I stumbled over a clod of earth left by some passing tractor. Somewhere behind me in the darkness most of my Unit were drinking themselves into insensibility -- not that I blamed them -- but my escapism took the form of needing to get away from them, as well as from the awful war. Mist lay heavily on the sodden fields, and strands crept across the road from time to time, disguising the potholes and making the dark road even more treacherous. I had no idea whether I was actually allowed out of camp, but the sentries were rather slack tonight, no doubt wishing they could join in the merriment too.

Somewhere far away the generals had organised this Christmas cease-fire, welcomed by everyone, but especially by the wretched soldiers out in the battlefields. Noise becomes part of life after a while, and the abrupt silence which began just before midnight on Christmas Eve made our ears ring with the memory of the noise. It was several hours before we all stopped shouting to make each other hear.

Failing the second year exam in electrical engineering at Birmingham University had left me in a kind of awkward limbo: neither officer material nor able easily to fit in with the other men. I had managed to keep myself inconspicuous during training. I did as I was told, not too willingly or too well, and avoided the sarcasm of the sergeant major. One thing that I had managed to keep secret so far was my ability to speak German. If it had been mentioned in the initial paperwork after I enlisted, it would probably have given me the chance of some desk job, but my degree course had given me a hearty dislike of sitting at a desk.

The mist cleared for a moment, showing the moon riding high in the sky. A narrow track met the road here and I had just gone past it when a sudden noise made me go cold with fear. Even in a cease-fire, German sentries might very well shoot at a lone English soldier out after dark. Of course, it might be another Englishman like myself, so I called out softly, 'Who's there?'

A shadowy figure stepped out from between the trees, and in the moonlight I could see that it was a German soldier, apparently unarmed. Relief flooded through me that I wasn't about to be shot in the back, and I approached him cautiously.

'What are you doing here?' I asked in German. 'You're a long way from your lines.'

'An Englishman speaking German -- a rare animal indeed,' said a soft voice without answering my question. He came nearer until we could see each other's faces, and continued, 'I should ask you the same question, but I imagine that neither of us should really be here away from our lines.'

He broke off and looked around, then said vehemently, 'Thank God that terrible noise has stopped. I don't think I could stand much more of it. I came out here to get away from it all.'

This echoed my feelings so exactly that a sudden need to confide in this stranger came over me. 'I know how you feel,' I nodded, 'all those men around all the time, and the continuous noise and no privacy make it unbearable. When the guns stopped for the cease-fire last night I felt that I had to get away, and after the Christmas dinner tonight everybody else seemed content to get drunk, but the thought made me quite ill so I came out for a walk. Have you any idea what the time is?' My watch was not luminous, and the vapours had again covered the moon.

'It's half past two,' he answered, evidently having a luminous watch. 'Let's find somewhere a bit warmer than this to talk. There's a shed along this road, though it's probably full of turnips.'

We wandered along the road in companionable silence, picking our way between the potholes in the fitful light shed by the moon through the swirling mist. I was beginning to think that there was no shed, that he was mistaken about the road, when he gripped my arm and muttered, 'Over here.'

Some way from the road was a delapidated barn with no door, and the moonlight through the doorway showed that it was indeed full of turnips, except right at the back where there was a pile of old straw, a bit damp and smelly, but certainly warmer than the chill night air outside. He took off his greatcoat and spread it on some thick straw.

'This is better,' he remarked as he settled himself comfortably on one side of the coat. 'If you put your coat over us we shall be fairly warm.'

I saw the logic of this and spread my coat over us after sitting beside him. 'My name is John,' I said, leaning back against the wall of the barn and beginning to feel very sleepy. 'What's your name?'

'Wolfgang, after the composer,' he replied grinning. 'My parents were very musical -- my brother is called Ludwig.'

We laughed, and I was no longer surprised that he expected these names to mean something to me.

'Everybody calls me Wolf,' he added, 'makes me sound fierce.'

We laughed again, quite relaxed in each other's company.

'God, I'm tired,' I yawned, feeling rather comfortable in these strange circumstances.

'Yes,' he settled back and closed his eyes, 'let's have a sleep now, and later we can think what we're going to do.'

When I woke up I was incredibly stiff, and straw was prickling my hair. Sunlight streamed through the doorway over the pile of turnips, and I wondered idly what the time was. As if in answer to my unspoken question, Wolf murmured in my left ear, 'Awake at last? It's nearly eight o'clock.'

I rolled over to face him, and realised as I did so that he had his right arm round my shoulders. He pulled me closer to him and to my great astonishment kissed me gently on the forehead.

'John.' He spoke my name tenderly and I tensed, fearful of his apparent feelings for me.

'Don't be afraid,' he continued, stroking my hair back from my forehead and removing strands of straw, 'have you never been in a man's arms before?'

His deep, calm voice reassured me and I relaxed a little, wondering how I had managed to get myself into this situation. 'No, nor in a woman's arms,' I answered in English, unable to think of enough German words to express myself in my trembling voice.

He understood the gist of my reply and said, 'Be calm, my John, I shall not hurt you.'

This remark irritated me, as I certainly wasn't afraid of him. I pulled away from him and stood up abruptly. For the first time I had a really good look at him, and took in all his features. He was quite a lot older than me, near forty, I should imagine, with slight streaks of grey in his unruly mop of dark hair. His unshaven face emphasised the strong line of his jaw, and he gazed at me with soft grey eyes, a flicker of a smile on his face. He stretched and stood up, a little taller than me, and stepped towards me.

