The earth beneath his feet shook violently.
Chunks of frozen soil rained down, bouncing off the metal of his helmet.
Clutching his M1 Garand, Earl was rooted behind the shield of a Sherman tank.
Why the hell am I here?
Oh yeah. The war. I don’t care about this stupid war.
I just want to be home, with my wife. Safe.
Another explosion ripped through air, causing him to shudder.
Earl saw Sanchez’s face exaggerated by fear, his mouth opening and closing. It dawned on Earl that Sanchez was yelling at him. That fact did not even faze him. He did not care. He just wanted to be anywhere else other then here, in this impossibly frozen forest with death raining down on him.
“We have to get out of here!” His brain finally processed what Sanchez was screaming.
“Where the fuck are we going to go?” Earl yelled back. His words laced with panic and desperation. Somehow he knew that Sanchez was about to be the last person he would see on this earth. His heart sagged at this simple truth.
Never again would he see the most beautiful sight on earth. The woman who had agreed to marry him. Spend the rest of her life with him, even though he had nothing to offer other than his love.
Chunks of mud and root peppered the pair of them and the tank acting as their protector.
Earl’s mind took him from this place of assured annihilation to the exact opposite of locations, the memory of the day at the park where he proposed to his beloved.
It was the same exceptional spring day. He took a deep breath, filling his lungs as the sun warmed his skin. The songs of birds lightened his heart. He opened his eyes and saw her.
She was perfect. Not a flaw could he find in her, in fact, he’d stopped looking. Her alabaster skin glowed in the sunlight, surrounding her in a halo, confirming that she was indeed ethereal.
Taking her hand, pressing his lips onto her fingers, he inhaled her scent. She smelled like the lilacs that lined the walk just out the front door of her parent’s home. More than once, he’d seen her fingers dance through the blooms as she left the house.
God she was beautiful.
She moved with such ease and grace, illustrating the truth that nothing troubled her. All her needs were met. She simply enjoyed the world around her.
From the moment they met, the contentment she radiated had infected him. With their first touch he knew she was the one that he needed to escort him through life.
A perfect white butterfly flitted around the chestnut curls resting on her shoulders. Smiling, Earl guessed it was attracted by the yellow dress adorned with tiny flowers. Maybe it was simply attracted to her. Hell, who could blame it.
Gazing deep into her hazel eyes, his hand delved into his pocket. His fingers brushing the velvet covering of the ring box as they closed around it. Indecision rose in his mind. Not being a man of means the ring was puny. Wanting to give her the world, he hoped that one day he could. He hoped that from humble beginnings great things would grow.
There should have been no doubt in his mind that she loved him. They had professed their love to one another on many occasions during the past six months, but still he worried. Way deep down inside, afraid his meager offering would be met with rejection.
The next few moments could shatter him. Steeling his resolve, he took the box from his pocket moving to open it. Watching as her eyes caught sight of the box. Her gaze growing large, the hint of a smile shaping her lips giving hope, springing from the seed that had been labeled doubt.
Time slowed. Taking a calming breath, the box clicked open, summoning all his courage he said the bravest words he’d ever utter, “Will you marry me?”
In response she threw herself at him. As her arms wrapped around his neck, a high pitched whine pierced his precious fantasy.
Violently, he was ripped from memory back to his current reality.
What the hell? Lying on the ground he looked to where Sanchez should have been. Earl tried to yell for his buddy but no sound came out, all he could hear was ringing.
Slowly becoming aware of muffled noises, Earl realized he was exposed. He’d been behind the shelter of the Sherman, but somehow he was now on his butt out in the open. Instinctively his body rolled to the nearest cover.
It was then that Earl realized the tank had blown up. All that remained was a burning hulk. Again he tried to scream for Sanchez. This time he heard his voice but it sounded far away.
Panic flooded into his soul.
His gaze hurtled around him.
Bits of metal.
The pair of boots lay near him. Feeling his heart sink, Earl’s arm began to shake. Slamming his eyes shut, he hoped he would be taken away again. Back to her. Back to that day. Back to any day. He needed to hear her laugh, the sound of her voice as she told him she loved him and always would.
All that came was the clank of the tracks of enemy tanks. Hanging his head, he allowed his eyes to open, resolving that his brain could not take him away from this.
The ground thrummed with the force of the armored giants encroaching on him. Snippets of German phrases traveled to him. His demise was imminent.
Before he knew it, he was running. His body had taken over, carrying him away from the danger. Not daring to look behind him he focused on a gap in the trees, pushing his legs harder than ever before.
A distant crack in the air was followed by a sharp burning lance of pain in his hip. His legs spinning out of control, he fell to the ground.
The enemy was over him before he could get up. Screaming at him, “Halt! Nein! Halt!”
Earl’s arm reached behind to his pocket, wanting to see his beloved one last time. He tried to get a hold of her picture.
The screams around him became more panicked.
“Don’t shoot,” he screamed back. Tears stinging his cheeks. “I just want to see her one last time.”
He had the picture. Time slowed. The rifle barrel moved as it was pulled tight to the shoulder. Spittle flew from the soldier’s mouth, but the only sound was the retort of the firing pin striking the bullet casing.
Earl felt Death’s fingers tugging at his soul. He held the picture before him his gaze blurring her image. Then all went black…
Sitting upright, Earl screamed. Breathing heavily, he looked around. He was home. Quickly he looked to his right. There was his angel.
She pulled him into her arms. In a sleepy voice, she said, “You’re safe Earl. It is just another nightmare. I’m right here, and you’re here. This is real.”
Earl felt her warmth, her love. He sobbed gently. Just another nightmare.