I set out immediately, taking my rifle with me. The Germans had fled, but my courage was always wavering. The war left us all in emotional shambles. The pain we had seen would stay with us the rest of our lives. I found Captain Holland standing alone on a stone jut out that overlooked a small lake and gazing toward a row of picturesque mountains. His stony glares revealed the war that raged within him, a battle between his humanity and his insanity.
I saluted and called out, “Private Amos Drake reporting, Sir.”
Captain Holland didn’t move a single muscle as he replied, “At ease, Drake.”
I relaxed some and approached the captain. As I came alongside him, I beheld the large and ghoulish gash that had been torn across his face. The injury had been inflicted during the battle on Normandy Beach. One of the landing boats had exploded throwing shrapnel everywhere. Many troops died from the flying metal, but Captain Holland received only the severe facial wound. After that, something had changed in him. He wasn’t the same captain I had once known. I knew not what traces of a man remained in his blackened spirit.
I bent my head and spoke softly. “Captain, we must pull back. The Germans have been routed. Let’s go home.”
The captain fixed me with a strange and unnerving sideways glance. “I will not rest until I have tracked the last of those dogs down.”
I nodded hesitantly. “But, sir, we’ve chased them over their own land. They have already abandoned this war.”
He whirled on me with a scowl that showed every detail of his nightmarish face. “They must pay for what they’ve done to this world. The last of Hitler’s vermin will fall to Ally hands. I’ll see to that.”
He raised a hand to cut me short. “Quiet, soldier.” He got a far-off look to his eyes; his face became etched with intense concentration. After a long pause, he motioned south. “Do you see that? There’s smoke rising.” A wild fire lit up within his eyes. “We haven’t lost them yet! Move yourself, man! We march now.” He turned on his heel and nearly ran toward the camp.
We got moving in quick order. The thirty of us had our packs on and guns in hand. We trudged up the muddy slopes of the mountains on foot. Many a time we slipped and nearly went over the cliff’s edge. But Captain Holland kept moving rapidly forward.
It was a long and grueling trek. Our limbs were worn, and our bodies were coated with mud and grime. It was nearly dusk when we found the German camp. It was surrounded by a large palisade with an iron door at the front. We darted cautiously forward. Thick black smoke rose from the interior. Holland thought it to be the remnants of a campfire. I doubt he knew what he was thinking. Anyone knows that a campfire would never be this large or black. I felt a cold sensation crawling down my spine.
The air began to stink of blood, of human flesh. Every nerve in my body tingled with reverberating stabs. The captain refused to recognize this. He rushed toward the iron door with determined vigor. He began to kick the door in hopes of breaking it open. The veins on his neck bulged, sweat beaded his forehead, and his scar gleamed like hot metal. We pulled back, unsure what the extent of his madness was.
The door burst open with a forceful stroke. Following that final booming kick, there was silence. I ran to the captain’s side with my fellow soldiers. What we saw drew our breath from our lungs. So this was what hell looked like.
In that moment, I felt my soul leave my body. A shock that war had never given me before was suddenly thrust upon me, for there, lying on the cobblestone, were bodies. Dozens of skeletal bodies lay strewn across the courtyard. Realization quickly dawned on us. This was a death camp.
We had all heard tales of that unnamed evil lurking in Germany, that unspoken word which so few accepted or wished to believe. Now, we fully grasped its meaning. This word, Holocaust, was perfect to suit this pit. The word holocaust translates to “burning sacrifice.” This was Hitler’s sacrifice to his vile imitation of the Christ.
We strode forward in solemn silence. Men, women, and yes, even children with their young faces withered away, lay dead, strewn across the ground like freshly cut trees. We found people from all walks of life. Gypsies, Englishmen, Frenchmen, and even Germans lay in this pile like trash. But of all the bodies found, none were as numerous as the Jews. There were Jews everywhere of every age. They all bore the mark of a yellow star.
We discovered more evils as we progressed through the camp. The worst of our discoveries was a great pile from which pitch black smoke billowed. Within that dark cloud lay a massive pile of ashes. To the naked eye, this would seem no different than a great bonfire. But the stench told us otherwise. I fell to my knees, and allowed my heart to cry out.
Holland commanded us to move out. There were too many corpses for us to bury.
“For pity’s sake, Captain! We must give these poor wretches some form of memorial,” I insisted.
He whirled on me with rage etched on his face. “Private! The Germans are in fast retreat! The fact that not all of these bodies were burned indicates that they ran out of time!” His forehead creased and his lip curled into a savage snarl. The boom of thunder sounded in the distance. “Now, move before we lose them!”