'I really think you're afraid of me,' he said, still smiling, but more uncertainly now.

To be truthful, I *was* afraid; afraid not of Wolf, but of my own feelings. With shame I realised that a blush was spreading rapidly over my face, and that I could no longer look straight at him. For some reason his gently laughing eyes disconcerted me -- left me slightly breathless and excited.

His fingers brushed down the stubble on my cheek and over my lips and I lurched away in surprise at his gentle touch. Yet deep inside me the turmoil caused by this simple gesture roused great fires. With both hands on my shoulders he looked steadily at me, more sure of himself now. As I met his gaze and felt once again that surge of passion which had startled me before, he stroked the back of my neck, and stepping forward took me completely in his arms, kissing me softly on the lips.

I did not resist this time. I could not. It was as much as I could do to remain upright. My knees, weak as jelly, refused to work properly, and my mind could think of only one thing. Wolf.

'Wolf,' I must have croaked eventually, because he answered quietly, 'Yes, my John. You are not afraid of me now, are you?'

I sank down on the straw behind me, and watched in fascination as he began to take off his clothes. For a man of his age he had a magnificent body -- slim, but strong and well-muscled, dappled with dark hair which emphasised his shape. Although this had never happened to me before, my body tingled with expectation.

Wolf bent down over me and undid my jacket and shirt, which he tugged off, leaving my chest bare and my nipples sensitive in the cold air. Quickly undoing my belt and trousers, he pushed me back to undo my boots and in one swift motion pulled off the remainder of my clothes. I must have shivered slightly, for he said, 'You won't be cold soon, my John.'

With considerable experience he rapidly awoke the sensitive areas of my body, touching and teasing with his lips and fingers, until I was panting with lust. Unable to dredge up any German words to express my feelings, I moaned and grunted as I writhed around.

In my inexperience it was soon over for me. His strong fingers brought me to the edge of ecstasy, paused for a moment, then very gently took me over the brink into a flood of sensation. As I came, he held me close to him and spoke softly to me, calming the violent shaking which followed my explosion.

At last the spasms died down, and when I was calm again he slid up beside me, kissed me warmly on the lips and held me tightly in his arms.

In German and English I murmured over and over again, 'I love you, Wolf,' and he merely tightened his embrace. During the remainder of that strange morning he showed me many ways of pleasing and receiving pleasure, until at last, exhausted, we lay entwined in each other's arms, joking gently about the prickly feelings both from the straw and our own beard stubble.

'Do you think we ought to go back to our lines?' I asked, suddenly afraid. Afraid not of the possible repercussions of my absence, but of the thought that we would then once again be on opposing sides.

'Let's wait until dusk,' he replied gently, 'it will be easier to avoid lookouts then.'

With tears in my eyes I told him of my fears about our eventual separation, and he replied wistfully, 'Yes, but there's no alternative. If we go back together to your lines or mine one of us will end up in a prison camp, and we can't stay here or get away to anywhere neutral where we can be together always. Here is my address; if this terrible war ever ends we should be able to meet again in better surroundings.' A humorous note crept into his voice as he looked round at the decor of our love-nest, and I kissed him tenderly for his valiant effort to cheer me up.

All the afternoon we lay and talked, until at last the gathering mist and low, slanting sunlight proclaimed that dusk was near. We dressed slowly, reluctant to bring the moment of parting nearer. His address I put into my pocket, feeling that this insignificant bit of paper was my lifeline to future happiness.

Putting his arm round my shoulders he led me out of the barn and back along the rough track. All was still and silent -- the cease-fire had a few more hours to run -- and the last rays of the sun fell on one high cloud, turning it into a ribbon of gold and silver. I pressed my face against his neck to hide my tears, but he comforted me quietly until I felt strong enough to go on.

With a sudden feeling of panic I recognised a pool by the side of the track as the place where I must turn off to rejoin my Unit. Wolf turned to me and held me tightly in his arms, rocking to and fro as if to comfort a small child. A sense of peace gradually came over me as I remembered our love-making and the closeness of our love.

'Thanks,' I murmured eventually, 'I'm not afraid of you now.'

Suddenly, from behind a row of bushes about 50 yards away came a raucous shout in English: 'Christ, it's a bloody German! He's got one of our men!'

Wrenching myself free from Wolf's arms I rushed towards the source of the shout crying, 'No! No! He's a friend! Don't shoot!' but it was too late. From the bushes came the report of a single shot, and as I ran back towards him Wolf sank to his knees on the earth.

'See you in Germany, my John,' he gasped, and fell flat on his face, his hands outstretched towards me.

Sobbing incoherently I hurled myself on his body, shouting obscenities at the British soldiers who had now come up warily behind me. Of course, they didn't understand, and may even have thought that I too was German, since in my distress I mixed German and English words. Eventually they pulled me off his body and led me back to the Unit, where I was placed under guard. Three months later they discharged me from the Army: 'psychological disturbance' they said it was.

Now I live in Germany, a 50-year-old bachelor, consultant technical writer for a large engineering company. I am successful, quite well-off, and have a very comfortable flat.

The piece of paper with Wolf's address on it occupies a secret drawer in my writing-desk. It is my greatest treasure -- morbid, I know -- but it's all I have of him.

I have never loved anyone else.



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