He woke up instantly, sprawled on a cot near the entrance of the command bunker, just looking for somewhere to sleep for the few off-duty hours before dawn when he was supposed to head back to the rear area for a three day pass.
Flashes came through the entrance as someone threw back the gas barrier, he heard a shout from the interior of the bunker, then the muzzle flash and crash of a Mauser rifle firing into the bunker, a scream from inside and the sound of a body falling along with shouts and clatter as men jumped out of the rack and grabbed weapons and helmets.
George rose and grabbed his scrounged 45 and poking it around the corner he saw that the enemy soldier was reloading and had just slammed the clip into the top of rifle's action. Before he could clear the clip from the charging slot George fired point blank into the enemy's chest.
Two quick rounds from the 45 slammed the Obergefreiter against the entry wall and onto the floor. George snatched up his 1917 Enfield rifle while stuffing the 45 into his web belt.
Outside in the trench it was all confusion. The constant roar was of artillery impacting a few hundred yards up trench and also a few hundred yards down trench, as well as what seemed like a continuous line of exploding shells behind them.
They were cut off from help with a box of artillery and the enemy seemed to be pouring into the trench system. Probably not a full offensive, but a raid to take prisoners and show the newly arrived Yanks who was boss here on the Western Front.
"A raid!" some was yelling, barely understandable in the noise, flashing lights of explosions and gunshots, and the flickering light of flares. To the left he could see the dead bodies of the duty sentries, to the right were flashes and bangs and screams as the deadly and terrifying close combat trench fighting was going on.
There was a seeming waterfall of enemy soldiers pouring into the trench to the left, a second wave coming in behind the first strike, or someone's timing was off. More men poured out behind him from the bunker.
"Some of you guys attack those guys from their rear, the rest of you come with me!"
A Lieutenant looked at him sharply, but good sense was good sense, even coming from a corporal.
George turned toward the enemy, leveled his rifle and started firing, five rounds, load, fire five more, load, advancing a few steps. Twice he felt like some one punched him hard, once in the leg, almost knocking him down, and then in the side. He loaded and fired like a machine.
The enemy coming closer, firing as they came, an officer with his Luger snapping off rounds in the lead. Behind the officer he saw what looked like a shadow, with a potato masher raised to throw, a quick shot and shadow and grenade fell, and explosion, flash of light, men falling, screaming, the lieutenant pitching forward as if pushed from behind.
That explosion took the momentum from the raiders and then someone dragged a Chauchat light machine gun up and somehow it actually fired a complete magazine into the invaders without jamming.
The enemy still outnumbered the Yanks but they lost the few seconds of momentum that they needed to overwhelm the Americans who now were able to advance into them and then began the madness of hand to hand combat.
His bayonet fixed George ran at the enemy, in the close scramble the long rifle and bayonet were only momentarily useful, and he was soon using his trench knife and 45.
His knife stuck in someone's ribs and was dragging him down into a crouch, his empty 45 useless. He looked into a bayonet with rifle attached coming straight at his face. No time to save himself, it was ugly death coming at him fast. Trying to get his empty pistol up to block was taking too long, everything in slow motion.
A double tube of steel jutted over his shoulder from behind and suddenly the crash flash and slam of Vince's 12 gauge trench gun blinded and deafened him, and saved his life. The double O buckshot barely had range enough to spread and tore its way through the frail human meat it encountered.
Vince kept pumping and firing and George yanked his knife from the still squirming body, and faced forward again. Reloading and firing his 45 he emptied his pistol before Vince could reload his shotgun and suddenly George was faced with a veteran, a big, beefy Feldwebel who was also out of ammo. The two men grappled, the bayonet in the German's hand slashed George from forehead to cheek, while his own knife hand felt like it was in a vice.
George brought his empty pistol up hard and knocked the enemy bayonet away, but the impact loosened his grip on the gun, and he lost it, so he grabbed the enemy throat. Someone leaned over from behind Feldwebel Mueller and slammed a rifle butt-stock into George's shoulder, then was slammed back as Vince's 12 gauge tore into him.
Jostled and pushed as the fighting went on around them, George and his antagonist were locked into their own private death struggle. It must have looked like a lovers embrace, they held each other and strove for life.
George's left shoulder was on fire and his arm and hand didn't want to work, pain shot up and down and around as the Feldwebel tried to twist his hand around and stab George with his own knife.
