A young man lay in the dirt still enough to feel the earth shift ever so slightly underneath his chest with each breath he took. The chilly air of Normandy caused him to create a sort of dragon’s breath in front of his face, stopped only by the damp wooden slats just inches above him. He hoped it wouldn’t be visible to the germans whose faint voices he heard slowly approaching. The muffled stomps of their boots suggested a group of at least four, but a group moving with a caution and precision that comes with the fear of attack and a readiness to retaliate against any threat. A sharp whisper cut through the night air.
“Ist das da wo man fiel?”
“Ja, da ist sein fallschirm.”
“Er wird eine pistole haben. Achtung.”
Frustrated, the young man began wishing he had paid more attention during language briefings. The only words he recognized were parachute and pistol. The parachute had been left hanging limply in a tree on the other side of the low hedgerow that lay between the field and the porch of the farmhouse he was currently underneath. The pistol mentioned was pressed tightly into the palm of his hand, three fingers wrapped around the grip, knuckles white from the constant pressure.
Eventually the soldiers reached the farmhouse. He watched as four pairs of boots moved over the step in front of his face, coming to rest on the wood that sat only inches above his back and legs. Three sharp raps on the door shattered the quiet night. What sounded like an older French man began conversing with the soldiers. The conversation seemed to last an eternity.
The young man did not dare move. He could feel the cold of the ground slowly work its way through his leather gloves and bomber jacket and up the length of his arms. His joints ached in protest, begging to be released from their wall-less prisons. Another eternity passed by. The words which the frenchman said to the soldiers were difficult to pick out, but it seemed like he had a desire to help them. Finally they came to a decision and the soldiers left the creaky porch with the farmer in the lead.
The young man’s heart dropped into his stomach as he watched them approach the tree and split up to search. There, imprinted into the muddy ground, where the prints of his government-issued, black felt, A-6 boots. His heartbeat hammered in his skull as one of the soldiers began to slowly follow the tracks. The adrenaline coursed through his veins. Every sense focused on the movement of the german boots. Moonlight reflecting menacingly off of the polished leather and buckles.
Out of nowhere a hand grabbed the cuff of his pants. He held his breath and slowly turned his head around until his eyes met two more in the darkness.
Unbeknownst to him there had been a small hatch just on the other side of the porch that connected to a cellar. A young woman was beckoning him to crawl inside, one finger over her lips to emphasize the required silence of the task. For a second he let his eyes dart back and forth from the approaching boots to the shadowed brown eyes, and then he began to move, timing each movement to the steps of the approaching soldiers. Step … slide. Silence. Step … slide. Silence. Then two hands guided his feet to a wooden shelf and, with one final movement, he pushed himself inside. The girl quietly closed the hatch behind him and barred it shut.
After composing himself, he turned around. She was posed on a short ladder leading up into the warm glow of the house, the light illuminating only part of her face. Once more she raised a finger to her lips, and climbed swiftly up the ladder. The small door closed silently behind her, leaving him once again in darkness. He crouched down in a corner of the cellar and listened to the confused chatter of the germans. After what seemed like ages the farmer returned to his house and the germans moved on.
* * *
“What happened next Grandpa!” a small boy cried out from the bed, blankets tucked carefully under his chin.
“Maybe I can tell you another story tomorrow, but for now your mother wants you asleep.”
“But the girl, Grandpa! What happened to her?”
The old man paused thoughtfully, his mind going back through the many years to the small farmhouse between the hedgerows, and a bittersweet smile crossed his face.
“Another time, little one. Goodnight.”
The old man stood and moved quietly to the door, with a final look at the child he smiled, turned out the lights, and closed the door softly behind him.