I felt my jaw tighten. “Sir, these are not scraps of evidence! These are human beings!”
““Let the dead bury the dead! There’s nothing we can do for them.”
At that moment, we heard the unmistakable cry of a child. This caught us all off guard. The air fell suddenly silent save for these cries and the rumbling thunder. The storm was fast approaching, and all eyes turned to the captain. If we searched for the child, we would lose the Nazis.
We looked into Holland’s eyes and saw confusion, compassion, fear, and sorrow intermingling in his eyes. He pulled the pistol from his holster and fired a shot into the ground in frustration. There was a long pause. Then, raising his head slowly, the captain first sighed, then spoke. “Search the camp.”
After much careful searching, we found a little girl. She appeared to be no older than six and bore the marks of a young Jew. She recoiled in fright at the sight of us. We set our guns aside, and Captain Holland knelt down to her level. The poor thing was terrified, as she had a right to be. He removed his jacket and offered it to her. She tentatively accepted it, but she continued to keep her distance. Holland gave her a biscuit from his pocket. She started by nibbling at it, and then she began to devour it with alacrity.
The captain sat down and tried to make conversation. They spoke in German so it was hard to decipher, but I caught the main points. She and the other captives had been rushed out of the bunker at gunpoint. Once they were outside, the shots were fired. In their haste, the Germans were not quite as thorough as they had presumed. Someone had grabbed her as they shot and shielded her from the bullets.
The captain asked her, “What is your name, child?”
The girl’s eyes shone as they revealed the pride in her heritage. She looked like a young queen at her coronation. “Hadassah,” she replied boldly.
Holland’s words came in the form of pure emotion. “It’s a mouthful for me. May I call you Esther?”
With an expression strangely mature for her age, Hadassah nodded.
Captain Holland became a new man. The solemn experience left him somehow reborn. What did it take to soften this man’s iron heart? He had been dead inside; nothing but death could be found in his soul. Yet the simple cry of a child filled him with life once more.
By Joshua J.D. Price
“Pa, what you doin’ up so early?” Adam’ s son Luke interrupted.
“Nothin,’ Luke, just journaling what we’ve been doin’.”
“Yeah, it’s what Ma would’ve wanted us to do. Well, ain’t ya gonna get some sleep? I hear them Yanks is marchin’ up today.”
” Yes, I know, that’s why I’m up. Seeing a good holy sunrise before this awful affair is gonna make a difference.”
“How’s that?,” Luke was puzzled
“It’s always good to see somethin’ holy before seein’ somethin’ bloody.”
“How’s it gonna be bloody? We got them Yanks where they is! They cain’t get all the way up here!”
“Pray for them Yanks, Luke, just pray for em’ cause they’s gonna need some protection.”
Fredericksburg, Virginia : December 11, 1862: Mathew Jackson ” It’ s been four days since we started marching for Virginia, and we all know what’ll happen when we get there. All I can think of is my daughter Susan back home, and I don’t even know if I’ll make it back to her. Ah, just the thought of Maine; the beaches, the mountains, the forests all in their splendor. I just hope I’ll live to see it again. Oh, God, I pray that I’ll live to see them again!”
“Hey, Mathew! How’ s about you and I get some of the loot they got stored u/p these houses?” James was a friend of Mathews, and a young scruffy soldier who was always anxious for action.
“Now James, you know that ain’t right! It’ s their possessions; we’ve got no business takingri ( ” ‘– “Aw, c’mon! We’ s gonna be rich! And these Johnny Rebs don’ t deserve nothin’ for what they been up to.”
“That ain’t the point. You should be gettin’ yourself some rest before we head up there.”
“Ha! When did you get to being a nanny?”
“Since they’s not reckless like you’s are,” Mathew stated bluntly as he grimaced over his coffee.
Fredericksburg, Virginia: December 11, 1862: Mathew Jackson “We’ve started marchin’ up that hill. I can see the flags of the Rebs up there on the barricade. I see that Virginia flag up there and think of my brother. I can’t believe he chose to live here so far away from family. We used to be so close, but he had to go and see the world without me. Of all places, why settle here? There’s nothing here compared to Maine.”
Fredericksburg, Virginia: December 11, 1862: Adam Jackson “The Yanks have started up here alright, and our cannons is already firing on em’. I pray for their souls. It’s an honor servin’ under Lee, but I know that this ain’t right. Our nation shouldn’t be split like this! What happened to the United States? What happened to my home? Our Virginia flag sails in the wind over my head, and I can feel the courage to fight, but I sincerely wish I didn’t have to. It just ain’t right what’s happenin’”.
