October 15, 2013

To Lead; To Follow

To Lead; To Follow
by Nathan C. Juhl

The two men walked slowly into the room, each at his own pace. One led, the other followed. The first, a younger man, gestured toward a chair sitting in the corner as he took his jacket off. Before the follower, an older gentleman, reached the chair, the young man stretched out and took the follower’s ivy cap, overcoat, scarf and gloves.

The first man took the articles of clothing and laid them down one at a time. The cap, slightly slanted at the front. The long overcoat, black and gray with small clumps of matter caked into the fabric. The gloves, a rich black leather with a fur-like interior. The scarf, dark gray to match the coat. Each was set gently on top of another and placed on the gold and red couch. The younger man moved over and shut the door, taking his keys out and setting them on the polished wood table beside the door.

“Can you sit in the chair for me?”

His words were soft but held a firm tone, the statement less a question and more of a command. The follower nodded weakly and put his hands in his pockets. He stopped in front of the chair, turning slowly to face the leader. He calmly reached down and tugged his own pants at the knee, dragging them higher so that his socks showed. Looking up, the follower once again glanced at the leader’s face, and then sat down, connecting with the chair with a soft thud.

Over There
“Corporal Barnett, you’ll be commanding the squad moving beyond those hills. Keep close with the rest of the platoon. Is that understood?”

I look up at my commanding officer; his face is filled with the same emotionless expression I’m so used to by now. His helmet has been shot at least once, grazed to the right by a stray bullet. The joke is that he keeps it on for good luck, though the man seems to care little for such things as luck.

“Yes sir, those hills, sir. It’ll be done.”

I salute him and walk over to my squad. It has been two weeks since we landed at Normandy, in that bloody mess of Omaha Beach. Every man in the 30th Division has thanked God that he didn’t see any of the action there. The men I’m to lead are huddled together, as privates often are before the battle. Of course, how the hell would I know. This is my first engagement too. Seeing the elephant, they used to call it. I sure don’t see any damn elephants here.

“Alright men, the Krauts are just over those hills. We’ve got air support coming in on their position to give us the leg up. A lot of it’s going to be us though.”

This is the first for all of us. But we’re going to take Saint-Lô come hell or high water.

Stop Being Passive
He had left in ’41 in love with her. He returned a somber stump. He wasn’t the man she had loved, wasn’t the same twenty-first year old who had gone off in glory.


He was silent, didn’t look up to her. A small glass of scotch sat idly in his hand.

“Harold, please talk to me. I can’t… I can’t do this. I can’t follow you around like this anymore. I can’t be the only one who cares about us.”

He still didn’t move. Her words seemed to echo, hitting every inch of the room except for him.

“Harold Barnett, you look at me! I’m tired of it! I’m through!”

She stomped out of the room, not looking at him. Not noticing the tears in his eyes.

Timing is Everything
“The air was thick and the clouds were low, but I still should have seen it coming. Saint-Lô was right there, and the Germans were close, but I still missed our planes overhead. Why would I notice them? I didn’t. Not until the red smoke hit my face and their first bomb fell into our ranks.”

How Kids Have Their Phases
The boy held the stick close to his chest, one hand high and the other low. The foliage covered much of the area and the angle of the valley made it a much better hiding spot. The other boys, their own sticks held close like his, hadn’t spotted him yet. His own group all lay around the area, on their stomach and awaiting his order. Their spot was too good. He smiled.

Jumping up just as the last boy walked past their position, he shouted, “Attack!” Harold and his ragtag eleven year old force pounced in an ambush, his stick troops fighting to victory.

The Dream, The Nightmare
“They were falling again. And again. And again. Each one exploding and hurling earth into my face. The air grew hot from it all. I began to run, trying to find the cover that wasn’t there. Finally it came, the hit I was waiting for. It knocked me on the ground, the upheaved ground throwing itself at my face. I could feel my leg, feel it like I never had before.”

Harold burst from the mattress, sweat sliding down his skin. The blanket stuck to him like metal to a magnet. He would have to get to sleep soon. His Dental Admission Test was tomorrow, and he had to do well on it.

