Merry Christmas, Snake
by Robert A. Hall [previously published in the Mensa Writers' SIG
Eddie wrapped a length of C-ration baling wire around the trunk
of Aunt Thel's tree, and wedged the end between the bunker's
crumbling sandbags. That corrected the starboard list caused by a
bent stand. Considering that their mail had been air-dropped from
a C-130 cargo plane, the two-foot artificial tree had come
through remarkably well, with only the bent leg and one broken
At Snake's suggestion, they had turned the "bare spot" to the
wall and trimmed the tree with the surviving decorations and
local crafts: a tin star cut from a C-ration can, a pair of lance
corporal chevrons with the black coating worn off so they
glittered, some brass M-16 shell casings.
Eddie would have preferred canned peaches from Aunt Thel, but he
thought the tree looked right cheerful in their bunker. He
twisted the tin star to catch light from the radios and began
"Jingle bells, mortar shells, V. C. in the grass –
You can take, your Merry Christmas, and shove it up ...."
He sensed "incoming" and ducked as Snake's boot banged into the
wall, safely away from the precious tree, sending a trickle of
sand dribbling through the slats of the wooden pallets that
served as the bunker's floor. Eddie turned and saw Snake smiling
at him over a can of C-ration ham and limas. You couldn't get
pissed at a guy who would trade you beanies and weenies for ham
and "slimies," which every reasonable person hated the way
Santa's point-deer Rudolph hated clear weather.
Eddie wiped his eyes to get rid of the stinging caused by grit
from the sandbags. It didn't help. "Since when did you get the
Christmas spirit?" he asked, "I thought you were a Black Muslim?"
Snake had announced his new religion several weeks ago, the
fourth in seven months. Though he maintained a devout facade, his
"conversions" were a standing joke in the platoon. Eddie had
reasonably pointed out that while he, himself, was black, Snake
was a white dude – an awkward start for a Black Muslim.
Snake's response was that Eddie was an Uncle Tom; and, that since
there was no other black dude to be the radical on their radio
relay team, he would have to do it himself, "Just like every
goddamned thing else around here."
"Can't be a Muslim on Christmas Eve," Snake smiled, and continued
dropping pieces of John Wayne crackers through the floor planks
for the rat. He's been trying to kill the rat just last week,
but, following the lead of the Viet Cong, had declared a
Christmas truce with it yesterday.
Eddie picked up the jungle boot, and turned it over, observing
that it was nearly new. He looked down to his left boot, where
the electrical tape holding it together was coming loose. The
sides had rotted and he hadn't been able to scrounge replacements
from supply's limited stock.
"Hey, Snake, how about giving me your extra boots? We're the same
"Certainly, my man," Snake promised, "As soon as the Sear's
catalog comes and I can order something more stylish. We might,
however, barter – I do admire that KaBar knife on your
Snake rose and headed to the bunker door, which hung precariously
from the hinges of shell boxes. "I'll go switch generators." He
went into the night, taking only a small flashlight, to carry out
the regular task of alternating the 400 cycle generators that
powered their AN/TRC-27 radio relay unit.
Eddie was re-taping his boot when the first mortar round exploded
in the small perimeter. "Christmas truce!" he spat, lunging for
the door, "Little rice-propelled bastards!"
By the time the corpsman had checked the flow of blood from
Snake's mangled leg, and closed the flap of open flesh on his
right cheek, the painkiller had taken hold and he was babbling
happily. "Lucky break, Eddie," he said, laughing, "I tripped over
the goddamn antenna guy wire and couldn't make the hole. Now I'm
going home for Christmas, buddy. I'll be dancing in Time's Square
on New Year's Eve while you're still stuck in this shit hole,
Eddie glanced at Snake's leg and winced as they loaded him onto
the stretcher. "Nail one of them hippy broads for me," he said.
Snake laughed again, almost a giggle. "Hey, Eddie," he said, "You
can have those boots." He gave a weak, cheery wave. "Merry
"Merry Christmas, Snake," Eddie said, then he impulsively pulled
the KaBar from his belt and laid it on the stretcher, knowing
that some rear-echelon pogue would probably steal it from Snake.
"Take that home as a souvenir of this slice of paradise." Snake
waved again as the corpsmen hefted the stretcher and struggled
carefully up the muddy slope toward the med-evac LZ.
"Merry Fucking Christmas," Eddie whispered to himself. He turned
to go check the radios. The grit was bothering him again. Now, he
thought, who the hell can I trade ham and limas to?