Glenn always considered himself a lover over a fighter, however Fate scrawled the words “war hero” in his legacy and for the millionth time, he was unable to carry out his noble duties. The mantra was still fresh in his head as he passed by the same tree again until he finally managed to convince himself he was traveling in circles: “If you get shot at,” the General muttered to seemingly only him. “All you can do is shoot back. Don’t run.”
Glenn had glanced at the rest of his army mates with vast curiosity. It was as if they’d shunned the older man, squinted eyes peering frightfully at the widening beach where they resided their hatred for the world and their mother country. It had thrust upon this immense responsibility on their hardly structured shoulders as if expecting success in the footsteps of the previous generation.
A lover wouldn’t survive under such gruesome circumstances; the last one a person like Glenn would have to face was war. He spoke in symphonies not gunsmoke and chose to make laughter and love than disasters.
It was in that moment, wedged in between two dead, bleeding men who had their fingers around their crosses that dangled from their neck like their souls, that Glenn realized something.
It dawned on him that he was unfit for war, for even living after witnessing this atrocity. He wasn't built for this and no amount of training could prepare him for this dangerous adventure. He decided he would do what he was best at doing when difficulties and forks in the roads sprung up: running.
With his rifle secure across his chest and dog tag clanging against his a locket with his mother’s picture hidden inside, he forced his legs to carry him as far away as possible from the battleground. It was a field, only a couple kilometers from the exit of a town. Taking advantage of the momentary ceasefire, he sprang up and began to dart.
The bullets began raining again with piercing cries and he narrowly managed to miss them, the thundering sounds of planes blocking out the screaming of army officials. Nobody called after him to return. Instead, he swore he heard, “Run Glenn you son of a gun!”
The first place he found himself was naturally the town. By the echoing of his own voice, there was no doubt the area had been evacuated by the frightened people. They left their souls. He imagined the rush of people heading towards the perimeter of the place. Thankfully, he didn't see any injured people slumped against their homes or soldiers crying for help.
The Germans had yet to discover this place. This piece of understanding caused his legs to carry him faster away from the scene.
He walked more than he ran although it was obvious he was heading towards the enemy line. A peculiar serenity had passed over him which basically confirmed his insanity. He enjoyed the crunch of the rocks under his boots and whistling of the wind in his ears. In fact, if he had his journal with him, he’d write some love songs. It was getting chilly as the night approached silently yet obviously. He'd only been traveling for half the day until his mouth dried like a prune and demanded liquid.
Glenn reached into his bag and pulled out a metal container of water. The binding material always deceived the young man as it felt heftier than the actual water. He’s be surprised when grabbing it to check the amount of content however disappointment always reigned. He could vaguely recall spilling the remainder into a comrade’s mouth as he took his last breath and Glenn couldn't stop raggedly sobbing. His body suddenly weighed more than the rifle around his body.
To distract himself, he instead produced a pack of peanuts from a compartment hidden from the rest of his army mates and dined. A couple minutes later, his body swore at him and forced him to hunch over. He vomited terribly, shoving his hands deep into the roots of his hair and painfully tugged to mitigate the pain in his lurching stomach.
Regardless of the pain literally and the one caused by the slideshow in his brain of machine guns and tanks, his feet carried his cowardly figure away from the commotion. If he had felt any guilt for abandoning his division, it had vanished.
By nightfall, he had found himself in the heart of the woods...similar to the entrance he had passed hours prior. For a slight moment, he felt the first pang of panic until he forced himself to remember he was away from all the enemies: Allies and Axis.
“Anyone with a gun is the enemy,” he muttered to himself.
Glenn undid the rifle from his shoulders and smiled with relief as it dropped to the dirt. He inhaled then with comfort, with his nose high in the air, finally, and carried on walking.
When the stars finally exposed themselves, he check his perimeters with the little knowledge of war he had left and removed his jacket; laid it on a pile of leaves by a hollow tree. They provided him with much more comfort than the usual bunks they were provided with at base. When he lay there, Glenn tried to recall just how the bunks felt, however once again, Fate had other decisions for him, and ended up falling asleep.
