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Historical Fiction Fantasy Drama

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

The two German soldiers in the back of the truck had struggled to keep their prisoner under control for the last half-hour they had been riding through the snow-covered forests of southern Germany. The tall, imposing, but lean man wearing a British uniform was covered in bruises and blood, but much of the blood wasn’t his own, as seen with the bandaged bitemarks on the neck of one of the Germans. At least, to their relief, the man wasn’t a vampire or werewolf. They still put a makeshift muzzle on him when it became clear he was going to fight no matter what.


“We’re almost at the camp, Sergeant Becker,” the bandaged one said. “You can act like an animal there. I highly doubt the commandant will tolerate your behavior, though.”


“And we’re talking about someone who is typically very calm and tolerant,” his companion said. “Good luck.”


The sergeant glared at both of them, not saying a word. The blood was drying to his face and freezing solid on his uniform, making it feel hard and heavy. The discomfort only seemed to enrage him more. He struggled in the soldiers’ grips, growling at them.


Unfazed, the bandaged soldier tightened his grip, sighing. “How much longer?” he called to the driver.


“Another ten minutes, Corporal!” the driver shouted.


The truck was soon rolling through the gate under a large sign reading “Stalag V C.” Snow whipped around the Germans as they lifted Becker from his seat, nearly dragging him out of the truck as an older, scarred officer using a cane approached them.


Captain Westheimer shook his head upon seeing the new prisoner was muzzled, then his frown deepened when he saw the bloody bandages on one of the guard’s necks.


“Sorry we’re late, Captain,” the guard said. “We . . . had a slight delay.” He looked at Becker, who was giving Westheimer an unblinking stare.


“This will certainly be an experience,” Westheimer muttered as he was given Becker’s papers. “I have never dealt with a prisoner so aggressive.”


“He’s already a repeat offender for attempted escape,” the bandaged soldier said. “He’s mauled guards at previous camps, and beat the commandant at his previous camp within an inch of his life with a piece of metal piping.”


“I see.” Westheimer looked Becker in the eye. “I sincerely hope you and I do not have a problem.”


“It’s too late for that, old man,” Becker snarled.


Nodding, Westheimer stepped back a little. “Take his restraints off.”


The bandaged guard gave him a baffled look. “Sir, that’s like letting a tiger out of the zoo! Are you mad?”


“Trust me, gentlemen.”


The two guards were nervous as they took off the muzzle, followed by the cuffs from Becker’s wrists and ankles. They scampered back to the truck as Becker charged at Westheimer, screaming. Westheimer raised his cane, and Becker was shoved back by an invisible force. He tried running against it, face reddening with rage, almost matching the frozen blood on it.


Westheimer let go. Becker fell as though something was yanked away from him. Scrambling to his feet, he ran at Westheimer again, and suddenly found himself being lifted in the air, flailing his fists. Without warning, he was dropped in a pile of snow.


“Have you had enough yet?” Westheimer asked. “I could do this all day.”


Becker pulled himself from the snow, breathing hard. “Crippled wizard,” he spat. “If I had my wand, I’d blast you right out of the compound!”


Westheimer hardly reacted. “I am surprised you do not remember me, because I remember you very well.”


“I don’t know you, German bastard!”


“I met your father in the First World War, during the Christmas Truce of 1914. We stayed in contact because he was a warlock. I started learning English from him. I met up with him in Britain a few years later, when you were still a child.”


Becker’s face was wet with tears. “If you were so close to him, then why are you wearing that uniform?”


“Because I run a witch resistance cell out of this camp. If that is not enough to convince you to not run at me like a rabid rhinoceros, I do not know what will.”


“Perhaps. I guess that means you’ll let me escape and won’t bat an eye.”


“On the contrary. You are not going anywhere. Should you escape, the Gestapo will be crawling all over this place, and that is the last thing I need.”


“It’s every POW’s duty to escape and get back in the fight. You are nothing more than a fucking coward if you don’t help.”


Westheimer didn’t respond right away. He got closer to Becker, saying in a low voice, “I would think twice before calling me or anyone else here a coward. You will be spending the rest of the day and tonight in solitary. I do not need you lashing out and hurting my men or fellow prisoners.”

------------

Word about the new arrival spread quickly around the camp, and the fight between Becker and Westheimer hadn’t gone unnoticed. It was all anyone could talk about during the dinner hour, and British Sergeant Plundell didn’t hesitate to approach Westheimer and a group of guards in order to get some clarity on the situation.


