I've decided to branch out a bit from my original theme of poetry. I also write short stories and wanted to post a couple of them here. Since this is my "diary" of sorts, I think I'll keep all my works here, safe and sound - I hope. This piece was created before my "1942" poem, as an entry to a writing contest with Writer's Digest. Since this is not an official publication, complete with licensure and all for the work herein, I feel safe in sharing it with you.
I feel a special, inexplicable attachement to the World War II era, having flooded my brain with every piece of liturature I could find in my younger years. I must have read Diary of Anne Frank a million times. I keep my eyes on the History Channel in hopes of gleaning a story or two about this era. Quirky? Okay. We all have our weirdness. This is mine. Enjoy!
Smoke fills the dry, blistering air. Particles of ash swallow up the scalding breeze and lay waste to the wilting trees and desiccated ground below. Silence fills the air, except for the moans and desperate whimpers of those left to rot in open graves meant for a lesser nation; the unclean, the impoverished, the weak.
Gunshots are heard in the distance, beyond the trees, past the bodies left for dead, and within the coalition of Hitler’s elite. Grunts and yelps of celebration emanate from the soldiers as they extinguish the flame of a useless race of people they call “Jews.”
A half-mile to the east, plumes of pitch spew from smokestacks and tarp the sunlight, punctuating the end of a people’s fading existence. The stench of charring flesh is burned into the nostrils and embedded into the memories of those near enough to fall victim to its grip.
And one small cry in the dark; a child, a boy, alone. He hovers low, beneath the ground in his haven, surrounded by mud and human waste. Shivering in the damp and cold, and shuddering at the smell in which he finds himself immersed, he wonders if he will be safe tonight. When the morning dawns, will the pounding cadence of heavy boots cease? Will the faces he sees in his darkness fade with the sun’s rising? Or will he be doomed to remain in his secluded mud chamber forever?
“I’m hungry,” he whimpers silently to himself, lest his voice be heard by passers by. He dares not leave his sanctuary for the sake of his empty, aching, bloating belly.
“Maybe tonight I’ll eat, maybe tonight.”
He wipes a dirty tear from his swollen face. Grateful he escaped the jaws of the lion clad in German fare, he wonders if he would be in a better place had he not taken flight from the round-up at the encampment on the night the soldiers severed the children from their screaming mothers. All he can recall from that night is etched in his memory like a tablet of stone; wedging himself under barbed wire, crawling out of sight, and burrowing into a muddy hole. When he allowed himself to rest, his mind flooded with memories of his mommy, her gentle touch, her tender smile, her soothing words, and the fragrance of her supper filling their modest home.
Half a mile down the road, light reflects from the metal corral decorated with razor-sharp teeth. Inside the pen, the 120-acre cage, are the living, the breathing, and the hopeless many who are forgotten by the world among whom they once thrived. No-one knows -- no-one but them and the brutal force that thrust them into this city of sorrow, this civilization of the despised. Above, the high-noon sun bears down on them like grapes under a press, squeezing out every ounce of precious nectar.
From the courtyard a bell sounds, like a schoolhouse cafeteria, calling to all who still have ears to hear that mealtime has arrived! They scurry from their makeshift shelters, across the urine-soaked mud, stumbling over each other, tripping over the fallen, stammering to reach the food line. On the menu: a fist-sized clump of hardened white bread. Impatiently they wait in line, wringing their weathered hands, licking their parched lips, wincing with pangs of hunger. As quickly as they come, they return to their meager lodgings, guarding their precious crusted lump of flour as a dog protecting its bone, all the while watching and waiting for someone to fall, to drop, to die away. The clump of bread in their lifeless, emaciated hands shall certainly not go to waste!
Hidden away from this organized chaos a woman cowers in a corner, behind a bunk, and weeps. Darkness hides her shrinking frame and camouflages her unbearable grief. With the throbbing hunger in her gut, she carries the ache of separation from her child, a son, who was severed from her arms the night the soldiers excised their young. “Eli,” she weakly utters in quiet disbelief. She wonders where he is. Is he safe from the torture she has endured? Has he food and drink to quench his thirst and his hunger? Has he escaped the grip of the Nazi stronghold? Or has he been herded away like sheep to the slaughter with the rest of his young comrades? Perhaps he hides, safe, away from the brutal humiliation suffered by those walled up behind these barbs. She clings to the memory of his unique fragrance, his silly grin, his playful quirkiness. She prays.
“If there is a God, please, tuck him safely away until we can be together. Oh, God, deliver him to safety. Deliver your people.”
To whom does she pray? What god can bear to witness the humiliation, pain and torment of a people he calls his own? Beneath her, the ground faintly rumbles.
A whistle blows in loud, crisp, strong bursts. The people, like robots, respond to the orders of their directors. “You, this way!” demands the officer; to yet another, “Over there!” The mechanical separation of the fit from the weak has become a daily routine, like the running of the mail or the Live at Five! broadcasts.
Morning delivers another day. Unspeakable quiet, unbearable silence, unsettling curiosity grips the boy in the hole. The lamentations of the dying are not heard. The deafeningmarch of the soldiers’ heavy footsteps has ceased. Curiosity rich with astonishment coaxes the boy into the breaking of the dawn. The soldiers are not seen. The skies havewon the battle over the volcano of human ash. From the safety of his pit he ventures timidly away, constantly aware, always watching, like a cat anxiously moving amid a threat of snarling dogs.
In the distance he hears a rumbling, a storming of heavy trucks. Should he fear? In his weakened state, should he run away and face another night of starvation and desecration in his safety zone, his asylum? Death would be a welcomed friend. He slowly makes his way toward the sound of the trucks, hiding himself amid the silhouette of trees and shrubs.
The vehicles in view, he does not recognize them as the beasts that changed his life in the beat of heart. They are different. To him they are gunmetal guardians who storm their way through the streets and over the hills toward the camp of survivors just down the road. Edging closer, and in his unsettled curiosity, he is spotted by the driver of the giant iron sentinel. The mechanical monster stops in its tracks, and a blue-eyed soldier, uniformed in his camouflaged basic dress unit, bounds from the craft and makes his way toward the boy.
“What’s your name?” the man impatiently inquires.
The boy, in his fright, does not understand the command uttered by the soldier. In fact, he does not recognize the language at all. Fear grips his heart and his eyes reflect his terror, as the soldier presses again, “Wie heiben du?”
“Eli,” responds the boy, barely audible, voice trembling, body shivering.
“Where’s your mommy?” the soldier presses.
Not responding, not understanding, he pleads for mercy with his tear-filled eyes. Barely able to withstand the inescapable terror of facing another soldier, he remains silent, stiff, except for the stream of warm urine dribbling down his petrified legs. His petite six-year-old frame is unfashionably draped with tattered rags, and his muddy wool jacket falls almost free of the patch of yellow star he was sentenced to display and mark him for death.
The soldier corrects himself and again demands an answer, “Die Mutter!”
Raising a feeble arm and with a ragged breath, he points with his eyes and his dirty little-boy hand toward the prisoner camp. Looking back at the soldier, evaluating his intentions, he sees a sympathetic softness on the soldier’s face.
“You’re okay, son. You’ll be okay.”
The soldier scoops the frightened child into his arms and deposits him into the Guardian, securely locking him inside with a handful of other brave young men.
Away the convoy roars at a well-disciplined tempo, toward the east, toward the camp, toward Eli's mother, half a mile down the road.
Photo courtesty of "Hell on Wheels" website.