N:  Hope fanfic isn’t against the spirit of Friday Flash. 🙂
I’m a  big fan of an old TV show called “Combat”.  This is my take on how the LeMay family learns
about Caje being attacked and injured in the Combat! episode “The Leader”,
written from his sister Hélène’s viewpoint. I have never quite been able to believe that someone hurt as
badly as Caje was was suddenly “okay”, as Kirby is told at the end of the episode.
Just my opinion. The story has its roots In “Love Doesn’t Hide”, when Nonc Pierre tells
Paul that he has only seen Denis cry twice in his life, and once was when they
found out Paul had been stabbed.  This is what happened. <> = French]

I watch my father and husband dig up the front lawn of the house I grew up in.  For years, Papa complained about how sparsely the grass grew there. This year, finally, it grew in the way he always wanted, and now they’re tearing it up, Papa and Armand, to put in a Victory Garden.

The two of them stop, Papa pushing back his hat and wiping his forehead with a handkerchief.  Not a bandanna, not for Denis LeMay, the way that Nonc Pierre or Papère would, or even my brother Paul, if he was here.  I wish he was.

Maman comes to watch over my shoulder. “It’s too hot”, she says in French, almost to herself.  For a moment, I think she is going to go to the front door and get them to come in, but we see Nonc Pierre and Papère enter through the front gate, and both of us freeze.

The conflict between Papa and Nonc Pierre is very simple. Here you have two strong-minded, stubborn men who both love my brother very much and can’t agree on a single thing about him. For Papa, it is a matter of respect, the respect he doesn’t think he gets from Paulie, especially when it comes to the choices Papa has made for his son’s life. For Nonc Pierre, it is that he thinks Paulie should be independent, to choose his own path.  The latest battle in this family dispute is over Paulie and his best friend Theo going off together to fight in the war against the Nazis.

There’s no question where Nonc Pierre stands; when Martin Gautreaux came home paralyzed and in a wheelchair, he and Marcel Dubois showed up at the Gautreaux house with a load of timber and built a new room for Martin, widening the doors in the house to make it easier for Martin to get around.  Of course, they refused to accept any payment from Martin or his family.  They won’t talk about it, but Maman says that she thinks neither of them can forget the things they saw when they served in World War I. When I wrote Paulie about it, his next letter said that helping Martin probably laid some ghosts for both of them.  I guess he’d understand that better than I can.

It’s not as though Papa objects to the war as such.  Lots of our boys have left to fight and he’s gone with his friends to see their sons off. I know, too, that he has bought Victory Bonds and slipped money to young families whose fathers will never come home again.  He’d give all the money he has; he just doesn’t want to give his son.  Now that I have a son of my own, I have a little more sympathy for his viewpoint – or I would, if he didn’t want to control Paulie.

Sadly, Papa has more ammunition for his fears and for his position in this fight.  Theo Dubois died in action the first day of the invasion, D-Day as they call it. I can’t imagine how Paulie survived that.  He and Theo were like brothers – closer, in fact, if you look at my father and his brother.  I can’t remember Paulie and Theo ever squabbling, or at least not for long.

Since then, Paulie has been wounded a number of times, once seriously, when he and his squad were fighting alongside the British.  At least that’s what the letter from his lieutenant explained. We just found out that he has been wounded again, but we’ve received nothing more as of yet. Papa has grown querulous and easily irritated and we all dread the mail or the sound of footsteps and bicycle bells.

I miss my brother a lot.  He’d have wanted to be the first one to hold my and Armand’s son Philippe. He loves kids, and I hope he gets home to get married and have his own.

When we were kids, Paulie was my defender. He stood up for me when I wanted to do things and Papa put his foot down – he was the only person who could talk Papa around, oddly enough — and no one dared insult me or treat me badly when he was there. He was always my parfait gentil knight.  Of course, he’d laugh so hard if he knew what I was thinking.  Hélène, he’d say, you’ve been reading too many romances. I’m just an ordinary guy – don’t get carried away. And then he’d give me a big hug and go get us both some ice cream or one of Maman’s desserts and we’d sit on the side porch and just talk and laugh.

Papa is ignoring Nonc Pierre. I can tell from Nonc Pierre’s irritated expression and Papère’s resigned look.  Armand doesn’t look too happy either.  Here he comes.  I guess he has decided that to retreat was the better part of valor.  I don’t blame him for that.  Papère has given up aussi; he stops and gives his sons one last look before coming in.