Glenn was roused awake up by footsteps nearing his head. When he opened his eyes, crusted with sleep and willingly floating with such a marvelous sleep, he was confused by the lack of sunlight hitting his face. He sputtered when he finally realized there was a cloth over his face and drowned in his own stupidity when he also realized he had put it there himself.
He removed his handkerchief and stuffed it back into his pocket, scrambling up. His helmet was back on his head and thighs burning as he hauled his entire body up, scampering behind the tree. He sighed deeply before holding his breath as the footsteps neared.
“Who’s there? Show yourself!” a loud voice boomed and Glenn inhaled sharply as he turned around and displayed his face to the officer.
“British,” he huffed with his hands up, thrusting out his chest to show him the badges on his collars. “I’m with you.”
The officer lowered his gun and frowned. He took some strides closer to him, inspecting his badge until he finally wrapped his rifle around his neck. “What the hell are you doing out here son? The beach is the opposite way.”
“I’m, erm, I got lost. My sect...we all went different paths,” he lied anything but smoothly, toying with his fingers.
Without hesitating, the officer, Lieutenant Jones, barked, “Do I look stupid to you? I know when a man lies to my face, especially an alliance.”
Glenn’s eyes widened, taking a step back to mask his intimidated aura. He blinked dolefully at the man as he maintained eye contact and coughed up a lie. He learned from his mates back home that the best way to convince someone of a lie was to exaggerate anxiety. The thought seemed miles away as did his friends.
“It’s an issue, sir,” he started sadly, kicking a nearby pile of leaves. “Excessive nervousness. Terrible mental issue. Runs in my family. Well the remainder of my family anyhow.”
To magnify his point, he began to pick acutely at his cuticles and fluttered his lashes as if the muscle were actually twitching. The play seemed to rouse the Lieutenant as he straightened his back.
“Where did you say you were from?”
Glenn swallowed, making sure to accentuate the bob of his Adam’s apple. “Manchester, sir. England.”
“And you said the remainder of your family...”
“My two brothers are serving too,” he quickly interjected.
He was a brother to only one sister and this private information almost made him smile.
“Have you heard from them recently? Where are they currently?” Jones gruffly interrogated as he turned his back to the Private.
Glenn shrugged childishly, however informed the man in a solemn voice: “Last I heard, they were in France, sir.”
“Now look at me,” Jones boomed, suddenly turning back around. “You’re out here alone. Join my division. We’re not from any base near Manchester but we’ll fight together. Look at you, you don’t even have a gun!”
“Sir,” Glenn tried. “I will be able to take care of myself. Life of a soldier innit?”
Lieutenant Jones narrowed his eyes and adjusted his pants. “Our campsite is twenty miles from here. North. I can’t promise you it’ll be there tomorrow but cover yourself if you need it. Stay away from the Germans. Although I reckon they’d be thrilled to enlist a lunatic like you.”
He departed with a tip of his hat. Glenn released a low whistle, gathering his belongings and hurrying away from the enemy on all sides.
By noon, he had fallen behind on his full capability of endurance and decided to restock by the miracle that had been bestowed upon him: the river. The gushing water had captured his attention more than anything had ever and he cried out after he took the first gulp. Upon the riverbank sat another set of miracles: bushes of various multicolor beads. The flowers looked delightful but the berries. They were dripping with an inviting beckoning of a personality and urged Glenn to crush their delicate skin between his teeth.
The peanut bag was relabeled as the berry bag. The first to be tasted were the raspberries. Some were foul and bitter, however majority of them exceeded his high maintenance expectations. They became the first layer of tasty food he would consume on this journey as a lone wolf.
The blueberries were heavenly and the strawberries were as sweet as some girls from Manchester. His mouth became sticky with the glucose on his tongue, yet his stomach demanded more. A diverse navy blue berries looked promising to him and as if under a spell, he plucked a few from the bushes, dropped them into his palm and drew them to as close as possible to his lips.
“Oh, I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
There were only a few things in the world that made Glenn quiver in fear and in this precise moment, it was the anticipation of death at the hands of a thick German accent.
“They’re poisonous,” the voice continued at a closer proximity. “Kill you slowly. A terrible demise.”
Glenn watched a young lady in regular Eastern clothing reveal herself from behind the branches of a dying, sickly yellow tree. She wore a shawl around her shoulders, hiding her attire. The berries had been long forgotten, as was his appetite, now replaced by appalled features. He choked.
