Fiction Historical Fiction Sad

The little children exchanged the mug each holding it with both hands to the count of two, just long enough to get their hands warm. They so wanted to taste its contents, rich chocolate, sweet, forbiddingly sweet, but they needed the heat as much as the chocolate. But in this cold, the dark cold of the alley, the mug would cool quickly and then they would drink, sharing the cup, taking one sip at a time. It was only fair that way.

They thought the man who’d given them the hot cocoa must be an angel. He called himself Uncle Szymon, but he wasn’t their uncle, just a kind man who took pity on these sad ragamuffins with their torn clothes and skinny faces. “Come little ones,” he’d said. “I’ll get you something nice. Wouldn’t you like something to eat? Come.”

The children didn’t hesitate. They hoped, surely, that once they’d crawled out from under the wall someone would be nice, someone might give them some food. Or a place to hide. And here, after just as they started wandering in the shadows, they found Uncle Szymon. Or, rather, Uncle Szymon found them. The boy, the smaller of the two, almost had the same name; Shimon! When he said that Uncle Szymon said, “We’re twins!” The children laughed. The little girl, Lilli, giggled, “But then we’d all be twins because he’s my brother and we're twins!” Lilli boasted, “I’m older, by four minutes!” Szymon bent to them and giggled as well, “I think I’m older than that. Maybe forty years!”


Szymon looked around the empty street, still under curfew, and gently ushered the children past garbage cans down a narrow alley. Lilli tripped on a random cobble banging her knee against one of the cans. It rang like a loud gong, hollow. Of course it was empty. There was hardly anything to throw away these days; people made use of stuff that would have been tossed to the refuse heap before the war. She yelped, sounding like a puppy whose ears had been squeezed too hard. Uncle Szymon growled for her to hush, warning that they must keep quiet. Lilli nodded but held back tears as she limped down the alley. Shimon took her hand and whispered that she’d be okay, that he’d hurt his knee, too, when they got out through that wall. “That was scary,” said Lilli. Uncle Szymon barked a severe, “I said hush!” The brother and sister looked at each other, now with some fear. Shimon whispered in her ear, “He’s not being quiet.” Lilli whispered back, “I know.”


She thought back to the other day when their mother had been gentle about their making noise. She’d given them each a scrap of bread, her bread, and told them that it’s important to be quiet in case the boogeyman should hear them. Lilli and Shimon squirmed in feigned terror making the mother smile. They knew there was no such thing as the boogeyman, they said. What the mother said, her weak voice barely a whisper itself, was that they must understand that there were real things, worse even than the boogeyman, to avoid. She was so serious when she poke that the children shivered. Or it might have been the cold of the dank cellar they were in. They’d been shivering for a while.


Their mother had left them, three days ago, to try and get some food. She still had a ring, a thin gold wedding ring she’d found in the pocket of the worn coat she was wearing. She had taken that coat from the old woman who’d been upstairs and didn’t need it anymore. That’s the way it was. You took what you could use. It wasn’t theft, the old woman would lose her shoes soon enough, and her torn stockings, and whatever else people found when they scrounged the room. Those that hadn't been deported. Most had by then.

“Is that the last of your treasure, Mummy?” asked Lilli. The mother reached out to give the children the firmest embrace she could manage. “No, my loves, no,” she said. “You are the last of my treasure and the best of all.”

She never came back.

Shimon and Lilli crept out of the cellar, hoping to see their mother returning with bags of groceries but knew better. Even at their terribly young age, they knew. That was the way. They held hands walking around, it was nearly dark, looking for whatever they might find. They didn’t know what they were looking for. The only other people on the streets were lying on the sidewalks, some moaning, some frozen. A boy, hardly a teenager, came up to them and asked if they had anything to trade, anything at all. They shook their heads. Shimon asked "what's your name?' The boy shrugged his thin shoulders. “You should leave. Follow me,” he said. They followed him to a crack at the base of the ugly wall that kept them from the rest of the town. He waved as he snuck his way through. Then he was gone. There were shouts on the other side. They heard running feet.

They never got his name.

“You first,” said Lilli. Shimon crept through and whispered back that it was clear. Lilli followed. The boy was, and whoever was shouting, were nowhere to be seen. Shimon helped Lilli up and they scampered across the street, staying against the walls, in the shadows, just as their mother had told them to do. That’s when they met Uncle Szymon.

