December 27th, Ortona, Italy
Jacques slammed into the wall as the sniper round drove him back. Henry crawled over to him and pulled Jacques out of the line of fire. Blood was pouring out of Jacques’ upper arm. Henry pulled his knife and cut the shirt to see how bad it was. Jacques looked down to see a crease in his arm where the bullet had just cut him.
“Better get you to the medic,” said Henry.
“Aye. He stitch me up, I can fight some more,” said Jacques. The two men worked their way out of the building and back to the Canadian line where the medics were stationed. Other men moved into the building to keep the attack going.
Brian saw his son and son-in-law head for the medics and then moved off to take men into another building. He no sooner got into position than he heard the rumble of tanks. The Germans were heading straight for the building Jacques and Henry had just left. He wasn’t sure what was going on at first, but then it was clear. The German’s were going to level the building. He tried to holler and get someone’s attention. It didn’t work, so he headed back down to let people know just as the building collapsed. Screams, falling masonry, and gun fire filled the air. Men rushed to the building to try and pull out survivors.
In the mean time, the Canadian tanks roared to life and started pounding the Germans. The battle intensified and with the help of spotters, two buildings full of Germans were leveled in retaliation for the deaths of the Canadians. One building housed officers and communications which was a major victory. Anyone with a gun was firing at the Germans. The air filled with the stench of cordite and the smoke from the guns made it difficult to see.
The intense fighting and the rescue operation went on all through the night. Brian ran out of grenades twice and smiled when he saw Jacques back in the battle. The Canadians captured the town square and drove the Germans to the end of Ortona. With nowhere to go and no reinforcements, the Germans began to evacuate Ortona. By 10am, the Canadian forces declared victory as no more Germans were to be found in Ortona who were not prisoners or dead.
“1375 of us dead,” said Jacques as they rested in a quiet corner of a barn just outside of Ortona.
“Is that what you heard?” asked Henri.
“Aye. More wounded too,” said Chester. “That be nearly a quarter of us gone.”
The men shook their heads in shock and disbelief. They were just glad to be alive with minor wounds and hunger to deal with.
January 1944, Canada
“Maman! Maman!” shouted George and Quintus as they came into the cabin. They found Natalie cuddling Bertie.
“Shush! You wake this baby, I let you put him back to sleep,” she whispered. Betty had a hard labor and even a month later was not in good health in spite of all of Natalie’s help. Natalie had taken Bertie so that Betty could sleep a bit.
“Maman, at the cine we saw a Canadian Army Newsreel. It was all about Ortona! We think we saw Jacques and maybe Henri,” said George as quietly as he could in spite of his excitement.
“Aye! And Jacques had a big bandage around his arm,” added Quintus.
“Did you see your Papa?” she asked.
“Non,” said both boys at once.
Natalie nodded. Jenny and Alice and some of the other women had gone into town and taken the boys to the cinema. She’d hear more from them later. “Go get some firewood. The box is low,” she said softly.
As the boys left, she sat next to the stove and rocked her tiny grandson.
The 1st Canadian along with other British troops under General Montgomery took a break to regroup and heal after Ortona. From Ortona, they moved north to the Hitler Line. This was a defense line from Aquino to Piedimonte. By May the 1st Canadian Division was in the thick of it.
“Damn line tactics! Just like the Great War. Kill you slow and stupid,” complained Brian. He’d told the Major what he thought of this battle and no one listened. He worked his way back to his men, dodging from foxhole to gun position. He was almost there when he felt a searing pain in his side and then the world went dark.
“He breathing?” asked a voice.
“Aye. He growling. Get moving,” said another.
“Damn! He sure heavy,” said the first.
“Aye! Don’ drop him, he kill you,” said the second.
Brian drifted in and out of consciousness. His whole body hurt and the wolf within whined in pain. He couldn’t move, but knew he was moving as his body bounced up and down.
The men carried him to the field hospital. They’d bandaged him as best they could, but blood was dripping everywhere. They ran. No one wanted to have to tell Natalie Davy her husband had died because they’d moved too slow. She’d rip their throats out.
