Courage of a Captive

Image of Set Stories Free - 2018
Image of Short Story
Children realized the school day was done when it packed its bags and walked out the imaginary door, soon to start lecturing again the next morning. Small thin boned pupils rushed out the solitary school building as it loomed its somber face over them. It was a dark and humbling time in Germany, December 5th 1939 to be exact. Ilse shivered as the wind’s chilled fingers pinched her small red nose. She would have liked to play checkers with her dear friend, Edith. Unfortunately time had failed her, there were too many chores tightly packed in her schedule today.

The 13-year-old girl with a head full of wavy butterscotch brown hair which flowed delicately in the icy breeze, quickly faltered down the small street. All around her were red tapestries with a dreadful shadow printed in the center of each banner. Every time Ilse glanced at the tapestries she felt a ping of fear in her chest and her heart grew heavy. The swastikas seemed to be glaring down at her from all angles, almost as if they were telling her that she couldn’t hide from their watchful gaze or escape their abominable grip. She continued to walk as the dry taste of winter bit her lip. Soon she approached the two small faded steps leading up to the door of her house.

The round door knob was cool to the touch. Her long thin fingers passed over the chipped paint as she gently turned the knob. She entered quickly and shut the worn wooden door behind her carefully so that her red buttoned coat would not get caught. The warmth from the timid fireplace which sat in the small kitchen corner enveloped her in a sweet embrace. Ilse slowly took off her boots trying to keep any stray clumps of snow on the small rug that laid in front of the door. Her mother smiled at her while stirring a medley of vegetables and broth. This would be the last meal Ilse and her family would eat in their old, but loved home.
Ilse was awoken by her mother’s sweet voice and gentle hands caressing her face.

“Get up, it’s time,” whispered her mother

Ilse obeyed and groggily rolled out of bed. For the past several months Ilse and her family had been hiding some Jewish friends. This was an even bigger risk than it would have normally been since Ilse and her parents are also Jewish. She was ecstatic about leaving Germany, but she was also frightened. What if the truck gets stuck in the snow? Or what if soldiers pull them over? Ilse pondered these possibilities. Ilse put on her bulky winter clothing and followed her mother down the old rickety steps. Ilse imagined them calling out her name begging her not to go. Every creak and moan was a desperate plea.

It wasn’t safe in their little town anymore. They couldn’t hide the fact that they were Jewish, let alone hide three other Jews! The frail door let out a loud screech that was muffled by the roaring wind. The cold slapped her in the face like an angry fish trying to slip out of her grasp. She saw her father pouring hay over the three shivering Jews in the bed of the rusty old truck. The graying man lifted a dirty and aged covering. Ilse rushed over to help him. Together they swiftly covered the pile of hay and secured it. Under her quiet breath, Ilse whispered goodbye to everything she knew.
How did she end up here, In this dirty, abusive, dark hole of despair? Ilse searched her mind for the correct answer. The smell in this place was atrocious! Even hogs would be offended! Her answer slipped through a crack in her broken memories. The truck! That’s it, she remembered the truck. The truck and...the plan, yes the plan to seek out safety in Switzerland.

The plan was ruined, the knock had ruined it, the harrowing knock on the truck’s window. And the hard man asking for papers, but they didn’t have papers because Papa couldn’t find a person to make them. She remembered the troop searching the truck and finding the other Jews. Then they were dragged away...but to where? Somehow Isle was separated from her parents. She wasn’t sure how since she couldn’t remember anything after being pulled out of the truck, struggling to free herself from a leathery grip, then hit on the side of the head with something hard. Multiple layers of barbed wire encased the perimeter of the camp. There were rows of filthy brick barracks all around her, and a tall tower overlooking the whole enclosure. Men in charcoal gray suits were everywhere, like vultures circling a dead carcass.

One of the especially spiteful guard’s loathsome voice viciously barked an order for a group of children to dig latrines. Unfortunately Ilse was in this group. Each of them were gifted rusted shovels and a frozen ground. The shovel crunched against the top layer of frost as Ilse jumped on the crumbling step of the shovel and drove it down with the force of her body. After a few hours of doing this blisters began to form on her hands and feet. Her teeth burned from the thin air. To her left a younger child with maybe a year or two difference collapsed from exhaustion. A gray suited vulture immediately caught wind of one less shovel digging. Without hesitation the vulture swooped in to snatch his meal.

The sight of the fragile child being beat was abhorrent. Her heart ached with desperation to stop their pain. How could she live with herself having witnessed this and not have helped? Ilse knew what she had to do, and she knew the consequences thereof. She paused her rapid thoughts for a moment to accumulate enough courage to take action. Ilse did not want to die, but she knew that would be the price she had to pay.

Ilse thought of her mother and father as she wrapped her callused hands around the splintered wooden handle of her shovel. Ilse swung as hard as her weak and tired arms would allow her. The guard stumbled like a drunken man. He clutched his side trying to protect it from the sting the shovel left. The vulture's perverse and wicked eyes glowed with hatred as he strengthened himself. There was a crisp metallic click, followed by a sharp pop. Then there was nothing.