A Matter of Family

Submitted into Contest #138 in response to: End your story with someone saying: “What a day.”... view prompt


Historical Fiction Fantasy Friendship

Warmer, nicer weather wasn’t a good combination with a prisoner-of-war camp, where no one could leave. The British POWs who had been at Stalag V C for a few years now were used to it, while newer arrivals like Sergeant Plundell found themselves pacing the perimeter of camp more frequently. At least they were able to stay outside longer.

The sun still being out after dinner felt strange after the many long and dark winter months. As the sky began turning all shades of red, pink, and orange, Plundell wandered over to where one of the guards, Private Liebermann, was sitting cross-legged on the ground, gazing out through the fence at the gently sloping hills and forest that bordered the camp. Sitting next to his friend, Plundell asked, “How come you’re back here by yourself?”

“Thinking,” Liebermann replied.

“About what?”

Liebermann sighed. “I don’t know if I should be telling you this, but . . . Westheimer’s been hearing rumors about the Allies invading France at some point this year. That would mean the war will end soon.”

“Isn’t that what we’re all hoping for? That sounds like a good thing you’re hearing.”

Liebermann nodded. “It would mean you and everyone else will go home.”

Plundell’s heart sank when he put together that sentence and why Liebermann sounded disappointed. “We’re all homesick, mate. I’ll miss you, but I want to go home and see Monnie. I can visit you.”

“I know, but I’m having a hard time accepting it. I haven’t slept all that well the last couple of days when I heard the rumors from Westheimer.”

“Have you talked about it with him?”

“No. He’s going to say the same thing you said to me. Everyone here has been wanting to go home since the day they were captured. Everyone here has family that they want to see again. I know I do, but I’ve been here since the camp opened three years ago. Everyone here feels like an extension of my family, so going are separate ways just feels like . . . I would be losing an enormous part of my family. Who knows when we would see each other again?”

“It’s not like we would never see each other again.”

“I’m aware of that, but I don’t know if I’m willing to wait years before I can see you or anyone else here again.”

“You’ve gotten very attached to all of us. There’s nothing wrong with that. We’ve all been doing our best to give each other a sense of hope and purpose over the last several years.”

Liebermann didn’t respond at first. He pulled his wand out from his sleeve, and waved it slightly over the dirt in front of him. A vibrant red tulip sprouted, but just as its petals and leaves began to spread, it quickly shriveled.

Plundell gave the wilting flower a curious look. “What happened?”

“I didn’t focus hard enough to keep it going,” Liebermann replied. “I’ve told you how mentally strenuous it is to practice magic. It can be emotionally strenuous, too. Your intentions and how you’re currently feeling play a big part in casting a successful spell. That right there is telling me that . . . it’s going to take awhile for me to accept the idea of the camp closing, to accept the idea that I’m not going to see you or anyone else from here for quite some time. Obviously, the camp can’t be kept open. We can’t be kept away from our families. This is my problem, not yours or anyone else’s.”

A gentle breeze blew by them, brushing their cheeks. With it came the scent of blooming flowers. The sun was getting lower and lower in the horizon. Plundell glanced over his shoulder at the rest of the prisoners holding bundles of clothing as they lined up outside the shower building. Corporal Viermitz split them into groups before unlocking the door to let them inside. “We should probably get ready for lights-out,” Plundell said.

“I guess,” Liebermann muttered.

“I still think you should talk to Westheimer about how you’re feeling.” A few heartbeats went by with no response. Plundell touched Liebermann’s shoulder. “Would you rather have me talk to him?”

After more silence, Plundell got to his feet, jogging through the main yard of the camp and up the stairs of Westheimer’s quarters. He knocked on the door, and as he waited for Westheimer to answer, Plundell looked around at the rest of the camp. Like Liebermann, he had made his closest friends here, and this was where he learned magic was real. He could still remember the October night where Westheimer destroyed a poltergeist that manifested in a smuggled radio. I won’t forget that night anytime soon.

“Do you need something, Sergeant?”

Westheimer’s voice pulled Plundell from his thoughts. Nodding, Plundell replied, “I’d like to talk with you about Liebermann.”

Westheimer gestured for Plundell to enter before closing the door behind him. “What seems to be the trouble?”

“He told me . . . about rumors. Rumors that the Allies could be invading France this year, and that would mean the war could end soon. He’s not prepared for us to go our separate ways, even though we’ll be able to see each other someday. I . . . don’t know how to help.”

