Rabbit flicks a fingernail clipping away and exhales. His breath escapes up
into the clear blue winter sky and he watches it go, longingly. I watch it
too as it curls its way past navy blue leaves and into the bleakness of the
winter sky. Then we lower our eyes and stare at each other, both smirking
It’s cold, but then again I can’t remember a recent night when I
haven’t been cold. It’s Bastogne, December of ’44, and Rabbit
McDonnell and I are sitting out on outpost duty, freezing our asses off in the
middle of a snow bank. We just went on duty and it’s getting dark, the
worst time to be on O.P. on account of the fact you can’t see your own
hand in front of your face, let alone enemy infiltrators. Gets pretty nerve wracking
after a few hours. Besides, it gets dark real fast here, and there’s nothing
much to do but sit and freeze and wish you were dead.
We huddle together for warmth and cross our arms. We’re not really too
watchful tonight. Activity’s been pretty minimal. A couple of shells hit
the 3rd battalion this morning, but overall the trees have been as quiet as a
I wince as the analogy rolls around in my head. Quiet as a tomb. It’s funny
how you start thinking after a few days of literally freezing your appendages
off in the woods.
Rabbit's teeth are chattering. “What’re you thinkin’ about?”
“Quit lying you shit head. C’mon, what’re you thinkin’ about?”
I sigh. “Turkey. And mashed potatoes.”
A soft moan escapes his lips. “Pie. And beer, real beer."
"Best goddamned combination in the world.”
I thwack him on the chest. He giggles. “C’mon, lemme see it again.”
“C’mon, just one peek to get the heart beatin’ again. It's
freezing as hell out here.”
“Fine, but you can’t touch it.” I reach into my pocket and
draw out the picture of her in her bikini at the beach. She’s playing in
the waves and her hair is long and wavy and sets off the glow of her skin like
sunlight against snow. He moans again.
“If you ain’t the luckiest sonofabitch…” He wriggles
his nose as he settles down to think. That’s how he got the nickname Rabbit.
It’s like a tick he’s never grown out of. Finally he rolls over.
We’re sitting against a tree, huddled together to beat the chill, and his
breath smells like cold coffee and his three day old stubble is scratching the
side of my face. His voice, only a whisper, still betrays his trademark raspiness
and his eyes are blue and thoughtful. “You wanna know what I’m thinking
“No,” I reply sharply and quickly, and it’s the truth. He wasn’t
nicknamed Rabbit just for his wriggling nose.
He laughs and his breath tickles my neck. “That's not it. I was just wonderin’ if
it’s as bad for the Krauts over there as it is for us.”
“Well they got food, which we ain’t,” I reply slowly, “and
they got ammo, which we ain’t, and they got winter clothes, which we ain’t.”
“Yeah.” He chews his lip. “But do you think they’re doing
what we’re doin’? Like sittin’ together and talkin’ about
"No, Rab, I’m sure they stand around all day saluting the swastika.”
“But it’s hard to imagine them doing this. Isn’t it?”
I have to agree with him. It is hard to imagine. I grunt and readjust myself. “Let’s
keep our thoughts on this side of the line, okay?”
He nods. “Mm hm.” And we go quiet.
A gunshot sounds from a few hundred feet away, and a crack somewhere down the
line signals where a bullet hit a tree and splintered the wood. We instinctively
flinch and turn our heads in the direction of the sound, but then look away,
grumbling. The Krauts do that every once in a while, fire a couple rounds into
our trees, and we reply with a couple rounds ourselves. I’ve seen a couple
of guys get hit down by those sporadic barrages, but you gotta be in the wrong
place at the wrong time. No, it’s mostly the artillery you gotta watch
for. When those shells hit the trees they send shards of wood flyin' every which
way and a guy could get a worse injury from that than the actual shell. But like
I said, they've been pretty quiet tonight.
"How long you think they'll keep at it, Tom?" Rabbit murmurs as our
machine gunners vigorously reply to the affront.
"Until they get bored I guess.”
We’ve been saving up the last of our cigarettes for outpost duty, and we
finally pull them out as the sky begins to dim. We smoke for a couple of minutes
in silence, watching the shadows on the trees grow as the world slips into darkness
"Don't think I can take much more of this," Rabbit mutters, breaking
the silence. I turn my head to study him, my heart is pounding. God, I hope he’s
not saying what I think he’s saying. We can't afford another guy lost to
these woods, especially not a good guy like Rabbit.
He ain't the same guy I went through basic training with. His eyes are deeply
set into their sockets, giving his face a skull-like appearance, and the fatigue
has drawn thick circles of black around them, eradicating their usual twinkle.
