Winter 1944by Richard Bausch
After the long trek up the mountain through the raining trees, after the hour of half sleep, and the retching and the suddenness of the snow falling, covering them, and the shot echoing across the open field near the top, and finding the German officer with a bullet through the head; after at last coming to the opening in the treetops on the way down the other side of the mountain, and hearing the spaced shots from the village down there and realizing what it meant, that the Germans were shooting the Jews—after all that—the four of them had seen the panzers going away on the far road, and the troops in orderly retreat, and so had accomplished what they were sent to do, and they started back, climbing again to the crest, past the marks of their descending. They were going to go back down the other side to the road with their report, with the enormity of what they now knew to be so about the Krauts. They were going to smoke a cigarette too, and maybe even get some real sleep. In a bizarre, sickening way, it was all one thing. It was all over there, somewhere on the other side of this miserable slogging through the snow.
They had got to the snowfield in front of the long terracelike ledge, one of the places they had rested and argued about whether or not to keep going, and when Saul Asch paused to adjust a damp fold in the front of his field jacket, something hit him in the back.
As he toppled forward, they all heard the shot.
It came from very far off. Asch went over like a felled tree. The others—Joyner, Corporal Marson, and Angelo, the old Italian who had been dragooned into serving as their guide over the mountain—struggled for the drift of snow under the ledge. They made it there and got down and stayed down, and waited. When Marson looked over the snow hillock he saw that Asch was still and quiet, lying on his stomach out in the open, face to one side.
“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” Joyner kept saying under his breath. The old man moaned and lay on his side, his cloak pulled high over his head.
“Where’d it come from?” Marson said.
“I don’t know,” Joyner said. “Christ. Behind us. Way off.”