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Authors: Kathleen Benner Duble

Phantoms in the Snow

BOOK: Phantoms in the Snow
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KATHLEEN BENNER DUBLE

PHANTOMS IN THE SNOW

  SCHOLASTIC PRESS/NEW YORK

FOR MY VERY OWN SPECIAL HERO,
BOTH IN WORLD WAR II
AND ALWAYS IN MY HEART:
MY UNCLE, LEONARD PALMER.
AND IN GRATITUDE TO THE MEN
OF THE TENTH MOUNTAIN DIVISION,
WITH SPECIAL THANKS TO PETER BINZEN,
MOUNT RIGA’S PHANTOM.

Contents

Cover

Title Page

Dedication

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

CHAPTER NINETEEN

CHAPTER TWENTY

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

CHAPTER THIRTY

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE

AUTHOR’S NOTE

REFERENCES

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Copyright

CHAPTER ONE

N
oah Garrett sat on the kitchen chair and listened to the rhythmic ticking of the hall clock echoing through the nearly empty rooms of his house and to the two lowered voices coming from behind the hastily shut door, the minister’s gentle and quiet, his neighbor’s shrill and determined.

Through the window, Noah could see the grass in the fields moving back and forth, the sight so familiar that his heart ached with each gust of wintry February wind. And in the distance, he could see the headstones, two of them, tall and forbidding in the midst of the rising grass.
CELESTE GARRETT, LOVING WIFE, DEVOTED MOTHER, JANUARY
12, 1944, on one;
MITCHELL GARRETT, LOVING HUSBAND, DEVOTED FATHER, JANUARY
17, 1944, on the other.

Noah sat rigid with worry on that kitchen chair and listened to those voices and the clock and the wind coming in through the cracks of his house. And he waited for his future to be decided.

CHAPTER TWO

T
he door to the train compartment was thrown open, and two boys in uniform, one short, the other tall, came tumbling in, laughing and poking each other.

After hours on the train riding alone, Noah was startled by their sudden appearance. The boys pulled up short, almost knocking into each other. The rhythm of the train made them sway as if they were deliberately rocking back and forth on their toes.

“Well, well,” said one boy. “What have we here?”

“A new recruit, it looks like,” the other boy said. “Say, kid, you coming to Denver to learn how to fly? Did you just join up to fight?”

Noah shook his head as the two boys flopped down on the seat across from him.

Fighting again
, Noah thought,
always fighting and the war.
The war against Germany, Italy, and Japan had taken a firm hold
on the country ever since the bombing of the American naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Everyone had rushed off to sign up and fight. Now, two years later, the battle seemed to have stalled. In Russia, the city of Leningrad was under siege, and America was losing more boys in the Pacific every day. Still, in spite of the bad news, Americans continued to sign up in droves to go and fight.

The taller of the two boys reached into his jacket and pulled out a flask. He took a swig and handed it to his buddy, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Where you headed, then?” the short one asked, taking a drink.

“Camp Hale,” Noah answered.

The two boys grinned at each other and burst into laughter.

“Now, why would you go and join a military
skiing
division?” the tall one asked. “You should have been smarter. You should have joined up with the Air Corps like us, been a pilot. It’s going to be us pilots, you know, who are going to whip those Germans and Japanese and win this war. That skiing division of yours won’t be of any use at all.”

“It’s not
my
skiing division,” Noah said. “I didn’t join. I’m only fifteen. I’m being sent there.”

“Sent to Camp Hale?” the tall one hooted. “Who would send a kid to Camp Hale?”

A minister and a neighbor
, Noah thought,
that’s who’d send a kid to Camp Hale; a minister and a neighbor who didn’t know what else to do with him. His parents were gone.
His grandparents were dead, too. They said there was no other choice.

He thought of his mother and father — both pacifists. He remembered their talks with him about the war, how killing at any price was wrong. He imagined his mother’s horrified face if she knew he was being sent to a military camp. He imagined his father’s anguish.

He looked at the two boys across from him. Were they scared knowing that soon they would be sent to fight far from home? Had they even thought about dying or, like a lot of other boys who had signed up, did they see it all as one big adventure? Noah would never have signed up. Like his parents, Noah believed that war was not the answer to anything.

“You’re awful big for fifteen,” the short one said.

The soldier’s statement was nothing new. Everybody said the same thing to him. His father had been proud of Noah’s height. “We raise ’em big here in Texas,” his father had said, laughing. His father had always had a loud, booming laugh, one that had embarrassed Noah sometimes. Now Noah would have given anything to hear that laugh again.

“You staying for a while at Camp Hale?” the short one continued.

“Depends, I guess,” Noah said, looking out the train’s window.

“On what?” the tall one asked.

“On what my uncle and I decide once I get there,” Noah answered.

“Your uncle’s a Phantom?” the short one asked.

“Huh?” Noah said, turning from the window to face them, caught by the sudden strange word.