The girl’s eyes softened as she took in the appearance of the young, paralysed boy. Glenn was grimy; uniform covered in splatters of unknown blood and bugs in his locks. “You’re British,” the girl offered him a smile. “A famished British soldier.”
She reached into his pocket and hummed as she produced a stack of coins, flipping a couple over to peer at it’s worth.
“Here. The end of the woods is only a few miles in that direction.” She pointed North. “Get yourself some food. But discard that uniform. Germans are crawling everywhere from this point on.”
Glenn made no motion to accept the girl’s generous money. “You know English.”
The pretty girl’s eyebrows raised to her obviously well kept hair. “You’d be surprised how many people know English here. Besides, I was born in America. New York. Studied there until my father remarried. The accent followed later. A downright curse apparently.”
Glenn glanced around him. The person opposite from him was void of any visible weapons, striking him with confusion. “Where is your gun?”
“Gun for what?”
“To kill me with.”
She laughed heartily. “I’m not a killer. You think all Germans are like this? I’m just a innocent girl.”
Glenn shook his head as his rusted limbs began to become agile. “No, no! I didn’t mean it like that. ‘S just there’s a bloody war out here. Should carry some type of protection or summat.”
There was a sliver of happiness in her eyes that would diminish when Glenn took a precautious step back towards the river. “You know, they say the Allies are the bad guys.”
Glenn swallowed. “You believe tha’?”
Her lips twitched. “Goodness no. There’s no good or bad in this world. Just prejudice and personal hell for every individual. Germans are a personal hell for you while Germany is my home; my love. Why, my oldest brother was in the previous war, fighting for Germany. Sweet boy he was.”
She seemed to have been lost in a figment of thought while Glenn was forced to patiently wait until her eyes had discarded their glaze and focused back on him. “Anyways. I’d like to prove your false accusations.”
Panic set in its rightful place in his restricted lungs. His brain generously provided him with horrendous stories of Allied powers falling into the traps of Germans and he was reluctant to agree. They were “murderous, vile, and incompetent to live”.
“I wasn’t a-accusing you in any way.”
“Oh come now, you afraid of an young lady with a terrible accent? C’mon now. It was a joke, heard Brit’s love pulling other’s legs. Come home with me, you look famished. My name is Anne. I live with my father just a few miles yonder.”
“I don’t mean to upset you but...”
“You’re filled with fatigue. What kind of person would I be to leave you here?” Anne’s voice dripped with sadness. “Please. I know we’re strangers-”
“Precisely why I shouldn’t impose on you in such a manner.”
Anne sighed, biting the inside of her cheek in thought. “Just one dinner and I’ll give you the chance to walk away. I’ve vowed to be neutral and help all. I’m going to become a nurse, you know? What could I possibly do to you?”
Glenn considered his options and his stomach offered its own voice when a rumble erupted from deep within. His eyes darted from the bag filled with berries and the seemingly harmless girl who now bolstered a smile on her lips. It appeared like a grand idea for a brainless idiot to go along with whatever this person was babbling about, however it was true, he was an unwanted, starving young soldier.
His shoulders sagged in defeat. One dinner wouldn’t kill him.
“How far is your home?” he quietly inquired, turning around to gather his backpack and thrust it upon his shoulders. The leaves still crunched under his boots as he stood face to face with the shorter girl as if this peculiar encounter was not happening.
“Not too far. I’d recommend leaving that jacket though,” Anne said, eyeing the British flag on his sleeve. “Like I said, there’s Germans about everywhere.”
Glenn swallowed but glanced down at his attire, eyes washing over the remainder of his heritage and reminisce over the first time he fit his body in the layers. Reluctantly, he tore off the flag and let it float to the ground. He shook his head then as another idea arose in his head. “German uniforms are grey. Sometimes olive green with different lapels. This is brown.”
Anne nodded and removed the shawl from around her shoulders. It was already too massive on her and she held it up in front of his face. Compared to him, she was significantly shorter so she was on her tiptoes. She wore a simple cotton sweater underneath and long pants.
“Take your clothes off,” she said with ease.
Flabbergasted, Glenn coughed, “What?”
“Have you got any injuries?” she continued.
