FIC: Minus One
- View SourceA few miles inland from Omaha Beach, June 9, 1944. One shot. A bit of
Shrapnel. It was just a chunk of shrapnel, about the size of a tennis
ball, twisted and ugly. It still bore the stains of his blood, they
had faded to a dark brown color, and the scent had completely faded.
She kept it, for all these years, she had kept it. No, not as a
souvenir, it was never that, it more served as a reminder of what she
had witnessed that day over fifty years ago. Every year on this day,
she would take it out and look at it, smiling, replaying every scene
that she could remember, every word that he said to her, what he
looked like, and the cadence of his voice. She, of course, never
spoke of what she had witnessed, never to her husband, never to her
children or grandchildren for that matter, because she promised she
She was one of the first women to land in Normandy on D-Day, a nurse
of the 48th Surgical Hospital. It was horrifying when they got there.
They were told to grab hold of the bodies in the surf and to use them
as protection from German snipers and the artillery fire from the
Pointe et Raz de la Percée. Several of her fellow nurses did not make
it through the waters onto the beach, but she did not think of that
while she worked. She had a job to do.
When they brought his body in, things were at their worst. Stretchers
occupied every available space, the wounded lay next to the dead, and
no one had slept for several days. She wasn't sure why they even
brought him in, he obviously was going to die, his body, or what was
left of it, resembled the meat her mother made sausages out of. His
heart continued to beat; she didn't have time to try to understand
how. She said a prayer, like she always did, and then covered him
with a blanket and moved on; there were too many wounded soldiers
there that needed her.
It was two days and a brief nap later when she noticed he was still
there on the ground, still covered, but the blanket was no longer
army issue green, too much blood had soaked into it. She sighed to
herself, this poor soul, he has a mother back home who would wonder
what had ever happened to her baby, so the nurse decided to see if he
still might have his dog tags on.
When she threw back that blanket, she got the shock of her life. This
man was whole! Or nearly so. There were piles of shrapnel on both
sides of him, along with so many bullets that she could not even
guess the number. He still had large gaping holes in his body but
they looked as if they were drawing close by themselves. He was
breathing, it was not labored either, it was a regular breathing, as
if he was simply sleeping. She decided right then and there, that no
one was going to know about this, this was too wondrous, and
sometimes things this wonderful can find a way of becoming ugly. She
quickly covered him back up, and slowly dragged him, behind some
supplies, and then she waited. Over the next few hours, while her
superior officer thought she was sleeping, she watched. More metal
was pushed out of his body, along with bullets; the flesh mended
itself before her eyes. She found herself weeping; this had more of
an effect on her than the horrors that she had witnessed these last
few days. She actually nodded off for a while, her body needed to
heal as well. When she finally awoke, after what could not have been
more than an hour's sleep, the last wound was closing. The man moaned
softly and his eyes fluttered open, he sniffed the air and turned his
head towards her.
She quickly found a canteen nearby and held it to his lips as he
drank deeply. Her mind was racing with questions but she held her
tongue. What was left of his uniform top fell off as the man sat up.
"Where am I?"
She swallowed and took a deep breath before answering. He nodded his
head, closed his eyes for a moment before asking another question.
"What is your name?"
"Kathryn Sinclair. What's yours?"
He cocked his head at her; trying to decide if he should tell her the
truth, it could prove quite dangerous for him, if she reported what
she had seen. But he liked what he saw in her eyes, she had the look
of someone he could trust.
"Lieutenant James Howlett," he replied softly and then added, "Can ya
get me a uniform?"
She glanced around, stood up, made sure no one was looking their way
and then took one from a shelf, thinking it just might fit. She
turned her back while he got dressed, and then led him outside.
"I have to leave, Kathryn, but I need ya to do something for me."
"What is it Lieutenant?"
"Don't tell anyone what ya saw."
"I won't, I promise."
He took a deep breath, and smiled sadly and said, "One day I would
like to see France when there is no war going on."
"Yeah, me too."
"Last time I was here, there were a hellava lot more trenches though."
People were beginning to give them curious looks, so she thought if
he was going to go, this was the time to do so. She smiled warmly at
him, reached out, grasped his hand in hers and said, "Good bye James."
"Good bye, Kathryn."
With that, he walked away; her eyes followed him until he disappeared
over a small hill. She turned around and went back into the tent,
over to that stretcher, and gathered and discarded all evidence of
his existence, minus one.