“We are all going to struggle a bit when the war ends,” Westheimer replied. “Frankly, it is hard to believe that it will all come to an end soon. Naturally, we will celebrate the end of the war. We will celebrate going home and seeing our families and friends again, but we will also be leaving new friends behind. New friends we might not see for awhile because we need to catch up with those we left behind so many years ago. Going home does not mean we will be abandoning those new friends, though.”

“That’s what I’m trying to get through to Liebermann. I understand why he’s upset, but I just don’t know how to help him start accepting it.”

“I knew Liebermann was going to have the hardest time out of all the guards accepting the idea that we won’t all be together anymore. That is why I told him. Granted, those rumors might not be true. The war might not end until next year, or the year after, but I wanted him to start getting used to the idea that this will not be forever. In some ways, this is a form of grief for him.”

“He seems to think we might not see each other again. It’s . . . worrying.” A thought struck Plundell. “What about his girlfriend? Perhaps letting him see her more often will help.”

Westheimer nodded. “I think that could help, and you might be onto something.”


“He has not seen his parents in over four years. I think, with some careful planning, we can arrange a visit. His life at home and his life here are two different worlds. Bringing them together might help make the transition back to civilian life more bearable.”

Plundell nodded in agreement. “How would you bring them here, though? I didn’t think that was allowed.”

Westheimer grinned. “This is extremely minor compared to the rest of the things I have done over the course of the war.”

“True, sir.”


Under a cloudless sky, Plundell sat next to Westheimer on the porch of the commandant’s quarters as the two had their morning coffee. Plundell’s heart was racing with anticipation as he kept glancing over to the main gate of the camp. “What time did you say Liebermann’s parents would be here?”

“Around ten,” Westheimer replied. “You have not said anything to him, have you?”

“Believe me when I say keeping my mouth shut yesterday was almost impossible. I almost felt it was cruel to keep this from him, but I look forward to seeing his reaction.”

“As do I.” Westheimer looked over at the entrance of the camp, seeing a horse-drawn cart approaching. When the cart stopped at the gates, he said, “That looks like them. Liebermann is in the hospital helping Wenzel. Tell him that I would like to see him in my office.”

“Right, sir.” Plundell quickly finished his coffee before dashing off to the hospital. He skidded to a halt in front of the doors, struggling to contain his excitement as he entered. He resisted a big grin when he saw Liebermann organizing boxes of gauze and bandages by one of the storage racks. “Liebermann, Captain Westheimer wants to see you in his office.”

“Why? Is everything alright?” Liebermann whirled around to face Plundell.

“He wouldn’t say, other than it’s urgent.”

Liebermann looked confused as he followed Plundell outside. His confusion increased as they got closer to Westheimer’s quarters. “Why are there civilians here? And why do they look like—” His jaw dropped, and he looked at Plundell, who finally allowed himself to smile.

Without saying anything more, Liebermann sprinted toward the two civilians, a man and a woman, and grabbed them both in a tearful hug. At some point, Liebermann stepped out of the hug, looking dazed. His eyes and face were red and streaked with tears. His mother reached out to wipe his face with her glove, saying, “Everything’s alright, Fritz. Don’t overwhelm yourself.”

“How come you’re here, then? I didn’t think I would see you until after the war,” Liebermann replied.

“We were invited for a brief visit,” his father said.

“Invited?” Liebermann looked over at Westheimer. “You did this?”

Westheimer nodded. “With some help.” He gestured to Plundell.

“Fritz has told us so much about you.” His mother turned to Westheimer. “I’m Irme. It is a pleasure to meet you in person, Captain.”

“And a pleasure to meet you as well.”

“Captain—” Liebermann’s father held out his hand, “Viktor Liebermann.”

“You and your wife should be very proud of your son,” Westheimer said. “I have never met another human being as compassionate and insightful as he is.”

“He was raised to love life,” Irme said.

“Few witches and warlocks are. He is more fortunate than I was.”

“Mama,” Liebermann interrupted. He gently took Plundell’s shoulder. “This is Elliot Plundell. I’ve told you about him in my letters.”

When he shook Irme and Viktor’s hands, a warm and light feeling passed over Plundell. Liebermann looked happier than he had been in months, seeing two big components of his life coming together.

“It’s nice to put a face to the name,” Irme said. “This would also be my first time meeting someone from a foreign country, so this is quite exciting.”

Plundell grinned. “I’m not exactly exciting, to be honest.”

“Fritz certainly thinks you are. He’s called you his brother numerous times in his letters.”

Plundell’s grin faded. “I’m glad he thinks that, but . . . when the war ends, I can’t exactly stay here.”