“I don’t think we’ve ever had a prisoner this aggressive come through,” Sergeant Nagel said.


“Nor one that we had to throw in solitary right away,” Corporal Viermitz added. He glanced up at Plundell. “I figured you were going to come over sooner or later.”


“Is that a problem?” Plundell asked.


“No. In fact, you might want to get the rest of the barrack NCOs over here.”


“Why?”


“Because Sergeant Angove of barracks three will be replaced by Becker when he leaves solitary,” Westheimer said.


“If he’s so violent, why would you do that?”


“Becker has seniority by several months. I do not like this anymore than the rest of you, but that is how this system works.”


Once the rest of the NCOs were seated at the table, most of the guards left, aware of what was going on. Only Nagel, Viermitz, and the medic, Corporal Wenzel, stayed behind.


Westheimer looked each of the British soldiers in the eye before speaking. “Most of you are aware of Sergeant Becker’s presence here, correct?”


Everyone nodded.


“Good. Becker will be replacing Sergeant Angove as senior prisoner-of-war for barracks three.” Westheimer focused on Angove. “I understand this could be a bit jarring, especially since Becker had already demonstrated aggressive behavior. However, we do not know why Becker acts this way. It will be everyone’s duty to assist in trying to put his mind at ease. It could be a simple but understandable hatred of all Germans, or it could be something more. Either way, I do not want this causing rifts between people. Is that understood?”


Each of the men at the table nodded.


“Good. You are dismissed.”


Only Plundell stayed when the others left. “How are we going to figure out what’s wrong with Becker? I mean I . . . I overheard you say to Becker that you knew his father, and that his father was a warlock. Aren’t you worried Becker has his wand?”


Westheimer shook his head. “He admitted to breaking his wand when he was captured, and I had the guards search him thoroughly.”


“Can’t he build a new one?”


“There is a specific procedure when making a wand. He will not accomplish that in here. Odds are, I think all he needs is someone to listen to him.”


“I think Liebermann could do that.”


“I was thinking of you, Sergeant. I think he will respond better to one of his own countrymen.”

------------

Solitary was based in one building, made up of several cells, all of which had solid doors with a slot for putting meal trays through. There was one small, narrow window in each one, too small for anyone to fit through, and they were lit with a single lamp hanging from the ceiling. There was one cot, one toilet, and one sink. Nothing else.


Plundell was escorted into the building with Private Liebermann, who whispered, “I don’t like this place.”


“Nobody does,” Plundell said. “I’m glad I’ve never had to spend a night in here.”


“It just . . . feels different to everywhere else in the compound.”


“It’s very depressing in here. That’s the point, though.”


Liebermann nodded. He knocked on one of the doors. “Sergeant Becker?”


“What do you want?” Becker replied.


“Someone’s here to talk with you.” Liebermann unlocked the door, staying out of Becker’s sight, and gestured for Plundell to come forward.


Becker was quiet as Plundell approached. “I didn’t know visitors were allowed.”


“It’s a special circumstance,” Plundell said. “I . . . just wanted to get to know you.”


“My name is Sergeant Aiken Becker. What more do you want?”


“Your story. Why you lashed out at the men bringing you here, and Captain Westheimer.”


“Those were not men. They were animals. Monsters.”


Plundell shook his head. “I know those two. They work at one of the holding camps near Augsburg. Corporals Martell and Ahlers. They were the same men who brought me here last September. Martell was quite cruel to me at first, calling me a coward because I was frightened and crying. I had just lost my entire squad in Italy. He’s changed since then. Back in December, they came with a group of soldiers, and a snowstorm kept them from leaving. Martell and I got to know each other, he apologized, and I forgave him.” When Becker didn’t respond, Plundell added, “We have to separate the monsters from the decent people here, otherwise we’re no better than the monsters themselves.”


“You lost your entire squad, and yet you treat the ones who killed them like brothers?”


“None of the men here were the ones who killed my squad. In fact . . . I blame myself for what happened in Italy. I failed to scout the village properly. We surprised the Germans hiding out there, and it turned into a mess.”


Becker looked away. He was shivering, and his face reddened as tears began running down his cheeks. “They fucking killed my brother in Sicily. I cannot and will not forgive them. I just can’t.”


“I’m sorry.”


There was silence between them for several long minutes. Becker managed to make eye contact with Plundell before saying, “Now what? Are you going to lecture me? That’s all my father’s been doing in his letters, all because he’s friends with Westheimer. Telling me that not all Germans are the same.”


