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Sixteen

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Close-cropped blond hair, pale blue eyes. Sixteen years old. Prone to mental breakdowns when confronted with pigs, islands, fire, or sticks.

That's what my school record said. That I was mentally unstable. That I lost it whenever I saw fire or pigs.

Simon Peter Goldstein.
Nicholas Edward "Piggy" Johnson.

These two names will forever live in my memory. The first, the only logical person on the island. The second, the most intelligent. Both my friends.

Dead.

I watched two of my best friends die. I participated in killing one of them. I cannot forgive Jack for pushing me to that point, nor forget the time I spent on that island of fear and death.

The year was 1939. The war was World War II.

It is 1944. The war is still going on. The Axis and the Allied. Jack and me. Wherever there are people, there will be war. I have to keep thinking of something. Whenever my mind is quiet, it goes back to the island.

And I scream.

My name is Ralph William Collins.

I am currently enrolled in the Royal Air Force Academy. Here, in the Royal Air Force Academy, we are trained to fight and overcome our fears. By overcoming, they mean having someone punch you so much that you're more scared of that somebody than of your prior fears.

I was never subject to that because I was "mentally unstable." Why they let someone "mentally unstable" into the air force, I shall never know.

As of this moment, I am on a plane with two other boys to Berlin. Our "field trip" is to watch the Battle of Berlin, which is an air battle.

Not really. No, a senior decided he wanted to take a spin in his brand new plane that his father bought him (I'm pretty sure his father is some sort of Duke) and made us come along. Something about not getting into trouble if he was showing us "the ropes." I can fly better than him.

I gulp. Planes have never been the same since those days on the island. Yes, I am a fantastic flier, and yes, I like it, but my mind always goes back to the pilot and the beast.

And the mulberry boy. His name was Charles, Charles John Keller. I visited all the relations of Charles, Simon, and Piggy after we got home.

22 January 1944. That is today's date. El veintidós de enero, mil novecientos cuarenta y cuatro.

When I helped the Basque refugees, I had to learn a bit of español.

I also speak a bit of German. Very useful in this war.

The night is beautiful. Oh, it is. Inky black sky with a sprinkling of stars. A few streaks of brown and yellow, too. And some planes exploding in the distance.

Brown and yellow streaks? That's not normal. Neither are the planes.

"Lord! Kimberly! You're flying directly into a battle!" I cry. The senior turns to face me.

Suddenly, I feel a jolt, and the plane shakes. A sick feeling sinks into my stomach. We have been shot.

Kimberly is panicking and moaning, crying out for his mother (who has been dead for five years).

I clamber to the cockpit and grab the controls. Our fuel is dropping by the gallon and we're missing a wing. I squeeze my eyes shut. Is this how the pilot felt when he was trying to land the plane on the island?

Oh, Lord, the island.

Not now! I must focus. With some luck, I should be able to land the plane in the little clearing in the middle of a forest. Which is also where the German troops are camped. It is either die or be captured by the enemy.

Lord, into thy hands I commit myself and my companions.

I land safely. In the midst of German troops.

All at once, the German soldiers surround us, shouting questions.

I can understand a bit: "Who are you?" "Where are you from?" and "Why did you land here?"

And then there is silence.

A tall man, dressed in the uniform of a German general, parts the crowd like the Red Sea. He strides purposefully toward us and scrutinizes us with a critical eye.

I unconsciously brush a piece of invisible lint from my sullied white uniform.

"I am General Fleischer of the German Army. Who are you, who is your leader, and what are you doing in my camp?" General Fleischer says in thick English.

I gulp. "Fleischer" means "butcher" in German.

"I am the leader, General," I say. This feels oddly like when we got rescued from the island. The naval officer there asked who the leader. I answered then as well. A savage couldn't be a leader.

"I see," he says. "Were you the one who landed the plane?"

"Yes," I reply.

"Impressive. Now, who are you and what are you doing in my camp?"

"We got shot down by your men, or whoever has antiaircraft guns."

"I will ask one more time. Who are you?"

I sigh. "We are members of the Royal Air Force Academy."

I point to my classmate. "This man here is Richard Andrew Clarkson."

I point to the senior. "This man is Harold Maurice Kimberly."

I point at myself. "I am Ralph William Collins."

I hear a sharp intake of breath at my name. "Any relation to Admiral William Joseph Collins?" the General asks.

"He is my father," I reply. I see a cruel glint in his eye.

"This boy," with a long, white finger, he points to the senior. "Any relation to Duke Kimberly?"

"His father," I reply. The glint in his eye gets scarier.

"The other boy. Clarkson? Who is he?" General Fleischer asks.

"The son of a farmer," I answer.

The yellow moon shines out of the clouds, casting a strange glow on everything.

General Fleischer laughs a horrible, cold laugh.

"Your father is dead," the General says, looking at Kimberly. "I killed him myself a few days ago."

Kimberly goes pale and his knees start shaking. The Duke insisted on going to battle himself, though he was well over fifty. Now he was dead.

Still, something did not add up. Why would a high ranking Nazi general go to battle himself?

"These two. Clarkson and Kimberly. We have no need for them. Prepare their execution," the General says in German. My face turns whiter than a sheet.

Richard and Kimberly have no idea what is going on. Four, large, beefy soldiers grab them and take them away.

"You are Christian, I suppose?" the General sniffs.

"Yes, sir," I whisper, shocked by General Fleischer's cruel behavior. He is going to kill my friends! Why does death surround me wherever I go? First Simon, then Piggy (I cannot bring myself to call him Nicholas), and now Kimberly and Richard.

General Fleischer cups my face with a cold white hand. "Yes," he hisses.

In my mind, he is turning into a snake.

I draw my chin up higher. "Yes, what, sir?" My voice is unnaturally high. I tremble.

"You will do well there," the General answers.

XXX

It's cold and dark here. There are too many people. None of them speak. Not even in German.

Before I knew what was happening, I was shoved into this tiny compartment with at least fifty other people. The rattling of wheels against tracks tells me I am on a train. Other than that, I have no idea where I am or where I'm going.

It's times like this when I curse Jack. I wouldn't be surprised if he is a Nazi. He would love to kill people for no reason.

After five days in that box, the train rolls to a stop, the doors are pulled open, and we get our first glimpse of daylight in what seems like forever.

Around us, Nazis are shouting in German, commands, questions, abuse. It's like I stepped into a world of noise from one of silence.

The scene in front of me is horrific. The people on the train are being separated. Husbands from wives, brothers from sisters, fathers from daughters, and mothers from sons. Screams surround me. I can acutely feel the grief, anger, vulnerability, and disbelief that is passing through everyone in this crowd.

Strangely, my mind is quiet. I suppose that after experiencing so much death, one becomes desensitized both sadness and anger. I wonder if I can feel an emotion again.

Fear. There is only one thing I am afraid of.

That is Jack.

A soldiers hands grab my collar and hoist me into the air.

"Tell me, where am I?" I ask calmly.

"Auschwitz."



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