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The chilly October wind howled menacingly through the crumbling walls of the abandoned, old barn. I shivered gently, rubbing the miniscule bumps that began to form on my arms. I sighed, watching my breath coil mystically towards the creaky rafters above.
“Sky, I’m hungry,” whimpered Lyra, shuffling closer to my side. Even though she was tough as nails, she still had to eat, we all did.
I gently patted her midnight hair, feeling pity for my nine year old sister. No, not sister actually, we’re not biologically related, but that couldn’t forbid me from loving her like one. Lyra and my other “siblings”, Blair who was fourteen, Ash who was twelve and Charlotte who was seven, were on the run. We were fugitives fleeing from our homes for reasons I cannot will myself to explain. The five of us were cold, tired, starving and scared beyond what your imaginations could possibly behold.
Though as our group’s leader I put on a brave and knowledgeable mask and took care of everyone. As a boy of fifteen, they all looked up to me. Well, accept Blair, she was fourteen, independent, incredibly smart and was tougher and more harsh that the freezing wind billowing outside. Together we took care of our younger companions.
But after hiking and traveling through the vast lands of our home country we had ended up in a desolate, unpopulated countryside. We were in a forsaken area in a beat-up, abandoned farm.
I shifted my gaze to Lyra, “I am too. Let’s see what we can find,” I instructed, rising up from the dusty floor. Lyra nodded enthusiastically, her eyes twinkling like the brilliant stars outside.
We ended up searching the farm house, looking carefully for any small morsels of food. Blair, Ash and Charlotte had been away since dawn searching for any nearby villages to acquire essential supplies. They would be back by midnight, exhausted and starving.
“Sky, Sky!” cried Lyra excitedly, pattering noisily through the rusty house.
I hushed her, holding a grimy, callused finger to my ghastly pale lips.
“Quiet Lyra!” I commanded, “Keep your voice down.”
“Oh, right. Sorry Sky,” she breathed, appearing sincerely apologetic.
Since she was only nine, I had to fill her head with cunning strategies, planning capabilities and undying suspicion. Honestly, I don’t believe any young child should have to think that way. Always skeptical, constantly scanning escape routes in their heads, never relaxing. What kind of life was that? For anyone? We had a small yet strong willed seven year old girl growing up, mighty roots of a fugitive’s life clinging onto the edges of her mind. She would carry the instincts she developed now with her for the rest of her life. We all would. There was no escaping our dreadful lives, not now or in the future.
“I found a jar of pickles,” Lyra presented to me, holding up the item as if it was a glorious block of gold. I nodded, my mouth already beginning to water.
“Good, the others will be pleased,” I informed her quietly, taking the food from her delicate pale hands.
Suddenly, a solid thump echoed throughout the house.
I stiffened, my ears straining, jade eyes narrowing to slits. Lyra gazed up at me helplessly, waiting for orders.
“Behind the counter,” I instructed my voice barely audible in the empty room.
We dashed towards the wooden counter, crouching low to the dusty ground. Appearing out of nowhere was a looming, ominous shadow. Its feet padded softly across the floor. I braced myself, fists coiling at my sides, my muscles taught, ready to spring forward.
The person peered over the counter and down at us.
“Sky? What are you doing?” asked little Charlotte, puzzled.
I sighed, relieved. I came up from my defensive crouch and gazed down at my little girl.
“Just being cautious Char, remember that.”
“Right and never assume anything,” she repeated dutifully.
“Jeez Sky, you’ve got this kid brainwashed. You guys need to relax a little,” informed the ever-so-charming Blair.
“Oh, Pickles!” exclaimed Ash excitedly, galloping over to the counter from across the room to clutch the jar possessively.
I ignored Blair’s comment.
“Okay guys, report,” I demanded, eying Ash, not trusting him with our sacred jar of pickles.
Blair hopped up onto the counter, casually crossed her legs and began picking at the dirt under her nails.
