As he approached Saint L’Azaire, he felt a pressure at the back of his skull. He felt no wound back there, only a faint throb that increased as he climbed over hedge rows and crossed fields. Night had passed quickly to early morning and while his muscles ached from exerting himself, he didn’t feel tired.
He stopped at the edge of town and put his hands up in the air as he felt an unseen barrier pushing back against his fingertips. Beyond the barrier, the village appeared as it had when he had last visited so long ago. Was Lucy still there? He reached into his pocket to find her picture missing. Did he lose it during the drop? He rummaged through his gear. All of his things were gone. The Thompson disappeared next, followed by his sidearm, and then slowly everything else save his clothing. The throbbing behind his eyes increased to a crescendo of pain until he dropped to his knees. He staggered backward and fell over backward to the ground. Memories of a bad landing, a firefight with Germans, a Luger muzzle stuck against his ear, and then blackness before reawakening in the tree.
“No way.” He gave up all pretense of stealth and shouted in all directions. “What about my men? I had a duty.”
Silence was his only answer as he sat in the dirt.
A hand touched him on the shoulder. He opened his eyes and looked up, seeing her as he remembered. Long black hair, warm brown eyes, and wearing the bright floral dress on the day they had met. He fell in love with Lucy Pardeu from the first moment he had laid eyes on her.
Lucy smiled down at him as she took his hand in hers.
“You’ve marched for far too long. It is time to go home.”
He allowed himself to be helped up. “This can’t be real, is it?” He turned to see a small granite memorial mere yards away. The writing on the obelisk wasn’t clear enough to read, but even at that distance, he recognized the company logo. “We failed to accomplish the mission. We were separated and the Germans cut us down.” He looked into her eyes. “They’re all buried under that monument?”
“Did our side win?”
She gently pulled him close. “You fought bravely to the end. The Germans made an example of you by hanging your body back in the trees with your parachute. Later, your were reburied with your men.”
“Wait, if I’m dead, then how can you…”
“After you were executed, German soldiers made an example of Saint L’Azaire.”
“Well, shit.” He kicked a rock around for several minutes. “How long?”
“Time has no meaning anymore.” She pointed to a bright light on the horizon. “You’ve walked this path from the tree to here many times over the decades. Your reluctance to accept the truth has kept us apart for far too long.”
He took her hand and they started walking. “Hey, I have a question?”
“We have plenty of time for questions. What is it?”
“If I’ve been haunting those woods all this time, did I get a chance to really scare the bejesus out of anyone in all that time?”