His face, naturally thin, is so gaunt that his cheeks are craters and his mouth
is a strange, pink, protruding orifice that doesn’t seem to match with
the rest of his ghoulish appearance. He's exhausted, physically and mentally,
and I'm startin' to suspect he's got that new disease they're callin' 'battle
But I don’t let on that I’m worried. "And you think I’m
enjoying myself?" I tease in reply, nudging him playfully. But he ain't
in a joking mood any more.
"It's up here,” he mumbles, tapping his head absently, wriggling his
nose, "in my head. I used to feel things, you know? Like when we’d
jump I’d feel fear, and when we’d get assigned something we didn’t
deserve I’d feel angry. And now I just feel numb all the time. It’s
like I could be busted back to private and kicked out of the Airborne and not
give a donkey’s balls. It’s like I could see you and all the others
die right in front of me and just not feel a thing. I don’t like it, Tom.
Goddamned winter's got me all froze up inside.”
I turn my head away. “It’s the cold is what it is." But I know
how he feels. I'm starting to feel a little numb too. We all are.
Tom, I think I would feel fear if I was able to, but I can’t.”
I stare at him a moment. “Sorry. I just get worried sometimes about what
feeling like this means.”
Yeah. I used to too.” He blankly stares into space and flicks his last
cigarette butt into the snow, his nose wriggling vigorously. "You ever hear
stories about those guys who snap?" he finally says, shattering the silence.
I’ve gotten out my last K ration and I’m carefully opening it up. "What’re
you taking about?" I mutter, poking my spoon around at the half-frozen food.
"You know, the guys who can't take it any more and just sorta…break.
I glance at him. “Yep." It happens all the time these days.
He clears his throat and exhales, watching his breath again. “Don’t
you remember hearing that story about those guys who went nuts and started killing
everyone? Got their NCO and a couple o' privates."
“Yeah, I heard it. Wasn’t that in your brother’s battalion?”
Don’t know. Some guys say it was an Airborne division, some guys say it
was artillery, some guys say it was infantry, maybe it was the goddamned Air
Force for all I know. Story’s different every time.”
You should write Gord and see if he’s heard about it.”
I did, a while back. Haven’t heard from him yet,” Rabbit says, his
nose wiggling furiously.
Well you know what they’re like with mail. It’s slow even between
Rabbit nods and stares longingly at the cigarette butt he just threw away.
Yeah, but you can’t help worrying anyway.”
They’dve let you know by now if something happened to him.”
It’s a pretty wild story just the same,” I say, changing the topic
Rabbit snorts and wriggles his nose. “Jesus, the way scuttlebutt travels
in this man’s army...the story’s got no truth to it. No one could
get that desperate without somebody noticing.”
Yeah. I guess.” I kick the ground and admire the imprint my foot makes.
The story is pretty ridiculous. Probably fabricated to keep guys like us from
going insane on O.P. duty. But it’s a chilling thought just the same.
We huddle a little closer as the silence closes in. I shovel a little snow into
my mouth. “Those guys who killed everyone, in the story, didn’t they
“Yeah, supposedly they never got caught. Just up and vanished. Crazy, eh?"
"Uh huh," I mumble, shivering as I watch my own breath escape in puffs,
swirling upwards before finally dissipating on the breeze.
He’s poking at his own ration now. “Don’t you worry sometimes
that it might happen to you too? Like you might be the one who snaps like that?”
“I do. Everyone does.”
“I did too, but it seems like it’s been getting worse since we’ve
been here. I wouldn’t want to hurt anyone, Tom.”
“You won’t, Rab, you won’t,” I reassure him. “If
I think you’re shaky I’ll get the major to take you off the line.” I
can’t think of anything else to say to him, so I say nothing. I finish
off my ration and he watches me in silence. Finally, a rueful chuckle escapes
“Man, what I wouldn’t give for a big ‘ole t-bone right about
now. I can’t remember the last time I had real meat.”
“I’m a poultry man myself,” I say, thankfully grasping the
change of subject. “Turkey and mashed potatoes.”
We drink some melted snow for a bit.
“Some guy over in 2nd battalion took his boots off to get frostbite.”
“That’s nothing. One of D Company’s NCO’s tried to blow
his ear off so he could go home.”
I stare at Rabbit. “He did what?”
You heard me right.”
But his ear?”
He nods solemnly. “Figured a foot wound would be too obvious. But an ear,
well who’s dumb enough to shoot their own ear off?”