“A cut on m’left leg. Think it’s dried now--”
“Perfect,” she smiled and gestured towards his chest once more. “Take your clothes off and wrap this around your lower half but not enough to hide that injury. We’ll say you were left alone after being beaten up by some Americans!” Anne grinned to herself as if this were the best lie she had ever concocted all by herself. Then, she gave him a pointed look, placing the shawl at his feet. She promptly turned around and covered her eyes.
She was cute for sure and frustratingly kind, not to mention intelligent, however he didn’t trust her enough to strip so he ventured behind a couple trees before discarding his clothes shamefully. He laid them under a colossal pile of leaves and twigs, a frown on his features. Silently, he swore to return to them, childishly waving goodbye to them.
The shawl barely covered his ankles and proudly exposed his revolting mark down his shin. The sight made his nose scrunch, face pinched with pain as the semi cold air stung the wound. At least his lengthy underpants and boots were valid.
“This is humiliating,” he murmured, alerting Anne he was finished. He held the bag of berries close to his chest.
Anne placed her hands on her hips when he faced him, obviously struggling to maintain a straight face yet not bothering to hide her wandering eyes which only made Glenn’s body burst into embarrassed flames.
“Verdammte hölle. Was habe ich gemacht,” she burst, doubling over with laughter.
Glenn’s jaw clenched, shifting his weight into his other leg. “Look. I don’t know what you just said, but I’m freezing and I don’t want an infection so can we get a move on?”
Anne nodded, wiping her eyes with her sweater paws, bending down to retrieve her basket. “Sure. Right this way...erm. What did you say your name was?”
“Glenn,” he growled, following closely behind her.
When they reached civilization, Glenn was positive he placed all his trust in Anne. From the moment they’d spotted a couple of convenience stores at the end of the woods, he had surrendered, half paralyzed with fear.
German soldiers everywhere. They littered the streets and stood idly besides stores. They conversed with fellow Germans and laughed and ate and lived like normal people including British! They toyed with the young girls and whistled at them and filtered with them. They tipped their hats with respect at the elders and the men. From the distance if Glenn watched them and imagined them with normal clothing, he would’ve seen Britian, America, France, Belgium, and Poland.
They walked on the sidewalk, Glenn refusing to make eye contact with anyone.
Most people stared at him. He felt their eyes on his legs and hair. The majority of the German men had the same chopped army cut regardless of whether they deserved that title. He simply followed Anne, hot on her trail, keeping his heart at a normal pace.
“Anne! Wo bist du gewesen?”
“Stay calm,” she ordered Glenn lowly, reaching over to encase his hand with hers.
She turned around and smiled sweetly at a man who towered over her with multiple medals on his collar and down his chest. The suit was olive green and polished, paired with a hat so glamourous, Glenn nearly felt envious.
“Hans, I was just out gathering some berries!” To emphasize her point, she held up Glenn’s hand and dangled the bag of berries in front of Hans’s eyes.
Hans bought it. “Your father has been worried. Who is this?”
“This is Henri. I found him in the woods, a couple miles in and he was like this. Frightened and without clothes. Something about Americans beating him and stripping him of any modesty. Brutal isn’t it? I’m taking him to my father so he can patch him up.” The way she lied was so effortless! The light in her eye didn’t falter even when Glenn’s body froze up, and Hans’s eyes fleeted suspiciously to Glenn.
“Does he talk?” Hans smirked.
“The trauma has gotten to his head, the poor guy. He’ll be lucky to get some sleep tonight.”
Hans didn’t reply but Glenn felt his eyes all around his body.
“He’s shivering,” he noted. “I’ll get you a spare uniform, Henri. Don’t you worry now. The bastards are gone. Wait here.” He retreated and began walking away towards a shop with a tent draped over it.
If there was any anger left in his body he had to express due to the name calling, he had concealed it beneath his frightened interior. He tried anyways, nodding in an appreciative manner.
“You’re doing great. Überzeugend,” the girl besides him muttered to mainly to herself, sighing with relief. Her hand swept away the bothersome hair on her shoulder and adjusted the hem of her sweater. “Good actor.”
“I’m scared out of my wits,” Glenn whispered back. “How are you so normal living like this?”
“Like what?” Anne replied, genuinely curious. “Thriving village, don’t you think?”