George was able to drop his knife before it did him harm, he still had a throat in his right hand as the two of them fell. George slammed his knee into the enemy's groin as they both fell against the side and the muddy bottom of the trench.
He sensed the crunch of his enemy's bones as the other Man's left arm was twisted and pinned awkwardly under him and against the edge of the duck-boards that ran down the center of the trench.
George tried to hold onto the enemy's right hand with his damaged left, but with a broken collarbone the pain was intense, and it was all he could do to just clench the fingers closed on the other man's wrist.
With a convulsive twist the German smashed his helmet brim into George's nose, smashing it and sending blood spurting, but George had the enemy under him now, and was pushing him into the mud. He could feel the man trying to pull his arm loose, but George's injured left hand was hampering that effort, and he kept the pressure on the throat as he pushed the enemy's head further into the mud.
In the sliding glare of a flare swinging overhead George watched more and more of the Feldwebel's face disappear into the mud. The eyes were pleading now, the mouth making shapes as if he were talking but no breath came out. The struggles were weak and ineffective as first one eye then the other disappeared under the sucking mud, then the nose and finally the mouth.
George held on and held on, the fighting had gone past and they seemed alone with the other bodies scattered by the fighting, the smell of blood, explosives, and excrement pungent in the air.
He couldn't seem to keep his eyes open, the enemy soldier jerked his body twice, then a bubble burst in slow motion from the mud. The fire of pain in shoulder, thigh and ribs were coming to the front of his consciousness, an at some level he knew he had been hit by bullets or shrapnel.
He felt weak, weak and tired, his eyes barely open, his face just inches from the mud. He could hear the blood dripping from his face and hitting the mud with a plopping sound. Vision tunneled. Falling into softness. Pain receding. Then nothing.
He was in a cold wet place, with several suns shining through mist. He shivered, and in the mist surrounding him he could see shapes moving, they loomed above him, he couldn't make them out, monsters, they would drown him in the mud if he moved, he had to float, arch his back, feet together, breath, slow, steady, don't make a noise, or the white monsters would get him. He could hear the moans and screams of the ones that the monsters caught. His bladder emptied. They covered his nose and mouth to suffocate him.
He was on a cloud, a soft warm cloud. He wasn't cold any more. The most beautiful thing he ever saw was looking down at him. The face was soft, a little tired looking, but clean, it had a strange white hat, blond hair pulled back, and eyes so blue he could swim in them. The face smiled. He wasn't in hell. He closed his eyes. The angel would take care of him.
He was trying to run, sweating, panting. Something was chasing him, he was in mud up to his knees, he could hardly move, there was fog, the dead Feldwebel was following him, but he was huge, with a meat cleaver, slobber dripping from the mouth. There were rats as big as dogs circling like sharks, they were talking to each other, one was saying it wanted George's left thigh, it looked tasty, it would toast it with cheese.
He was pinned down, tied down, straps across his chest, one leg heavy and painful, aching, his face hurt, his ribs, shoulder and thigh ached. Something was tickling his left thigh, like tiny fingers scratching and moving. Had the rats caught him?
His eyes opened and another angel was beside him, this one was older, and tired looking, a brunette with brown eyes, she turned to him and said: "Hello" with a tired smile on her face and in her voice.
"Whaa rrrg." He tried to speak, it didn't come out very well.
"Shhh, you were thrashing around, we had to restrain you."
"Clear your throat, here's some water."
She held a glass straw to his lips, he sucked, it felt good.
"Rats, my leg, there's rats."
"Shhh Shh, don't worry, there's no rats here, none at all."
"My leg, rats chewing."
"No, no rats here. It's all bandaged up, the doctor put maggots to eat the dead flesh, you were wounded there, a lot of places."
"Nooooo, they'll eat me up!"
"Shhhh calm down soldier, you're in a hospital, the maggots only eat dead flesh, it's a normal procedure, it's quite sanitary, quite safe."
"I'm sorry, you can't scratch it. They'll be removed in an hour or so."
He sank into his dreams before she could say anything. She smiled though, these poor boys were starved for affection, it seemed like every week one of them wanted to meet her after it was over. She was nearly old enough to have a son their age, she could only imagine the proposals that some of the other nurses got.