The Hell Bitch
#BlockChallenge Day 11/30
“It is so cold.” That is all the boy could think, all he could remember. He wasn’t wearing shoes and his feet were blue and bleeding. “I am so cold,” he mouthed, his chapped lips barely moving. He closed his eyes and remembered his family was dead, his home burned to nothing. If he allowed himself to remember, he’d smell the smoke on what’s left of his tattered clothes and how the blood on his hands wasn’t his. His mother had covered his body with hers, whispering to him that he shouldn’t move, shouldn’t talk, shouldn’t breathe. He would have stayed there forever, warm under her body, but the voices were getting closer and her body was cooling. He crawled out from under her and looked in her eyes. Even at seven, he recognized the absence of life. He ran from the body that wasn’t his mother just as the man in the uniform set the house ablaze.
The soldier was partially covered with snow when the boy tripped over him. Under the light of the stars, the boy looked at the man. He was amazed to see that the soldier didn’t look all that much older than him. His eyes were blue after the boy brushed the snow from his face. The boy struggled to get the soldier’s coat off and slipped it over his small shoulders. It fell past his knees but it was warm. He thought of his brother. He unlaced the man’s shoes and slipped his feet in and shuffled onward. Ahead, he could see the distant blaze of a fire and had but the single thought of sleeping next to it.
The Americans sat around the fire, celebrating as only the war weary do — with flasks and memories of home.
“I’m going to marry her,” said the dark-haired boy.
“Not if someone else has already made her his squaw.” The second man put his flask to his face and over the light of the flames, his comrades caught his wink.
“You never made love until you’ve had a Lakota Sioux woman under you.” The dark-haired boy touched his lips to the wrinkled photograph and placed it back in his breast pocket, over his heart. “They get under your skin, man. In your blood.”
One man sat apart from the others. He was older, his hair graying and his blue eyes faded to a pale grey/blue. A large black dog rested her head on his lap and whined softly. He reached in his pocket and handed her some dried meat.
“I swear you’re the only person that hell bitch even likes.” One of the men called from across the blaze.
The older man smiled with his eyes and scratched the dog behind her ears. “It’s because I know how to treat a lady.”
“Haven’t you been divorced three times?” The voice came from the shadows, but even the older man had to laugh with the rest of the boys.
“I guess it’s only a real bitch that can put up with my shit.”
The dog stood suddenly, the black fur rising on her back and a low growl in her throat.
“Looks like you pissed her off.” The men held their stomachs as they laughed. In their laughter, was a fear that had no name. The older man shrugged and grinned, his teeth flashing in the light of the fire. The dog slipped off into the night.
“Naegling!” The man called.
“What the hell kind of name is that?” The dark-haired boy laughed. “It’s not even English.”
“You uneducated injun boy. Don’t they teach you fine literature on that rez you’re so proud of?”
One of the quieter boys spoke up. He was a literature teacher from Kansas and a surer shot than any of the other men. “It’s from Beowolf.” He smiled. “It’s the name of the sword he uses to kill the dragon.”
“You should have left that damn dog in the city.” The older man recognized this voice. It was Butch, a farmer from Alabama with a temper and thirst for blood that made him dangerous in war. He was itching for a fight. Setting fire to the homestead hadn’t scratched that itch.
The older man’s voice was soft but hard. “That bitch has killed more Germans than you.”
The men laughed, uneasy, and settled in for the night. Naegling still hadn’t returned, but the men weren’t worried. They closed their eyes and dreamed. The dark-haired boy dreamed of making love to his woman. Butch dreamed of blood and fire. The literature teacher dreamed of Hamlet and the night was broken by his soft recitation of a conversation between Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The older man dreamed of his children. One boy, two girls.
The men stirred and began making do with what they had for breakfast and coffee.
“Hey!” the dark-haired boy shouted. “Looks like Naegling found something!”
The men looked up and could see the dog dragging something toward the camp. Butch and two others ran out to meet her.
