December 4, 2015

Just because you are all so patient...

From Remarkable Likeness

(Which I SHALL publish in 2015)

“In spite of everything I still believe people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death.  I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end that that peace and tranquility will return again.  Anne Frank The Diary of a Young Girl
Prologue:  In the forest near Alten Frühling, Germany
She opened her eyes cautiously.  This was the third day in a row that the sound of shelling and the smell of cordite drifted from the town below.  As far as Helena knew none of the shells had hit the camp.  Yet.  Between the shell bursts the only sound was the buzzing of flies.  Always in summer it was the flies, but now with summer ending the pests were getting meaner, as if they knew it would soon be the end for them.  And perhaps also for the women around her too.  There had been no food for four days and, while it was tempting to go to the well outside, they all suspected that the Commandant had ordered the well contaminated.  There was paranoia everywhere.
Only a handful of men remained in the camp.  The guards had left two days ago to reinforce the fighters defending the town.  Most of the male prisoners had struck out then toward the woods but Rabbi Cohen had argued that they were safer in the camp.  If the fighting spilled over into the forest they were likely to be caught in the crossfire.  Still.  Most of the women, and there were many, cowered in the barracks.
Scratching, she sat up.  Why were the fleas so healthy when none of the people in the camp could stand?  Virtually all of the women were huddled together in the far corner of the barren room.  They talked only of the hope that the allies would come up from Alten Frühling where they were fighting and find them here in the camp by the river.
The door burst open and then slammed shut.  Helena snarled.  It was the Commandant, the man she hated most in this world.  For a moment she was ashamed of the feral woman she had become.  She was ashamed that her mother would have not approved.
“Up against that wall, all of you.”
Even his voice made her furious.  She rolled off the bed and tried to slide under it but he saw her and a vicious kick of his boot and a jab to her side with the butt of his rifle sent her scurrying across the floor on her hands and knees biting back a scream and joining the other women near the end of the line.  She stood up, back against the wall next to Alma, eyes downcast, heart racing. Outside an automobile engine was running and then she knew his plan.  She had heard the gunfire from the other barracks. He would kill them all before they were rescued, before they had a chance to identify him to their liberators.
But just as the thought finished its journey through her brain the gunfire started. His gun sprayed quickly down the line. 
But she was quicker, years of dodging her tormentor made it instinctual.  As the woman before her began to fall to the floor she began to fall too dragging Alma with her.  She felt the bullet enter her arm, but it was just her arm.
She lay absolutely motionless on the floor.  Could one breathe without moving?  She tried.  When she breathed there was a whistling sound.  She had to silence it. She had to try. 
His boots with their mirror shine moved nearer.  He would kill her now.  He would kill her because she knew and she would tell. He would kill her because he knew she was strong.
The crack of the door hitting the wall tested her resolve to remain motionless. The Commandant jumped back, his weapon at the ready, but it was his assistant, Hans, who came stumbling in, grasping his thigh.  The Commandant gave her one last kick and then dragged his subordinate out of the room. In a few moments there was a spray of gravel on the wooden steps to the barracks.
For three minutes more Helena still held her breath.  Then, when her eyes and her heart told her that she was safe, she lightly touched Alma who lay beside her.  There was no response to her touch.
She rolled onto her side.  She knew her ribs were broken. Her breath came in short gasps.  She considered that holding her breath was a better idea because it didn’t hurt so much but, she needed to staunch the wound in her arm.  With her teeth and her good arm she succeeded in ripping off what was left of the hem of her dress and tightening it around her upper arm.  For a moment she rested against the post of the bunk bed trying to find air.
She looked around.  They all looked dead.
“Is anybody alive?”  She asked tentatively.
No response.
She sighed and tried to crawl but that hurt too much so she pulled herself to vertical.
Methodically she checked the women with whom she had worked for the last two years.  None of them showed signs of life.  At the door she collapsed sending waves of pain through her brain.  But she willed herself to stay awake, afraid that she would be thought dead and buried alive.
The door opened with the barrel of a gun.  A boot cautiously slid across the door jam.  She was ready to trip him but looking up she saw the face of a very young British infantryman and heard him say,
“Bloody hell, they’re all dead in here too, Sergeant.”
She wanted to say “all but me,” but she was afraid of scaring him and catching a bullet so she waited.
He turned to see her sitting propped up by the door.
He knelt down with his gun as a staff.
“Who are you?” he asked, his adolescent face crossed with amazement.
“Helena Sarah Steinberg, I am a British subject.”
With that the world went dark for Helena Steinberg.
© 2015 Christina Wible

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