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A Dark Night
The slow, strong rumble destroyed the silence of the empty rooms. Blinding streaks of light illuminated every object and cast long, eerie shadows throughout the house. We must not move. We must not be seen. We must not be heard. The cramped space made the air thick and heavy. My breathing became shallower with each passing day. The picture I have held so close to me was now damp. After hours of crying, I couldn’t shed another tear. Every blink stung my eyes, which were red and sore. I am so numb. I cannot take much more of the silence and the emptiness. The storm raging outside brought back painful memories of that day they took him.
It was stormy that night too. The harsh winter wind howled like the wolves that roamed freely through the vast woods that surrounded our village. A distant, happy memory rose from within me. Just a short time ago the village was thriving and beautiful. Hanging baskets lined the streets overflowing with bright spring flowers. How had it so quickly turned into this deserted ghost town? You could no longer hear the light banter of people in the market square. I hadn’t smelt the mouth-watering aroma of freshly baked bread wafting from the bakery in many months. The only thing to be heard now is the terrible screaming in the middle of the night. More frequent than ever. I covered my ears. I couldn’t bear to think what was happening to them. Tonight had been quiet. Not one scream or cry for help. My thoughts were soon interrupted by another ghostly howl coming from outside. The violence of the wind continued to battle against the timbers of the house that groaned in pain every time they took another blow. Being sat in the same position too long, my legs began to tingle. I could not get up though, however much I wanted to. We must not move. We must not be seen. I could feel my father’s breath upon my shoulder. It was warm and comforting to feel the steady rise and fall of his chest. The constant rhythm of his heart, never fast or jumpy. It was the safest I had felt in months.
Without warning, the old back window swung open, banging violently against the wall. The silence was broken and before I knew it my father was moving swiftly away from me. “Pa…” I stuttered.
“I’ll be back. I promise,” he whispered, attempting to comfort me. In the short flashes of lightening where I could see his figure, I realised he was crawling steadily towards the open window. I thought it was my imagination, but the distinct sound of footsteps outside became louder and more prominent.
“Papa” I shouted trying to warn him, but a hand pressed firmly against my mouth. It was cold and damp and unlike my fathers firm, warm hand, it was shaking. From the shadows, my mother’s eyes were wide with fear.
“Hush,” she whispered so quietly that it was barely audible. Her voice cracked and I knew from that moment that she was terrified. She dragged me back into the small hidden room where we had been staying for what seemed like an eternity. There was a single bed and a cupboard with what I presumed were supplies inside it. Every surface was covered in a thin layer of dust. It irritated my nose and I quickly stifled a sneeze. A deafening bang echoed through the house. The thin walls and floorboards creaked and vibrated like an earthquake was going on. My Ma was holding up the cupboard and preventing it from crashing to the ground. We must not be heard. Many pounding footsteps were running back and forth above our heads. The room had stopped shaking, but ringing filled my ears and I couldn’t understand what my mother was saying. Her mouth moved, but I heard no sound spill out. Suddenly her vice-like grip locked me in her arms and although I could not hear it, my stained top told me she was crying. I sat and waited for a long time. I refused to believe it at first. He’d promised. I shut my eyes and pretended it would all go away. I wanted to sleep forever and never wake up because that would mean facing another cruel and pointless day. As dawn broke, I returned to reality and the events of last night began to sink in. My father wasn’t coming back.
Now we continue to hide. Back then, I didn’t understand. Why would they do this to us? Now that I know the truth, I wanted to hide away from it. It made me sick to the core. So what if we are Jewish? We are no different to those who aren’t. The soldiers who come and take us away are no better than the man who inflicted this great pain. Some were even our former friends. They came like a disease, spreading through the village, taking the weak and having no mercy. Their eyes are stone cold with no hint of remorse or sadness. The hunters know what happens after they capture their prey and put them into the camps. They turn away and don’t look back. But it is their orders which they must follow or suffer the same fate.