“With a killer dictator,” he murmured. “What if they try to make me a bloody Nazi?”
Anne’s shoulders sagged when she heard the words and didn’t reply. Glenn almost felt apologetic but after the way she made Germany seem like heaven, he finally had some sort of dirt on her. He was feeling quite better with this remark. It was true nonetheless.
Hans returned with pants and a button up shirt, telling him they couldn’t just give out uniforms to people, which Glenn was thankful for. He dressed right there, in the middle of the street, quickly buttoning up the shirt and fastening his pants. He tipped his head appreciatively again and looked at Anne expectantly. He hadn’t realized it until they began walking again that she’d released his hand.
Her home was decent looking enough for Glenn to classify her as a middle class citizen. It was a condo of some sort that had a welcome mat with paw prints and a windchime dangling from the front door. It sang a lovely sound when Anne opened the door quietly and allowed herself inside after him. He took it in, his quivering finally ceasing as he dropped the shawl into her hand and crept inside.
The first he noticed was the decor. It was simple in the foyer but the living room was filled with creativity. The walls were neatly painted with a teal color, nothing too astonishing and paintings were hung up of different sorts. There was one of a ship tilting, mimicking the Titanic, and another of a mermaid sitting atop a massive boulder. The individuality of the entire room awed the soldier who stepped in expecting a disheveled room.
Glenn touched one of the paintings gingerly. “Are these authentic?”
Anne, slightly smug, said, “Yes.”
“Your father is amazing,” he breathed.
“Oh, my father didn’t paint those. I did,” she replied gleefully, batting his hand away. “Don’t chip anything.”
Glenn faced her. “I thought you were becoming a nurse.”
Anne raised an eyebrow at him. “I only said that so you could trust me more. I’m a painter. I sell my work for money.” The way she said it was the way she lied: effortless and credible. She truly was amazing, hence ever doubt the British soldier once felt had been diminished.
“All of these are beautiful, Anne,” he offered, allowing her to lead him into the kitchen.
The aroma of freshly cooked food attacked his nostrils as she warmed up whatever meal was on the stove. His hands and face were washed, food on the table and a tall glass of water when Anne scurried out of the room, returning with bandages and a clear bottle. She instructed him to raise his leg and place it on the seat besides her while he dined.
Upon the first bite, he groaned aloud. Anne glanced up, alarmed. “What is this heavenly delight?”
Anne smiled. “It’s hasenpfeffer. You’re lucky I made it the day I met you. I don’t make it often.”
Glenn shoved some mashed potatoes in his mouth. “It’s so damn good.”
She giggled, rolling his pants up to peer at the wound. It had darkened around the edges so she grasped the bottle and sprayed the affected area a good few times. Glenn yelped with a mouth full of potatoes. “The hell are you doing?!”
She looked at him innocently. “I’m cleaning you up.”
“Y’burning me!” he cried.
“The sooner you stop fidgeting and let me bandage it, the sooner the pain will stop,” she scolded, grabbing his ankle harshly and planting it in front of her. She wiped off the excess blood and wrapped the wound. With a safety pin, she binded the masterpiece, shoving the two pieces of aid away. She unrolled his pants and let him remove it.
A couple minutes passed in silence as Glenn continued to stuff his face greedily and the girl only watched him with amazement. How long had he gone hungry? Is this what her country was doing to young boys? Well, he wasn’t exactly a young boy; it wouldn’t be fair to classify him as that, but young man simply worked. How old could he possibly be? Her age definitely.
His curls dropped onto his forehead as he cut open the meat and moaned when tasting it. The water was finished so she produced some more from the sink and placed it in front of him. He was too busy to realize she was staring at him in wonder, pondering about his life. He must have seen the world just traveling a few countries down, seen men die, seen his family weep for him in their letters.
She was enthralled of course but also somewhat upset. Why had the world picked such an innocent person to ruin to bits?
“Thank you,” he said, pushing the bowl away from him, finally meeting her eyes. “Thank you so much. I don’t know what more I can say.”
Anne smiled and shook her head, warmth filling her entire body when he realized his eyes were the brightest set of emerald orbs. “I expect you’ll ask for a bath now,” she teased.