Maman sighs and pours Armand and Papère glasses of lemonade. < Hélène, are they coming in too? >

< Non, Maman … > I pause, watching them.  For a moment, it looks as though they are arguing. Then Nonc Pierre puts his hand on Papa’s shoulder. Papa says something back and then they begin digging up the lawn together.

< Actually, unless they agreed to dig each other’s graves, Maman >, I say, smiling, < it looks as though they’ve made up for now.  Again. >

< Bon. > Papère shook his head. < Before God, I don’t know why they need to fight all t’e time.  When I t’ink how close they used to be …>

Then I see the mailman and something about my stillness catches my husband’s attention.

<What is it, ma chère? > Armand joins me at the window.

< Just M’sieu’ Terrebonne with t’e mail. >

Maman puts her glass down decisively and starts for the door. < Maybe t’ey finally sent us somet’ing about Paulie. >

I reach out and stop her. <Wait, Maman. Papa has it and he and Nonc Pierre are coming in.>

They enter the kitchen, Papa carrying a single envelop, Nonc Pierre behind him with the rest of the post, which he lays on the little table by the sofa.

< Denis, is it –? >

He holds the letter up so we can all see the handwriting. Now, I realize I don’t want to know what it says, and no one else seems to want to either. Finally, Papa rips it open convulsively and takes the enclosure out.

My heart stops as he reads, and suddenly, horribly, he begins to weep.

< Denis? > Maman reaches for him, and the letter falls to the ground. He clings to her and she helps him to the living room, where they sit together, rocking back and forth. < Ah, Denis, what is it? >

I am afraid to pick up the letter, afraid of what it might say, but I do.  Oh, Paulie .. oh, no.

“Dear Mr. LeMay:

I am sorry to have to write you again about your son.

I know this will be difficult for you to read. We were engaged in holding off the enemy and Private LeMay was set to keep watch.  He was attacked by a German patrol and was stabbed in the abdomen. Although we have told his squad mates that he will be all right, the truth is that he is gravely ill and has had to undergo surgery.

He is presently in England being treated and as soon as I have any further details, I will make sure you are informed as soon as it is possible to do so.

Please know that our thoughts and prayers are with you, your family and your son, who is a valued member of my unit.

Sincerely,

Lieutenant Gilbert Hanley

Second Platoon, 361st Infantry, King Company”

Armand holds me and tries to comfort me.  Then Nonc Pierre takes the letter from me and he and Papère read it together.

Papère staggers and Nonc Pierre catches him blindly. There is shock on his face and guilt.  Nonc Pierre, it’s not your fault!  He helps his father to a chair and then sits down himself, off-balance and with a lack of grace that is very unlike him. Maman reaches for the letter and he gives it to her reluctantly. She reads it, turning white with shock, and Papa holds her, as she, too, cries.

After some moments of general silence, punctuated only by our tears, I am shocked to hear a growl. It is Papa.

He stands unsteadily, glaring at Nonc Pierre in absolute fury.  He grabs my unresisting uncle by the shirt and hauls him out of his chair. ”Fils de putain!  Jamais, jamais je ne veux à nouveau vous vous voyez dans ma maison.” Never do I want you in my house again!

We all protest, but he pays us no mind. He pushes his brother to the front door and then pulls his arm back to slug him.  Papère and Armand look at one another, rise as one and try to pull them apart, Andre holding Papa, and Armand supporting Nonc Pierre. All four of them jump when I shout, unable to stand it any more.

Arretez! Papa! Stop it!” I was still crying, but now as much for the never-ending anger between these two men I love so as for my brother. ”Do you think Paul would want the two of you to fight like this?” I turned to my father. ”Papa, Paulie always tried to do what you wanted him to, but he wrote me many times when he was away and said he wanted a part in the war.  Nonc Pierre may have told him stories when he was a boy, but Paulie made up his own mind. You know that, if you are honest.”

Papa lets go of Nonc Pierre and nearly collapses against me. ”I want mon fils home,” he says, emphatically, through his tears. “I want your brot’er safe. Paul! Paul …”

Maman rises slowly. For a moment, she looks confused, like a sleeper awakened from a deep dream. She meets my eyes and I know what she is thinking because it is what is in my mind as well.  This can’t be true. This can’t have happened. She comes and puts her arms around both Papa and me, and then I feel Armand beside me, and Papère.  Only Nonc Pierre stands apart from us. He watches for a moment and then walks slowly through the kitchen, opens the door and steps out onto the side porch.

I pull away and follow him outside. ”Don’t you dare leave, nonc-nonc.” We both called him that, Paulie and me, when we were just p’tits.