I snort. “So what happened?” The wind is starting to pick up as the
light dies down. I can see the Krauts just through the trees across the meadow,
scurrying about like little ants in their warm winter clothing.
Rabbit shoves some food into his mouth. “He missed.”
I fall asleep for a while. Exhaustion has plagued me for days and it is the first
time I have fallen into a deep sleep in a week.
I usually dream whenever I sleep, but now I dread it. I used to dream of home
and my girl Lucy and playing baseball with my brother Harry, but ever since we’ve
been in this forest my dreams have been different. More dark, more vague. I dream
this particular evening of walking down the main street in Redford with my grandma
and grandpa, only it is night and all the streetlamps are turned off. Everything
is shadowed. We are talking about the World Series and Grandma was holding Grandpa’s
hand. And then all the streetlamps come on and we are blinded by the sudden light.
I see people emerge from the buildings around us, and they surround us in a circle,
and somehow I know, I just know that they aren’t happy to see me. And I
look down and see why. I am holding my rifle and it is red and sticky with blood,
and beneath my feet lies…lies…
“What the holy hell…”
I jerk awake.
“Tom! Tom, goddamnit, wake up.” Rabbit is hissing in my ear and shaking
me. “Jesus, what a goddamned time to sleep on the job. Look!”
I stumble to my feet, slamming my helmet back on my head. “What?” I
peer through the trees in the direction he’s pointing.
Three shadows have emerged from the woods and are struggling through the deep
snow towards us. They are holding their rifles above their heads and waving at
us, and I hear a faint call from the man walking in the lead. “Ahoy!”
I glance at Rabbit. He glances at me. This don’t feel right.
They come close enough that we can see their faces, but in the dim light of the
dusk it’s difficult to see their ranks.
“Hello there gentlemen,” says the leader as he trudges nearer to
us. He’s grinning to beat all hell. “Boy, are you two a sight for
sorry eyes on this night. Whew! It’s cold enough to freeze the balls off
a polar bear!”
“Moretti?” Rabbit suddenly says, stepping forward a little, his brow
furrowed and a tiny grin on his face. “Paul Moretti? Is that you, you old
A short, hearty laugh from the leader affirms this, and Rabbit lets out a glad
cry and steps forward to embrace the man. “Moretti, you dumb shit, why
would you sneak up on us like that? Jesus, we’re on outpost, we coulda
taken you for Krauts and shot you!” He turns and leads Moretti over to
me, his hand on the man’s back. “Here, meet my buddy Tom. Tom, this
is Captain Moretti.”
I salute apprehensively. “You two know each other?”
“Goddamned right we do,” says Moretti cheerfully. “This brat’s
older brother’s my best pal. Ain’t that right, you little twerp.”
Rabbit laughs loudly and nods. “Jesus, Moretti, this is a helluva surprise!
How’s Gord doing?”
“Fine, fine, sends his love I’m sure,” Moretti replies, rolling
his eyes. “O’ course, I ain’t seen him in a bit. I got transferred
up to battalion HQ.”
I’m still standing there, confused as hell. Rabbit must’ve caught
my expression because he steps a little closer to me and faces Moretti. “Moretti
and me grew up in the same town. He’s in the 463d Field Artillery, same
as my brother. Straight legs, the both of ‘em.” Rabbit snickers and
glances down proudly at his bloused pant legs and his Screaming Eagle arm patch.
I can’t help but feel a similar glow of pride, despite my uneasiness. It’s
not easy feat to be in the Airborne, that’s for damn sure.
I then notice the two men standing behind him. Moretti follows my gaze. “Oh,
right. These two guys are Corporal Westhaver and Private Jones.”
The two are shadowed by the tilt of their helmets, and due to the ensuing darkness
I can’t see their eyes. They hold their rifles cradled in their arms at
exactly the same angle and they stand rigidly, as if they are at attention. Moretti
laughs. “They ain’t talkers, the two of them. Great shooters but
not great talkers.”
Rabbit laughs again and I glance at him. Either he’s a helluva good actor
or Moretti’s appearance has cheered him up immensely. He’s almost
bubbly, the way he’s laughing at every goddamned thing that comes out of
the captain’s mouth. The twinkle in his eye seems to be returning. Or perhaps
it’s more like a glint, I ain't so sure. I just hope he really knows this
guy because I’ve got a bad feeling forming in the pit of my stomach.
C’mon, pull up some snow,” Rabbit orders as it gets darker. We all
plop down in the snow and grin idiotically at each other for a while until Rabbit
speaks again. “So what the hell are you doing out here? You’re a
helluva long way from where you’re supposed to be.”