“It’s just country for miles around. Population zero,” replied Blair, sounding completely uninterested.
“Okay, so no food?” I asked.
She chuckled, “Come on, we’re not that pathetic. We’re not the dead weights you think we are.”
She pulled out an apple from her leather sack and I grinned approvingly.
“I never said you were useless, now come on, its chow time,” I replied, my stomach growling ravenously.
We sat our food onto the creaking oak table in the small dining room. We divided up one luscious, green apple and cracked open the large jar of pickles. Ash practically purred with delight when he received his.
“Oh boy, I can’t believe you found this Sky. I can’t remember the last time I had a pickle,” he crunched pleasantly.
“Don’t thank me, it was Lyra who found them,” I informed him, glancing at Lyra. She blushed modestly, munching hungrily on her pickle.
We concluded our glorious feast, waddling back slowly, our bellies full, to the safe haven of the barn.
We fluffed up bundles of hay and pulled out some old cotton blankets from a storage box and curled up beside each other. Charlotte rested her head on my shoulder and cooed herself a lullaby her eyes fluttering closed.
In minutes, everyone had fallen asleep. I tried to keep my heavy lids open but all too soon, I had drifted off within myself, lost in the black abyss that was my mind.
They’re coming, hide…
“He came in here!”
Stop. Don’t breathe. Not a sound.
Searing pain, coursing rapidly through my veins.
Blood, crimson in the small amount of light. Pulled to my feet, arm throbbing.
Pushed, grabbed, shoved, boarding a train.
Then, they’re gone. We’re clacking down a railway.
Trapped. No way out.
Hold on, we’ve stopped. Where? I know nothing. Our car is locked. I try again and again, it slides open. How? Who knows, we’re free. I motion my companions through.
We patter across the aisle, past hungry eyes, grimy faces, jutting ribs, children. I grasp my golden necklace, a small pendant of the Star of David.
We run. No guards yet. They’re outside our windows, receiving orders. We find an empty car. A door. We push and we’re free, into the brisk, gleaming day. We run.
Alarms ringing, shouting, cursing.
We sprint faster. Breath heaving, into the dense forest.
Pursuers trail behind.
No, not now, we’re so close.
I bolted upright, hay flying everywhere. My breath came out in wheezing puffs and my hands were cold and clammy, beads of sweat formed on my brow.
I looked down at Charlotte. Her large, sapphire eyes stared up at me wondrously.
“Sky?” she asked quizzically, reaching a small, pale hand out to my face.
I cleared my throat.
“It’s nothing Char. Go back to sleep,” I ordered, gently pushing her back down. Her eyelids drooped lazily and her deep breathing came back into rhythm.
Turning away, I cradled my head in my hands, grabbing helplessly for the gold star pendant around my neck. I sighed deeply, closing my eyes.
“Having nightmares tough guy?” asked Blair, gazing at me out of the deep shadows of her chosen corner.
“Yea,” I admitted miserably.
She materialized out of the thick darkness and came to sit by my side.
“You know, the train, Nazis, just… my past.”
“Your mean our past. Quit thinking you’re alone in all of this. You’re not, you’ve got us. We know what you went through, we were there, we’ve all suffered,” she concluded.
Even though Blair was outspoken and brutally honest, I couldn’t help but thank her.
“Thanks, I guess. I’m just… scared,” I grumbled.
Alright, in case you didn’t know, I’m really not into admitting my feelings. It’s kind of a big deal when I do; I’m always Mr. Tough Guy. Half brains, half brawn, just ignore that .1% emotional. And I only confided my few deep thoughts in Blair. If I revealed any of this to the others, they’d giggle uncontrollably.
“Yea, we all are, but don’t sweat it, we know what to do if they find us. You’ve got us all trained and one of us even brain-washed. They can’t take us, not without a fight,” she spoke, her voice dropping hesitantly.
I shifted back onto my elbows, glaring up at the ceiling.
“You’re right,” I shifted into a more commanding tone, “Now go back to sleep, you’ll need your energy for tomorrow.”
