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Forte

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Ralph woke, as he often did, shortly before dawn. It was a legacy of his days at sea. Change of night watch on a ship typically occurred in the wee hours, and the pattern of years was set so deep in his bones he thought he’d likely be waking before dawn until he was 90 – assuming he lived that long. He was not the only one in barracks to wake early; he could tell from the shuffling and altered breathing round him that at least half the barracks was awake – not surprising in Milag. No one rose, however. It was still too early for the Germans to unlock the barracks and staying horizontal made it easier to ignore the pressure to relieve one’s bladder.

It was chilly; the tiny stove that provided the only heat to the barracks had gone out in the night and the chill of late Autumn on the continent could be felt. Ralph snuggled as much as he could in the one thin blanket that was all the German army had issued; but although pulling his legs up close to his body conserved body heat as much as possible, it did nothing to warm cold toes. And he would swear that lump in the mattress moved round with him.

It was a lucky morning when he managed to fall back asleep; he was graced this day. Doubly graced when he did not dream of his ship being torpedoed, of the shock of the cold water, the struggle to stay afloat and not be sucked under with the ship as it sunk, his terror when waves pushed him closer to the burning oil slick. He was not the only man with such nightmares; many nights were disturbed by the screams of comrades waking from bad dreams. Instead, this time he floated, calm and oddly dry, in mufti, on a balmy sea, sun shining, before lifting gently on a slight breeze and flying up, up….

“Hello old bean.”

“Bim,” Ralph was oddly not surprised to see him. After all, he was flying and Bim had always been the master of the sky. Although…not without an airplane. “Where are your wings, Bim?”

“What! Can’t you see them?” Bim waggled his outstretched arms.

And, of course, then Ralph could see the magnificent gold tipped feathers.

“No harp?” he asked, idly curious. “No angels’ chorus?”

“Singing! Who - moi!” cried the irrepressible Bim. “Singing wasn’t my forte. You never really wanted to see my forte, now did you,” Bim leered genially and made an explicit gesture with one hand that Ralph thought probably was frowned on in heaven.

“Same old Bim,” Ralph smiled.

“Same old Ralph,” Bim grinned, and he leaned over and kissed him squarely on the mouth. “Not quite where I want to kiss you; but one has to be careful in these surroundings.”

At which Ralph woke, cock stiff with the usual early morning ‘woody’, still at Milag, surrounded by the coughs and groans and the stinks of too many men in the close quarters of a grimy prisoner of war camp.