“His attachment to people here is why we had you and Viktor come,” Westheimer explained. “The war will come to an end someday, and we would like to lessen the blow of all of us going our separate ways.”

Irme nodded a little. “I see. I am certainly glad that Fritz has found a group of people that he loves and they love him back. When he was conscripted, I was terrified he wasn’t going to make it back, or he was going to get in a lot of trouble.”

“He is a gifted healer. He even saved a man’s life just a few months ago.”

“Could they meet Tretheway, sir?” Liebermann asked.

Westheimer nodded. Watching the Liebermann family head off, he turned to Plundell. “I hope this helps. I have never seen Liebermann this happy.”

“Neither have I,” Plundell replied. “It feels a bit cruel, though—his parents are going to leave at the end of the day, and he’ll miss them.”

“It will make him more willing to go home at the end of the war.”

“I don’t know. Something about that still seems . . . wrong.”

“One could say the same about us leaving him. This is a pain we are all going to go through at the end of the war. Some of us will be able to handle it better than others. Some, like Liebermann, will need help.”

“I’d be lying if I said I haven’t thought about moving to Augsburg. That all depends on how Monnie would feel about it.” Plundell glanced over at where Liebermann was introducing his parents to Private Tretheway. “I would keep this between us, though.”

“Your secret will be safe with me. Frankly, I would not be opposed to you moving here, but I think reconnecting with your loved ones is more important right now.”

“Yeah. I know my parents would be really upset if I didn’t immediately visit them when I go back to Britain. Still, it’s funny how being here has . . . changed us, I guess. I thought I’d be trying to escape once I got over what happened in Italy. Then after the poltergeist incident, I found there was a whole other world I needed to explore.”

“And there is still much more to the magic world that you have yet to see.”


Liebermann was insistent on taking Plundell with them when he and his parents went out to Augsburg to spend time together. Westheimer was hesitant, as prisoners weren’t supposed to be leaving the camp unless it was for a work detail. Eventually, he told Liebermann that Plundell couldn’t go. After the family left, Plundell learned the real reason he was able to go was because Westheimer felt it would help Liebermann to learn that Plundell couldn’t be with him all the time. At least Liebermann seemed to take it well, though he did look disappointed as he and his parents left the camp. When they returned, Liebermann’s parents stayed outside the gate, and Westheimer and Plundell headed over to say their farewells.

“It was wonderful seeing you after all these years, Fritz,” Irme said, touching Liebermann’s face.

“It was nice seeing you, too, Mama,” Liebermann replied, eyes filling with tears. “You and Papa take care of yourselves.”

Viktor smiled and squeezed his son’s shoulders. “We’ll be fine. Just come home safe. I can’t express how proud I am of you. You’ve grown into a very talented young warlock.”

“Thank you, Papa.”

As they left on the cart they arrived on, Liebermann stood by the gate until he could no longer see them. Then he turned to Plundell and Westheimer. “You didn’t have to do that for me. Honestly, it’s not fair to the others. I get to see my parents, but they don’t? Seiden’s been looking forward to seeing his aunt ever since he was conscripted.”

“We thought this would help you for when the war ends and we all go home,” Plundell replied. “We didn’t mean to make it feel like you were getting special treatment.”

Liebermann nodded a little. “I see. I . . . I appreciate you trying to help. I did tell my parents I’m going to move to Augsburg after the war, though, and they’re alright with it. I’ll get to be with Verena, and I’ll get to see Westheimer regularly.”

“As long as it makes you happy.”

“I’m very happy. For once, I'm actually looking forward to things changing. Thank you.” Liebermann grinned. “What a day.”

March 24, 2022 16:46

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El Collado
15:09 Mar 31, 2022

The story grabs you from the beginning. The setting is appropriate and is set with ease. The pull begins between the characters sharing their distress with loneliness and the need to maintain their bonds whist wanting to leave the camp. I sympathized with Lieberman (nice homage to Fritz Lieber). The dialogue sounds real between him and others and reads well out loud. The hyperrealism of magic is done well too – just enough, sprinkled perfectly. It feels as though the parents make their appearance as in a dream. The conflicts between the char...


16:22 Mar 31, 2022

I can't express my joy that you felt inspired after reading this--I feel like I've achieved something. Liebermann's name came from a generator, so I actually didn't know who Fritz Lieber was until today. I caught my "are-our" typo after the contest ended and could no longer edit. I wish you could edit after the winner is announced, but I understand why that feature is in place.


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