Glenn declined the pleasant offer but continued to thank her profusely. The sound of marching men outside her door was what tore her out of her fond and she stood up to rush him to a bed. She insisted it would help him regardless of his lack of appetite now, regaining his strength.
“I really should leave now.”
Crestfallen, Anne swallowed harshly and inquired, “Why? You haven’t even met my father yet...”
Glenn sighed. “I’m sure he’s a wonderful man but I’ve got to be realistic. How long am I allowed to stay here? ‘Til the war’s over? I’ve got to go my own way before they find out I’m British.”
“If you need to hide, I’m sure that’s okay for us and we can arrange--”
“I’m not hiding from anything. I’ve just really gotta get back to England or France even!” Glenn argued, buttoning up the final button of his shirt that had popped open.
“France is under the Nazis now,” she informed him with a frown. “Look, you can stay here until the war is over. Really! Father wouldn’t mind! He hates the war and in here, you’re safe. The village knows us, they trust us. Out there, who knows what would happen to you? They’re in Belgium too. Besides, you’ve got a different accent despite your clothes.”
She was so intelligent, she always spoke the truth. Thanks to her, he was alive or perhaps he wouldn’t even had made it out alive in the woods. He was stupid for thinking the journey alone wouldn’t be dangerous and thank goodness for a silver lining. But how could such a smart girl not understand him now?
“It’s 1943. There isn’t an end to the war in sight.”
“It’ll end soon, don’t worry!”
“How do you know that?” he asked impatiently.
“Because I know the world. We couldn’t fight for so long!”
“You know nothing about the world then!” Glenn exploded. “You don’t know a damn thing I’ve gone through or the deaths caused by your country!”
“Yes I do, I know it all. Do you think I’m proud to live in a place like this?” she shot back, hands on her hips. “I hate it, I hate it all but I can’t do anything about it but try to help.”
“Help?” he scoffed. “What help have you done? You’re a woman, a painter, and friends with Nazis! You call that help?” he was advancing on her but Anne continued taking steps back. “How does it feel to live in a murderous country, hm? Feel good that your economy is thriving because of a dictator who hates everyone except the people who fear him? Or do you all cherish him and abide by his rules because he’s so caring towards his people.”
Her cheeks had blossomed with a fiery red color, not out of anger but the same emotion that kept her awake, sobbing at night until her father had to trespass her threshold and hold her. Fear.
Glenn’s jaw was still taut, eyes burning into her vulnerable face. He couldn’t think to do anything except grab her arms, pull her hands away and kiss her hard on her mouth. In fact, he did exactly that, allowing her to melt into the kiss, arms around his shoulders once he let go.
When he pulled away, he breathed with closed eyes, “I’m sorry for yelling. You've got to understand.”
She sniffled and wiped the residue of her breakdown. “Everything you said was correct. I’ll be here when the war is over.”
His eyes latched onto hers. He murmured, “I’ll let you know if I’m still alive when the war is over. Bis wieder.”
It was the last memory she had of him, the flaming image of his broad back leaving her home, curls swiping left and right to made sure he was safe before he began sprinting away, heading towards the direction of the woods.
Hans held out a letter to Anne with a wheat stem shoved between his teeth. He held the door open with a strong arm and Anne couldn’t express how amazing it was to see him with normal clothing. “For you. Came this morning.”
Anne nodded and accepted the sealed notice, brushing it off thinking it were the rent again. “Danke.”
She perused over the address. Her breath hitched in her throat as her eyes glazed over the name. She read over it a hundred times before it finally settled in. Tears erupted in her eyes, leaking down her face as she didn’t attempt to stop them.
Hans bent down to look at her wet face. With the absent of her father, Anne had been thoroughly emotional after the war, his unemployment taking a toll on the young woman. “What is it? Anne?”
She laughed breathlessly and looked at him with elated eyes. “Remember two years ago when I brought a German soldier to my home?”
Hans nodded hesitantly. “What of it?”
“He was a British soldier and he said he’d write to me if he was still alive after the war. Look! He’s in France right now!” she cried, shaking her head happily.
She tore open the letter and quickly began reading his messy scrawl, a colossal grin spreading across her lips. She glanced back up at Hans, crying aloud into the air again, ignoring his agitated features for mentioning an aspect of the war.
“He wants to arrange a meeting!”