The Union forces marched up the hill toward Lee’s men hoping to God their lives would be spared. Meanwhile, the confederates watched as that wave of blue washed up the field. It made Adam think back to the beaches of Maine, but this time the waves did not bring a playful frolic.
All was quiet save for the murmur of some soldiers. Suddenly, the cannons opened fire, and spouts of smoke and dirt popped up all throughout the union forces. The battle had begun.
“Hah! That was a close one!” James called as they slowly marched up the hill. “Figure any of ’em will get us?”
“God only knows. Well, God and the person aiming the cannon up there.” Mathew smiled grimly.
“Ha! You’re putting your trust in Him?” James snorted.
“Whatever’s wrong with God? He put us here, didn’t he?”
“Heh, don’t matter. He ain’t gonna save us, we’s the ones with the guns.”
“Just wait and see, James; just wait and see.”
Suddenly an urgent call rang out from the regiment commander, “Double time, lads! Double time, let’s move!”
“Yes, just wait and see,” Mathew muttered to himself as they charged up the hill.
Ducking behind the barricade, Adam reloaded his rifle for the fifth time and hoped he wouldn’t be aiming it at anyone he knew.
“Hey, Pa!” Luke shouted standing up. “Here comes the regiment from Maine! Chargin’ right on up here!”
“Git down, son!” Adam said sharply. “We cain’t have you gettin’ shot now, can we?”
“Aw, c’mon, I’m fine! They won’t make it all the way up here before we blast em!” Luke stated confidently.
“Is that all they are to you? Are they just targets to you? No Luke! These are people, and people who are our brothers, and sons, and family!” Adam said with a grim tone.
Meanwhile, Mathew and James charged with their regiment up the hill. Mathew looked ahead and saw the Blue Union bodies strewn all across the hill before him, and he shivered at the sight. When his regiment reached the top, he had no time to think; they stopped, aimed, and fired.
“Hah! None of them rebs is gonna take me out! Let’s see what guts they got!”
“Were dropping like flies!” Mathew Yelled to him “They’re barely taking any losses! Don’t let your ego get in the way of your sense!”
Just then, a cannonball whizzed past them and exploded with deafening force behind them. “I cain’t here nothin’ no more!” Mathew cried. “What’s happened?” As Mathew slowly looked up through the haze, Mathew saw a very familiar face.
“Is that Adam?” Mathew said to himself.
“I don’t who you’re talking about, but keep firin’!” James bellowed to him.
Back behind the wall, Adam lowered his rifle, and he saw his brother standing in the line before him.
“Mathew? Well, what in…?”
“What’re you lookin’ at, Pa?!” Luke yelled up to him from his crouched position. “It’s your Uncle Mathew! He’s out there in the regiment were firin’ at!” In a daze, Mathew lowered his gun and stood, dumbfounded.
“Why? Why’s it need to be this way!” Mathew cried.
For a long moment, Adam and Mathew stared at each other. Adam saluted to Mathew, and Mathew saluted back as tears flowed down his face. They stood, less than thirty-yards away from
each other, when suddenly, Adam’s expression changed to one of shock and pain. He stared intently at Mathew for a moment, with a tear in his eye, and he slumped over the wall.
“No! No, no!” Mathew cried as he fell to his knees.
“Mathew! Get up, this no time for blubbering!” James yelled furiously at him.
“You shot him!” Mathew screamed in rage. “You shot my brother!”
“We all have brothers and fathers here! He got on the wrong side, and he lost!”
“There shouldn’t have been sides! This should never have happened!” Mathew roared back through a stream of tears. “Our country should never have been ripped apart like this!
“Well, it is, and there is nothing you can do to change that!” James replied back as he fired another shot into the Confederate ranks.
Meanwhile, in the barricade, Luke pulled his father back behind the barricade, and Adam heard his brother calling out in anguish.
“Why did this happen?” Adam thought. “God, why have we been torn apart like this?” With all his remaining strength, he turned his head to look at his son. Luke wept over his father, embracing him with all his might.
“I’ll kill every one of them Yanks!” Luke cried through bitter tears and gritted teeth.
“No, there are too many angry people already.” Adam said in short breaths. “What we need is someone who sees wrong and rights it, not a vengeful man. We need compassion, not chaos. We need righteousness, not revenge.”
“But what’ll I do, Pa?” Luke sobbed.
“Be a man, a righteous man.”
With that, Adam closed his eyes and collapsed.
It was dark now, and the sky was filled with smoke and the stench of blood. That night, Luke and Mathew both looked up into the sky and wept, One for a brother the other for a father. A mist rolled in, and colors flowed through the sky. Some say it was the cannon smoke, or the northern lights. Some say it was God’s spirit looking o’er the bloody sight That say that rainbow mist that filled the sky; it was the tears of God.
