Terry Burns is an agent with Hartline Literary as well as writing inspirational fiction. As a writer he has over 40 books in print including 10 novels. He has a new 4 book series from Port Yonder Press entitled “The Sagebrush Collection” of his collected short works and the first released March 2010 entitled “On the Road Home.” A Young Adult entitled Beyond the Smoke won the Will Rogers Medallion and a new book “A Writer’s Survival Guide to Publication” also from Port Yonder Press was developed out of the month long course he held for ACFW. A popular speaker at workshops across the country, a bookstore of his available works as well as a regular blog can be found at www.terryburns.net. As an agent Terry says "I'm looking for a good book, well written in a unique voice, aimed at a market that looks promising, and where I feel I have the contacts appropriate to be able to sell the book in that market. I’m pretty open as to genre but I don’t do children’s, sci fi or fantasy. He’s a member of the Association of Author’s Representatives (AAR).
Corporal Mike Cotton sat on his cot, holding the combat boot he had just removed, seeming to lack the will to drop it. His shoulders slumped and he stared at the floor, anguish on his face.
“This is the worst day since we’ve been over here.”
Sergeant Steve Smith, the squad leader, nodded. He knew the look. “It doesn’t seem much like Christmas when we look out and see sand and Humvees instead of snow and sleighs.”
Both men wore desert camouflage, the uniform of the day in the field in Iraq. Beyond that they had little in common. Mike was a big man with a baby face framed and accented by dark brown hair and eyebrows. Steve looked older than his twenty-six years with unruly blond hair and an ever-present grin that made his orders easy to take. His men would charge hell with only a bucket of water for him.
Mike tossed the boot and began to unlace the other one. “No, it’s not that. We got a good meal, and they worked really hard to make it feel festive. If it were just me, I’d be okay with that. It’s my family, my kids, knowing what it’s doing to their Christmas, me not being there with them.”
The perpetual smile faded from Steve’s face. “I see. Well, eight-hour time difference, it’s mid-afternoon back in Texas. I bet she’s already fired off an e-mail telling you all about it, so what are you doing here? Let’s head over to the com tent.”
Steve rose from his cot and stepped over to the door.
“That’s not a bad idea.” Mike quickly relaced his boot and retrieved the other one.
In the com tent they found coffee and waited impatiently for time on one of the computers. It seemed to take forever. When Mike got on a machine, he immediately logged on to his e-mail. A message from his wife, Elizabeth, waited in bold type. He clicked on it eagerly, not knowing whether he would find encouragement or something that would further depress him. Even if she felt down, she would try to keep upbeat and cheerful, he knew that. But he could always tell when his distance from home was weighing on her heart.
Some times are harder for you to be away from us than others.
She was not hiding her emotions this time. A lump came into his throat and a heaviness descended on his chest.
The kids and I have been decorating for Christmas and trying hard to get into the holiday spirit, but it has been very difficult.
“You get one from home?” Steve put his hand on his friend’s shoulder.
Mike glanced up at him. “Yes, but I’m beginning to wish I hadn’t.”
“Sorry, man, I’ll leave you alone.”
Mike kept his friend from turning away with a hand on his forearm. “You didn’t have anything?”
“No, I get some generic stuff from time to time, but the army is my family. I’ve got nobody back at home.”
“Pull up a chair then. Good or bad, you can share it with me.”
Steve positioned a chair where he could see the monitor. Mike scrolled down to reveal more text and began to read aloud.
We were feeling pretty sorry for ourselves Christmas Eve, I’ll admit it.
“Aw man,” Steve said, “I see what you mean.”
“I can just see her. I know the look; I’ve even caused it on occasion by doing something stupid. She doesn’t have to say a word. I just start trying to make it right as soon as I see the pain on her face. I want to run home right now and try to erase that look, know what I mean?”
“Hey, you’re talking to a confirmed bachelor here, but I do envy you having that strong a connection with her, I really do. Go on, what’s she saying?
Together the two soldiers leaned over to follow the words as Mike read them aloud.
Then Claire (she’s our small support group leader now) called and asked if she and some others could pick us up for the candlelight Christmas Eve service. I thought that might help so I agreed. I suppose she called from her cell phone because it took no time at all for her to be here.
Mike’s voice got a little husky. He cleared his throat and continued:
What a surprise we received when we got to the church. It was beautiful, lit by nothing but candles in the windows, green garlands on the ends of all the pews. Then I stopped in my tracks when I got to the place where we usually sit.
Your place was draped with an American flag.
Not folded—that might have brought the wrong image to mind—but draped on the back of the seat with your picture sitting on it. I started to cry and they all gathered around me. Their touch was comforting.
Steve called out to some soldiers drinking coffee nearby. “You guys need to hear this.” He looked at his friend. “That all right, Mike?”
“Sure, why not?”
Most of those in the com tent came over to group behind them. Mike’s voice had betrayed him on the last passage so Steve read down through that point, then Mike picked up from there.
Brother Bill preached a sermon on sacrifice. He said we should all be mindful of the sacrifices our loved ones are making being away from their families, protecting our freedom and the freedom of the Iraqi people. I thought my heart would stop when he reminded us quietly that some had paid an even higher cost.
Someone murmured behind Mike. “You got a special lady there.”
“You think other churches might be doing this?” another wondered aloud.
Mike smiled at them. “It wouldn’t surprise me for this to be going on all over the country.”
“Guys, let the man read,” a voice in the back ordered. The group had doubled in size.