Blair hesitated, “Whatever Sky,” she mumbled lazily, shuffling back to her isolated corner.
Minutes later, all four of my companions were breathing deeply, asleep and lost in their dreams.
“Careful! Jeez Ash, you’re going to break them,” I exclaimed, grabbing the fragile white spheres from his awkward, clumsy hands.
“Sorry, sorry! It’s not like I meant to trip, gosh,” he grumbled.
I moaned, “Its okay, man, just let me carry the eggs.”
He sighed, but handed me over our only food nonetheless. I cradled the eggs gently against my stomach, rubbing my thumb over the hard cool surface.
We had woken up early this morning and had gone searching for more food. We stumbled across an old hen house and found one lonely chicken with a couple of fresh eggs in its cozy nest. With that, we all felt slightly more hopeful and each of us had an extra bounce in our step.
Later, we consumed the eggs in the blink of an eye, full and content.
“Alright, Ash, Char, let’s go.”
“Huh? What are we doing?” asked Ash puzzled.
“We’re going back to the farm house, to scope it out. See what else we can find.”
“I thought you and Lyra already searched it,” stated Charlotte.
“Not the whole house, there could be some more supplies. Now, come on,” I commanded, heading towards the crumbling house.
“Hold up, "said Blair. “Lyra and I are coming too!”
I suppressed my confusion.
“I want you two to stay here and that’s an order,” I demanded.
They glared at me ferociously.
Lyra began to complain, “But Sky, we don’t want to stay behind. Besides, it would be quicker and more efficient if we all came.”
Jeez, I forgot how smart this little girl could be. She made a lot of sense sometimes. Why discourage her now? She was right about us all going anyways.
I then made the mistake of looking at Lyra. She had the puppy dog eyes turned up at full power. I winced.
“Fine.” I grumbled.
Blair and Lyra slapped each other a high five as I strode away from them.
We approached the farm house and pattered up the front stairs.
“Alright, Ash, you get the dining room. Char, kitchen. Blair and Lyra, scope out the upstairs. I’ll get the cellar,” I announced treading towards the stairs.
I descended into the darkness listening to everyone scurry to their designated areas.
I found an oil lamp sitting on a rickety table and lit it. Surprisingly, it still worked and the light illuminated the entire basement.
Barrels and boxes littered the room, creating a complex maze. I checked out the boxes, but I found each one empty. Exhausted, I leaned against one of the dirty walls, rubbing my throbbing temples.
Suddenly, the wall gave way and I fell backward. I struggled to pull myself away from the sinking wall, but was snatched away.
In the next second, I had stumbled down a dark tunnel, banging every protruding appendage attached to my body.
I cried out once, but kept rolling down the tunnel. The once smooth cold surface began to feel more like stairs.
After swirling and tumbling dizzily down the vast amount of stairs, I finally came to a stop. My arm was bent awkwardly under by chest and my legs were tangled uncomfortably. I sat up cradling my hurt arm. I was dizzy and confused, dread coursing through my veins. I willed myself to stand and I looked up. Above me was an immense staircase, steep and cracked. A little light shone far away which had to be the oil lamp. I turned to gaze at the ominous darkness I had been thrown at.
“Blair!” I shouted, desperately cupping my hands over my mouth.
“Charlotte! Ash! Lyra!”
I waited. I was about to climb up the stairs when Charlotte’s tiny head popped into view.
“Sky?” she called, squinting into the darkness.
“Char, I’m down here!” I cried, “Get the others!”
Soon, everyone had made it down the stairs, the easy non-painful way of course. Blair had carried down the oil lamp, which lit up the dark tunnel.
“What is this?” asked Lyra holding the lamp up higher to see better.
“I don’t know, but let’s go check it out, but be quiet,” I commanded, taking the lamp and heading into the blanket of midnight darkness.