“Well, as you’ll know, we’re with the 463rdth…”
I instinctively glance at his shoulder, looking for the accompanying artillery
shoulder patch. Nothing. It strikes me as odd. As a matter of fact, his uniform
is extremely ragged and torn up. I’m not surprised, all of our uniforms
look like they’ve been through hell and back, but his looks like it’s
been almost cut up and patched in strategic places, giving it a carefully mutilated
But I try to concentrate on Moretti’s story. “We got hit by battery
of German 88’s. It’s pretty bad down there, it’s back and forth,
back and forth all day. Us three were lucky, mostly cuts and scrapes, but a lotta
our boys’ll be going back home without their arms or legs."
Rabbit grunts in agreement.
Well, my uniform was banged up more than I was,” Moretti laughs, acknowledging
the strange appearance of his jacket, "but they insisted I go down to get
a few flesh wounds fixed. Nothin' serious. Went down to the field hospital and
we’re on our way back to our posts now.”
Well that sure as hell don’t register. I interrupt Rabbit and lift my rifle
a little. “That don’t make no sense, Captain, sir. Why’re you
up here at the O.P. line instead of in the rear? You’re gonna get your
ass shot off by those Jerries over there.” I gesture across the field where
the Germans are within clear range. "We nearly gave you a warning ourselves."
He grins. “Came to see you boys, of course.”
“How’d you know I was here?” Rabbit asks, his head tilted and
his eyes eager and trusting.
The captain’s already wide grin widens. “Because I got meat, damnit!
Fresh rabbit meat! Shot it myself with my own hands! Just outside of Bastogne,
we stumbled across this whole goddamned warren of ‘em! Most miraculous
goddamned thing I ever saw, I woulda thought the locals had cleared out this
brush. We got at least five or six. I’ve got some pals at your Regimental
HQ and I decided to make a gift of some of ‘em on my way back to the battalion.
I knew you was in this regiment so I asked about you and they said you was on
O.P. duty tonight. Well I thought you'd be lonely so we thought we'd come up
and keep you company. Don’t have to be back to my regiment 'til the morning.”
“Meat?” Rabbit gasps like he hasn’t heard anything else Moretti
said. “You got meat? Real meat? Fresh meat?”
He laughs again. “Fresh as it comes out here.”
Despite myself, I start to drool. The both of us haven’t had a warm or
a fresh thing to eat in weeks. The fact that his story seems ridiculous at best
is irrelevant, we are both staring at his bulging pack like rabid animals.
“Is it cooked?”
He nods. “Had the cooks back at HQ fry ‘em up. Maybe a little lukewarm,
“We’ll take it,” Rabbit and I both say in unison.
He grins and nods to Corporal Westhaver, who almost mechanically hands his pack
up to Moretti. Moretti slowly undoes the latch and the two of us almost fall
over ourselves tryin’ to get a peek.
He opens the flap and we groan at the same time. There it is. Brown and moist,
dripping with juice, tender little slabs of rabbit meat. All my inhibitions have
disappeared, Rabbit and I launch ourselves at the pack like we haven’t
eaten in years.
Moretti just keeps on laughing. It seems somehow like he hasn’t stopped
laughing since he arrived. “Pace yourselves, boys, pace yourselves.”
I swallow my first piece and wipe the juice off my chin. “This how it’s
supposed to taste?”
“Why? You don’t like it?” Moretti asks seriously.
“We do!” we both cry in unison. He smiles.
“Then let’s pace ourselves. We haven’t eaten yet either. You
boys can tell us what it’s like up here and we’ll tell you about
our neck of the woods.”
I really don’t want to talk to these three, but I keep my mouth shut for
Rabbit’s sake, and the meat. The meat’s worth anything, even the
uneasy feeling crawling up my spine.
So we sit and talk as the night grows darker and darker until all I can see of
the others are shadows and glints. The world seems to grow quieter. Rabbit and
Moretti swap stories about their hometown, and his two friends stay completely
still and silent. I join in every now and then, but mostly my thoughts are on
that delicious, warm, succulent meat going down my throat and into my emancipated
stomach. It doesn’t matter that it tastes different, it’s meat. Real
meat! I know I’m going to be sick later but I don’t care. I want
I look up as I lick the last bits of juice off my fingers to see Moretti’s
eyes on me. Rabbit’s still talking but the captain is looking at me. His
body is still facing Rabbit and his neck is not twisted, but his eyes, oh Christ
his eyes! They glint despite the total darkness and the disappearance of the
moon behind a sea of grey clouds. Unblinkingly they stare as I clean my fingers,
and he is still smiling. His teeth shine unnaturally white in the gloom. I shudder.