“Phantoms,” the tall one said. “That’s what we call them, the soldiers that ski. You can’t even see them when they’re in the mountains. They disappear like ghosts. They can ski and hike faster than normal people. It’s spooky.”

“Not that that will help us win the war.” The short one laughed. “I mean, we’re fighting those Germans in the sands of Africa for God’s sake. What are they going to do? Ski across the desert?”

“So,” the tall one persisted, “is your uncle a Phantom or not?”

Noah gazed at the older boys across from him, their uniforms starched and pressed perfectly, their shoes gleaming with polish. He thought of his uncle, the man he had never heard of until his parents died, the man he had never met. Noah felt a wave of loneliness wash over him.

“Yeah,” Noah said slowly, “I guess he is a Phantom.”

CHAPTER THREE

T
he two soldiers finally slumped off to sleep. Noah fidgeted on the uncomfortable wooden seat of the train and stared out the window, watching the landscape turn from flat and brown to rocky, high, and white. He thought about what lay ahead of him.

Would he ever get over losing his parents? Or would he feel this sense of loneliness forever? His whole life had been his mother, his father, and the farm.

Friends? There had only been a few, and none particularly close to Noah’s family, living as they had twenty miles outside of Austin. His mother had taught him his schooling at home. The only time he had even seen other kids was on their weekly visit to town for church or their monthly trip for supplies. Noah was used to being alone. But he was not used to feeling lonely.

And the future that now lay before him only increased his sense of loss. Who was this man he was being sent to?
What would he be like? Why hadn’t his parents ever mentioned him?

And then there was the war issue. Even when his father had first taken him hunting, Noah had balked at shooting anything. “My gentle giant,” Mama had called him when he had returned that first day with nothing to show after having been gone for hours. Noah had liked hearing himself described that way. And though he had eventually learned to hunt with his father, he never relished the trips.

He looked at the boys asleep across the aisle from him. Wouldn’t German or Japanese boys look like that if he were sitting next to them? Wouldn’t their heads droop the same way as they slept? Wouldn’t their snores be soft and even, too? Noah could no more imagine shooting the boys across from him than he could imagine that they would shoot him back. How could they? Why would they? Why would anyone want to? It just didn’t make sense.

Looking out the window of the train at that vast expanse of white, he felt his feelings mirrored in the countryside that flew by him. It was cold and bleak.

Three hours later, the train pulled into the station at Denver. The two soldiers rose groggily from their seats, their caps askew on their heads, their pants slightly wrinkled.

“Good luck, kid,” the tall one said. “You’re going to need it with that bunch at Camp Hale.”

“Aw, don’t scare him like that,” the short one said, punching the tall one lightly on the arm. “He’ll be okay.”

He turned back to Noah. “Besides, I doubt they’ll let a fifteen-year-old stay. You’re too young yet to be on an army base. So don’t worry about it. In no time at all, you’ll probably be back home. Then when you turn sixteen, you can join up with a division that’s really going to do something. You can join us pilots!”

The short one smiled, and the tall one saluted as he straightened his cap. Noah watched the boys leave the compartment, and the train was off again.

The soldier’s statement surprised Noah. He hadn’t considered the fact that they may not let him stay at Camp Hale. But he couldn’t go back home. There was nothing there for him. Their house was for sale, the proceeds intended to pay off their farming debts. He would have to find a way to make the army let him stay, or he would have to come up with a plan to live by himself, a way to make it on his own.

Stay at Camp Hale or live alone. One or the other — those were the alternatives. An orphanage was not an option. This decided, Noah leaned his head back against the seat and fell asleep.

“Last stop! Camp Hale!” The conductor’s voice rang out as he made his way through the train, banging on each of the compartment doors.

Noah rose slowly to his feet, stretching out his muscles after the train ride from Denver. He pulled his duffel bag down from the shelf above him and threw it over his shoulder. He walked down the corridor to the door of the train.

“Off you go, then,” the conductor said, swinging the door open for him.

A rush of cold air and a foot of snow greeted Noah. He took three steps down, pulling his lightweight jacket tight around him.

Sprawled in front of him were hundreds of identical buildings. Row upon row stretched as far as he could see, whitewashed and dreary looking, a smoky fog curling just above the rooftops. And beyond the barracks rose the mountains, jagged and unyielding and yet strangely majestic. Noah had never seen so much snow or mountains like these, nor had he ever felt such cold.

A high, shrill whistle sounded, and the train began to pull away. Noah stood and watched it gather speed. A gust of wind blew through the train station.

The train rounded a bend, growing smaller and smaller. Noah suddenly felt horribly homesick.

He turned back to the barracks and the white mountains behind them. Snow swirled like dandelion fluff around him. No one was in sight.

He heard a creaking noise and turned to look. A wooden sign swung back and forth in the wind.
WELCOME TO CAMP HELL,
it said.

BOOK: Phantoms in the Snow
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