By Jonathan Price
It had been a few years since I had sat with her here. I was quite little when Heidi died, but I remember the time I spent with her so well. Sometimes, when she was babysitting me and she couldn’t stand being cooped up inside any longer, she would take me out to the water next to the mill and sit here on the rocks with me as we watched the fish travel down the creek. Heidi wasn’t very old when she died; she had heart problems and died in her sleep at twenty-two years old.
They like to tell you that pain ebbs away like gentle waves, but what they refuse to tell you is that where there is ebb, there is flow. Yes, the pain subsided, but it only takes one moment, one second to remember someone and feel that same heartbreak again. I look at the current of the water and see life going by. It has been a little over a decade since we lost Heidi, and it pains me to see myself getting older and enjoying life knowing that she was robbed of this underappreciated gift. I was very young when she passed, only seven years old, so I didn’t fully understand life and I didn’t fully understand death. All I knew was that my best friend was no longer there.
As I’ve matured, I’ve learned that life isn’t always fair; sometimes you get robbed, and you realize that(Life is not a benevolent overseer but rather a pensive deity, watching and deciding when it must extinguish the flames burning within us. Sometimes, when I go back to Brush Creek
ter, I see her in the current, too. I see Heidi dancing down the smooth, eroded pebbles at the base of the creek, crystallized in a moment of joy and laughter and eternal harmony. I sit there on the rocks until I see her again, but sometimes I can’t quite find her.
It is during those times, when I’m sitting there looking for an answer that life won’t give me, when I realize that life carries on with or without you. When I was little I didn’t understand that this was a good thing, in fact I was rather angry and affronted by this. What audacity does it take to move on from me! Was I not worth it at all? Rather, it’s a blessing that life slowly sails down that creek. A life that stops once you or a loved one is gone is no life worth anything. Once you’re gone, the fish still swim, the cows still graze, the birds still travel. It’s unfair to them to expect it all to quit once you can no longer enjoy it.
Anyways, sitting at Brush Creek makes me feel philosophical. Every now and then I make myself feel better by pretending I was some intellectual like Voltaire or Socrates, pontificating over the stones. I don’t think they knew any more than we did; sure, they knew how to express what they were thinking better than we might, but they were both given the same life we were given. I can’t find Heidi on those pebbles today, so I grab a fallen-down branch, pretend it was a staff, and walk down the shore toward the trees.
The forest isn’t anything too special, but, to me, surrounding oneself with more life is a panacea. I get it; it’s ironic that when one is angry at life the cure-all is to run away somewhere life’s song is the loudest. Perhaps when one is surrounded with so much life the focus is taken off of oneself. Perhaps everyone is searching for that liberation, that freedom, that answer.
You know, I wonder if, wherever she is, Heidi’s out there looking for the same answer that I’m looking for. Maybe she misses our little getaways like I do. Maybe, if she’s an angel now or a fish or whatever, we’ll cross paths again. Man, I’d give anything to catch up with her and to tell her just how much I’ve grown up. I’m sure she’d love to hear it too; she was always willing to listen to me ramble.
Tiring of walking on broken sticks and fallen pine needles, I sit back down on the rocks next to Brush Creek again. I stare at the water some more, looking for Heidi. Maybe someday, when my time’s up and the fish still swim and the cows still graze and the birds still travel, we’ll be wherever, staring at that creek and catching up like old times.
By Jonathan Prevo
The night after I committed suicide, I went to my grandparent’s house where my twin brother and I carved our initials into a willow tree as first graders and saw how the elements of time and weather were already washing the carving away. I saw my brother, tracing his initials and then my own. I saw him crying, crying harder than I’d ever seen him before. I touched his back to see what would happen. I saw him shiver and wrap his arms around his legs.
The Tuesday after I committed suicide, I walked around town, watching as my elderly babysitter received the news of my death through her husband.
The Wednesday after I committed suicide, I felt grief, warmth, and sorrow as I watched my mom sit at the kitchen table, fingering through my coin collection. I watched as she held the coin that started my collection, the one my mom bought me from Japan. She held the one that she had given me just before I died, the one from Germany. I hugged my mother one last time as she collected the coins and kissed every individual one and slid them back into the drawer. She shook her head and wiped her tears.
The Saturday after I committed suicide, I went to my funeral. I watched as my mother collapsed at my casket, a weeping mess. I watched as my twin brother teared up as he made a speech on how he would have tried to help me if only he knew. I watched as my casket lowered into the six foot grave.