Steve scooted his chair a little closer:
He went on in his sermon to talk about the sacrifice that Jesus made for us, going to the cross to redeem us from our sins.
Mike nodded, “Oh yeah, we get to feeling like we’re really putting it on the line, but that puts it into perspective.”
A young soldier looked terribly serious. “I saw that movie. You know the one? Where they treated that dude so bad, then nailed him up on that cross? I don’t really understand what it’s all about, but I can’t get it out of my head. They really put him through it, and he just took it, man, he just took it.”
“We need to talk, Samuel,” Mike smiled. “Right after I finish, okay?”
The soldier nodded. They held eye contact for several moments and Mike could tell the young man had reached a point where he did need to talk to somebody about it.
Steve resumed his reading:
Brother Bill said that tomorrow we would be celebrating the birth of Jesus, not his death. He wrapped up his talk and everybody gathered around us.
Mike, you know it’s a small church, and you are the only one we have serving right now. It’s as if the whole church is your family, and they all said they continually are praying for you and those you are serving with. We all joined hands and prayed for you specifically right then. We included the names of those you have written me about.
Steve turned toward his friend, an incredulous look on his face. “I never knew anybody ever prayed for me.”
Mike put a hand on his shoulder. “All the time, Steve.”
“I don’t know what to say,” the feisty little sergeant said quietly. He looked up. “I never knew.”
“That’s my fault, I should have told you.”
“Don’t that beat all?” He turned his attention back to the message.
By the time we got home, a group of neighborhood carolers was there. They all carried candles and sang so beautifully. In only minutes it seemed like everyone in the neighborhood had joined in. It was just wonderful!
You remember that crotchety old man on the corner, Mr. Sandoval? He invited everyone over to his house for refreshments. He made up some spiced apple cider, and we had a fine time.
“I could go for a little of that myself,” somebody said.
“I can take care of that,” the mess sergeant said. “But not right now, I want to hear the rest of this, too.”
“Spiced cider does sound good,” Steve said. “It looks like she’s talking about the next day now:”
Christmas morning we got up at the break of dawn, you know how the kids run in to see what Santa left. I guess they’re all like that.
Steve looked at those behind him. “We sure did were when I was little.”
A murmur of assent came from behind them. One said, “My kids don’t wait until dawn, they start begging to open presents at midnight.”
“Ain’t it the truth?”
In the field, much of the time soldiers wore what they called their “game faces,” insulating themselves from many of the problems they faced by drawing inside not showing their feelings to those around them. There were no game faces in the room now. These were softer faces, people allowing themselves to feel.
Steve read on.
I was afraid they might be disappointed. Money is still pretty tight. I couldn’t get everything, as you know, but I tried to get them each at least one thing they really wanted.
Before we could open any gifts a knock sounded at the door. I opened it and there were several Marines standing there in dress blues, and one wearing a red suit with a white beard. You could hardly see them for the presents they were carrying.
“Them Gyrenes are all right,” the mess sergeant laughed. “They do that every year.”
Mike nodded. “I’ll say they are all right. They have to be taking time away from their own families to come look after mine. I’ve seen that Toys for Tots thing on TV most of my life and it never really hit home until now.”
Steve smiled. “You gonna yammer or are we going to finish reading this?”
“Sorry, go ahead.”
“Looks like they had a big time with those Marines, and they even stayed to play with them and put things together.”
“Some assembly required,” a guy muttered. “Why don’t they just say you’re going to be up all night putting them together?”
Steve read on and said, “But she says that right after that she got a call from the commanding officer at the Army Reserve Center. There’s still a contingent there you know.”
“Lucky stiffs,” somebody said.
“They’ve done their time,” another answered.
Steve shook his head. “That bunch is all right, too. Listen to this.”
He sent a Humvee for us. The kids really got a kick out of that. The officer had asked all the dependents with relatives away from home down to have a Christmas meal with the unit.
When we arrived they formed the company for inspection. They did a roll call and when they came to your name somebody in the back said, “Deployed, Sir! Standing tall in Iraq.” Someone answered for every soldier that wasn’t there. They think about you guys a lot.
They had a field kitchen set up and said it would give us an idea of what you were eating. Actually he said you would probably even be eating a little better than what they were set up here to do, but it’d give us an idea of the experience. I thought the food was good, and we were treated royally.
Of course, as soon as I got home I put the kids down for a nap. I know it’s late over there and you probably won’t read this until tomorrow. I just want to tell you how much I love you and...
Steve cleared his throat. “Well, it starts getting a little personal here so I’ll give you some privacy.” He got up. “Besides, didn’t I hear something about some spiced cider?”
The soldiers filed out for the mess tent, talking quietly among themselves. Fifteen minutes later Mike came in. “I answered her e-mail.”
“Figured you would. You seem to be in better spirits.”
“I think they had a good Christmas thanks to all the people back home that care about them, and a bunch of guys that go above and beyond the call of duty. If they had a good Christmas, then I had a good Christmas.”
“Thanks for sharing, Mike, I think you gave us all a good Christmas.”
“Thank you for making me do it. I would have just gone to bed and lain awake stewing in my own juices and worrying about them. For somebody who doesn’t have family, you sure knew what I needed.”
“I feel like I picked up a little family myself tonight.”
Across the tent someone started singing “Silent Night” and everybody joined in. They sang every carol they knew, the sound drawing people back out of their rack from all over the camp.
During the singing, Mike went over to put his arm around his friend’s shoulder. “Samuel, how about you and I go over here and talk about that movie you saw?”