We traveled forward until another light appeared in the distance. I held a finger up to my lips and turned down the lamp. We tiptoed forward slowly to a doorway. The door was opened only a crack. I motioned Blair forward and she gently pushed it open. All five heads peered curiously inside. It was silent accept for a small gasp from Charlotte, but I didn’t hush her.
It was incredible, yet beyond the most horrible thing I’d ever seen.
Everywhere there were weapons for destructions. Tanks and guns decorated each wall and on each weapon was a swastika. These were all for the war, to destroy and kill. It was sickening.
“Oh my God…” murmured Blair, clutching her own Star of David necklace for comfort.
I over came my shock and since no one was in sight I went over for a closer look.
“Careful and don’t touch anything,” I commanded, shooting a warning glare.
What we had stumbled across was an underground factory, a mass production of artillery for the devil’s use. Over on the far wall there was a little calendar, it read October 13. Since we had been on the run, I had completely lost track of the days. It happened to be the day before my birthday. Tomorrow, on the fourteenth I would be sixteen. A sudden splurge of hope injected itself inside my cold, thumping heart.
Then a thundering, grinding noise echoed throughout the factory. I whipped around to face my companions. Everyone’s eyes were on Ash.
“I didn’t mean to!” he cried, his russet eyes wide in terror.
He had accidently flipped a switch, causing a large machine to start operating. I ran to Ash, “Guys get out of here, whoever’s running this place is going to show up any second now.”
As if on cue, thick German voices were growing closer. The younger kids sprinted to the door we had come through and I motioned them on when they hesitated to give me hesitant looks.
“Blair, help me,” I ordered.
Together we quickly began destroying the equipment. Blair looked downright hostile as she came down hard on a machine with a large mallet. I ripped up blueprints and did my best to sabotage the machines. We worked fast and we both panted heavily. The voices were getting closer and lights began flickering on.
“It’s enough Sky! We’ve got to get out of here!” cried Blair, setting down her mallet, starting towards the door.
I began to follow her when the soldiers appeared. Nazis were everywhere, on the wire balconies above and through the doorways along the walls. I swore under my breath.
A large German soldier slowly walked towards us, eying me under his bushy black eyebrows.
“You vermin,” he spat, his skeletal-like fingers itching for his rifle, “You cannot be here.”
I swallowed, frozen where I stood.
“Sir, it was not intentional, we live on a nearby farm and happened to find this place. We’re sorry, we’re only kids,” explained Blair, looking as innocent as possible. God she was brave.
The soldier looked at us both skeptically, and I nodded.
He frowned, “You think I’m stupid? This is the most desolate area in all of Denmark. There are no other farms for hundreds of kilometers around.”
He smiled then, his eyes glittering slightly.
“Like I said, you cannot be here.” He then pulled out the rifle on his belt and pointed it at us. Each soldier in the room did the same. We were surrounded, there was no way out and we both knew it.
I gulped, “Please, don’t hurt her,” Blair snapped her head to gape at me, “I- just take me, she’s innocent.” I hung my head, a single tear sliding down my cheek. The soldier smiled broadly now. He stepped up close so that I could see every distinct feature on his ugly face and smell the sickly sweet aroma of his breath.
“Tell you what boy; I’ll let you have it your way. I won’t kill her.”
I sighed with relief. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I had been the cause of my best friend’s death. I had to sacrifice myself for her.
“But she gets to watch you die.”
Every muscle in my body tightened and Blair let out a snarl. She shrieked and wrestled with her guards and I began to protest, flailing my arms and thrashing violently as two burly soldiers grabbed me with iron grips. Three more had snatched Blair and had forced her head to look in my direction, clamping her mouth shut as she struggled. Her face was gleaming with fresh tears, leaving rivulets that traveled down her cheek.
The soldier raised his gun.
I looked desperately at Blair.
I exhaled in defeat, “I’m sorry.”
A single sound echoed throughout the night, a boy, almost a man, dying for his comrades, for his family. Dying for the life of the only girl he ever loved.