“They’ll be relieving us soon,” I saw to Rabbit, interrupting
his story. My eyes cannot leave Moretti’s for some odd reason.
He stares at me. “You sure? Seems like we might have another half hour
“No, your friend is right, we oughta head off.”
“It’s the middle of the night!” protests Rabbit. “It
won’t be light yet for hours and hours. You might get lost or accidentally
shot. Might as well stay with the company 'til morning.”
But Moretti is already standing and closing his pack full of meat. My stomach
has had its fill and it is already protesting the sudden appearance of the strange
and alien substance. “No, I can see that it is time for us to be on our
way,” he assures Rabbit smoothly. “We are making your friend uncomfortable,
Rabbit stares at me accusingly. “Tom!”
I hold up my hands. “I’m fine. I honestly am,” I lie. “I’m
just a little cold and tired is all.”
“Body heat,” suggests Moretti in his typically smooth, calm tone
of voice. “Huddle together for warmth. You’ll stay more alert that
“We know,” Rabbit says.
“Be careful not to get too cold. You won’t be able to think as fast.
The cold slows down more than the muscles. Stay sharp, boys. They’re around
every corner, those Jerries.”
His tone of voice has lost its offensiveness and is steadily getting softer and
softer. His eyes have still not left my face. I wonder if Rabbit has noticed
“We’ll be fine, Captain. It was nice meeting you.”
He nods. “Hope you enjoyed the grub.”
“We did, thanks,” says Rabbit. “Are you sure you won’t
“We’ll manage. Good night.” And they slip into the folds of
the night. I stare a moment at the spot where they were. It was like they were
Rabbit stares at me accusingly once I look at him. “Why’d you have
to go and be such a jerk, Tom? If they get shot now…”
I roll my eyes. “I’m sorry, but they gave me the willies. Especially
those two quiet ones. And didn’t you see the way he was staring at me at
Rabbit’s looking at me like I’m nuts. “Staring at you? Tom,
he never even glanced at you the whole night.”
I frown but I choose not to argue. I stand up and sweep the snow off my pants,
staring across the darkness at where the Krauts are set up. “That meat
sure didn’t taste like rabbit meat," I say distractedly.
“You’ve had rabbit meat before?”
“Yeah, we used to go huntin' all the time back home.”
“Maybe it was a different breed.”
I smack him for being so dumb and we go back to drinking snow. Maybe it’s
just the cold, but we are both shivering now. We huddle together again against
The only advantage of standing O.P. duty in the winter at night is that you can
hear people’s footsteps coming. Their boots, not matter how softly they
tread, will always crunch against the snow. If you are alert enough, it can be
an alarm that strangers are approaching.
But despite this, we are caught off guard when Moretti and the others sneak up
It happens so fast. The last thing I remember is sitting quietly with Rabbit,
waiting to be relieved, and the next thing I know I am lying on my side, my face
numb in the snow. My head is aching, and I can feel something, blood probably,
dripping down from my temples. My stomach and my lungs hurt and my arms are tied
behind my back. And I can see them in front of me, the three of them, huddled
around some black, unidentifiable form.
“Rabbit?” I moan. “Rabbit?”
One of the figures turns. Captain Moretti grins down at me, his white teeth covered
with blood. “Hungry, Corporal?”
And then he moves away and I see Rabbit lying there on the ground, his hands
and legs bound, his eyes wide open and his mouth gagged. Is he dead? I can’t
tell. God I hope he is. The other two are overtop of him and I see what they
are doing. They are eating him. They are eating Rabbit.
In my last few seconds of life everything seems to fall into place. The guys
who went crazy…they killed everybody….the missing shoulder patches…the
meat…oh God, the meat! It wasn’t rabbit meat at all! It was…it
I start to scream, but I know nobody will hear me in time. Moretti is standing
overtop of me now and the blood is dripping off his chin and onto my face. His
eyes are crazed as he stares into mine, licking Rabbit’s blood off his
lips. His hand extends outward, shoving something warm and wet and pungent under
“Want some Rabbit?”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Katelynn Northam is a seventeen-year-old high school
student from the small rural community of Holland, M.B. who enjoys
synchronized skating, reading, and watching endless reruns of M*A*S*H.
Although she loves writing, and has been working for two newspapers
for the last few years, her true passion in life is procrastination,
which she excels at above all other things.