“What have we here?” he’d said coming from behind. They turned, ready to run, but he was kneeling with such a kind smile on his face. They needed a kind smile.

“Come little ones,” he’d said. “Come. I know where you’ll be safe.”

In the alley, he’d brought out a battered green thermos topped with a white enamel mug. He poured out steaming hot chocolate and their mouths watered at the smell. He handed the mug over, and they held it between their hands for warmth, taking sips. If it hadn’t been so hot they’d have drunk it all at once. 

Szymon looked down, again, with a smile. They noticed a shiny gold tooth in front, the only bright thing in the alley. He told them to wait, to stay quiet, it was important they stay quiet, and that he’d come back with some sandwiches. “How would you like ham and cheese?” he asked. “I bet you would like a ham and cheese sandwich.”

Lilli and Shimon looked at each other and then to Szymon. “We don’t eat ham,” said Lilli. “I’ve never eaten ham,” said Shimon. “But we like cheese. A lot.”

Szymon let out a loud laugh – hadn’t he said to be quiet? – laughing up through the narrow cavern created by the buildings. “Of course, of course. What was I thinking? No ham. Of course. Just stay here. I’ll be back with cheese, hmmm, and butter, too.” The children nodded their heads. Szymon grabbed his cup back. The children looked up with surprise and hunger. “Mustn’t spoil your appetites though.” He finished the drink in one long gulp concluding with a deep ahh.

He left the alley, looking back twice and holding up his palm to caution the kids to stay. They wouldn’t have left anyway; it was too dark, too cold, too scary. They held themselves tightly to stay as warm as they could. Lilli whispered that she hoped he’d bring dark bread with lots of butter. Shimon said he’d rather have white. “Maybe he’ll bring us both!” she said more loudly but catching herself. “Maybe.”


It didn’t take long. They heard boots moving fast on the street and pressed closer to the alley wall. There was more than one person, and their boots had a distinct clip-clopping, almost like a horseshoe, but sharper. “There,” said the voice of Szymon. Three men in grey uniforms, uniforms they knew to fear, to avoid, came down the alley, not hurrying. They were huge, like monsters, and stood glowering over them. “Ha!” said one. “Gotcha.” He gestured with his chin to the others, who hauled up the children, twisting Lilli’s arm in the process. “Ow, please,” she screamed. The man said nothing but dragged her out while the other pulled Shimon along by his ear. They both were crying as they were dragged past Szymon who paid no attention. His eyes were on a thin gold ring that barely fit around his pinky finger.

Szymon wasn't very happy. They didn’t pay so much now, not so much for children anyway, and the adults, after they closed the ghetto, were getting hard to find.

December 03, 2023 14:04

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E. B. Bullet
22:14 Dec 11, 2023

Ahhh, this was a sad one. I congratulate you on the characterization of the children though, they were incredibly endearing. Innocent souls, still trying to have their wits about them. I'd read a whole longform story with these two, and I bet you could make it a gut punching one! Sybling bonds in stories like these stick out to me. A part of me hopes, with some luck, they find their way out of this one. Thank you for sharing!!


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R W Mack
17:06 Dec 09, 2023

I enjoy judging a submission willing to subvert my expectations. I should've known it was themed as it was, the clues were there, but the end was sharp. That one last sentence cinched the whole story up well. I've also been a title snob for ages, so seeing a short title that doesn't give away the story's plot off the rip is fantastic. Too many people give away and spoil a good story with a ruinous title. Congrats on sucking me in with such a simple one. If I had to give a negative, and I'm being nitpick, I'd say it was pacing. It seemed off...


David Ader
18:08 Dec 09, 2023

The feedback is welcome. Thank you. I often get criticized for long-winded sentences and, I swear, at least think about it. I'm curious about the pacing. I'll reread it and it's too late to change it here, but maybe for my inane blog. David


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Mary Bendickson
22:51 Dec 05, 2023

Liked your writing but the content was harsh. Sadder because true.


David Ader
18:56 Dec 06, 2023

Yes, it was harsh. I think the days we live in have left me down and I was in a mood when I wrote this. I wanted to emphasize the innocence of the children, even the boy looking to trade something, and not focusing on anything but that innocence.


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