The medics took the stretcher from the men and ran straight into the operating theater. Calls went out for doctors and one by one they filled the tent. Brian was moved to the operating table, and his clothes cut away as they prepped him for surgery.
“Dr. Abrams, I’m having trouble knocking him out. He keeps waking up,” said a nurse.
“Give him more chloroform. Pain does weird things to men,” he said and started to work on the man in front of him. A bullet had hit him on the side and glanced off of his rib, shattering it. He worked quickly and threw bits of rib bone off to one side as he debrided the area.
“Dr. Abrams, he’s waking up again,” said the nurse.
“Give him a shot of morphine! Hold him still!” cried Dr. Abrams as he tried to work on the patient who was doing his best to get up off of the table. Two orderlies grabbed arms and legs while the nurse injected him with morphine. Finally, the man relaxed and Dr. Abrams was able to finish surgery.
“Put this man in the ward at the back. I want to be able to keep an eye on him,” said Dr. Abrams as he stripped off the bloody gown and gloves and got dressed again for the next patient.
Brian woke up in the dark. His mouth felt full of cotton and he hurt. He tried to get up, and before he could roll over, a hand gently settled on his chest.
“Lay still,” said the voice quietly.
“Wah-t-her,” Brian managed to gasp.
The man held a cup to his lips and let him sip just a bit of water. “Don’t drink too much, I don’t want to test my stitches. Can’t have you drowning because you sprang a leak,” said the voice.
Brian sipped slowly, letting the water soak into his dry mouth. His head hurt and even in the dark, he knew he was just a bit shifted. He tried to think human, but the pain wasn’t helping.
“That’s enough,” said the man and took the water away.
Brian blinked and tried to see in the dark. Even with his eyes partially shifted, he could barely see. “Who… arhh youh?” he asked thickly.
“I’m Dr. Abrams. I put you back together a few hours ago. I should be sleeping before I have to put more men back together, but I thought it better to stay here and ask you some questions,” he said.
“Huh?” asked Brian who was having trouble thinking two-legged thoughts.
“You sir, should be dead. A rather large caliber round went nearly through you from side to side. Some how it missed your stomach and liver, but clipped ribs and sent splinters into everything. You fought the anesthesia and the morphine. You nearly walked off of the table mid surgery and I swear that you were healing as I was trying to repair you. Just what are you?” Dr. Abrams asked.
“Cah-nah-dee-an,” said Brian slowly while his mind raced in panic.
“Yes, I know that, but what are you? I’m not going to harm you. I just need to know. I’m curious. I’ve got you in isolation until we could talk, and to keep you safe. I know you don’t want to trust me, but you must,” Dr. Abrams said softly.
“Shoo-dn’t,” said Brian. “Bloody hell! Why couldn’t I just die?”he thought.
“Sargent Davy, I could order you to tell me, but I’d rather you explain. If it is too complicated, the rest of this medical hobbiest group will want to dissect you. I’m trying to save you, but we have to talk. You’re heavier than when you came in which isn’t logical. You also have more hair and to be honest, it looks like your teeth are growing. What in the world are you?” pleaded the doctor.
Brian sighed. He could feel the fur and his teeth. He knew the cot was creaking with his weight. He took another deep breath, and could smell something. Not all human. Not afraid. “Whhat arh youh?” he asked.
Dr. Abrams shook his head. “Complicated. So, your are able to tell I’m not your average man too. So, I am still waiting for your answer,” he said.
“Shhif-tur,” said Brian.
“Shifter?” asked the doctor not totally understanding.
“Youh’d ccahl meh a wwher-woof,” Brian finally got out. He tensed, waiting for a bullet or lights to flash on or any sudden movement.
“Werewolf? Oh! I understand. Oh god,” said Dr. Abrams. “Are you contagious? Will I need to clean the operating room more? Um..”
“Noh. Fam-ily. All fam-i-ly. Morh wahtur plez,” Brian said trying to talk better and not let this man panic into calling the MP’s.
Dr. Abrams gave Brian more water. Brian could see a thousand questions piling up behind the doctor’s eyes. How he wished Natalie was here.