“Come hell or high water.”

Schedule for November 22, 1963
Mrs. Eleanor Miller- Toothache
Mr. John Erickson- Dental Extraction: Molar
Master Daniel Barnum- Cavity
Master Matthew Barnum- Cavity
Miss Sarah Barnum- Cavity
Mr. Christopher Barnum- Grinds Teeth in Sleep
Dr. Harold Barnett: Dentist

Down and Out
“Bring the litter over!”

“How is he?”

“Seems to have a concussion, maybe a few broken bones. His leg is pretty torn up, though.”

“Alright, get him outta here. Hold on, Corporal. You’ll be okay.”

Read All About It!
June 26, 1944


General Eisenhower states that yesterday the American 30th Infantry Division was accidentally bombed by Allied planes. At least 100 dead, including the first death of an American general, Lt. Gen. Leslie McNair. President Roosevelt has yet to address this incident.

Slide. Thud.
Slide. Thud. Slide. Thud. Slide. Thud. Sit. Silence.

“Harold, we’ve got your test back. You’ll be able to walk again, and soon. But it won’t ever be quite the same. After the physical therapy that limp should go away, though… Harold? Are you listening?”

Silence. Stand. Slide. Thud. Slide. Thud. Slide. Thud.

The leader had already stripped down the follower and replaced his clothing. The outfit he now wore was loose around his body. No longer were there shoes on his feet, which annoyed him. Instead the follower wore thick socks that made him slide on the wood floor. The younger man walked in front, escorting the older man to the mattress. The leader tapped the soft comforter.

“Sit right here for me.”

The old man nodded softly, going over and sitting down on the spot that had been touched. Sensing what was next, he stretched out and laid his head down, bringing his legs and feet over the edge of the mattress and onto its warm surface. The young man pulled the blanket over the follower’s body and watched as he grabbed and pulled it over his own head. The leader smiled slightly, and then turned away. He grabbed his coat and his keys and opened the door, looking into the room. His hand found the switch on the wall and one last time he smiled.

“I’ll see you in the morning, Doc Harold. Have a goodnight.”

The ninety-one year old man in the bed mumbled something, which satisfied the nurse.

* * *
Nathan C. Juhl is a senior in college in Kentucky. He writes all forms of genres, mainly horror and historical fiction. He has been writing since he was eleven. Since then he has written two plays, one musical, and a collection of poems, songs, and short stories. This is the first time that he has been published. Nathan plans to not only write more short stories, but to get non-fiction work published as well. Nathan would like to dedicate this story to Eleanor Juhl (1941-2013), who always wanted to see him published.

Where do you get the ideas for your stories?
Well, it really depends on the story that I’m writing. For instance, this story was inspired by a man I took care of when I worked in an assisted living facility. While not completely his story, it is inspired from his life and I hope that I’ve done justice to him. Usually I get my ideas from books or movies that I read, my mind wanders off to, What if this happened? What if it was told from this perspective?, and it just rolls off from there.

What do you think is the most important part of a historical fiction story?
The most important part of any story is plot and characters. A story that isn’t well developed isn’t worth reading. What makes historical fiction different is that you have to actually try and make a place that hasn’t existed for years come back to life. While science fiction does this, it creates its own world, but in historical fiction you are taking something that actually happened and putting in on the page. The most important part of historical fiction writing is understanding that, understanding that when you write you are talking about real people, a real time period that existed. People lived, loved, were sad and happy and confused and disappointed just like you were. They were real, as real as anyone you know. You have to respect and cherish that.
What advice do you have for other historical fiction writers?
Research. Research research research. Know what you are talking about. Because you don’t want a reader to get two paragraphs into a story and stare at some phrase you used that didn’t exist during the time period. It will throw them off and that ruins the experience for them. The most important thing to do is understand the culture that you are representing. You might not need to read every book written on the subject (though I’ll admit I try), but you need to be able to understand who you are writing. Pick a period that you love and have a passion for. Make characters who you would want to be or who you would want to watch. And have a hell of a good time doing it.