“I’m not going to lecture you, but I am going to say that grief isn’t a good excuse to hurt people. There’s a better way to work through it.”


“And what’s that? Talking? I’m tired of talking. The one person I could talk to is gone, and he’s not coming back. There’s nothing anyone can do to change that.”


“You can always talk to me.”


“I don’t know yet.” Becker drew his knees up, hugging them. “I want to be left alone.”


After closing and locking the cell door, Liebermann jogged over to Plundell as he left the building. “I could sense a lot of grief when he first arrived. It was . . . suffocating, to be honest.”


“I think we’re all a bit too familiar with grief,” Plundell replied. “It’s still no excuse to hurt anyone.”


“No, it’s not. Becker needs help.”


“He does, but he’s probably not going to accept it. Not now, at least.”


“What should we do, then?”


Plundell shrugged. “I wish I had the answer. He’s so closed off, I don’t know where to start. I just know it’s not something that’ll heal overnight.”


“He’s consumed by revenge. That isn’t easy to overcome.”


Plundell shook his head. “We’ll help him out, somehow.”

------------

Silence consumed the tiny cell after night fell. Becker could no longer hear the guards and prisoners walking around outside. His rage had fizzled out somewhat after Plundell left, replaced with a heavy sadness. Instead of boundless energy and bloodlust, suddenly all Becker wanted to do was sit. Sit and do nothing.


He wasn’t sure how much time had passed, but he hadn’t bothered eating when one of the guards brought a tray. Now the food was ice-cold, and his stomach was growling. As the night whittled by, he lay awake on his cot, deep in thought, with only the dull, gnawing ache in his stomach for company.


When the moon was high over the camp and casting light down into the cell, Becker jumped when he heard the click of someone unlocking the cell door.


“Should I restrain him, sir?” one of the guards asked.


“I will be fine,” Captain Westheimer replied. He locked eyes with Becker, who was sitting with his knees up in the cot. “I see you have not slept, either.”


“What do you want?” Becker mumbled.


“Plundell came to my quarters before lights-out and told me what you two discussed. I was going to save this for morning, but something was telling me that it could not wait.”


“If you’re going to tell me the same shit my father and Plundell have said, I don’t want to hear it.” Becker dropped eye contact with Westheimer, hugging his knees tighter. “It’s like Cole’s life didn’t matter to anyone.”


“Telling someone not to pursue revenge is not the same as saying that your brother’s life was meaningless. Revenge is not going to bring him back. All you are going to do is hurt more people in the process. Is that how you want to live your life?”


“I want to go back to the front and find the soldiers who killed him. That’s what I want.”


“For all we know, those soldiers are already dead. Your efforts could end up being pointless. Do you think that is a good way to honor your brother’s memory?”


Becker didn’t respond.


“I know what it is like to want to inflict pain on others out of anger and grief. It might feel good in the moment, but all it does is create more problems for you down the line. Problems that you have to fix.”


“What should I do then? You seem to think you’re so smart. You tell me what to do.”


“That is not up to me.”


“Then why did you come talk to me if you have no real solutions?”


“I am letting you know that you cannot heal and move on by yourself, but you cannot achieve that by antagonizing everyone around you. Despite how you treated me this morning, I take responsibility for you, and if you escape and get yourself killed, I am the one who has to tell your father what happened. I do not think he wants to lose his other son.”


Becker shook his head. “No. We have our disagreements, but . . . he’s suffered enough. I just want to go home to him and Ma.” He looked up at Westheimer. “I know Cole would want me to just go home. Just go home and make sure everyone’s OK. That’s what he would do if it was me who died.”


Westheimer didn’t respond right away. After studying Becker’s face for a moment, he said, “I hope you understand I am not dismissing how you feel.”


“I have to come to terms with it, I know.” Becker drew in a breath.


“Exactly. Your journey will start in the morning, when I let you join the rest of the prisoners. You will be taking over Sergeant Angove’s role as senior prisoner-of-war in barracks three.”


“You trust me to do that after this morning?”


“I tend to give people second chances. However, I will not respond kindly if you abuse it.”


Becker nodded. “I wasn’t expecting that. Frankly, I was expecting you to keep me in here for the rest of the war.”


“No. That would be cruel.” When Westheimer didn’t get a response, he continued. “You have the rest of the night to think, but do try to get some sleep.”


The cell door closed, and Becker went back to laying on his side. There was still a part of him that was angry, but now there was a part of him that was tired of being angry. Things wouldn’t change overnight, but it was his choice whether or not to start changing at all.

January 23, 2022 18:10

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