“It’s a fucking German!” Butch’s voice was high and excited.
The older man grabbed his gun and took off running.
Naegling stood over the German soldier. Her hackles raised, her teeth showing. Every time Butch took a step closer, her growl grew louder.
“Step back.” The older man put his hand on Butch’s shoulder. Butch shook it off, his knife clenched in his fist.
“I said step back.”
“You think this bitch has killed more Germans than me? I’ll show you. I’ll skin this punk like a deer.” He stepped forward again. Naegling growled and stood between him and the solider.
“You best not, boy.”
“That damn dog better move or I’ll kill her too. She’s protecting him. Blasted traitor!”
Butch lunged but the older man was quicker; he grabbed him by his shirt. “I told you to step back. You touch my dog and I’ll kill you where you stand. Do you hear me?”
Butch’s face was red, his eyes tiny slits in his round face.
“I asked you if you heard me. When I ask you a question, you answer.”
“Yes sir, I heard you.” Butch spat on the ground and threw his knife down. He strode off, his back rigid and his fists clenching at his sides.
The older man turned back to Naegling, who was licking the soldier’s face. He leaned down for a closer look.
“I’ll be damned. It’s just a kid.”
The boy was stammering something in German. The older man called the literature teacher to his side. “How’s your German?”
The teacher bent down by the boy; Naegling was still growling at anyone who approached him.
He spoke to the boy with halted words and guttural sounds. The boy grabbed his hands and his words fell out of his mouth like snow from the sky.
“He says his house was burned. His family killed. He found the uniform and put it on because he was cold.”
The older man closed his eyes and watched the boy’s home go up in flames again. “God help us.”
“He says an angel in the form of dog came and kept him warm last night.”
The boy sat up and wrapped his arms around Naegling, burying his face in her fur.
The older man looked in Naegling’s eyes and she whined. He untangled the boy’s hands from her fur and picked him up. Naegling trotted close to his side the entire way back to the campsite. He placed the boy by the fire and wrapped him in blankets. Naegling lay at his side and dared anyone to come near the child.
Butch glared at the boy, his gun across his knees. “I say we kill him.”
“He’s a boy.” The literature teacher shook his head in disgust. “You want to kill a child? Would that make you feel like a man?”
“He’s a German. They are the enemy, right? Our job is to kill the enemy.”
“He’s a child. I didn’t sign up to kill no kid.” The dark-haired soldier shook his head. “I ain’t doing it. I ain’t having no part of killing no kid.” He backed away. One by one, all of the other soldiers, minus Butch, stood with him.
“I saw an orphanage in the city. We’ll take him there.”
“I’m not traveling with no German.” Butch raised his gun and pointed it at the huddled form of the boy.
Naegling showed her teeth. “You pull that trigger and I swear I’ll let her rip your throat out.”
The men walked all day, taking turns carrying the boy. Butch walked at the front of the line, where the older man could keep his eye on him.
It was dark when they reached the city. The older man and Naegling walked up to the orphanage and rapped on the door. The woman who answered the door looked at the American and quickly told him they had no room for his wounded.
“It’s a boy. His family is dead.”
The woman looked at him, looked him in the eyes, and he had to look away.
“Is he hurt?” she asked.
She took the boy from his arms. The boy woke up as the man turned to leave. He called out to the dog. Naegling ran to him. He wriggled out of the woman’s arms and threw his arms around the dog. The older man didn’t know much German, but he knew the words for “thank you.”
He whistled and Naegling ran to his side. He touched her briefly on the head and the two walked back to the rest of the soldiers together.
When they reached the camp, he dropped to his knees, buried his face in the dog’s fur and wept.
Tommi Elizabeth is a practicing attorney who lives in North Carolina with her husband, four dogs, and two cats. She firmly believes that there are no problems that cannot be solved with a cup of coffee and a puppy. Her first novel, Fire & Ice: The Return, is available on Amazon and she is currently working on a collection of creative non-fiction essays and a dog show murder mystery.