He stands and looks at me for the longest time, and gradually his hazel eyes, so like my brother’s, fill with tears. One trickles down his cheek. He swallows hard, face set, trying not to lose control. I stand there with my arms open wide, and he walks to me and hugs me, and then this strong, proud Cajun man cries like a child for my brother, for the nephew he loves like a son.

Much later, after the others leave, and Armand and I take Philippe and go home, I sit on our side porch and think. If I could have been by Paulie’s side, if I could be there now, I would tell him how much I love him and how proud I am of him.  And then I would find a way to bring him home so that he didn’t have to be hurt any more, so that none of us have to be afraid that the day will bring a knock on the door and an Army chaplain with a mouth full of condolences.

I listen to the record Armand put on the player and pray for my brother. Je t’aime, mon frère. Wherever you are, Paulie, je t’aime. Come home well, cher. Come home soon.  I shall be waiting.

.– 30 –

The title comes from a WWII song by Vera Lynn.  You can find the lyrics here: http://www.lyricsdownload.com/vera-lynn-i-shall-be-waiting-lyrics.html

In Flanders Field… (Part II)

(This was going to be my FridayFlash this week, but it got too long.

BTW, you might want to read the first part of the story:  https://demonesprit.wordpress.com/2011/03/17/in-flanders-field-part-i/ so you know what’s going on.)

The next morning, just before dawn, Pierre assembled his sergeants and advised them of the new orders. “Artillery will commence at 2230 hours tonight, softening up the German position.”The four men in front of him exchanged glances. Each thought some variation of: hope they get the range right, or they’ll be ‘softening’ us up.

“I can’t decide if the generals don’t know what they’re sending us into, or just don’t care.” This came from Sergeant Amboy of First Squad.

The lieutenant looked Amboy in the eye.  “Does it really matter which? We have our orders, and unless you’re planning a mutiny, we’re going to go over the top in the morning. 0600 hours.”

“I think we’d have a tough time marooning you, Lieutenant, since we don’t have a dinghy,” Sergeant Marsden grinned.  He was a tall, rangy man who’d been an instructor at Bowdoin College. “Although we’ve got plenty of water to float one in.” Marsden lifted his legs, encased in trench waders, one at a time out of the muck around him.

Marcel grinned at Pierre. “Maybe we should send home for a pirogue?”

Pierre cast an amused glance at his friend. “Platoon Sergeant Jeffries, are we set for ammunition?”

Jeffries grunted.  Because Pershing had issued orders early on keeping the new volunteers and draftees separate from the Regular Army units, he was the only RA man serving under Pierre. “Ammunition has been distributed.”

Pierre shot Jeffries a hard look.  “Will the men have enough to eat tonight?”

“Yes, sir.”

Amboy spoke up.  “My men are ready to go, sir. Just give the word.”

Marcel saw the look between Pierre and Jeffries, and his heart sank. We’re going to lose men today, and Pierrot’s going to hurt for each and every one of t’em. Le Bon Dieu, aidez-nous.

* * *

Pierre’s men considered him a “good officer”, one who didn’t demand an officer’s privileges, who did all he could to keep soldiers alive, and didn’t insist that everything be ‘by the book’ when it wasn’t necessary.

A trench rat trotted across Pierre’s path and he stood back and let it go.  The men had divided into two camps concerning their constant companions; one group killed any rat it found and the others had adopted some for pets. Marcel said he spent more time keeping the two factions apart than almost any other duty.

Les ratons! Can you imagine, cher?”

“If it wasn’t t’at, Marcel, it’d be somet’ing else. It’s tedious duty, sitting in a trench waiting for artillery – ours or theirs — or to charge into almost certain death. They’re going to blow off steam somehow.”

“Hmph.  Rats!”

Pierre himself had been ‘adopted’ by a rat he’d made the mistake of feeding one day. The men were amused by how it followed him, trotting alongside him on the trench wall, and occasionally climbing on his shoulder. The cry “Look sharp, there! The Lieutenant’s rat is reviewing the troops!” would go up as it skittered around the trench — eventually shortened to “The Rat”. Pierre tolerated the good-natured ribbing as long as it didn’t interfere with discipline, and even grew to miss the animal on the days when it found other places to be.

He stored his orders and maps, and sat with a sigh.  There was the sound of tiny skittering feet and The Rat appeared, scuttled onto his shoulder and settled in. Fishing for a small piece of food he’d saved from his meal, he scratched his companion on the head and proffered the morsel. The Rat sniffed it and took it gingerly. It swallowed quickly and looked hopefully at Pierre. “Sorry, mon ami, but I’m afraid t’at’s all I got.” In return, his small companion snuffled at his ear, apparently accepting his apology.