I remember clearly the last raid on our village. Amongst the chaos, one man stood statue still. His uniform showed his allegiances were not with us. But as the soldiers herded more and more innocents into the trucks, he did nothing. From behind, it was visible that his hair was thick, messy and full of life, unlike the others who all had the same short, cropped style. I got as close as I dared, lying low behind discarded barrels and boxes. When I finally saw his face, it was frozen in fear, just like his posture. Tears rolled out of his terror-stricken eyes more rapidly than he could wipe them away. I was stunned, so much I couldn’t move. For the first time I felt compassion towards one of these soldiers. Not all of them want this. Hope surged through my body; maybe there is some good left in people. The man glanced in my direction and his expression quickly changed. I had been caught. This man however scared, would turn me in. it was his duty. He would send me to my grave, this man I had just felt sorry for. He walked towards me now, but unlike all the other men, he did not look confident. He put his finger to his dry lips. I felt like a child again being told to be quite. I obeyed- it would be less painful if I kept still and quite waiting for him to drag me out into the open. Nothing happened. The man had turned his back to me. Confused by this strange behaviour, I remained where I was. Another soldier strode over in a calm manner, as if nothing was happening a couple of yards away. It made me so angry how he could let this go on.
“Is that all of them?” The General questioned the young soldier.
“Yes,” the soldier pause for a moment “No more have been found.”
“Well then, we shall go and take care of these,” he rasped, giving a small, sickly chuckle and letting a sly smirk slip over his smug face. I wished I could have taken the knife hanging from his belt and ended his laughing right there. How could they do this? The General walked away and once he was out of sight, the young soldier turned slowly towards me, still cautious.
“Thank you,” I whispered whilst my vision became blurry because of the ever-building moisture in my eyes.
“Go home. Quickly,” replied the soldier. His deep brown eyes were full of kindness and regret for what he was doing. I ran. I didn’t stop running until the screaming was gone. I fell to my knees and prayed for my friends who had been so cruelly taken. They don’t deserve this. None of them do.
Many others have fallen since that day. You learn to become detached from the world because it’s less painful. You have to fight to survive. Only think about yourself or heaven awaits you. This room hasn’t changed in over ten years. Staring at the same blank walls without even a picture to break up the consistent stripes can get monotonous. It’s enough to drive a person to insanity. Surly death would be more welcoming than being paranoid every minute of the day. Too scared to speak. Too weak to move. Watching yourself wasting away until you can’t be recognised as a human being anymore. A hysterical giggle escaped my mouth only to be met with the harsh glare of my Ma. Mother’s cough is getting heavier and thicker every day now and our supplies are dwindling. I cannot bear it much longer! Just let me die.
The night seemed to draw on forever. With my nerve slowly wearing away, the slightest sound, bump or creak sent my mind into panic. I cannot remember the last dream I had that didn’t end in terror and blood. With sweat dripping off my face, all I wanted was some fresh air. A few minutes outside to enjoy the short-lived peace wouldn’t hurt. In the corner Ma was sleeping. It was the only time she looked at peace. Her fair but haggard hair lay limp across her face. Her face was gaunt and bony. Extra wrinkles around her eyes showed how many sleepless nights she has survived watching over me. I would be lost without my mother. Her breathing was deep and trance like. The gentle rhythm of her chest was relaxing, hypnotising. Cautiously, I ascended the rotting staircase that lead to freedom. A cool night breeze drifted its way towards me, caressing my clammy skin. The moist grass was soft beneath my feet and the fresh dew washed away the dirt and dust that lay in the dry, rigid cracks and scars on the soles of my feet. I felt like running and laughing and smiling again. The peace that the night brought made me feel alive.
I slowly glanced upwards towards the vast, starlit sky. It was then, in that moment that I realised how beautiful the world is. No matter how much evil hangs in the air, refusing to move, suffocating anyone in its path, the stars will continue to shin. The sun will always break through the darkest clouds. It was right there, when the rest of the world remained silent and still that I saw there is hope. Hope that the world would survive, even if we didn’t. Hope that one day the suffering would end. Hope that in time there would be no war or injustice. One day the people of the world will look up and realise they all live under the same stars and sky. In that moment, I truly believed that everything would work out. One day.