A week after I committed suicide, I fell in love with my father down at the beach as he placed my note, gently into a bottle and sent in just as tender into the waves. I watched the way he let it go until it was almost completely out of sight. As it started to disappear, I took his hand as I had so many times as a little kid. He shivered and ran back in fully clothed, to get it back. I watched it as he set it in his cup holder and never let it go.
Two weeks after I committed suicide, I watched my group of friends at school, sitting in our clutter of desks, listening to the teacher drone on about the ancient Greeks. I watched as my best friend turned to make a joke at me, but then he realized I wasn’t there.
Three weeks after I committed suicide, I watched as every night, my dogs would search the house for my brother and I to take them on our nightly walks, but instead of the both of us waiting at the door to greet them, it was only my brother.
A month after I committed suicide, I saw my favorite teacher, Mr. Hale, driving his car down the road and pull over. I saw him take out his bronze sobriety coin. I saw him flip the coin in his hands, and then look around at where he was. I saw him look at the liquor store. I set my hand on his shoulder and he shivered as if it was cold. He took one last look at the liquor store before driving off.
Four months after I committed suicide, I saw my brother graduate along with my friends. I saw the principal give a speech about me and dedicate the plaque by the showcase to me. I saw my friends and brother cry along with my parents after the graduation. I saw my best friend place a cap on my headstone along with a couple bouquets of my favorite flowers. I hugged his back and he straightened back up, sniffed and walked back to his truck.
A year after I committed suicide, I ran into the person I was destined to marry. I saw him get the chill so many other people I had touched got. I had known him before. Who knows… Maybe if one thing had turned out differently, it all would have.
Two years after I committed suicide, I watched in a more dream like state, the things that would have happened. I watched as my brother and I stood with our friends, graduating on the small high school stage. I watched the three of us go to different colleges and I stayed with my true love. I watched as we all graduated, and went on a wonderful vacation. I watched all the things that could have been different. I watched myself get married.
Three years after I committed suicide, I watched in horror as my dad suffered a heart attack. I watched as my brother huddled around my father’s hospital bed. I stood next to his bed and told him not to let go. I told him that I had given up too soon. I told him not to give up; that I had missed too much and that I would give anything to go back.
Four years after I committed suicide, I watched my twin graduate from his dream college. I watched as my mother cried and my father hug his son. I watched my brother get engaged to his girlfriend he met in freshman year of college and then I watched him get married, a big and beautiful wedding. I saw they saved a seat for me, a seat that would never be filled. I sat in the seat and watched as they said their vows. I sat in the seat and imagined all of the things I could have had, now gone forever. I watched as they danced on the floor of the reception hall.
Five years after I committed suicide, I saw my niece and nephew on the anniversary of my death. My brother, his wife, and the new twins huddled around my grave. I saw him explaining, even though they didn’t and couldn’t understand, that their aunt had died and that she would have been the greatest aunt ever.
Seven years after I committed suicide, I saw my dad down at the beach, writing his own note and putting it into a bottle. I waited until he was gone and picked it up. I unraveled the note and read it.
Sometimes, I can still feel you here with us. It’s been five years and still… I hope whoever finds this can see that someone out there is watching. Someone out there cares. That people will miss you.
Ten years after I committed suicide, I watched the sun go down over the beach, each shade of orange, purple, blue, and pink illuminating the sky. I watched as the waves rolled in with a soothing sound as they crashed into my feet. I watched my footprints disappear into the ocean… and then I opened my eyes.
by Jacklyn Wintersheimer
Two eagles sit beside her She watches the symbols of freedom Wondering what brought them here
To this place of nonexistent potential
A hand reaches out and she takes it She looks over and sees on aged faces For the first time in years Her parent’s smiles
They hand her a pebble And in it she sees the reminders of her past So young, she flicks her wrist Releasing them, and like an old time slideshow On the shore, throwing rocks She sees her past With every pebble plop
Skip Her first memory, a puppy With chocolate for eyes And a coat of gold That paralleled it’s heart Her first friend
Skip Her heart slams As do the doors of the house Her mother packs And her father yells And they leave their daughter behind She holds her companion closer And the system swallows her whole
Skip Her eleventh birthday Where she and her pup sat on a porch Waiting for the ones who never came home They wore cone-shaped hats And sashes with the number Of the uncelebrated day
Skip A car too fast doesn’t see the fur of gold It doesn’t cease its speed A coat colored crimson And a girl’s grasp losened On a sun bleached leash They both fade away
Sink The pebble into the water And her to her knees She feels alone once again And as the fog rolls in She falls into the grey forevermore
By Erin Senn