The lieutenant stared at the dugout in the trench wall ahead of him. The French had taught them to carve these holes for protection during artillery attacks.  They are no help in the event of a direct hit, of course, the French officer who was their instructor said, but they are better than nothing when it comes to shelter from shrapnel. The sergeants set their men to creating them, carefully choosing locations so as not to bring the whole trench down. Marcel muttered about how his maman hadn’t raised him to dig holes in the ground, but they had been glad to have them when German artillery had struck. Shrapnel had rained around them, but there had been no deaths, or even wounded.  The grumbling stopped after that.

Pierre retrieved his pocket watch and peered at it by starlight.  Artillery should commence in 15 minutes. I should go out and review the men.

He stood carefully and The Rat stayed put, then eased around the back of his neck and rode on his left shoulder. Pierre raised an eyebrow and gave his tiny companion a sideways smile.  Maybe I should make him a little uniform. How on earth does he know I need my right arm to salute?

He splashed down the trench and the men stood and saluted as he went by.­­­­ He returned the salutes and carefully watched for signs of illness, hunger or poor morale.  He knew he had to rely on his sergeants to keep an eye on the men, but he liked to be aware of things himself. Sometimes I wish I could have stayed a sergeant.

As he passed a group of soldiers, one turned and grinned at him. Saluting, the boy said, “Good evening, Lieutenant.”

Pierre mentally ran down the list of names. Mayor, no – Myers. “Good evening, Myers.”

Myers nudged the man next to him. “Look here, Butler. The lieutenant brought one of the upper echelons to see us.” A chuckle ran along the line and even Marcel laughed.

Without warning, a shell burst overhead and everyone cringed.

Merde. They’re early. “In the dugouts,” Pierre shouted.

Myers stood stock still, an expression of shock on his face.

What t’e hell? “Myers, move!”

“Yes, sir!” The soldier gathered himself and scampered into the dugout behind him. He crouched down, stared beyond Pierre and then directly at the Lieutenant. “Guess that shell fragment was meant for someone, sir.” He spoke awkwardly. “Glad it wasn’t you, sir.”

Pierre  turned slowly, almost afraid to look. The Rat was pinned to the opposite wall of the trench, pierced by the shrapnel that had narrowly missed the lieutenant – that he hadn’t even been aware of. It looked at him almost pleadingly, shook the blood off its whiskers and died.

(To be continued)

And Then There Were Four …

DocB sat on the side of the hill. Whew! That was one long November. I wasn’t even sure I was going to have time for this and look at me now. The brightly colored banner that said “Winner” with this year on it flew on the staff over her head. She turned as she heard footsteps.

Thompson Girl came over the ridge. She stabbed her flag-post into the ground beside Doc’s and sat down next to her. She was a veteran and knew how to pace herself. Still, she knew as well as anyone that it was awfully easy to get caught by real life on the way up the hill. She’d seen discarded novels and ideas along the way, and passed many a dispirited writer who’d started out with high hopes only to give up in discouragement.

“Have you seen WQ or TEC?” Doc asked.

“WQ was pretty close behind me,” TG responded, pausing for a drink of water from the canteen on her hip. “TEC’s farther back, but she declares she’ll be done tonight.”

“Good.” They enjoyed the rarefied air on the top of the hill and let the breeze cool them off.

A rattle of small pebbles announced WQ. She pushed her flagpole into the loose earth, stopped to pull a shoe off and dumped dust and gravel from it. “Boy, I didn’t think I’d make it, a couple of times, but here I am.”

The other two applauded her.

“I love doing Nano, but I’ll be glad to get back to real life.”

TG smiled. “I know what you mean.”

They waited for the last Nano squaddie, as the light began to die. “Well, there is tomorrow,” Doc shrugged. “She said she had to kill off a character she liked. That can make it harder.”

“Not as hard as I thought,” grinned TEC4. She brushed the dirt off her jeans, leaned on her staff and stretched to loosen her calf muscles. “Those last few words, boy, they were tough. Although I figure I’ll wind up dumping a lot of in rewrite.”

The other three groaned in sympathy. Each of them mentally reviewed her WIP and knew they were on the same route.

“So we’re done for now. What next?” WQ inquired.

“I think we need a story challenge. Anyone bring one with them?”

“Nope.” “Uh-uh.” “Not me.”

“Well, we’ll come up with something. The guys are getting soft. We need to get ’em on and off and out on patrol. Or something.”

They all stood, took their hard-earned staffs and headed back down the track. Down was a lot easier than coming up, and there were lights and letters and companionship to be had. They’d always remember November 2010.