Jerry was everywhere.
Jerry was out hiding in the forest, just across a snowy open area. Jerry was presumably marching and rolling up the winding road as reinforcements. Jerry was even here, in a freshly dug hole, not two feet from the tip of Don’s nose.
But that’s a confusing description. Jerry (enemy) was out there. Jerry (ally) was here.
“Hey, quit staring,” Jerry (ally) said quietly. “You’re making me nervous.”
Don averted his gaze. “Sorry. I was just thinking that we should get you a nickname. It’s too confusing.”
“Confusing? You think that when we get the order to shoot Jerry, some yap’s going to turn and level at me? Get real.” He waved a hand dismissively.
“I don’t know. I was just thinking.”
“You want to think? Then keep it light. Here, check this one out.” Jerry (ally) turned to Don and put on a comical face. “Bastogne? More like Bastard!”
Don only rolled his eyes.
“Well, you know. That kind of thing. Belgium sucks, anyway.” Jerry (ally) turned back to the line. “Besides, ‘Jerry’ already is a nickname. My real name’s Jason. I wanted people to call me Jay or something like that, but I let it slip that I know a little German, and ‘Jerry’ stuck.”
“You speak Kraut?” Don asked.
“Yeah, I grew up in Pennsylvania,” Jerry (ally) said. “Not all Germans are Nazis, you know. They’re old-school religious; mostly Amish and Mennonite. They make good desserts, though. Hell, they’re even the ones who brought us the pretzel.”
Don squinted. “I thought those were Dutch.”
Jerry (ally) shrugged. “That’s a common misconception.”
Neither spoke again for a long while.
A thin layer of snow blanketed the land and trees for as far as the eye could see. The open area between the two dug-in armies was itself covered with knocked down trees, and the ground was tossed up and torn.
It was like the return of the no-man’s land from the Great War. But the widespread integration of tanks into mechanized infantry meant that it wouldn’t last. Nothing but a tank would find sure footing out there.
Don and Jerry (ally) periodically exchanged a few more mumbled words of idle chatter, as did the soldiers in all the other holes. A few were gathered around a tiny, tiny fire. Presumably Jerry (enemy) was doing the same in Krautspeak over on the other side of the line.
Jerry (ally)’s eyes suddenly widened, and he grabbed Don’s shoulder with a firm grip. “Get down!” he shouted.
With a sound that would stop the heart of any soldier, an artillery shell rushed through the air. It slammed into the ground not far from Don and Jerry (ally). The explosion brought with it bright flashes like standing next to a lightning bolt. And a sound like the voice of of an angry god.
“Cover! Find cover!” a soldier yelled from somewhere.
“Medic!” another cried in pain.
There was further shouting, but neither Don nor Jerry (ally) could process the words among the explosions of more shells. They both dashed around, desperately seeking cover.
A shell whizzed in near the two soldiers, and they dove to the ground, each trying to cover the other with his body. The shell slammed into the ground… but no explosion.
“Dud?” Don asked.
“Dunno,” Jerry (ally) replied.
A few more seconds passed.
“Dud.” Don said.
“Definitely,” Jerry (ally) replied.
Neither man moved. Their eyes were still clenched shut.
Don tried to slow his heart rate. “I think I’ve got the shell shock,” he said between panicked breaths.
“You’ve got to get moving,” Jerry (ally) said. “Or Jerry’s going to get you.”
“The other Jerry!”
“Help me out here, not-other-Jerry,” Don begged.
Jerry (ally) made a frustrated sound. “Geez, I mean… C’mon, we’ve been through worse. Remember when that grenade landed in front of us? You just kicked it into the sump. We were deaf for a day, but we’re still alive.”
“Yeah, but grenades aren’t so scary,” Don said. “They remind me of fruit. After all, the word grenade comes from the Middle French word grenade, which means ‘pomegranate.’ It’s because the explosive charges inside resemble the seeds that spill out of a pomegranate. Also, they were somewhat similarly shaped. Of course, now we call frag grenades ‘pineapples’ for the same reason. More fruit!”
Jerry (ally) scoffed. “Yeah, I think you’re OK now.”
“I think so, too,” Don said.
The two men opened their eyes. The snow was now thick enough that everything was uniformly white. But the trees were entirely gone. And it was eerily quiet.
“What the hell happened?!” Don shouted. “Did the whole battle happen without us?”
Jerry (ally) didn’t respond.
“Hey!” Don continued. “Do you see this?”
“Do you see this?” Jerry (ally) asked. He held up a handful of… something. Not snow. “It’s fluffy. Like cloud.”
Don stared at the cloudstuff for a moment, then surveyed the landscape. It was flat all the way to the horizon. As he turned, he noticed a giant gate far off to his left. It was bright white, and iridescent. Almost as though it was made of pearl.
“Huh.” Don pulled off his helmet and wiped his face with a sleeve. “Guess it wasn’t a dud.”